A long time comrade of mine in Britain was comparing Boris Johnson to Trump. “Johnson’s less grotesque, but he’s also completely incompetent, unprincipled and narcissistic,” he wrote. After a bit of back and forth, he wrote, “Maybe you win the competition then. But it’s a close race.” Actually, no, it’s not even close. Maybe six months ago it would have been close, but no longer. Trump has gone completely off the rails. He has:
- Surrounded himself now with people like lawyers Lin Wood and others who can only be compared
with Rasputin, the mad priest/soothsayer who advised Russian Tsar Nicholas II.
- Completely checked out of even a pretense of serving out his term, leaving US capitalism without a functioning head of state.
- Sabotaged delicate legislative negotiations between his party and the Democrats, leaving his own supporters in congress twisting in the wind.
- Pardoned a whole series of federal criminals without even a pretense of those pardons being anything but political payoffs.
The leaders of the capitalist class may live in an alternate reality in which, for example, any decisive action to seriously slow down, never mind reverse, global warming is rejected out of hand. But at least it is some form of reality; at least they are acting based on their insatiable lust for immediate profits and their principled objection to any government action as far as economic development. In that sense, at least they are acting based on something real, based on their own immediate interests, as they conceive them.
Not so for Donald Trump. Take, for example, his veto of the defense spending bill and his apparent plan to let the Covid relief bill die. What possible interest can this serve? It’s not in the interests of any sector of the capitalist class, nor in the interests of his own party. In fact, given that it will make it more difficulty for his two Republican candidates to win the runoff election for US senators from Georgia – given that, if he even stands the slightest chance of getting the Senate to throw out the election results, it damages those chances. In other words, it’s not even in his own personal self-
interest. So why is he doing it? Some speculate that it’s out of pique with Mitch McConnell, who is looking out for his own interests and those of his party and therefore has stated that Biden will be the next president. Trump might be doing it for this reason, but it might also be simply because he can, simply as a way of saying “I’m still here and I can still be the center of attention and make people suffer.”
One argument in favor the latter explanation is his rushing to execute as many people as he can before he leaves office. Why would he be doing this? It doesn’t even serve his own interests since he has won over a small layer of black voters based on his claims to support criminal justice reform. Why? Because he can. Because he takes pleasure in exercising power over others.
As far as his pardons: they magnify the risk of his being prosecuted at the federal level since they all but prove obstruction of justice. (The incoming Biden administration will twist and turn and do everything it can to avoid prosecuting Trump, but the longer the Trump reality show continues, the more difficult it will be for Biden et al to escape it.)
The editors of the Wall St. Journal had been won over to Trump after he pushed through a typical capitalist ripoff, known as “tax reform”, in 2017. Now even they are throwing up their hands in dismay. In an editorial which criticized Trump’s veto of the defense spending bill and which explained
that this action would strengthen the Democratic senatorial candidates in the Georgia runoff election, they concluded “only one man knows what is really going on in the head of Donald Trump.” But they are wrong. This most unreflective person hasn’t stopped for one minute to look at himself. He is acting based purely on instinct and emotion.
Until now, quite a few capitalists were willing to tolerate and even support Trump. It was a tradeoff. They were willing to accept the instability caused by his narcissism and impulsiveness as the cost for the fact that he was good for short term profits. They felt that they could keep his more unhinged tendencies under control, making the tradeoff worth it. Now, January 20 (the date when Biden will take office) couldn’t come too soon.
Trump still retains about a 40-42% approval rating. In order to maintain that approval, his cult followers have had to travel ever further down the reality denial road with Trump. A recent poll revealed that over ¾ of Republicans think there was widespread voter fraud in November’s elections. That would mean about 50 million who are living in a fantasy world. That is dangerous.
Violence in the Air
As this article is being written, we are just hearing about the Nashville car bombing. It is impossible to know yet who is responsible, but in general threats and violence are in the air. The head technical officer for the manufacturer of Dominion voting machines has had to take his entire family into hiding due to death threats, for example. Similar threats have been made to election officials in Georgia and to others.
Trump’s fantasy campaign will also be used for further voter suppression in the future. The Wall St. Journal editors, ever ones to live by the motto “when life brings you lemons, make lemonade”, wrote that while there was not widespread fraud, “improv(ing) ballot integrity for mailed ballots should be a legislative priority…” In other words, by using mail-in voting, millions of black voters were able to get around the closing of polling places and other maneuvers to make it more difficult to vote in person. Those who engineered making it more difficult for black voters to vote on election day will now be encouraged to do the same in mail-in voting, probably by using “scrutiny” of the signatures on the envelopes.
More dangerously,Trump was talking about bombing Iran. What would the generals do if he ordered something like that? They have made clear that they would disobey an order to mobilize to overthrow the election results. They could use the illegality of such an order to disobey it, but they would have no such cover behind an order to bomb Iran.
Overall, though, it is a sad state of affairs when capitalist democracy depends on the support of the US military and the most undemocratic of the three branches of the US government (the judiciary). The reason for that, first and foremost, is the criminal role played by the union leadership. For 75 years they have repressed all the fighting traditions of the US labor movement. In one time of crisis after another, one upheaval after another, they have been silent and done nothing to mobilize their members or the wider working class. The left protest movement is hardly much better as it has nearly entirely ignored the desperate economic straits that tens of millions of Americans are encountering.
Despite this, it may be that a new strike wave is in the offing. Nurses at Stanford Hospital in Stanford CA, and steelworkers in Muscle Shoals, Alabama have recently gone on strike over safety regarding Covid. Workers at George’s Poultry processing plant in Springdale, Arkansas, walked out over similar issues. There are organizing campaigns under way among Amazon workers in Birmingham, Alabama, and over 30,000 workers for Union Pacific are threatening to strike over Covid-related issues. In France, the Yellow Vest movement of 2018 was preceded by some major strikes about six months before. Is a similar process under way here? Or is a general strike wave about to develop? In any case, the rantings and insane behavior of the President of the United States is creating further instability in which anything can happen.
As far as US capitalism: the presence of a head of state who is completely off his rocker really says a lot about the class whose interests he’s supposed to represent. It is symptomatic of the degeneration of the class as a whole and the system which they command.