When I was in second grade I befriended a kid who by today’s standards would probably be called “autistic”. He was incapable of relating to the other kids, or in fact the world around him, in a “normal” way, but he did have this one peculiar ability: He was fascinated by trains. He used to tear up little pieces of paper, label them with the different train’s numbers, and push them around his desk for hours. He also knew what seemed like every single train schedule in the United States. If you asked him, he could tell you what time the St. Louis Special left Topeka and when it arrived in St. Louis.
Donald Trump is kind of like that in the political world. He’s politically “autistic” and incapable of relating to that world in the “normal”, capitalist way. But he does have one particular ability that he’s developed to an extreme degree: His ability to feel what his base is feeling and to express his base. Partly it’s the rambling disjointed way that he talks.
Consider this speech from 2018 for example: “Look, having nuclear – my uncle was a great professor and scientist and engineer, Dr. John Trump at M.I.T.; good genes, very good genes, O.K., very smart, the Wharton School of finance, very good, very smart – you know, if you’re a conservative Republican, if I were a liberal, if, like, okay, if I ran as a liberal Democrat, they would say I’m one of the smartest people anywhere in the world – it’s true! – but when you’re a conservative Republican they try – oh, they do a number….”
This kind of rambling, fragmented speech fits perfectly with the approach of his true believers. But it’s also more than that. When Trump encourages chants of “send her back”, when he says that there are “some good people” among the fascists, when he labels black communities as “crime infested”, when he said of Latin American immigrants “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people…” (Yes, we know, he’s not using outright racist terms like the “n” word; what he’s doing is invoking racist stereotypes.)
Even Max Boot, the conservative former Republican turned conservative Democrat understands the connection Trump is making. He recently wrote a column entitled “Get a grip, white people, we’re not the victims”.
What Trump is doing domestically he’s also doing in relation to foreign policy. That’s what all the talk during his 2016 presidential campaign about America being a “laughing stock” was all about. It was a recognition of the slipping world domination of US capitalism. It’s the same with his turn away from NATO and Western Europe. It’s a recognition that the European Union (1) cannot replace a dominant single world power because it cannot develop a single state with a single, powerful militant”; and (2) the fact that the EU is weakening and will probably break up.
His speech, in other words, is
- a recognition of the most reactionary tendencies of US culture and how those tendencies can develop; and
- a recognition of certain world processes
One thing that makes him unique as a US president, though, is his willingness to carry that recognition far further than the bulk of the capitalist class is willing to go at this particular point.
That is why we should take his continuing racist and xenophobic appeals very seriously. Because he saw in 2018 that they weren’t enough to win elections. That was the meaning of the fact that the Democrats “flipped” 39 seats in last year’s congressional elections. And, in fact, he is in deep trouble regarding the 2020 elections… if considered in “normal” terms.
Trump in Trouble
As oaklandsocialist explained before, even his approval ratings of up to 44% were at a record low when the fact of an expanding economy is taken into account. Not only that, but he is in deep trouble in ten states, including Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina, and Florida, – states he must win in 2020 if he is to be reelected.
Added to this is the fact that the economy may well be in a tailspin by the time the 2020 elections roll around.
The racist, xenophobic incantations may put off the “independent” middle of the road conservatives – those who were instrumental in the Democrats’ 2018 victories, but they also firm up and embolden his base. And make no mistake, much of this base will not accept a Trump defeat in 2020. Why would they not go to the polling places, guns in hand in the open carry states, to intimidate voters in predominantly black and Latino districts? Why would they not support and even help organize voter suppression by removing tens of thousands from the rolls? And if all else fails, why would they not support – demand, in fact – that Trump find a legal excuse to keep himself in office?
This may sound like paranoid melodrama, and 15 years ago it would have been. But today?
Learn from 2016 mistake
Just three weeks before the 2016 election, Oaklandsocialist wrote “once Hillary Clinton is elected (which is almost certainly what will happen)….” We weren’t alone. Almost nobody expected Trump’s victory, including the socialist left. Unfortunately, today few have learned the lessons of our past mistake. They are still looking at matters through the old lenses. (This seeing things through the eyes of the past is why they ignore the fact of Trump having been a money launderer for the Russian mafia capitalists. That plus the fact that they are still unduly influenced by the mainstream capitalist media, which is doing its best to cover over the issue.)
As for the Democrats – from the mainstream wing to the left liberal wing – they will respond exactly as they did in 2000 when Bush stole the 2000 election. Then, as Jane McAlevey, union bureaucrat, explained in her book “Raising Expectations (and Raising Hell)”, “The Gore campaign has made the decision that… they don’t want to protest. They don’t want to rock the boat. They don’t want to seem like they don’t have faith in the legal system…” (Good union bureaucrat that she was, McAlevey faithfully helped carry out this decision.) So they appealed to the US Supreme Court, which installed Bush. If the 2000 US Supreme Court installed Bush, what are the chances of the 2020 Supreme Court doing anything different, no matter how egregious his electoral fraud may be? And once so reinstalled, what are the chances that he will not go on a repressive rampage far in excess of anything seen up until now?
Completely aside from supporting one or another Democrat, that is why it is living in a dream world to simply campaign for Sanders, Warren or whatever candidate people happen to favor, while ignoring this very real threat. What is really needed is a full mobilization in the streets starting now, and explaining how Trump’s appeals to bigotry and religious fundamentalism are directly related to the interests of the working class as a whole. As part of this campaign, socialists should be helping union rank and file members to organize to transform their unions, to reverse the policies of the union leadership. This includes the policies of weak contracts up to and including wage cuts and dependence on the Democratic Party.