With each twist and turn in events, with each step he takes, Trump is driven ever further down the road of one-man authoritarian rule. His recent steps in that direction have flown somewhat under the radar because of the Covid-19 crisis. That should not be allowed to happen because these steps are directly linked with his policy regarding the pandemic.
That policy is to drive everybody back to work, allow as many workers as necessary to sicken or die, just so long as profits and the stock market rebound. This is a natural outgrowth of his anti-science policy. As part of that, he’s driven scientists out of the federal agencies, just as he’s done with career “professionals” in most other agencies. And he has appointed a Christian fundamentalist, Robert Redfield, as head of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
It is exactly this crisis, and Trump’s disastrous strategy in dealing with it that show how serious is the threat of his authoritarian drive.
Trump’s previous steps
In February, Oaklandsocialist posted this article which discussed Trump seizing direct, personal control over the National Security Council (NSC) and the State Department. It is vital to understand the role of these two agencies of the federal government. The NSC is like the gate-keeper between the president and all the federal agencies. They set the agenda, and the one who sets the agenda controls the process. The State Department’s ambassadors play a similar role between the US government and the government where they are posted. Normally, they are staffed by people who are loyal to the interests of the main wings of the US capitalist class. Yes, they carry out the policies of whoever happens to be president, but when those policies directly and regularly conflict with the interests and strategy of the main wings of the US capitalist class, when these policies conflict with the traditional way that US capitalism has ruled both at home and abroad, and when the main wings of the US capitalist class disagree that such a change is necessary, then these staffers cannot be completely trusted by the president.
So, as the article referred to above explains, Trump has vastly reduced the number of these staffers while at the same time replacing the “professionals” at the top with those directly loyal to him. In March, Trump replaced , Joseph Maguire, the head of the National Intelligence Service (NIS). Maguire was a long-time intelligence “professional”. In other words, he carried out his duties to the main wings of the US capitalist class. He was replaced for doing exactly that, and in his place Trump appointed Richard Grenell, a far right political hack who is directly loyal to Trump. (See this article for an accounting.)
Now, he is taking a further step in replacing a series of Inspector Generals (IG’s). These are the individuals within each federal agency that are supposed to ensure that corruption and malfeasance is kept to a minimum within their agency. Recently, Trump has replaced a series of these IG’s. According to the NY Times:
- Trump replaced the State Department IG, Steven A. Linick, with Steven J. Akard, the director of the Office of Foreign Missions. Linick was reportedly looking into a whistleblower complaint that Mike Pompeo, head of the State Department, had used that department’s employees to work on his own personal residence. Akard reportedly has close ties to Pence.
- “On May 1, even as the coronavirus pandemic continued to ravage the country, Mr. Trump moved to oust Christi A. Grimm, the principal deputy inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services, whose office had issued a report revealing the dire state of the nation’s response to the pathogen.
- “A month earlier, the president ousted Michael K. Atkinson, the inspector general of the intelligence community… Mr. Atkinson had infuriated the president by insisting on telling Congress about the whistle-blower complaint that prompted the impeachment inquiry.
- “The president also took steps to remove Glenn A. Fine, who has been the acting inspector general for the Defense Department since before Mr. Trump took office, so that he could not be installed as the leader of an oversight panel intended to keep tabs on how the Trump administration spends trillions of dollars in pandemic relief approved by Congress.”
With his usual stupidity, Trump even went on record explaining why. He wrote to Nancy Pelosi, “it is vital that I have the fullest confidence in the appointees serving as Inspectors General. That is no longer the case with regard to this Inspector General (Linick).” No, actually, the IG’s are supposed to be independent of the president. That is exactly why they are there.
It is in this light that we should understand the move of Trump’s flunkey at the Department of (in)Justice, Attorney General William Barr. He just recently moved to get Trump’s original pick for head of National Intelligence, Mike Flynn, off the hook for lying to the FBI. Trump claims that Flynn was illegally set up by the “deep state”. His partial supporter on the “left”, Glenn Greenwald, who also believes in this silliness of a “deep state”, parrots that claim. No, Flynn was, in fact, a paid agent of the Turkish government, which he did not report. That is a crime according to US law. And Flynn did, in fact, participate in Trump’s secret dealings with the Putin government before Trump actually took office. Those dealings stem from Trump’s long term role as a money launderer for the Russian Mafia. And Flynn’s secret call to Kislyak was but one of many then-secret contacts between the Trump campaign and the Putin regime. The FBI agents who interviewed Flynn were in fact carrying out the interests of the main wings of the US capitalist class, exactly as they are hired to do. That is their job. The issue lies in the fact that that job conflicts with Trump’s own personal interests at times.
“Concentrating the mind”
As they say, “the prospect of hanging concentrates the mind wonderfully.” And a crisis concentrates the tendencies of any president. That’s because the room for error is drastically reduced. So Trump is accelerating his drive for direct, one-man authoritarian role (AKA Bonapartism).
There are a lot of steps to enable him to do that, but who six or eight years ago would have even thought it might be possible? In any case, he and his party will definitely try to throw the vote by voter suppression. And the Democrats will do nothing but whine and complain and possibly go the the Trump-controlled Supreme Court.
That is what makes the wave of worker strikes and protests important beyond what it is (important enough as that is). What’s necessary is to find a way to start to unite this wave of separate actions into one national worker movement – a movement that can ward off the worst of the health and safety violations at work and start to take a political role for the US working class.