There have been all sorts of key moments in the Trump administration, but three stand out as true sign posts of the Trump method.
The first was on the very first day, the very first moment, of his administration – his inaugural address.
Previous presidents introduced their administrations with a mixture of themes that included boasts about the “peaceful transition of power” and democracy. They recited the challenges that the nation as a whole faces and in general indicate the program they propose to fix it. Whether they will actually follow that program, in the case of Obama, or whether their indicated program masks a far more vicious intent, in the case of George Bush, is another question. But the general theme is hopeful and positive.
That hope and positivity is the emotional basis for the historic US political stability. It is the basis for general acceptance of the capitalist class among a fairly wide swath of people in the US (disproportionately but far from exclusively white and middle income or above), a feeling that we may have some problems, but still no big change is needed. Let’s not make waves, or if we do let’s be sure they’re minor ones.
After having stolen the 2000 election, George Bush for example appealed to this attitude when he made such comments as “Never tiring, never yielding, never finishing, we renew that purpose today, to make our country more just and generous, to affirm the dignity of our lives and every life. This work continues…. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth.”
Obama, who first took office in the midst of an economic crisis (January 2009), had to at acknowledge the depths of that crisis to make his hopeful message acceptable. He said: “the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this America: They will be met.” He concluded his inaugural address to his second term (2013) in this way: “Let us, each of us, now embrace with solemn duty and awesome joy what is our lasting birthright. With common effort and common purpose, with passion and dedication, let us answer the call of history and carry into an uncertain future that precious light.” It would be interesting for a serious linguist to analyze these few sentences that are packed with such emotive words as “solemn”, “lasting birthright”, “uncertain future” and “precious light”.
vs. Trump inaugural
Trump’s inaugural speech, on the other hand, indicated that he was going to pick up where his campaign had left off. He broke with previous presidents’ traditions. He opened with his populist theme of “the people” vs. “the government.” “we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American People,” he said.
He continued in the same vein: “For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished – but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered – but the jobs left, and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country.”
He made a semi class appeal by talking about the loss of “decent” jobs and the “forgotten men and women of America”, and also commented “January 20th 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again.” He concluded, “So to all Americans, in every city near and far, small and large, from mountain to mountain, and from ocean to ocean, hear these words: You will never be ignored again.”
His speech was a classic example of how a wing of the far right (including some fascists) appeals to the anger and alienation that wide layers of workers and petit-bourgeois people feel. The one central missing ingredient is class awareness, class consciousness. It’s not the fact that the government is controlled by the capitalist class; it’s “the government” in general. It’s not the issue of workers as workers; it’s “we the people of this great nation”, which automatically opens itself up to all the forms of bigotry and division. Especially given the traditions and the present situation in the US, such attacks on “the government) also almost inevitably lead to privatization and deregulation.
The capitalist class’s response can be summarized by George Bush. According to several reports, he Hillary turned to Hillary Clinton (who was seated next to him at the event) and said “Well, that was some weird shit.” He did not want to consider the fact that he and his party were reaping what they had sowed. Nor did Hillary Clinton want to consider the fact that by making concession after concession they, too, were complicit.
Basically, What Trump did was announce that he was going to continue on down the road that had brought him into office in the first place. Of necessity, his following years have carried him, and US society, even further down that road.
Next we come to the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearing. He and his Republican partners-in-crime were forced to confront Kavanaugh’s having been a serial sexual predator as a youth. His nomination appeared to be on the rocks, until he turned the tables on his accusers and utilized the slogan that the best defense is a good offense. Mere printed word cannot do justice, but here are some:
In his opening statement, Kavanaugh raged “This confirmation process has become a national disgrace. The constitution gives the senate an important role in the confirmation process, but you have replaced advice and consent with search and destroy. Since my nomination in July there’s been a frenzy on the left to come up with something, anything to block my confirmation.…. This is a circus. … what goes around comes around.”
He also made an appeal to the idea that he’s just one of the boys. “If every American who drinks beer or every American who drank beer in high school is suddenly presumed guilty of sexual assault it would be an ugly new place in this country,” he said.
Supreme Court’s role
Role of the US Supreme Court (in)Justices is extremely important, more for legitimizing the US government in the minds of that great American middle than for anything else. And that role is based to a great extent on their image – serious, wise and dispassionate men (plus one or two woman), who have risen above economic or political interests in general and, most certainly, above the partisan interests of one major capitalist party or another. Kavanaugh’s display of blind rage and bullying shattered that image, but that didn’t matter; what mattered was the ability of Trump to continue to push through is far right wing agenda.
Kavanaugh was joined in this bullying by a number of Republican senators, led by the former Trump critic Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, who yelled at the Democrats, “If you really wanted to know the truth, you sure as hell wouldn’t have done what you did to this guy. Boy, you guys want power. God, I hope you never get it. I hope the American people can see through this sham. That you knew about it and you held it.”
Again, the mere written words don’t come close to the emotional impact that voices and faces twisted in concocted rage did.
The thing is that it worked. Not only did Kavanaugh’s nomination sail through, but once again it was shown that pure demagoguery and outright lying were acceptable with a great swath of voters.
That brings us to this present key moment – the impeachment hearings. As oaklandsocialist explained in our recent article, the facts are clear: Trump has undermined all the traditional channels for the US capitalist class to pursue its foreign interests, most importantly the State Department. He did this in order to pursue his own personal interests which in this case conflict with the US capitalists’ interests. Concretely, he refused to dispatch $391 million of military aid to Ukraine to help it fight off an invasion by Russia. He did this in order to pressure newly elected Ukrainian president Zelensky to announce that his government was opening an investigation into Hunter Biden as well as into whether the foreign interference in the 2016 election was actually based on Ukraine, not Russia. In addition to the dispatch of that $391 million of foreign aid, Trump dangled the promise of a White House meeting before Zelensky, as additional inducement to him making that announcement.
A couple of details are useful: First, Trump understood perfectly well that the findings of that “investigation” mattered not in the slightest; just the mere announcement could be trumpeted to the high heavens by Trump and his news outlet – Fox – as well as on social media. By this time he’d proven that he of she who shouts the loudest is the one who will get heard. Truth doesn’t matter, at least not to Trump’s supporters.
In Trump’s defense, a couple of points are occasionally mentioned: One is that the money did get released without Zelensky having made the announcement. That only happened on September 14, two days after congress announced that they were going to make an official inquiry into what had happened to that promised aid.
Second, it is pointed out that Zelensky did have a meeting with Trump on September 25. That happened on the sidelines of a UN meeting. The difference between such a meeting and a meeting at the White House is like the difference between stopping and chatting with somebody you happen to run into on the street and inviting them over for a formal dinner. The importance of such a formal White House meeting for a newly elected president – and a neophyte at that – of a country that is dependent on the United States should not be underestimated. It gives that president added prestige at home and abroad.
The Republicans keep shouting that there was no (formal) “quid-pro-quo”. In fact, Trump appointee former ambassador Sondland said there was, but even if there weren’t, that is irrelevant. When a gang leader tells one of his hit men to “take care” of a “problem” and that “problem” is a rival or an untrustworthy fellow member, and when the gang leader gives that hit man a weapon, that leader doesn’t have to explicitly say “kill him”. Everybody knows what he’s talking about.
What it all means
The main point is that by his actions in Ukraine, Trump is almost formally announcing that he will use any means he can get away with to secure reelection of himself and his supporters – the Republican Party. This includes welcoming of foreign interference, vote fraud and voter suppression. It’s not only that the Democrats have a political interest in this outcome (getting their snouts in the trough), it’s also that use of these tactics on a widespread scale means the end of whatever confidence in “American democracy” that still exists on a wide scale. Not only does it mean the more dangerous rule more by suppression and fear than convincing and coopting; it also means the creation of conditions for a real, working-class based radicalism and militancy. (As in all capitalist nations, there have always been sectors of the US working class that have been ruled more through coercion and naked force, but to accomplish this with any degree of stability, US capitalism needed other wider sections who were ruled over by convincing and cooptation.) While all this may be inevitable in the longer term, the mainstream of the US capitalist class still prefers to delay that day as long as possible and so does the party that rests on the former situation – the Democratic Party.
Republicans ready for new form of rule
These are the bare background facts. (see our previous article.) The Republicans know they will lose any debate about these facts, so instead they choose to amp up their sound and fury attacks as well as distraction by raising all sorts of side or even completely irrelevant issues. These were attempts to drown the facts out. Ken Buck (R – CO) ranted on about executive privilege. John Ratcliff (R-TX) complained about the whistle blower. He also threatened Democrats from marginal areas with retribution in next year’s elections. Several members of the committee used their five minutes to give overt pro-Trump reelection appeals (based on the economy, etc.).
Gaetz dog whistle for mob violence
One of the more explicit members of the Judiciary Committee was Matt Gaetz (R – FL). He pointed out that public approval of congress was at 9% while approval of Qadaffi in Libya had been 13%, “and his own people dragged him through the streets and killed him.” Given the blind rage, bullying and tendencies towards violence, this statement must not be underestimated. Despite its seriousness, none of the Democrats on the committee objected.
Both parties admit that the vote to impeach Trump is nearly certain to pass in the House and his removal in the Senate is equally nearly certain to fail. The Democrats are hoping that they can use the hearings to put a dent in Trump with a layer of voters, especially the mainly white, college educated mid and upper income ones who have been voting Republican until 2018. If they can use these hearings to turn just another 5% or so against the Republicans, then their chances in 2020 are significantly improved. The Republicans are hoping that all their sound and fury confuses enough people while it further inspires and motivates their true believers.
It’s very possible that they will succeed. That’s because the real underlying issue has been left buried. That issue is that as former US “special envoy” to Ukraine revealed, the fact is that Trump never wanted to give the aid to Ukraine in the first place. That is due to his close alliance with Putin, which in turn is due to Trump’s past of having been a money launderer for the class that Putin represents – the Russian oligarch capitalists. The reason the Democrats fear this issue as much as does Trump is that money laundering for the drug cartels is rampant throughout the real estate industry, which means the main financial institutions – finance capital – must be involved. Yet the main recipients of donations from finance capital are the Democrats! (Oaklandsocialist has explained this issue frequently, for example in the article Money launderer in chief Trump, the capitalist media and socialism: a timeline. It is highly unfortunate that to our knowledge not a single other socialist blog site or socialist journal or organization has taken up this issue.)
As for the Democrats in general: From the fact that Hillary Clinton only recently revealed Bush’s remark about Trump’s inaugural speech to their failure to challenge Matt Gaetz’s implicit call to violence, their entire strategy in reversing the rising bigotry, bullying and violence has been a crashing failure. This goes for both the Hillary Clinton wing and the Bernie Sanders wing. The latter talks about the billionaires and the 1%, but their entire goal is to turn the resentment against the employers and the economic insecurity back into building the Democratic Party. This once again obscures the real class nature of US society and, more explicitly, of political parties. For that reason, it cannot combat the right wing rhetoric of Trump and the Republicans with full success. To
accomplish that, what’s required is an open explanation of the class nature of the Democratic Party as well as the class nature of the present US government – that both are controlled by the capitalist class. But they cannot explain that because they are committed not only to the Democratic Party but also to relying on this (capitalist) state to change things. (That doesn’t mean the working class cannot fight for reforms through legislation; it simply means that that cannot be the successful focus of our struggle.)
Trump is not a freak of nature (nor of politics). Far from violating the laws of nature (or politics) Trump’s role is related to the crisis in both the US capitalist class and the US working class. That, in turn, stems from some historic changes in world capitalist relations. Over the last couple of years, some of the top capitalist strategists have been debating this issue, and Oaklandsocialist will be reviewing their debate in a future article. We touched on some of this in our recent article on Germany, the United States and the new world disorder. More will be coming.