Trump and capitalist democracy: A perfect storm coming?

For two years, they tried to tutor and confine him. They taught him history, explained nuances and gamed out reverberations. They urged careful deliberation, counseled restraint and prepared talking points to try to sell mainstream actions to a restive conservative base hungry for disruption. But in the end, they failed.

For President Trump, the era of containment is over.”

So wrote a major article in the Washington Post after Trump decided to recall the 2,000 US troops from Syria.

This decision comes as Trump is increasingly like a cornered rat. But, just like that rat, he is striking out at all within his reach. He won’t go quietly. In fact, he cannot afford to go quietly. The effects are bringing to a head all the tensions that have mounted in the last two years (and before). They are exemplified at the top by:

  • Trump’s announcement of withdrawal of US troops from Syria and the resulting resignation resignation of his Secretary of Defense, Jim “Mad Dog” Mattis
  • The US government shut down following Trump’s course reversal due to Fox News criticism
  • The falling stock market
  • The apparent further deterioration of Trump’s mental state

Trump’s mounting refusal to listen to “reason”
“I have a gut and my gut tells me more tells me more sometimes than anybody else’s brain,” Trump famously said recently. This plus his reliance on the likes of Ann Coulter at Fox News perfectly encapsulates the tension between Trump and his establishment figures. A SF Chronicle article (Dec. 28) pointed out “Last year… a top Republican senator said there were three men guarding the country from chaos: Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, White House chief of staff John Kelly and then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.”   What has replaced these types is Trump’s “gut”, Ann Coulter/Sean Hannity, and Trump’s own family members.

The views of even the halfway serious strategists for the US capitalist class range from concern (Wall St. Journal) to near apoplexy (Washington Post):

The Wall St. Journal editors were initially won over to Trump as his tax cuts boosted the bottom line for finance capital – in other words the booming stock market. But even these unreconstructed military and political neocons are now concerned. They wrote “In deciding to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria, Trump acted on his own impulses with little more than a cursory consultation with his military advisors…. He is telling soldiers that he will act on uninformed impulse, after a phone conversation from a Turkish dictator.”

The editors of the NY Times have a further concern: The possibility of an unrestrained Trump calling for a nuclear strike. The Times calls for: “Legislation requiring that secretaries of state and defense have a say in the use of nuclear weapons is one good place to start. Another is to require congressional approval to leave NATO or other treaty obligations, like the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.” None of these are at all likely since Trump would have to sign all such measures or, failing that, they would have to pass with a 2/3 majority, which would not happen.

The Washington Post, which is the major paper that seems most in tune with what is happening in the nation’s capital, is nearly apoplectic. The editors’ views are best seen by the article quoted above, one which really deserves to be read in its entirety.

They fume at a “president unbound” by his previous handlers and about the ascendance of his family members. They quote retired four star general Barry McCaffrey as saying “this is a rogue presidency,” and Thomas Wright of the prestigious Brookings Institution as saying “Trump wants total freedom to do what he wants when he wants and he’s much closer to getting that, which is what will terrify not only Congress but the rest of the world as well.” Perhaps thinking of the promotion of the petty criminal con-artist Matt Kavanaugh to the role of acting Attorney General, they quote Elliot Cohen, former senior official in the Bush State Department as saying, “Henceforth, the senior ranks of government can be filled only by invertebrates and opportunists, schemers and careerists.”

The Council on Foreign Relations, the US’s most influential think tank, had been anticipating such a step as Trump’s troop withdrawal and what it would mean for world relations. “The order that has structured international politics since the end of World War II is fracturing,” they wrote in their journal, Foreign Affairs. After naming a number of causes, they write, “The newest culprit, however, is a surprise: the United States, the very country that championed the order’s creation. Trump’s hostility toward the United States’ own geopolitical invention has shocked many of Washington’s friends and allies. Their early hopes that he might abandon his campaign rhetoric once in office and embrace a more traditional foreign policy have been dashed.”

And this was written before his decision to withdraw the troops from Syria!

US troop morale
In addition to the chaos building up in everything from world relations to the presidential administration, this action will also have an affect on the US troops’ morale and, therefore, on their reliability. The “DuffelBlog” is a satirical military daily that is reportedly read daily at the Pentagon. “US quietly builds helipad on roof of embassy in Afghanistan” ran the headline of a recent article there. (This is a reference to the US defeat in Vietnam, when they had to airlift US personnel and Vietnamese collaborators from the roof of the US embassy in South Vietnam when they withdrew.) Inevitably, US soldiers will be asking what they are fighting and dying for if they can be removed on presidential whim.

Trump with key player in his money laundering schemes, Felix Saper.
It is unfortunate that so few socialists have taken up the issue of Trump’s mobster related past as a money launderer.

Oaklandsocialist has commented many times before on Trump’s connections with Putin and the Russian mafia/oligarchs. We recently commented  on the influence of Putin on Trump’s decision to withdraw the troops. Many thought that we were being conspiratorial. The liberal online journal Mediaite had this to say about the issue: Mattis “ knows treason [our emphasis] when he sees it…. For all we know, Trump also was directly or indirectly in touch with Putin, the most vocal defender of his actions.”

Government shut-down
In a widely watched interview with Democratic leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer (NY) and future Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (CA), Trump proudly declared that he was willing to shut down the federal government if he did not get his $5 billion to start building his Wall. “I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it,” he said before a national TV audience. You could feel a shudder rippling across the country in the offices of every single Republican office holder, while their fellow Democrats started celebrating the New Year nearly two weeks early.

Trump was able to get the money passed in the Republican-controlled House, but not the Senate, where 60 “yes” votes are needed for measures like this. In other words, some Democrats’ votes are needed. Some Democrats would have been perfectly willing to go along, but they know they’d be facing an absolutely massive revolt from their activist base if they make any concession to the Wall. Doing so would mean another nail in the coffin of the argument of those “socialists” who accept (in words) that a working class alternative to the Democrats is needed, but “just not now”.

Trump then reversed course and started working with Republicans in congress for a “compromise” that in reality was a climb down, until…

Until the only voice he really listens to (in addition to that of Putin) chimed in: Fox News. They thrashed him for his climb down. So, what did he do? He reversed course once again, double crossing every single Republican in congress, minus the far right “Freedom Caucus”. (For these Republicans, “freedom” means freedom from every single consideration but immediate profits, the quarterly balance sheet.)

So, now we have the fourth government shut-down in this century. More significantly, it’s the third in many decades where the same party had a majority in both houses and had the White House. In all such cases (the others were January 20-23 and Feb. 9 of this year) it was the Republicans who have been in control. This shows the influence of the ideological wing, the “freedom” (from any consideration but immediate profits) fighters in that party.

Trump, of course, is trying to wriggle out of his “owning” the shut down. “The Democrats now own the shutdown!” He tweeted. This will be accepted by Trump’s blind followers like religious fundamentalists accept every word of their particular religious equivalent of the bible (including the Bible itself for the evangelicals). But tens of millions of other Americans will be doubting him even more.

The US stock market
Up through November of 2018 it lost 10% of its value. It’s fallen further in December.

Falling Stock Market
The Trump/Republican tax cuts helped boost profits. This did help increase the stock market. But like a sugar high, it can only last so long, and it wasn’t the basis on which the cuts were justified. According to the defenders, the resulting greater profits would encourage companies to invest more. There was a short-lived surge in business investment – up about 10% in the first half of 2018. But in the third quarter, which according to the NY Times is “traditionally a big one for capital spending” it only rose 0.8%.

Meanwhile, the stock market is becoming a “bear” market, meaning the overall trend is lower. From the chart at the left, we can see that it has lost about 10% of its value in 2018 through November, and it is falling further in December. Part of the reason may be that this expansion has run its course and a new recession (or worse) is on its way anyway. Also, though, capitalists hate uncertainty, and from the threat of a Trump nuclear strike, to chaos in the White House, to an unknowable US foreign policy, “uncertainty” is an extreme understatement of what they face.

Trump’s tax cuts, his privatization, his slashing of federal regulations – mainly on the environment – had started to win over many doubters among the capitalist class, most especially among the Republicans’ capitalist donors. But that is going away.

Trump’s Dementia
It could be theorized that Trump was was put in office by a conspiracy of the PCAA – the Professional Comedians’ Association of America! Certainly, he has provided them with a wealth of material. It’s the paradigm of “laughing to keep from crying”, and one of the best recent examples was an end of the year film clip put together by the Daily Show’s Trevor Noah. In it, he didn’t roast Trump as he normally does; he simply showed Trump talking. Watch the video, starting at 1:35 in, and especially the part where he stumbles over words starting around 5:35 in, where he has extreme difficulty pronouncing common words.

There is also his apparent lack of self awareness, as seen in this video. An additional issue is his apparent lack of confidence in his balance, as can be seen in his grasping a person’s hand when he ascends or descends some stairs.

Reagan had dementia in the later years in office, but dementia is expressed differently in different people. In Reagan’s case, he apparently seemed willing to allow others to make the decisions for him. With Trump, in addition to his apparent increasingly bad mood, he seems to be doing just the opposite.

As he feels the walls closing in on him regarding his criminal role of the past (and probably present), and as the crisis of his own making magnifies, he is gathering more and more power into his own hands and those of the tiny circle of the only ones he can really trust because they are his co-conspirators: his own family.

Let us allow the Washington Post to summarize again: So far, the result has been disarray. The federal government is shut down. Stock markets are in free fall. Foreign allies are voicing alarm. Hostile powers such as Russia are cheering. And Republican lawmakers once afraid of crossing this president are now openly critical.” The only thing they’ve left out is his apparent dementia.

Trump not unique
Personal aspects aside (his criminal role; his apparent mental incapacity) Trump is not unique; Modi in India, Duterte in the Philippines, Bolsonaro in Brazil and Putin in Russia all represent a similar process: The world crisis of capitalism. This crisis is partly economic . But it is also political – a weakening in US imperialism and a resulting breakdown in world relations as this article explains.

The United States has been the world’s most powerful and, therefore the most stable, capitalist country ever since the US Civil War, and capitalist democracy lives in capitalist stability like a honey bee larva must live inside the honey comb. Trump represents the beginning of the end of this stability. The question is whether this end is near – as in the next few months or a year – or whether it can be put off for a time.

The great majority of the US capitalist class seems to believe that a return to “normalcy” is possible, but that that is impossible with Trump in the White House. They are concluding that they cannot wait Trump out for four years in the hopes that they can replace him in 2020. He is too unstable, too unreliable and too unwilling to listen to the “adults” that had been around him. The same Washington Post article quoted above explains that “the senior ranks of government can be filled only by invertebrates and opportunists, schemers and careerists.” In other words, it will only get worse from here. They also report “One former senior administration official said ‘an intervention’ might be necessary.” What did he mean by this? (We say “he” because there are no female former senior officials.)

Trump will not sit still if impeachment procedures are initiated.

Until now, no major wing of the Democrats was in favor of impeachment, not to mention not a single Republican. The Republicans of course opposed it mainly for career reasons, while the main issue for the Democrats has been the extreme reluctance to raise the core issues necessary to win enough public support for it. That main issue is, once again, Trump’s criminal role for decades as a money launderer for the Russian mafia/oligarchy and the fact that this is the basis for his links with Putin. (See this article among many.) And, once again, their reluctance to raise it stems from the fact that the entire real estate industry is similarly involved (mainly for the drug cartels), meaning that major donors to both parties are involved.

They are also probably worried about a possible violent backlash by the hard core Trump supporters if impeachment is started.

Nevertheless, impeachment at this point cannot be ruled out. But that is a drawn-out process, and what can be ruled out is that Trump would stand idly by if it got underway. Investors in the stock market would be advised to buy Twitter stocks as Trump would unleash an absolute avalanche of Tweets. But he would not limit himself to tweets and appearances on Fox news. What steps, what unilateral actions he might unleash otherwise are impossible to predict, but they could range from provoking an international crisis to some harsh domestic crackdown, to both combined. Because one thing he knows: If he’s removed from office by impeachment, he and his family are in danger of going from suits and ties and stylish “I don’t care” jackets to orange jump suits.

From “Slow Walking” to Outright Defiance?
Another possible scenario can be seen from the way different top officials famously left presidential orders ignored or, in one case, how Kelly simply swiped such an order off Trump’s desk to be fed to the shredder one presumes. This amounts to defiance of the elected president by those charged with carrying out his orders, in other words subversion of bourgeois (capitalist) democracy.

Trump with his former chief economic advisor Gary Cohn.
Cohn used to swipe Trump papers off his desk.

For instance, Bob Woodward reported in his book “Fear in the White House”, that Trump had ordered an end to trade deals with South Korea. His economic advisor, Gary Cohn, simply stole the letter off Trump’s desk before Trump got around to signing it. The feeble minded Trump then forgot all about it. In other instances, his senior staff simply “slow walked” his orders until he forgot.

Now that he’s aware of these methods, and now that he’s gotten rid of those cabinet members who are more independent of him (meaning those who are more in tune with the tops of the capitalist class), it’s unlikely that this tactic will work anymore. So, what would happen if Trump were to give an order to attack North Korea or China or Iran? This would place the military tops in a very difficult position. Under those circumstances, it’s not ruled out that some sort of ouster of Trump could happen outside of the normal “democratic” process. If it meant a direct increased role of the military in running the federal government, and if that were seen as the alternative to Trump’s insanity, then this could actually have significant support among many Americans. Of course, the far right would be in an uproar, and there could be a sharp repression of them… a repression that would then be used as precedent for repression against the working class and especially against people of color.

Role of working class
One other major factor that has opened the door to this crisis has been the absence of the working class as a factor in US politics. This is summarized by the absence of even the beginnings of a working class political party in the US. This absence has confused and divided the working class. It has helped weaken the influence of the more conscious and courageous sectors of the class on the rest of the class.

There are some in and on the edges of the workers’ movement – such as exists – who accept that a working class party is needed but argue that since we don’t have one for the moment, we should support the liberal Democrats, especially those who claim to be “democratic socialists” like Bernie Sanders and Antonia Ocasio Cortez. But this slippery slope has been entered onto many times in the past. It has always resulted in being drawn into the Democratic orbit, both organizationally and programmatically. It’s what a wing of the union bureaucracy has argued for decades, always as a cover for never actually taking any steps in the direction of actually building a working class party.

How, after all, can it be argued that we need such a party in one breath when in the very next we are saying, “but this or that liberal Democrat is acceptable; they can help lead us forward”? If that is the case, then why even start the immense task of building an alternative? Ninety-nine percent of the time, in fact, those who use this argument do so cynically, simply as a means of avoiding the creation of a workers party, simply as a means of continuing in their own career which would be jeopardized by a break with the Democrats.

Yellow vest protest in France.
Is a similar movement coming to the United States?

One perspective
The coming even greater crisis of US politics will shake up a lot of things in the United States, not the least of which will be the US working class. A likely outcome will be massively increased activity in the streets. We see the outlines in the yellow vest movement in France. Already, that movement has had an effect in other EU countries, and also in Turkey, where recent mass demonstrations against the hight cost of living referred to the yellow vests. And in Egypt, home of the Arab Spring, President al Sisi felt forced to ban the sale of yellow vests!

The yellow vest movement burst forth in the chaotic and confused way that it did because of the conservative and timid role of the French union bureaucracy, which suppressed any tendency for the strikes earlier this year to be used as a springboard to a wider movement. Here in the US, we’ve seen similar strikes (teachers, Marriott workers, health care workers) and the same role by the union bureaucracy. So if and when the US working class moves, it’s almost certain to be in a similar way.

As that happens, there is likely to be a tendency towards the creation of some sort of national body to coordinate and advance the movement. What will be of paramount importance will be the role of the working class within any such tendency. If this develops, then this could be the embryo of a mass working class party. Not a party born in the placid waters – the swamp, in fact – electoral politics and back room wheeling and dealing, but a party born in the turbulent waters of real struggle in the streets, work places, working class communities and schools and, yes, inside the unions themselves.

For a mass, working class party and for socialism!

3 replies »

  1. Many good things here. Thank you for writing. I have some concern about the Putin comments as they appear to dovetail with that of the Democrats. But I am willing to read more of your analysis bout Putin and Trump and then re-evaluate my position.

    • Thanks for the comment. I’m not sure which comments on Putin you are referring to, but just because the Democrats say something doesn’t make it false. Most of the comments on Putin are linked to other articles. Please check those articles too. The claims we make – about Putin or anything else – are generally well documented.

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