For 150 years the US capitalist class has ruled through alternating the power between one of its two parties. The secondary differences in their roles helped assure the stability of that system of capitalist rule. Now, there is a looming massive crisis in one of those parties – the Republicans. While it may seem to be sudden, in fact it was long in the making.
It started with Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy”. The rise of the Tea Party movement, which was drawn into the Republican Party, was another major step. All of this was just waiting for the right moment and the right leader. They found that leader in Donald Trump, who appealed to hysteria, science denialism, and bigotry. He built up the hysteria over the four years of his rule.
Trump out of control
Some wings of the capitalist class supported Trump, but they were never the majority of their class. That was because both his rhetoric and his policies were too destabilizing both domestically and internationally. And no wing ever controlled him. This was reflected inside the Republican Party: Some prominent Republican leaders, such as Senators Lindsey Graham (South Carolina), Marco Rubio (Florida) and Ted Cruz (Texas), went from harsh critics of Trump to being his sycophants, repeating Trump’s demagogic rhetoric. Others, such as Senators Tom Cotton (Arkansas) and Josh Hawley (Missouri) were onboard all along. Still other leaders, such as Representative Liz Cheney (Wyoming) while they were critical, still supported his reelection. Only one – Senator Mitt Romney (Utah) – did not support Trump in 2020.
The dam breaks & three wings of Republicans emerge
At 12:53 p.m. on January 6, the dam was breached. It was at that time that the first of the would-be lynch mob forced its way into the Capitol building. That moment meant that it became inevitable that the tensions that often were simmering behind closed doors would burst out into the open. Three different wings of the party are starting to emerge. The battle lines are not definitive. Some of the leaders play somewhat different roles, but basically the three wings could be defined in the following, somewhat oversimplified, way:
Old school capitalist wing
The first wing could be described as the old school capitalist conservative wing whose two most prominent leaders might be Mitt Romney and Liz Cheney. The latter has been roasted by her Republican colleagues for defending Anthony Fauci. Despite her support for Trump in November, on January 12 she announced her support for his impeachment. “There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution. I will vote to impeach the President,” she said. Others will follow suit.
In short, this wing of the Republicans remains loyal to stable capitalist rule in the old way. They are also concerned over the fact that Trump’s policies and rhetoric weaken the influence of US capitalism around the world. In other words, they are more loyal to the US capitalist class than they are to Donald Trump. In Trump’s eyes, this is a cardinal sin. However, they have become a small minority and will likely become an even smaller one. How seriously they can be taken is shown by the fact that except for Romney they all supported Trump in November’s election, knowing full well what he was.
Two radical wings
The other two wings of the Republicans base themselves on the party’s activists for whom loyalty to the Great Leader is all that matters. However, there is a difference between them. One wing tries to balance (to one extent or another) between loyalty to Trump and loyalty to the needs of US capitalism. The other wing is loyal to Trump and to him alone. That difference could best be defined by who voted for and against accepting the electors votes. In other words, who voted to overturn the presidential election. One hundred thirty nine Representatives and eight Senators voted to overturn the election. (See names here.)
Most extreme wing
The most extreme wing includes such Representatives as Mo Brooks of Alabama (who gave a fire-eating speech at the gathering outside the Capitol), Paul Gosar (also from Alabama) and Tim Briggs (Arizona), all of whom Ali Alexander credits with helping him organize the January 6 riot. Biggs is also chair of the House Freedom Caucus, the caucus of the far right Republicans in the House. Also prominent would be people like Laurie Boebert, who according to CNN (January 12) apparently insisted on bringing a gun into the House floor.. Another one would be QAnon supporter Representative Marjorie Taylor Green (Georgia). It even appears that somebody – probably a Republican lawmaker – guided the would-be lynch mob to the unmarked office of Democratic Representative Jim Clyburn of South Carolina. However, probably the most prominent of the leaders of this wing would be Senator Josh Hawley, who gave the clenched fist salute to the mob on January 6 and signed onto the challenge of the vote in Pennsylvania even after the riot.
Hawley mixes both cultural and economic populist appeals. In speeches such as the one at the American Principles Project and the National Conservatism Conference, Hawley attacked the corporations for moving jobs overseas, destroying communities and cutting wages in the US. At the former speech, for example, he commented, “The number of 15 to 24 year-olds committing suicide is greater than at any other time since the government began tracking the data over fifty years ago…. It’s no coincidence that the breakdown in community and the rise of oligarchy have happened together.” He went further in an article in the Washington Post. Again, it is worth quoting at some length: “Because of government health measures adopted to fight the virus, millions of Americans have been laid off in a matter of weeks, wiping away years of job gains. Small businesses are struggling to keep the lights on. And lifesaving medical products needed to fight this virus are in short supply…. We cannot afford to make a few fixes to existing programs and hope for the best. We must think differently and be bold…. Congress should in turn protect every single job in this country for the duration of this crisis. And Congress should help our businesses rehire every worker who has already lost a job because of the coronavirus…. Beginning immediately, the federal government should cover 80 percent of wages for workers at any U.S. business, up to the national median wage, until this emergency is over…. Finally, in an effort to protect our small businesses from a feeding frenzy by bigger firms, Congress must crack down on crisis profiteering by Wall Street. Strong antitrust enforcement and stiffer corporate transparency rules will help to ensure that, when our economy gets moving, we don’t have a wave of mergers and liquidations that set our workers back yet again.”
It could almost have been written by Bernie Sanders! Hawley also strongly supported Trump’s call to increase the Covid stimulus check from $600 up to $2000.
Hawley’s other side
But there is another side to Hawley, as exemplified by his clenched fist salute to the fascist mob gathering outside the Capitol building. In his speech at the Conservatism Conference, for example, he bemoaned that “our national solidarity has been broken by he globalizing and liberationist policies of the cosmopolitan agenda.” He said that “we must protect our communities of faith. Because religious faith has fueled our history and shaped our aspirations.”
Over and over, Hawley sounds the themes of “community” “faith” and the ancient traditions of the United States. Terms like “cosmopolitan” used in this context are usually associated with anti-Semitism. In his speech at the Conservatism conference, he said that “we are waiting to be summoned.” When connected with his clenched fist at the January 6 would-be lynch mob riot, it’s clear what sort of “summoning” he was referring to.
Attacks on Hawley and his base of support
Since his speech calling for the overthrow of the vote in Pennsylvania, Hawley has been much reviled by the first wing of the Republican Party. His original mentor, former Missouri senator John Danforth, has called his sponsoring of Hawley “the biggest mistake I ever made in my life”. And Simon & Schuster cancelled a book deal they had had with Hawley.
However, Hawley is banking on the estimated 72% of Republicans who don’t trust the November presidential elections. In fact, between 33% and 45% of Trump voters supported the storming of the Capitol Building! That means there are between 25 and 33 million people in the US who supported this attempted lynch mob riot. According to Foreign Affairs, ‘25 percent of Americans said it was a good idea to have “a strong leader who does not have to bother with parliament and elections.” … By 2017, 38 percent of Americans embraced this belief.’
The definition of Hawley’s politics is “fascism”, and the mob he appeals to were exemplified by those who rioted (or supported the riot) on January 6. A fascist United States is not right around the corner, but it is a serious mistake to fail to recognize this for what it is.
But it is fascism with a twist; it mixes anger at capitalism with the communalist appeals. There is a history to this form of fascism, both in the US and abroad. In the US, it could be exemplified by the Southern populist Tom Watson of the late 19th and eary 20th century. but it was made most prominent by the Nazi leader Gregor Strasser, who also mixed similar anti-capitalist appeals with communalism and fascism. In other words, what Hawley and others like him represent is similar to “Strasserism”.
Middle wing of Republicans
The wing in the middle, which at times shifts back and forth between these extremes is composed of the likes of Lindsey Graham, whose demagoguery helped get Matt Kavanaugh confirmed as Supreme Court (in)Justice.
But the young star of this wing is Tom Cotton. He might be best known by the op ed he published in the NY Times back June 3 of 2020. That was around the height of the Black Lives Matter protests, and Trump had threatened to bring US troops out into the streets. Cotton echoed that call. “This week, rioters have plunged many American cities into anarchy, recalling the widespread violence of the 1960s,” he wrote. He then called for Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act of 1877 and bring the troops out onto the streets. Like Hawley, Cotton is a military veteran. He has the support of such capitalist groups as the far right Club for Growth, which advocates tax cuts for corporations and elimination of as many corporate regulations (especially environmental ones) as possible. Until now, Cotton was considered a Trump loyalist, including supporting waterboarding (as does Trump) and harsh treatment of undocumented immigrants. He advocates giving BLM protesters “no quarter”, which in military terms means killing lawfully surrendered combatants. He has called slavery a “necessary evil,” and he opposes a woman’s right to choose. On foreign policy he is harshly anti-China and anti Iran. As opposed to Hawley, though, Cotton does not make demagogic economic appeals. He uses the issue of federal debt to oppose government spending that would help workers and the poor. He opposed the somewhat generous spending levels of the first Covid relief bill and against overriding Trump’s veto of the federal spending bill of December, 2020. He apparently took no position on the call to increase the one-time stimulus payment from $600 to $2000.
Most critically, he called on Trump to accept the election results and to “quit misleading the American people.”
In other words, while he supports government repression on everything from racism to women’s rights, he draws the line at complete populist destabilizing of US politics. He could be called a “Bonapartist”. Named after Napoleon Bonaparte, this term means a form of rule based on eliminating most democratic rights without inciting a violent populist frenzy. It is usually but not always associated with military dictatorships.
How will these divisions play out?
Some are predicting a split in the Republican Party, with some Republicans either building a new party or joining the Democrats. A factor mitigating against such a split is the fact that it would be nearly impossible for these Republicans to get reelected without running under the Republican banner. (Some of them might split after they get primaried out.)
On the day after the fascist lynch mob riot, Republican Party leaders gathered on a resort island off the coast of Florida. The New York Times reports that they “socialized in beachfront blue cabanas, sipped pricey frozen cocktails and roamed among the palm trees and into the wee hours of the morning at the Ritz Carlton bar…” They passed resolutions criticizing the media and calling attention to “voter fraud”. Overall, they celebrated Trump and the fact that he had expanded the Republican base, especially within sectors of the US working class. This is where the Republican Party is at.
The capitalist class has now turned against Trump and the Hawley wing of the party. Even the National Association of Manufacturers now opposes Trump. Hallmark cards is asking Hawley to return the latest donation they made to him. Some corporations, such as Morgan Stanley and Marriott Hotels are now suspending (but only suspending) donations to all Republicans who voted against accepting the election results. Others, such as Coca Cola and AT&T are even further hedging their bets; they are suspending all corporate political donations to either party. What they will do in the future is an open question. Most of the capitalist media – including CNN, MSNBC, the NY Times, the Washington Post and even the Wall St. Journal – decisively opposes Trump and wants him out. But as we have seen time and again in recent years, their ability to influence the general public is very limited nowadays. For tens of millions, Laura Ingraham, Joe Rogan, Tucker Carleson and other such figures are more influential. Even QAnon has achieved a mass following!
Basically, the Republican Party has become a criminal, anti-democratic gang even by capitalist standards. That means that the anti-Trump wing, such as Mitt Romney and Liz Cheney are also complicit since they remain in the party.
Now the push is on to impeach Trump. The House is almost certain to do so and it’s possible that the Senate will vote to convict after Trump is out of office. While some Republicans will support this, most will be crying bloody murder. But you have to wonder how many will secretly be pleased. It’s not just that it clears the deck for the likes of Tom Cotton and Josh Hawley for a run at the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. Trump may have successfully channeled the most pridefully ignorant, bigoted and infantile fact denying sectors of the population, giving him mass popularity. But overall, Trump is an incompetent leader. His extreme narcissism renders him incapable of building an organization, the organization known as the Republican Party. It’s true that the base of the party has widened thanks to Trump, but it needs to be organized. As the election loss in Georgia proved, Trump is too self absorbed to do this.
As for the Democrats, they are locked into Biden’s intent to “work across the aisle” and to building “national unity”. How is it possible to unite with that lynch mob and the tens of millions who support it?
Shortly after the November election, the Atlantic magazine published an article explaining all this. The article concluded “the real message of this election is not that Trump lost and Democrats triumphed. It’s that a weak and untalented politician lost, while the rest of his party has completely entrenched its power over every other branch of government: the perfect setup for a talented right-wing populist to sweep into office in 2024. And make no mistake: They’re all thinking about it.” (The article was written before the Democrats took the Georgia election and thereby took the Senate majority. However, its general point still stands.)
Due to the mood that is developing, the Republican Party is being transformed from its staid old corporate conservative base into a party more similar to India’s BJP or Hungary’s Fidesz (Civic Alliance) or Germany’s AfD. With that transformation comes the end of their friendly collaboration with the Democrats (although most Democrats, led by Biden, will keep on trying.) And with the end of that friendly collaboration comes an end to the method of stable capitalist rule. It is exactly such an end in the method of capitalist rule that often plays a major role in opening up a space for a new, radical working class movement including, in the context of the United States, the creation of a radical mass working class party. About that Oaklandsocialist will have more to say later.
Update: Some discussion on Facebook has pointed out that what happened on January 6 was more than an attempted lynching or riot. Some genuinely were trying to overturn the results of the presidential election by force. That qualifies as a coup attempt. But it seems that the great majority, were simply rioting. So it seems a more correct way of defining what happened as a mixture of a coup attempt and a riot/lynch mob.