Trump Crisis is a Crisis of US Capitalism

Is the United States headed towards its greatest political crisis since the US Civil War? It seems that might be the case.

With London bookies giving more or less even odds on it, the speculation on whether he will be impeached is rampant and, therefore, the comparisons with Nixon and Watergate. In that case, US capitalism had a president – Richard Nixon – who had proven himself unreliable, first with his widening the war in South East Asia after they had determined to cut their losses and withdraw, and then with a series of actions borne of paranoia, leading up to the Watergate break-in. He had proven himself unreliable. Although his impeachment caused a lot of turmoil, they were able to keep things pretty well under control.

Nixon (R) and his vice president, Spiro Agnew.
Before they got rid of Nixon they had to get rid of Agnew.

Nixon’s descent into the land of delusion and paranoia was caused by the US defeat in the Vietnam War. That was a historic defeat, but it did not signal a change in the entire world; the domination of US imperialism was able to survive as was the political set-up inside the US. In that sense, Nixon was almost an accidental figure; his presidency did not signal a crisis for all of US capitalism.

Not so with Trump, whose very election slogan “make America great again,” signals the irresolvable crisis of US capitalism.

  • On the one hand, there is the domestic economic crisis. Even though unemployment is low, for example, earnings are still down and a new economic collapse threatens at any moment. “Make America great again” represents a promise to mainly white workers that they will be able to recover the “American Dream” of a stable and secure life style, but this is exactly what the term says: a dream.
  • On the other hand, there is the global crisis of US and world capitalism. US capitalism is no longer able to dominate the capitalist world as it once did. On the contrary, the capitalists of China and Russia are now on the rise, and they are bringing a whole series of other capitalist classes in their wake. As with all working classes, many US workers associate with their own capitalist class; they see “their” capitalists’ successes as their own successes and their failures and humiliations as theirs too. “Make America great again” harkens back to the days of US domination. These days are gone forever.

Trump and Republicans: The Degeneration of US Capitalism
Trump’s election represents a yearning for those old days that cannot return. As such, he is not an accidental figure; he’s a representative of the present contradictions. The problem for US capitalism is that he is also out of their control due to his links with the Russian oligarchs/mafia. In the past, they would have been able to get the president’s own party to discipline him. And now? Not so much. Max Boot, lifelong Republican and contributor to the influential Council on Foreign Relations, recently approvingly quoted commentator Fareed Zakaria: “[I]t appears that the Republican Party is losing any resemblance to a traditional Western political party, instead simply turning into something more commonly found in the developing world: a platform to support the ego, appetites and interests of one man and his family.” In other words, not only has the US capitalist class lost control over its president; they’ve partially lost control over their preferred political party!

This situation stems from the degeneration of the capitalism itself. It has become increasingly parasitic, basing itself on speculation and repression (as well as arms sales). The class that leads this system – the US capitalist class – itself is increasingly parasitic and individualistic, thinking only of individual, immediate profits. And this translates into their preferred party, whose top members think far more about their own individual careers, often at the expense of the political interests of the system itself.

2018: Can They Wait Until Then?
Boot expresses the hope that the 2018 elections will result in a Democratic congress that will impeach Trump. There are two problems with this: First, can they afford to wait that long? Second, as a signal of the lack of credibility of the US capitalist class, their media has so far been unsuccessful in creating a massive revulsion against Trump. At the time of his impeachment, Nixon had a 24% approval rating. Even after all the media attacks, Trump’s remains around 39%, which is approximately the percentage of support he had when he was elected.

Scylla and Charybdis
According to Greek myth, these twin dangers on either side of a narrow and perilous strait of waters threatened all navigators. Steer to one side or the other and doom would follow. That seems to be the problem facing US capitalism.

And what if he was impeached? Unless something drastic changes, there will be millions of true believers who will be absolutely enraged. Some of these are the rising white supremacist groups that Trump has done so much to encourage. It’s hard to see where they would not use violent means of protesting.

But how can they afford to allow a president and congress to remain out of their control for even two years? And what would be the alternative? Talk about Scylla and Charybdis!

Then there is the almost universally ignored role of the working class. Often it’s crises at the top that brings a movement from below to life. In this confused situation, one of a giant vacuum, the only thing harder to see than a continued absence of the working class as a political force is exactly how the working class will express itself, what events will finally propel it into action. (One possibility is an environmental or similar disaster. Another is a serious racist outrage, one that dwarfs anything we’ve seen in recent years.) But whatever it is, if and when the US working class – or even just a major sector if it – moves into action as a cohesive political force, then US capitalism will enter into a crisis that dwarfs anything seen in recent decades.

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