Oaklandsocialist has been mistaken. We have said for several years that Trump is out of the control of the mainstream of the US capitalist class. No. He is out of the control of the entire US capitalist class. Some of them still support him because he’s boosting their immediate profits, but they don’t control him. In fact, nobody can control him. That’s what a column by Ron Suskind in today’s NY Times shows.
Suskind reports that he’s spent months interviewing dozens of US government officials, many of whom are still serving in the Trump administration, especially in law enforcement and intelligence. According to one senior intelligence official, “’the guy you saw in the (first) debate, that’s really him.’” Suskind describes that behavior: “bullying, ridiculing, manic, boasting, fabricating, relentlessly interrupting and talking over his opponent.”
Really. That’s his behavior in private briefings. Actually, according to senior aides, Trump is “un-briefable”. Suskind reports:
“He couldn’t seem to take in complex information about policy choices and consequences in the ways presidents usually do in Oval Office meetings.
“What they saw instead was the guy from the first debate. He’d switch subjects, go on crazy tangents, abuse and humiliate people, cut them off midsentence. Officials I interviewed described this scenario again and again.
“In the middle of a briefing, Mr. Trump would turn away and grab the phone. Sometimes the call would go to Fox television hosts like Sean Hannity or Lou Dobbs; sometimes the officials wouldn’t even know who was on the other end. But whoever it was would instantly become the key voice in the debate.”
The technical, medical term for one who exhibits such behavior is “batshit crazy”. Whether it’s that Trump has lived in his own bubble for so many years, or that he’s truly suffering from dementia, or a combination doesn’t matter. But the point is that Trump cannot be controlled. It says a lot about the crisis of US capitalism that somebody like this is president and that he still holds the support of some 40+% of the population. And it says a lot about the degeneration of the US capitalist class that a wing of them still support him.
Trump’s vs. US military brass
Meanwhile, a struggle is under way for who will control the US government – Trump or the US capitalist class. Again: This represents a crisis for US and in fact for world capitalism.
Trump thought he would have the military brass on his side, but a key turning point was his decision to remove U.S. troops from Syria. Suskind reports regarding that decision:
“’I think the biggest shock he had — ’cause his assumption was the generals, ‘my generals,’ as he used to say and it used to make us cringe — was this issue of, I think, he just assumed that generals would be completely loyal to the kaiser,’ a former senior official told me. ‘And when we weren’t, that was a huge shock to him, because he thought if anyone was going to be loyal, it would be the generals. And the first people he realized were not loyal to him were the generals.’”
Trump’s struggle to control DOJ & Intelligence wings
So Trump forced the generals out. Trump has removed several top officials and replaced them with those who are loyal to him, rather than to the needs of US capitalism in general. Key to the US government are law enforcement (Department of (in)Justice – DOJ) and intelligence (headed by the Director of National Security – DNI). After some maneuvering, he got in John Ratcliff as DNI. Ratcliff, who has no base in the intelligence wing of the government, is a total Trump loyalist. In Barr (head of DOJ), he has a man who is largely loyal to Trump, although Barr is hedging his bets.
The struggle Trump faces is represented by this: Recently, Christopher Wray, head of the FBI, testified before congress that there was no evidence of widespread vote fraud in the mail-in voting. Trump was angry and wanted to fire Wray, which he may do after the elections. However, one senior official perfectly explained the issue: “‘firing the director won’t accomplish the goal.’ There are ‘37,000 other people he would have to fire. It won’t work.’” The same holds true for every wing of he US government. (The question is whether he can steal an election and with what follows bring the majority of that 37,000 to heel.)
Trump, the vigilante right and the elections
And so, the struggle continues for control over the US government. What an amazing situation! Nor is there any telling what would be the outcome if Trump is able to steal the election. And therein lies a whole other tale:
Suskind again: “it’s not hard to speculate from what we already know. Disruption would most likely begin on Election Day morning somewhere on the East Coast, where polls open first. Miami and Philadelphia (already convulsed this week after another police shooting), in big swing states, would be likely locations. It could be anything, maybe violent, maybe not, started by anyone, or something planned and executed by any number of organizations, almost all of them on the right fringe, many adoring of Mr. Trump. The options are vast and test the imagination. Activists could stage protests at a few of the more crowded polling places and draw those in long lines into conflict.
“A group could just directly attack a polling place, injuring poll workers of both parties, and creating a powerful visual — an American polling place in flames, like the ballot box in Massachusetts that was burned earlier this week — that would immediately circle the globe. Some enthusiasts may simply enter the area around a polling location to root out voter fraud — as the president has directed his supporters to do — taking advantage of a 2018 court ruling that allows the Republican National Committee to pursue “ballot security” operations without court approval.”
Suskind also raises the possibility of hacking into the voting machines, either by Russian government forces or others. Even if it weren’t successful, the mere attempt could sow widespread confusion.
Maybe the elections will go off with hardly a glitch, and Biden is assured of a victory. Trump has alluded to that possibility at most of his recent rallies. But he, himself, is neither aware of nor does he control those forces Suskind mentions. As Suskind explains:
“Would that mean that Mr. Trump caused any such planned activities or improvisations? No, not directly. He’s in an ongoing conversation — one to many, in a twisted e pluribus unum — with a vast population, which is in turn in conversations — many to many — among themselves. People are receiving messages, interpreting them and deciding to act, or not. If, say, the Proud Boys attack a polling location, is it because they were spurred on by Mr. Trump’s “stand back and stand by” instructions? Is Mr. Trump telling his most fervent supporters specifically what to do? No. But security officials are terrified by the dynamics of this volatile conversation. It can move in so many directions and very quickly become dangerous, as we have already seen several times this year.” Nobody really knows what these groups are up to. That includes many in those groups themselves, as that small group of vigilantes in Michigan showed. There, a group of about a dozen planned the kidnapping and murder of the governor of that state.
Who else – maybe even individuals – is planning similar terrorist actions? Maybe nobody. Maybe dozens. We simply do not know.
In the event of a mass disruption or terrorist attack, Suskind raises the possibility that Trump would try to seize federal control over the National Guard, either nationally or on a state-by-state basis. He would then try to use that to manipulate the outcome of the elections and return himself into office.
It seems unlikely that the mainstream of the capitalist class simply stand by and allow that to happen. What forces would be at their disposal? A few weeks ago, conservative columnist for the NY Times, David Brooks, advocated building a movement in the streets to the scale of what has been happening in Belarus and Hong Kong. Would they be able to build such a movement? (In that event, the struggle would be to try to build an independent, working class campaign within those mobilizations.)
What sort of a role would the military play – “my generals” as Trump used to call them, until he thoroughly alienate them all (except for the lunatic Oliver North)? It is hard to say how, but can it be ruled out that they would start to play a more overt political role? In fact, many in the US would welcome this as a more “sane” alternative to both Trump and the far right violent vigilante groups. This would not be even the beginnings of a solution. It would be a case of “out of the pan and into the fire.”
Rereading these thoughts, I am struck that they sound like the deluded words of somebody whose imagination has run away with him – just as is the column of Suskind. But then, I was having a conversation with a young worker yesterday, and I repeated what I’ve said so many times over the last year or so: “In all my years, I never thought we’d have a president like this.” Sometimes it is useful to “think outside the box”, especially these days.