The news of Trump’s testing positive for Covid 19 has largely overridden discussion of his bullying behavior during the debate with Biden. This positive test is no accident. By continually engaging in risky behavior, an “accident” became increasingly likely. In turn, this behavior is directly linked to his general appeal, and it is to this that we should pay the closest attention.
Something new, different and dangerous is afoot. This is not “your father’s” election nor is Trump your father’s president. He really is something qualitatively different.
Consider what right wing neoliberal militarist commentator Thomas Friedman wrote on the day after the first Trump-Biden debate:“I can’t say this any more clearly: Our democracy is in terrible danger — more danger than it has been since the Civil War…. I would like to think that such a thing [as the social collapse of Lebanon] could not happen in America. I’d like to think that… but I am very worried.”
The following day, the editors of the NY Times wrote: “The debate was excruciating to watch for anyone who loves this country, because of the mirror it held up to the United States in 2020: a nation unmoored from whatever was left of its civil political traditions, awash in conspiratorial disinformation, incapable of agreeing on what is true and what are lies, paralyzed by the horror of a pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands and beholden to a political system that doesn’t reflect the majority of the country.”
Such comments from important capitalist commentators, liberal and conservative alike, were never heard before. They must be taken seriously, especially since they are becoming increasingly common. Clarifying that concern is Barton Gelman’s article in the Atlantic which warns of the Constitutional crisis that could arise after November 3. Trump doubled down on this possibility
in the debate, first by his encouraging the racist, nationalist and outright fascist Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by”. (The Proud Boys are already using that comment as a recruiting tool.) Trump added to those worries when he again stressed the allegations of fraud in mail-in voting – allegations which themselves are the fraud. He also called on his supporters, many of whom are potentially violent racists, to serve as poll watchers.
All of this is evidence of and reason for the deep concern that the major wings of the US capitalist class have that an out of control president is destabilizing their centuries-long methods of rule in the United States. It is why they are hammering over and over again at Trump’s “divisiveness” and the threat to the “rule of law” and warning that “our democracy” is at risk.
Again, to repeat: We have never seen such concerns so openly expressed from commentators of nearly every every pole of the political spectrum.
Socialists must not allow themselves to be mired in outworn analyses and miss the real, actual, present warning signs by sticking to outworn slogans that may have been appropriate in the past but are no longer so. That method is exemplified in what one such person wrote (on this author’s Facebook page): “I suspect if the ruling class were anti-Trump he would not have won 2016. He is giving them what they want even if he is in bed with Putin and is stealing billions.” That writer is not alone in this view by a long shot.
Let’s go back to 2016: Initially, the US capitalist class had pretty well anointed Jeb Bush as the next president. That plan collapsed like a sand castle in the incoming tide. So they were perfectly willing to settle for Hillary Clinton. As for Trump, even the Wall St. Journal ran near daily editorials and opinion pieces attacking him right up until he won the Republican nomination. then they went silent.
After he took office, there was a general hope that he would fall into line as a “normal” president. After Trump moderated his tone in addressing a joint session of congress in late February, the liberal Van Jones was exuberant. “He became president of the United States in that moment… If he finds a way to do that over and over he’s going to be president for eight more years,” Jones exalted. Clearly, this was the expectation.
But it was not to be. Trump is neither constitutionally capable of being “presidential” nor will his base allow it, and he knows it. There has arisen an entire cottage industry of books on Trump.
Bob Woodward’s recent book, “Rage”, is based mainly on the recorded interviews he did with Trump, plus clearly interviews he had with others in the Trump administration. I haven’t finished it yet, but so far its main value lies in getting a clearer picture of how Trump functions. There are reports aplenty of his chaotic methods and his inability to listen. Woodward gives us a view up close and personal. He gives us box office seats to Trump’s parting of ways with every member of his administration whose first loyalty was to US capitalism as opposed to Trump personally. Maybe the most outstanding example was Trump’s Director of National Security, Dan Coats. He was forced out after sticking to presenting the intelligence that the US agencies had gathered rather than presenting (to Trump personally) what Trump wanted him to present. What makes that example particularly stark is that Coats is a former close associate of Mike Pence and is a Christian fundamentalist.
This is a serious problem for US capitalism when their president lives in his own bubble and gets rid of anybody around him who presents the facts rather than what that president wishes were the facts. It is not possible to develop policies that further the strategic interests of US capitalism on that basis. Is it just that Trump is living in his own dream world, or could something more serious be at work?
Supposedly, the Mueller investigation resolved this by concluding that there was no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Putin. That conclusion, and more, is thrown into question by the book “Treason and Betrayal” by Kenneth Foard McCallion, who was a former state and federal prosecutor. McCallion presents evidence that Mueller systematically limited his investigation – including avoiding the question of Trump’s finances – in order to avoid being fired either by Trump directly or by his appointees.
More significantly, McCallion claims Trump is guilty of treason, meaning that he is carrying out the interests of a hostile foreign power. “Treason” in this case means betraying the interests of the US capitalist class, which is presented as the “national interests”.
McCallion presents the case that the Russian capitalist class is, in fact, a “hostile” foreign power. He documents over and over how that regime did, in fact, meddle in US elections, for example. He shows one secret meeting of Trump representatives with their Russian counterpart. McCallion also shows how the actions of the Putin government ran directly counter to US capitalism’s interests around the world.
McCallion examines the financial links between Trump and the Russian mafia capitalist class. He shows Trump’s close financial ties to the Bayrock Group, run by Russian born and connected criminal Felix Sater, whom Mueller failed to interview (as did the Democratic-controlled US House of Representatives). He documents over and over the importance of Russian financing for one Trump project after another.
McCallion devotes pages to Michael Flynn, the only military man that Trump seems to like. Flynn was a paid contributor to RT.com and worked closely with Russian ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak. Other close associates of Trump such as Michael Cohen, Carter Page, Rick Gates and Paul Manafort had similar connections.
McCallion also give the examples of the meetings between Trump and Putin. At one such meeting, the only other person present was Putin’s interpreter. Not even the US interpreter was present. After another such meeting, Trump confiscated the notes of his own interpreter.
There is also the suspicious communications between Trump and Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish dictator. On December 19, 2018, Trump announced the withdrawal of US troops from Syria. He made this announcement without having discussed it with anybody else in his administration. This was unprecedented. However, about a week before making this announcement he did have a private phone call with Erdogan. Not only does Trump have investments in Turkey, but Erdogan was working closely with Putin at that time.
There was a similar turn of events in Venezuela. In April of last year, Trump advisors were beating the war drums, coming close to calling for an invasion. Then on May 1, Trump had a private phone call with Putin, who was and is backing Maduro. A few hours later, Trump announced that Putin “is not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela, other than he’d like to see something positive happen for Venezuela. And I feel the same way.” All war talk ceased.
So overall, yes, there is enough circumstantial evidence to make a convincing case that there was in fact collusion between Trump and the Putin regime. None of this is intended to advocate for a more aggressive US foreign policy; it is just meant as evidence of Trump’s subservience to Putin.
Towards the end of his book, McCallion shows the similarity of Trump’s political direction to those of foreign demagogues and dictators including Erdogan, Duterte (in the Philippines), Silvio Berlusconi (Italy), and Viktor Orban in Hungary. (He fails to mention the most blaring example: Benjamin Netanyahu!) What they have in common is a politics of “illiberal democracy”, as McCallion puts it. What he fails to do is explain concretely how these figures developed. For that, Craig Unger’s “House of Trump House of Putin” is invaluable.
Ungar explains the rise of the Russian mafia, which actually had its origins in the old Tsarist prisons. As in all prison systems, gangs formed in those old prisons and that gang culture was transferred to Stalin’s prison gulag. As Jews were persecuted in Stalin’s Russia, they were a disproportionate percentage of Stalin’s gulag and when those prisoners were released in the 1950s they conducted their criminal activities on the outside. This mafia – largely but not entirely Jewish – were some of the original Russian capitalists of the modern era, even before capitalism was restored there. Many of these mafiosi were allowed to emigrate to the United States in the early 1980s, where they formed the base of the “Russian mafia” here in this country. This process is explained in more detail in Oaklandsocialist’s pamphlet Putin Assad and the Syrian Disaster.
Ungar also explains in detail how Trump built his real estate empire largely based on and connected to the capital of these Russian mafia capitalists for whom he served as a money launderer. Again, Oaklandsocialist has repeatedly documented that question in detail, for example in our article Money-Launderer-in-Chief Trump, the capitalist media and socialism: A timeline.
Ungar also shows how the Russian mafia took advantage of the corruption of US capitalist politics – that is, the use of the biggest money laundering scheme of all: campaign “donations”. A more complete summary of this book can be found in our book review House of Trump House of Putin: The Political Crisis of US Capitalism.
All three books help our understanding of the rise and functioning of Donald Trump. In doing so, they show that Trump is qualitatively different from all former US presidents. That is why drawing an equivalency between this election and past ones and taking equivalent positions is mistaken. Slogans and tactics that were valid in the past are no longer so.
This does not change the general processes: As especially McCallion makes clear, Trump’s rise is part of a general worldwide tendency. This tendency stems from capitalism’s economic crisis and from what the Guardian newspaper called the Demise of the Nation State as discussed here.