The election of Donald Trump and the degradation of the capitalist political apparatus

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This article, written by a close contact of the ICC in the US, is a contribution to our effort to follow the evolution of the situation in the US following the election of Trump. Events are moving very fast – since this article was written we have had the official announcement by the FBI that it will investigate links between Trump and the Russian state in the election campaign, and the highly significant defeat of Trump’s healthcare proposals in Congress. We will certainly continue to write about such events, but our aim is not “reporting” on a day-by-day basis but rather to develop a Marxist analysis of the underlying meaning of these developments.  


As this article is written, the Donald J. Trump Presidency is barely a month old, but it is already engrossed in massive controversy as its very legitimacy hangs in the balance. So far, Trump’s advisors have struck a chilling tone, threatening the media and using Orwellian language about “alternative facts.” Trump himself has not shifted from his confrontational campaign persona, continuing his disconcerting and apparently compulsive habit of Tweeting out random thoughts and taunts of his critics at any hour of the night. He has even picked a fight with the venerable National Park Service over photographs of his inauguration depicting a crowd size much smaller than the throngs that appeared for Obama’s historic moment in 2008. With the democratic legitimacy of his Presidency in question from the start—having won the Presidency through the Electoral College, while losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton (the second time in the past decade and a half that a Republican has won the Presidency, while losing the popular vote)—Trump continues to push the factless claim that millions of illegal immigrants voted for Clinton, costing him the popular vote—a claim that will almost certainly be used by Republican operatives to step up their campaign to purge the voter rolls of certain demographics.

At the end of his first week in office, Trump signed an Executive Order, apparently in an effort to keep one of his most controversial campaign promises to ban Muslims from entering the United States, that restricts entry of nationals of seven Muslim majority countries—including Iraq and Syria. The resulting chaos at US airports, which saw even legal Permanent Residents from these countries prohibited from returning to their homes, has led to the first major confrontation between the Trump administration and the judiciary as several federal judges issued orders temporarily blocking some of the more egregious elements of the executive’s unilateral action—apparently taken without any consultation with the customs and immigration agencies who would have to implement it.[1]

After a month, one could be forgiven for concluding that the United State’s federal government has been hijacked by a right-wing conspiracy website, because this may be in part exactly what has happened. Trump has elevated the shadowy figure of Steven Bannon, previously editor of the right-wing “Bretibart News” website, to a prominent advisory role in the White House—including a seat on the National Security Council. Bannon—an important figure of the so-called “alt-right,” who has a reputation as a “white nationalist” and anti-Semite—has become the Rasputin figure of the new administration, a mysterious, behind the scenes operative, who many suspect is now the real locus of power in the Trump White House. Couple this suspicion with the media firestorm—pushed hard by the defeated Democratic Party—that Trump was helped to power by the intervention of the Putin regime in the election and the widespread sense that the United States is now under some kind of strange occupation by hostile forces becomes understandable.

Clearly, the condition of the American state has fallen quite some distance from the heights of triumphant optimism that accompanied the election of the first African-American President in 2008. Today, a dark sense of foreboding disaster grips society and even important factions of the American state appear to have succumbed to confusion and despair. Quite frankly, very few analysts know what to expect in the period ahead. As Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren remarked during an appearance at one of the many semi-spontaneous protests that developed at airports across the country in the wake of Trump’s immigration orders, “I expected Trump to be bad, but not this bad and not this quick.”

While many elements in society appear prepared to fight back against the Trump administration—a fact that has already manifested itself in massive protests on his first weekend in office (the so-called “Women’s March”), it is also clear that the Trump administration—to the extent that is has a guiding philosophy—wants to govern through something resembling the “Shock Doctrine”: massive assaults on existing societal norms and institutions in an effort to provoke confusion, fear, anxiety and a constant sense of not knowing what is coming next. If one of the side effects of such a policy is to make the administration look somewhat incompetent, that appears to be of a secondary concern in the implementation of Bannon’s long-term policy to wreck the establishment institutions. In such conditions, it is no wonder that many good intentioned people have raised the question of “fascism” and openly wonder if the basic liberal freedoms that we have taken for granted are in real danger under the current administration.

Obviously, there is much material here to keep the analysts busy trying to make sense of what is happening to the American state in the age of Trump. This is no less true for revolutionaries, who themselves need to make a concerted effort to understand these developments and the challenges they pose for the workers’ movement. While we cannot pretend to give an exhaustive analysis of all of the myriad issues Trump’s election poses, we will attempt to commence this process here by examining several important concerns that have emerged in the wake of the election that relate to the workers’ movement. First, we will examine the issue of responsibility for Trump’s election victory—which many have attempted to blame on the “working class.” Second, we will address the question of how to fight back against the acceleration of chaos and attacks that Trump’s victory represents in the context of the already emerging protest movements opposing him.

Trump’s victory: who is to blame?

The first thing to say about Trump’s victory in the November election is that it was never supposed to happen. The main factions of the US bourgeoisie in both the Democratic and Republican parties were against him becoming President from the start. He wasn’t even supposed to win the Republican Party nomination.[2] From the perspective of the main factions of the US bourgeoisie, Donald Trump is a radical outsider—a rogue real estate mogul who in the past has demonstrated no firm commitment to any particular policy orientation or political trajectory. He has been both a Democrat and a Republican in the past and has stated his support for both social democratic and extreme right wing positions at various times. More recently however, Trump emerged as a proponent of a kind of right-wing populist politics. Vociferously anti-immigrant and an anti-Obama birther conspiracist, he nevertheless talked a “pro-worker” economic populism, slamming neo-liberal trade policies and vowing to protect social security and Medicare from the budget hawks in both parties itching to cut them. On foreign policy, Trump has criticized the Iraq War and attacked the George W. Bush administration’s policies, while at the same time threatening to bomb ISIS into oblivion and permit Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia to obtain nuclear weapons; he has even put NATO into question. Most curiously however, he has pushed a reconciliationist approach to Putin’s Russia, raising concerns among sectors of the bourgeoisie and the population at large that Trump may be modeling his Presidency in the image of his idol’s “authoritarianism,” or worse— that he is actually taking orders from Moscow.

While there are elements in Trump’s policy hodge-podge for members of various factions of the bourgeoisie to get behind (some Republicans might support his immigration stance for example, while the Democrats could get behind his infrastructure proposals), the overall package represents a grave threat for the main factions of the bourgeoisie, whose commitment to a neo-liberal policy core has been central across the partisan divide for several decades. However, the threat represented by Trump is not limited to the policy arena alone—his erratic personality, child-like temper and narcissistic drive have led many to question the President’s sanity itself. A core theme of the campaign against Trump during both the Republican primary and the general election was that you just can’t trust such a dangerous person with the nukes.

Nevertheless, despite the almost universal revulsion to Trump among the main factions of the US bourgeoisie, they were in the end unable to keep him out of office. Over the course of the 2016 campaign, nearly every institution of the American state tasked with getting the main factions of the bourgeoisie’s preferred candidate (Clinton) through the machinery of the electoral process failed. Firstly, a great deal of the blame for the Trump Presidency can be laid at the feet of the media. While most of the mainstream media were against Trump, they nevertheless—in the pursuit of their own profit-making sectoral interests—gave him massive coverage. Time and time again, while the hired professional pundits and talking head analysts ran him into the ground, the corporate bosses at CNN and even Democrat-leaning MSNBC covered his rallies, giving him massive free media exposure.

Even at the height of the Sanders insurgency in the Democratic primary, the media seemed focused on Trump and the salaciousness of his campaign, as they sought out viewers and Internet clicks. A major contradiction emerged during the campaign between the political preferences of the members of the mainstream media, and the interests of their corporate bosses to remain competitive in a highly fractured media environment driven by the Internet and social media, in which extreme partisanship, conspiracy theory and even “fake news” are growing in importance at the expense of professional journalism that seeks to build a common “news narrative.” With so many voters secluded in their respective partisan media bubbles, the mainstream media is severely handicapped in its function of building the kind of political narrative that assists the main factions of the bourgeoisie’s preferred candidate win office. The news media are themselves driven more and more towards becoming a form of entertainment—a situation Trump as a media-constructed entertainer himself was able to exploit.

The next institution that can be blamed for Trump’s victory is the Republican Party. While Trump was clearly not the choice of the Republican Party establishment, his candidacy and eventual victory were nevertheless built upon years of the GOP pandering to the kind of anti-immigrant, racist, misogynist and populist politics that Trump used to dramatic effect to take over the party. In a sense, Trump’s victory in the Republican primary was just the hoisting of that party on its own petard. For the eight years of the Obama Presidency, the Republicans exploited the Tea Party insurgency within its ranks to obstruct Obama’s agenda, win off-year elections and gerrymander voting districts in their favor. Over the course of the Obama Presidency, the rhetoric emanating from the Republican Party grew more and more radical, confrontational and delegitimizing of the Obama Presidency and even the institutions of the American state itself. From flirting with the birther conspiracists to effectively denying the President the right to appoint a Supreme Court justice, the Republican Party has tended towards an ideological degradation that pits short term partisan interests over the longer term interests of the national capital and the state itself. This has increasingly rendered it incapable of serving as the party of national governance, in the viewpoint of the main factions of the bourgeoisie.

Even if the central figures of the Republican Party were just pandering to the populist sentiments emerging from the back-benchers within its ranks for immediate political and electoral gain and did not subscribe to these ideas themselves, they nevertheless enabled them and allowed them to fester within their ranks. It should not come as a great surprise then that the populist virus at work within the Republican Party for the last eight years has now risen to consume the party establishment itself. Nevertheless, it is also clear that even if the Republican establishment opposed Trump from the beginning, now that he has won they will attempt to exploit his Presidency for their own policy purposes and impose their extreme austerity and repression agenda on the country. The post-election euphoria within the Republican leadership about a united Republican government —an idea that before Election Day seemed like an impossibility in the expectation of what most believed would be Trump’s imminent overwhelming defeat—should serve to illustrate the extreme opportunism and utter hypocrisy of a party that opposed Trump when it thought it was not in its political interests, but that welcomes him into its ranks when it sees the opportunity to exploit him for their partisan goals. Of course, President Trump—who so far appears to be willing to go along with the Republican Party’s agenda (at least domestically) as evidenced by his hard right cabinet picks—may yet have different ideas, a situation that should it emerge will add another round of uncertainty and chaos at the heart of the American state. [3]

However, even if the Republican Party was the political soup in which a President Trump evolved, this in no way absolves the Democratic Party from its own responsibility in his victory. This is true on several levels. First, the Democratic Party—like establishment governing parties in many other advanced countries—completely misread the political dynamic of the rise of populism, nominating perhaps the worst possible candidate to defeat a right-wing populist demagogue. Although Clinton was the clear choice of the main factions of the bourgeoisie, having proved herself a loyal servant of the neoliberal policy consensus —in essence a continuation of the Obama administration[4]—she was nevertheless nothing short of a political disaster in the making.

Faced with the Sanders insurgency, the Clinton campaign ran to the right denouncing core Democratic Party commitments to the New Deal. This alienated the left and millenials in the Party, some percentage of whom simply refused to vote for her in the general election. Faced with Trumpian economic populism, she denounced Trump’s blue-collar supporters as a “Basket of Deplorables,” severely harming her electoral prospects in critical Rust Belt states she would need to win to become President. But beyond these glaring political mistakes, Clinton was marred by deep ethical and legal problems—including having made numerous paid speeches to Wall Street banks and facing an active FBI investigation over her private email server while she was Secretary of State. These fed suspicions that she was an ethically compromised individual, who simply could not be trusted to keep her campaign promises—such as her newfound commitment to oppose the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact.

Clinton’s legal problem’s exploded just a week an a half before Election Day, when FBI Director James Comey—having initially cleared her of criminal wrongdoing in her email scandal—announced that he was reopening the investigation after another cache of emails were found on her trusted aide Huma Abedin’s computer. This was confirmation of the sheer arrogance and hubris of the Democratic Party establishment that had assured everyone, including itself, that Clinton’s email problems were not a real issue. The mentality in the Democratic Party establishment appeared to be that it was Hillary’s turn to be President and any challengers—even one who consistently polled better against Republicans than she did, like Sanders—would be stopped, even if it meant using the institutional power of the Democratic Party itself to ensure her victory in the primary.

Even with all the uncertainty surrounding her legal and ethical problems, the Democratic Party stubbornly refused to consider nominating another candidate. Even if they didn’t want Sanders in power—there appears to have been no serious effort made to recruit someone like Vice President Joe Biden to enter the race[5]. In a sense, what the Democratic Party did was at a level of debasement even lower than the Republicans. While the Republicans have put short-term partisan gain in front of the interests of the national capital as a whole, in 2016 the Democrats put the ambitions of the Clinton dynasty itself front and center, even with President Donald Trump the penalty for making a bad bet that she couldn’t lose. In doing so, the Democrats paved the way for Trump, discredited their own party and have put the very ideological division of labor in the American two party system into serious jeopardy.

While it is clear that had Clinton won the election she would have mostly continued the policy preferences of the main factions of the bourgeoisie and for this reason she was their preferred candidate, it is also now clear that her candidacy came with very clear political risks that the main factions of the bourgeoisie either failed to see or willfully ignored. Sometimes in the political life of the bourgeoisie, it is necessary for it to fall behind candidates that, while they may be on the fringes of the policy mainstream, nevertheless give the system as a whole a level of political cover that allows it to continue. The fact that the US bourgeoisie, through the institutions of the Democratic Party, failed to recognize the political necessities of the moment marks a major milestone in the worsening effects of decomposition on the political apparatus of the bourgeois state.[6]

The fact that the Democratic Party’s delusions about the political moment were only ratified by its extensive (and expensive) “scientific” polling, consulting and voter micro- targeting apparatus only highlights the extent to which, like the Republican Party before it, it has succumbed to a kind of degeneration. For the Democrats, this took the form of a self-congratulatory group-think narrative about its own invincibility, based on favorable demographic trends within the electorate, that led it to convince itself there was no way Hillary could ever lose to Trump. With this fact seemingly assured, the Democrats thought they could take Sanders voters for granted, ignore the Rust Belt, busy themselves with courting moderate Republicans and ensure the donors were happy. This, of course, was all a dangerous illusion that exploded in dramatic fashion on Election Day when Hillary lost, putting Trump in power and leaving an increasingly ideologically driven Republican Party on the cusp of controlling nearly the entire federal government apparatus.

The role of the working class: is the proletariat to blame for Trump?

When the election results began to role in on the night of November 8th, the reality slowly set in as it became clear that Hillary was losing just about every swing state in the election: Florida, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Michigan and even Pennsylvania. These were all states that went for Obama at least once, but now each one went into Trump’s Electoral College column. Needing a clean sweep of all these swing states to win the Presidency, Trump got it. Needing to win just one or two—Hillary was completely shut out. By the end of the night, the media was in complete shock about what had just occurred. By the next morning, the shock had spread to the pundits, columnists, editorialists and politicians of all stripes, as well as to the population itself.

A man who had run a campaign based on promising to deport millions of immigrants, ban Muslims from entering the country, and send troops into the nation’s cities—a man who was caught on tape bragging about sexually assaulting women—would now be President? In the days that followed, shock and confusion turned into fear and anxiety. What would American society look like in the age of President Trump? Would there be gangs of empowered white supremacists roaming the streets looking to assault minorities? Would millions of families soon be torn apart by deportation? Many white liberals took to wearing safety pins on their clothes as a symbol to minorities that they were “safe whites” who wouldn’t assault them or denounce them to the immigration authorities. While much of this wellspring of solidarity was animated by a genuine concern for the safety of one’s neighbors, others wondered where such sentiment was under Obama when he set a record for deportations?

In any event, once the shock began to alleviate, the media and the pundits turned their attention to the very question we have been examining here: who was to blame for the electoral catastrophe? The Democratic Party, and their allies in the mainstream media, found many villains to blame: chief among them FBI Director Comey and Russian President Putin—who supposedly “intervened” in the election by hacking the Democratic National Committee’s email servers and turning the damning contents revealing the DNC actively conspiring to defeat Sanders over to Wikileaks who released them to the public. While it is indeed possible that this “intervention” cost Hillary electoral votes by alienating Sanders voters who might have otherwise voted for her against Trump, it’s not clear how this “offends democratic values” or undermines the US’s “democratic system” in that all it did was reveal to the public the rampant corruption within the Democratic Party that many already suspected was there.

Nevertheless, whatever effect the interventions of Comey and Putin may have had on the outcome of the election, neither of these figures put a gun to the head of voters and made them pull the lever for Trump. Therefore, the defeated Democrats—who represent the viewpoint of the main factions of the bourgeoisie as a whole—need another villain in their narrative of explaining how Hillary lost this election to the supposedly hapless Trump. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that they have decided that it is mostly the “working class” that is that villain.

First, it should be understood that in American bourgeois political discourse, the concept of the “working class” generally refers to only one particular cultural/sociological component of the proletariat: white blue collar workers without a college degree. Rarely do bourgeois commentators include minority workers in this concept (who are thought to have no other identity than their race or ethnicity), nor do they generally include more educated workers, who are generally considered to be part of a different “professional managerial class” (even if their incomes are lower than some of the members of the “working class”). Moreover, to the extent to which the concept of “working class” is increasingly defined in bourgeois discourse as a cultural identity rather than an economic relationship to the production process, even many white small business owners (petty bourgeoisie) are lumped in with actual blue-collar proletarians in the media construction of the “working class.” It would therefore be a grave mistake to conclude that the majority of Trump’s voters were proletarians or that most of the working class supported Trump. This is simply not empirically accurate.

However, it may indeed be true that among white blue-collar workers (otherwise known in bourgeois political discourse as “downscale whites”) there was a certain level of enthusiasm for Trump’s candidacy to the extent to which he promised to reverse trade deals that many in this demographic blame for declining wages, attacks on their living and working conditions and community disintegration. He framed this promise by calling for certain economic protectionist policies that sound as if they might help the national economy and improve the conditions of the working class. If many in the so-called “white working-class” believed these campaign promises, they have been misled, but it is not entirely surprising that they would be open to them after nearly three decades of a neo-liberal political consensus, which told the working class they had no other place to go outside the establishment parties.

Still, since the election many figures in the defeated Democratic Party have been loudly shouting their belief that the “working class” did not support Trump so-much for his economic policies but out of their racist and xenophobic sentiments, which Trump did so much to pander to during the campaign. For the Democrats, Trump won over members of this demographic not because of his opposition to trade deals or his promises to punish corporations who ship jobs overseas (Sanders made all of those promises too), but because of his desire to deport millions of immigrants and ban Muslims from entering the United States. For the Democratic Party—the party that since FDR has supposed to have been the party of “working America”—the working class has become something akin to an inherently racist mob, whose deep-seated hatred threatens the United States’ very democratic institutions in that it is so easily manipulated by a dangerous demagogue like Trump. The irony in this reversal of ideological roles between the Democrats and Republicans is remarkable in highlighting the severe crisis of political legitimacy that the US two-party system now finds itself in, but to what extend are these accusations of the Democrats actually true?

First, it is necessary to point out that in the November election, there were many counties in the so-called Rust Belt states that went for Obama in either 2008 or 2012 (or both), but that voted for Trump in 2016. It simply would not be possible for this to occur without some percentage of white blue-collar workers who previously voted for an African-American for President at least once, changing their votes to Trump this time. It is thus rather difficult to write such a switch off to pure racism and xenophobia.[7] A better explanation for this phenomenon is that among this demographic there has been a growing disillusionment with the Democratic Party after eight years of neo-liberal governance and policy under Obama—dressed up in the flowery campaign language of “Hope and Change.” With nowhere else to go, with no real alternative offered by the Democratic Party after Sanders was dispatched in the primary, it is not surprising that many white workers were willing to take a chance on the radical outsider Trump, who at least—many must have reasoned—would “shake things up.”[8]

Nevertheless, on the issue of immigration today, it is necessary for us to acknowledge that there is a divide within the working class in its reaction to the phenomenon. For some drawn in by Trump’s rhetoric, immigration is seen as a major factor in the decline of their living standards, while many of those who supported Sanders in the Democratic primary, in particular the younger generations of educated workers, do not go in for such conclusions and support openness to others—even as they look in disgust at the “white working class” as racists and xenophobes. It is clear that this divide in the working class is a major problem at this historical juncture, limiting the proletariat’s ability to deepen its own struggles as a unified class against the decline in its living and working conditions outside of the bourgeois electoral arena.

We will not pretend that we have easy answers for how this problem can be overcome in the immediate period ahead. It is likely these differences are the reflection of profound sociological realties resulting from the breakdown of the old Fordist order that dominated the post-World War Two era and the emergence of new social formations within the working class as a result of the new neo-liberal modes of managing the capitalist crisis. Nevertheless, this does not change the underlying fact that neither of these groups have any long term interest in the continuation of capitalism. If the working class is to fulfill its role as the revolutionary gravedigger of the capitalist system these division will have to be overcome in a common struggle against the universal effects of the crisis, regardless of their particular manifestations for different sociological cohorts within the proletariat.

In this regard, the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton proved themselves to be just as apt in the politics of racial, ethnic and linguistic division as Trump and the Republicans. Clinton’s description of Trump’s followers as a “basket of deplorables,” while perhaps not as openly racist as many of Trump’s statements, is nevertheless racialized code designed to marginalize and disparage the white working class—in particular by continuing to sow distrust between it and the millennial generation of educated workers. While we recognize the cultural differences between these two groups may be profound, there is nevertheless a community of interest between the two in figuring out how to effectively respond to capital’s attacks against their standard of living. Whether it is the collapse of the old Fordist certainties (for older white workers) or the sense of no real future of stable employment (for educated millenials), these problems cannot be overcome by succumbing to the politics of fear, suspicion and division. It is precisely these obstacles to consciousness that that political campaigns of both political parties seek to sow.

At the end of the day, whatever the problems affecting proletarian class-consciousness at this juncture of history, we think it is simply wrong headed to lay the blame for Trump at the feet of the working class of whatever racial identity. On the contrary, as we have endeavored to show above, the blame for Trump lies squarely on the institutions of the American state itself—institutions that it is not even controversial anymore to say have undergone a major degradation. We think this degradation is a result of the reciprocal effects of capitalist decomposition on the state itself. At the end of the day, the rot within the US state, which has now produced President Donald J. Trump, is an effect of the now decades long crisis of capitalist accumulation, a crisis that the ruling class has no solution for.

How to fight back?

Understandably, Trump’s Presidency has provoked a major backlash from civil society. After all, most of the electorate did not vote for him; he won the Presidency solely on the strength of the Electoral College, meaning his legitimacy has been suspect from the start. In the days after the election, there were massive and regular protests in many American cities, particularly in New York City where tens of thousands surrounded Trump Tower in Manhattan night after night to express their utter disgust with the election results. On Inauguration Day, there were sometimes violent protests in the nation’s capital, followed the next day by the massive Women’s March, which saw millions of people flow into the streets of cities across the country large and small. When Trump announced his Executive Order banning citizens of seven Muslim majority countries from entering the US, a series of spontaneous protests broke out at the nation’s airports—seemingly forcing the administration to back down on some of the more extreme aspects of the order, such as banning US Permanent Residents from returning from abroad. More protests are planned, including an Immigrants’ March and a Scientists’ March. There has even been talk of a General Strike and a Women’s Strike.

 From our perspective, the outpouring of solidarity that has often accompanied these protests is a very positive reaction to the deepening crisis of capitalist society that Trump’s election represents. We will not attempt to pour cold water over these actions, which at some level represent a healthy response from society to the cancer of capitalist decomposition eating it from the inside. However, we also need to be frank that such actions in and of themselves are unlikely to constitute an effective resistance to the root causes of the continuing social rot, which is what in the end is responsible for giving us a President Trump. In our view, President Trump—as horrible and grating as those two words still sound to the ear—is more an effect than a cause itself, even if it’s clear that his administration will certainly accelerate the very historical tendencies that have produced his Presidency in the first place.

We will not rehash a list of all the ways that Trump’s policies are really just a continuation of Obama’s (although many of them are); we won’t try to tell you that Hillary Clinton would be as much of a disaster as Trump is shaping up to be (although it is clear that had she won she would have continued to be haunted by major controversies surrounding her legal problems and ties to Wall Street while President). However, it is nevertheless true that Obama, Hillary and Trump all grow out of the same slop of capitalist decomposition and the neo-liberal policies that the bourgeoisie has adopted across the advanced capitalist world in order to manage the economic crisis over the last three decades. It may be true that Trump is uniquely garish, erratic and personally revolting; but it is also true that the kind of politics he espouses is not a sui generis phenomenon in the capitalist world system today: Nigel Farage, Geert Wilders, Marine Le Pen, Kevin O’Leary, Kellie Leitch, etc. are all faces of what must be described as a global phenomenon across the old industrial core countries today: right-wing populism.

This populism is not a uniquely American problem driven by a particularly racist working class, nor is it merely a function of Trump’s warped personality (even if one does not need to be a practicing psychiatrist to strongly suspect the many personality disorders he suffers from). On the contrary, it is a result of a global capitalist system that has no solution for its underlying economic crisis and the social decomposition that results from it. Still, Trump’s victory is nevertheless a very important moment in the evolution of this crisis in that up until November, the bourgeois state had been more or less successful in keeping any populist politicians from actually seizing the reigns of the state.[9] The fact that today one governs the most powerful bourgeois state—still the world’s last super power—is only a dramatic illustration of the threat the continued existence of global capitalism poses to humanity itself.

Under the conditions marked by social decomposition today, it is increasingly difficult for much of the population to believe the lies and false promises the neoliberal politicians spew. While some within the American population turned to Sanders in the Democratic primary, with his promise of a revitalized social democracy, to vent their anger and disgust, others turned to Trump and his ideology of “nation-state populism.” In any event, both phenomena were made possible by the same underlying force: the increasing discredit of both establishment political parties and the development of a real crisis of political legitimacy.

Nevertheless, whatever their discredit today, it is almost inevitable that the neo-liberal politicians will try to take full advantage of Trump’s Presidency to revitalize their image in the eyes of the population. The Democrats will organize and lead protests[10]; they will attempt to appear to obstruct and delegitimize Trump at every turn. The main factions of the bourgeoisie will exploit their electoral screw-up to try to enact a “left in opposition” policy to build up the Democratic Party as the vehicle for the population’s revulsion at Trump and his polices. This is why it is of utmost importance that whatever resistance movement develops in the period ahead avoids becoming subsumed under the auspices of the newly combative Democrats—the same Democrats whose elected officials will almost certainly “make deals” with Trump when they think the national capital’s interests are at stake.[11]

Of course, given their own political failings it is possible that the Democrats will botch this attempt to become a party of “left opposition.” Already, there are signs that the Democratic establishment might just try to wait for Trump to self-implode and not make too many concessions to the Sanders faction before they return to power. In such a case, it is likely that Sanders—or whoever claims the mantle as the social democratic insurgent—will be there to attempt to capture the population’s anger. If this happens, it will be even more important that those genuinely interested in fighting the systemic roots of the current mess maintain their independence from all the political parties and formations.

Moreover, it is of utmost importance that the emerging social movements do not succumb to the rabid Russophobia that has currently overtaken the Democratic Party. The attempts to brand Trump as a “traitor” on the pay roll of Putin sound odd coming from the Democrats, but this is nevertheless powerful evidence that when it thinks it is in its political interests, the Democrats will adopt the same language of McCarthyite innuendo and suspicion as the Republicans have in the past.[12] Disappointingly, it has not been uncommon to see this Russophobia on display at the many protests against Trump, with many signs telling the President to move to Moscow, labeling his daughter Ivanka a “Tsarina,” or even implying that there is a sultry homosexual relationship between Trump and Putin. The irony of such homophobic denigration emanating from Democrats is rich, but is also an illustration of how quickly the ideological shoe can move to the other foot in bourgeois politics.

However, this campaign of Russophobic McCarthyism (itself a form of the xenophobia the Democrats denounce in the “white working class”) is doubly dangerous in that it has already been turned from a way to delegitimize Trump to a weapon to wield against “the left.” Anyone who questions the narrative about Russian interference in the election or who rejects the McCarythite tactics being deployed against Trump can themselves be the object of McCarthyism through the tried and true tactic of “guilt by association.” Some commentators are already talking about a “red-brown” convergence going in the world, wherein certain “left-wing” forces are seen to be giving succor to the rising scourge of global fascism represented by Trump, Putin and company.[13] While for the moment this is directed mostly against factions of the bourgeois left (like the Green Party), it is highly likely it would also be used against real revolutionary forces should they become seen as a genuine threat to the system. The combination of an ominous McCarthyism with rampant allegations of treason being leveled at the President and his inner circle creates an extremely dangerous environment that, even if it is not primarily directed at us today, would not be difficult to turn into a campaign against genuine revolutionary forces in the future.

Nevertheless, it is also true that while those who seek to genuinely oppose Trump should avoid the kind of McCarthyite hysteria gripping the Democratic Party, it is also important that they have no illusions in the Putin regime being some kind of benevolent anti-imperialist force in the world, because it opposes US imperialism or because it gives voice to certain oppositional forces inside Western democracies through its propaganda media channel Russia Today (RT).[14] Quite on the contrary, the Putin regime is in fact a brutal capitalist state with its own imperialist ambitions in the world. The fact that the Russian state may judge that it is in its interests to promote forces (on both the left and the right) within Western “democratic” states that put the established political order in these countries into question should blind no one to the Kremlin’s ruthless imperialist nature.

In order to effectively resist President Trump, it is necessary to understand the deep historical forces that have given birth to him. While it is true that in some ways, Trump’s Presidency is an “accident” (in the sense that the bourgeoisie bungled the election and he is only in office on the strength of the antiquated Electoral College machinery), we should have no illusion that the bourgeoisie is in control of the situation or that Trump is some kind of aberration that will give way to a restoration of a healthy democratic politics. No, on the contrary Trump is a symptom of a wider disease, the historic crisis of capitalism that has brought on a generalized social rot, which now infects the political apparatus of the bourgeoisie itself. Even if Hillary would have won the election as she was supposed to, this would have not squelched the social forces of anger and disgust with the establishment status quo bubbling to the surface in capitalist society that are empowering populist politicians around the world.

We do not know what will happen in the immediate future with American politics. The rest of the bourgeoisie may resist Trump so fervently that he is either impeached over his real or imagined ties to Russia or some other legal breech he is bound to commit, or his Presidency may fizzle out in defeat in four years time. Certainly, the controversy over his former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s contacts with the Russian Ambassador and the near constant harangue coming from Democrats over his supposed ties to Putin and the Russian state do not bode well for the future of his Presidency. [15]

It is also possible that Trump will be able to coerce a few corporations to delay or cancel various outsourcing plans long enough and he will deport just enough migrants to please his base, establishing something approaching a stable “populist” locus of legitimacy within the bosom of the American state. We can’t say exactly how it will all play out. However, what its clear is that Trump’s Presidency represents a qualitative step into the abyss for humanity, driven by a capitalist system that can no longer offer any real perspective for our species. In order to resist this drive it is necessary to rediscover the path of struggle outside the political apparatus of the bourgeois state—whatever its particular partisan form. While the shear odiousness of Trump gives rise to an understandable desire to whatever is possible to just make this vulgar man go away, we need to comprehend that while the Democrats may sound more competent and professional (although their current descent into Russophobic nationalism, puts that contention into serious question), while they may offer up a more welcoming and progressive surrounding rhetoric than Trump and the Republicans, as a vital part of the state apparatus, they are fully complicit in the systemic decline of capitalist society that has made President Trump a reality. The only road forward for humanity is the path of the independent struggle of the proletariat to defend its living and working conditions against the effects of the ongoing capitalist crisis outside the control of all bourgeois political formations, left or right.

Henk

2/16/2017



[1] Some have postulated the chaos surrounding the executive order was in fact intentional as a way of shocking the immigration bureaucracy in order to determine who could be counted on to implement controversial orders and who would put up resistance. See for example: https:[email protected][email protected]78f0c5#.bpytcit5j

[2] See our Trump vs. Clinton: Nothing But Bad Choice for Both the Bourgeoisie and for the Proletariat for more details on the primary campaign: http://en.internationalism.org/icconline/201610/14149/trump-v-clinton-nothing-bad-choices-bourgeoisie-and-proletariat

[3] It is quite possible that in attempting to implement Bannon’s “nation-state populism” the Trump Administration will push certain policies too far or fail to pursue the Republican Party’s austerity agenda with sufficient fervor, bringing him back into conflict with his own party. Already, Trump has followed through on his campaign promise to scuttle the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP)—aggravating many Republicans and Democrats alike. Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham have loudly contested Trump’s openness to Moscow. Of course, any Republican who wants to oppose Trump faces the reality of the President’s fervent supporters. Where Obama’s support within the Democratic base was broad, but not very deep, Trump’s supporters appear to be the kind to show up and vote in primaries against establishment Republicans who oppose their President too openly.

[4] During the Obama Presidency, despite their firm grip on the Presidency, the Democrats’ position at the state and local level actually declined and the party lost both houses of Congress. Clearly, whatever the charismatic power of the first African American President for the majority of the electorate that voted for him, it did not carry over into off-year elections and down-ticket races. Obama’s popularity was based mostly on a personalized celebrity charisma and not on some kind of deep loyalty to the Democratic Party or the institutions of American “democracy”. In a way, then, the form of legitimacy that undergird the Obama Presidency paved the way for the “anti-Obama” in Trump (in the same way Obama was the “anti-Bush”), who was busy developing his own charismatic base of support in the population through his reality TV show and his escalating forays into sensationalist right-wing politics. In any event, this sequence only highlights the increasing difficulties of the US bourgeoisie in legitimating its two-party “democratic” apparatus. More and more, political life is devolving into a contest of personalities and their negations, where one figure obliterates the image and legacy of his/her predecessor (even if many substantive policy continuities remain). The resemblance of all of this to a reality TV show is not coincidental. It was to the Democratic Party’s dismay that it could only build a very limited base of personalized legitimacy for Clinton, mostly with older professional women and minorities. She was never going to play well with blue-collar whites in the Rust Belt or with increasingly politicized and left-leaning millenials, who saw her for the corporate neo-liberal she was. In some ways, the Sanders campaign marked an attempt to construct a different form of legitimation, in that it sought to build a “social movement culture,” but there was nevertheless something like a “cult of personality” that developed around Sanders as a sort of “incorruptible” and almost awkwardly sincere social justice crusader. Of course, some of this lustre evaporated when he predictably endorsed Hillary in the general election.

[5] Biden appears to have considered entering the race in the early going, but declined under the personal stress of his son’s death and the seemingly inevitable Clinton coronation. Nevertheless, with Hillary facing growing difficulties in the summer, the Democrats seemingly refused to make a genuine effort to get him to reconsider.

[6] Focused as we have been on the ideological decay of the Republican Party, we have perhaps tended to underestimate in past articles the extent to which the Democratic Party has experienced its own form of degradation over the course of the neo-liberal period. This process, while less ideological than what the Republican party has experienced, has nevertheless led to the point where the Democrats’ arrogance—buoyed by Obama’s victories--as “the party of demographic change” and the party of the “techno-utopian future” enabled a kind of cronyism resulting in a complete misreading of the political exigencies of the current populist climate. Of course, in this the Democrats are not alone, as center-left parties across the old industrial core countries—including many ostensibley “Socialist” parties--have tended to reveal themselves as “technocratic” managers of neo- liberal policies that champion an ethic of “meritocratic progressivism” rather than parties of social democratic security—thus opening up the political space for populism.

[7] It is of course possible that some white workers voted for Obama in spite of their racism, but this would suggest that they do not make political decisions solely on that basis—their political subjectivity remains open.

[8] Some have suggested that even if the white working class didn’t vote for Trump because they are racist, they were nevertheless willing to overlook Trump’s racism and the very real threat it poses to the lives of minorities, in order to express their “economic anxiety.” This seems a fair point and only highlights the threats to social solidarity in the era of capitalist decomposition; but it is also true that in the media construction of Trump which many of these voters were consuming, he was not portrayed as the virulent racist of Democratic campaign ads. On the contrary, Trump’s closing campaign ads in the Rust Belt focused on economic grievances and a promised national renewal. They were not the dark images of doom and destruction of his Republican Convention address, nor were they focused on racial dog whistling. In the words of one analyst, “In these ads, Trump sounded like Bernie Sanders.”

[9] The Brexit vote in the UK is of course a noteworthy precursor of Trump’s election, but even as the British bourgeoisie struggles with the outcome of the referendum that didn’t go the way it planned, the establishment politicians have been able to retain control of the state apparatus.

[10] Of course, they will only be seen to sanction the right kind of “responsible” protests. They will completely abandon those who act out in fits of property destruction as “criminals,” “professional anarchists” or “agent provocateurs” in their quest to demonstrate their professionalism and responsibility to Middle America. Such was clear in the aftermath of the recent UC Berkeley protests against the appearance of the alt-right figure Milos Yiannapoulous at an on campus speaking engagement. The young protestors who engaged in property destruction, which effectively shut the event down, were denounced by most Democrats in such terms, including former Sanders supporter and Bill Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich, who appearing on CNN suggested they were really fascists disguised as protestors. The message is clear: those who attempt to protest outside the established channels will be abandoned to their fate at the hands of the state’s repressive apparatus.

[11] In this, the Democrats will likely reveal a key difference from the Republicans. As the party of technocratic management, it is unlikely the Democrats will pass up a chance to “compromise” with Trump in the rare instances when there is good policy (from their neo-liberal perspective) on offer. Where the Republicans have excelled at the politics of obstruction, the Democrats seem, so far at least, to be rather out of their element in attempting to delegitimize Trump, as their McCarthyite diatribes come off as rather pathetic. It remains unclear if the Democrats will have the fortitude and political vision to effectively refashion themselves as a party of the left in opposition—much of that hangs on the outcome of the current race for DNC chair, which pits an Obama/Clinton functionary (Tom Perez) against a Berniecrat (Keith Ellison).

[12]At this point there is no way we can know the truth behind the details of Russian intervention in the US election. However, the “evidence” produced for these links has been rather weak. This hasn’t stopped the Democrats from resorting to the most aggressive and inflammatory accusations against Trump, with talk of “’treason” liberally spewed on CNN and MSNBC. The irony of such a campaign of delegitimation should not be understated coming from a party whose President suffered from the effects of the “birther conspiracy” for his entire tenure. Of course, the allegations of collusion with Moscow against Trump are such that there isn’t much he can do to disprove them—its not like he can whip out some kind of document that would definitively refute them.  Absent starting a war with Russia, Trump will likely suffer from allegations of being a “Manchurian President” on the pay roll of Moscow for his entire Presidency (however long it lasts)—something which in and of itself tells you all you need to know about the “health” of the US political system.

[13] See for example: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2017/01/13/how-putin-played-the-far-left.html

[14] RT America’s current line-up features “news” and talk programming centered around “left-wing” figures like Thom Hartman and Ed Schultz (who has become rather open to President Trump lately), as well as the comedian Lee Camp, who was a vocal Sanders supporter who pushed the idea that Democratic primary was rigged by actual vote fraud, but also includes more populist conspiracists like former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura (and his son). Some commentators have suggested that the Russian state's goal here is to promote suspicion and contempt for the institutions of liberal democracy, rather than favor a particular political line. This may be true, but it is also true that it is possible to obtain information and perspective from such programming that is simply verboten in the mainstream media. Of course, one must be on constant guard to filter out the pro-Russian, pro-Putin propaganda of the news programming, some of which is rather subtle.

[15] The intervention of the intelligence apparatus to bring down Flynn by leaking wiretap intercepts of his conversations with the Russian ambassador, in which he supposedly discussed the sanctions Obama had placed on Moscow over interference in the election while Obama was still in office, is a very ominous sign. The fact that the Democrats have been cheering on such interventions by the “Deep State,” is both ironic (given their fury at the FBI for supposedly bringing Clinton down) and revealing of the party’s true nature.