It seems like every week there is a new scandal, a new shock coming from the White House!
In January of this year, Oaklandsocialist published an article on some of the main developments in the US and where they seemed to be headed. Among other things, we explained the weakening of US capitalism both at home and abroad. Even back then, we asked how far could Trump go and tentatively raised the idea of what could be called one-man/strong-man rule (also known as “bonapartism”). Since then, a couple of articles in the capitalist press have also raised this issue. So, here we are updating what we wrote back in January:
Since January, an even more serious situation has developed in the US. That situation is exemplified by the scene of thousands of frenzied Trump supporters cursing at and giving the finger to a CNN reporter at a Trump rally. Mixed in with the curses were cries of “go home” and “tell the truth”. Translated, that means that they don’t want anything reported that might show them and their hero for what they really are. This is the result of Trump’s unrelenting, daily attack on the media as being “enemies of the people” and “fake news”.
Socialists have no illusions in the capitalist media and in the capitalist (“bourgeois”) democracy that the media is based on. But replacing it with a frenzied, right wing racist mob and direct one-man rule is a huge step backwards, not forward.
Trump and the capitalist class
It is not just the base; his relationship with his own class is also vitally important.
After his election, and especially with his massive tax giveaway to the rich and the
corporations, major sectors of the capitalist class were beginning to come around. This was despite the way in which he was destabilizing things by, for his example, his partial support for the fascists in Charlottesville. Several developments have really alienated most of his class, though.
First is his initiating of a tariff war. This really threatens the world economy. Second was his attacks on NATO at the recent conference in Europe. The recent proposed budget, with the largest deficit in US history, was too much for even the Koch brothers. These right wing ideologues have now actually abandoned the Republican Party!
When a national leader bases him or herself on such a frenzied mob and when they are alienating much of the capitalist class, this tends to drive them towards direct one-person rule. And that is where Trump is headed.
Consider the developments:
In most presidencies, the administration is made up of representatives of the various factions in that president’s party. In that way, the different strategies and the limited differences in interests of different wings of the capitalist class can have influence. Trump has eliminated that; anybody wanting to serve Trump has to be a complete yes-man or woman.
Republicans and congress
Through his control of the Republican Party base, Trump’s control over the Republican Party is near-complete. Cross him, and any Republican politician is liable to be voted out in the next primary they face. With the Republican majority in both houses of Congress, Trump is now able to control congress.
The capitalist class as a whole can also control its president through the federal court system. Trump has appointed a whole series of federal district court and appeals court judges. Some of his nominees (such as John Bush and Brett Talley) had left a paper trail of open racism so their nominations had to be withdrawn. But that simply shows the types that Trump has nominated. With his nomination of Brett Kavanaugh for the US Supreme Court, Trump’s direct control over federal judiciary is near complete. Kavanaugh has written that, in essence, the president stands above the law.
A signal event was Trump’s meeting with Putin and their joint press conference on July 18 of 2018. Trump’s role in that conference caused an uproar among the representatives of the US capitalist class’s main representatives and strategists. Former CIA chief James Brennan said Trump was guilty of “high crimes and misdemeanors” and “treason”. Lifelong Republican Max Boot called Trump an “enemy of the people”. Others made similar comments. Not
even at the height of the Watergate scandal were such things said about a sitting president by top representatives of US capitalism. The reason was that Trump had decisively shown that he stood with the interests of the Russian capitalist class vs. those of the rival US mainstream capitalists. (All too many “socialists” took the position that “we don’t care”. How can anybody who is halfway serious ignore what is happening in the enemy camp?)
Meanwhile, the walls are closing in on Trump with the Mueller investigation. As we have noted over and over, Trump is a long time money launderer for the Russian mafia and he has, in fact, colluded with their representative (Putin) during the elections. He cannot afford to allow the investigation to expose him. How can he prevent this?
Mueller investigation, Brian Benczkowski and Alfa Bank
A little noted event was the confirmation of Brian Benczkowski as the head of the Justice Department’s criminal investigation department. In that position, Benczkowski is directly over the Mueller probe. Who is this man?
Benczkowski has no experience whatsoever as a criminal prosecutor. What he does have experience in is as a defense attorney for the subjects of white collar crime cases. That, combined with his work as a former chief of staff for Jeff Sessions when Sessions was a US senator. In particular, in his role as criminal defense lawyer, Benczkowski had been hired by Alfa Bank, one of the largest commercial banks in Russia. What is the relevance?
On Oct. 31, 2016, just eight days before the presidential elections, a strange link was reported between computer servers of Alfa and the Trump organization2. Alfa denied any collusion, but interestingly, within days of the report the Trump computer server was shut down. There are some possible explanations of this link, but taken in their totality, it seems highly unlikely that this was not part of the collusion between the Trump campaign and Putin and his cronies. In order to defend itself, Alfa hired an attorney in the United States – none other than Brian Benczkowski! Trump had nominated him back in June of last year, but he wasn’t confirmed until this last June. Under questioning, he promised to recuse himself from any investigation into Alfa Bank, but not into any investigation of Alfa’s parent company.
So, Trump now has a direct ear into exactly what information Mueller is getting and what he is planning. Presumably, has his immediate supervisor, Benckowski would also have the power to fire Mueller, and a campaign towards that end is already under way among Republican congress members.
November, 2018, elections
That brings us to November’s mid term elections. Trump is setting the stage. At a Montana campaign rally on July 5, Trump commented: “A vote for the Democrats in November is a vote to let MS-13 run wild in our communities…. Democrats want anarchy, they really do, and they don’t know who they’re playing with, folks.” We should take such comments seriously. They are setting the stage for a possible (unofficial) nullification of November’s results, should Trump feel that is necessary. It is far from certain, but we cannot discount the possibility. It could be done through voter suppression on a scale far wider than anything seen in recent years, or through outright fraud such as what happened in the Florida 2000 vote “count” that resulted in George Bush becoming the president, or a combination of both.
In the Florida 2000 event, mass protests got started, only to be squelched by the Democrats and their lieutenants, the union leadership. It seems unlikely that they would be able to completely suppress such a movement today. In fact, they might partially encourage it – or at least the “progressive” wing could. How far would Trump go to outright repress them? Would such repression be linked to a possible Benczkowski removal of Mueller?
“Fascism”? “Martial Law”? Sounds ridiculous, but…
There is no way to answer such questions with any degree of confidence, but they have to be kept in mind. What is certain is that new and even greater shocks are in the offing. Where will they lead? Again, let us turn to the capitalist media, first of all from Ireland! On June 18, the Irish Times published an opinion piece entitled “Trial runs for fascism are in full flow”. The author, Fintan O’Toole wrote that babies in cages were no mistake, they were the test marketing for barbarism. “Fascism – a word that should be used carefully but not shirked when it is so clearly on the horizon. Forget “post-fascist” – what we are living with is pre-fascism,” O’Toole wrote. “It is not easy to get people to give up their ideas of freedom and civility. You have to do trial runs that, if they are done well, serve two purposes. They get people used to something they may initially recoil from; and they allow you to refine and calibrate. This is what is happening now and we would be fools not to see it.”
This was followed by a NY Times opinion piece exactly a month later. That one was entitled “Trump’s Road to American martial Law”. The writer recounts every scandal in Trump’s not-yet two year old presidency and how Trump has survived them all and come back stronger than ever. He concludes, “Soon, there may be indictments from Robert Mueller, the special counsel, of high officials or members of Trump’s family. What then? Ornstein’s nightmare scenario: Trump fires Mueller, pardons himself and everyone else, sends his followers into the street, and, after the inevitable bloodshed, declares martial law.”
What organized forces could stand in the way?
Some might point to the forces that Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez represents. This recent “rock star” of the left defeated a top Democrat in the New York City primary for congressional representative in Washington DC. (The final election will be in November.) What made her victory stunning was that she openly identifies herself as a “democratic socialist” – or at least she did at that time.
However, she is now on the fast track to getting along with the rest of the capitalist Democratic Party. She did a recent interview on PBS, for example. In that interview she walked back her criticisms of the racist State of Israel. Maybe more important was her entire attitude towards the interviewer, Margaret Hoover, who described herself as “center-right”. Throughout the interview, Ocasio-Cortez tried to find common ground with this center-rightist. At one point she completely agreed that she’d be “learning” from her fellow Democrats, and maybe some Republicans, when (if) she gets to Washington. Key was her comment that she does not intend to be “antagonistic” to the representatives of big business. In the context of her cozying up to Hoover and her expressed desire to “learn” from these representatives in Washington, this can only mean that she will try to get along with the representatives of the enemy, rather than confront them.
There is now a systematic campaign to bring her, and the forces she represents, into the fold. What would happen in the event of a major shock, such as the scenario we paint above? If there were mass street protests, the Democratic Party along with their lieutenants, including the union leadership and the NGO’s, would do all in their power to prevent any mass protests from actually shutting anything down. Most especially, they would oppose trying to get workers to shut down their work places. Given the rapid evolution of Ocasio-Cortez, it seems most likely that she would collaborate in this effort.
Again, it would be foolish to definitively predict that something like this will come to pass under Trump. But it would be even more foolish to assume that, just because US capitalism has ruled through capitalist democracy, that such a form of rule must last forever. Trump definitely represents, yes a partial continuation from the past, but also a sharp break.