As the impeachment hearings approach, it pays to look back at the what lead up to the January 6 lynch mob/coup attempt and what lessons can be learned. An article in the NY Times helps clarify that. It clarifies how Trump was stymied in his previous plans. The article also makes clear the influence of the leaders of the top NGO’s, working in tandem with the AFL-CIO leadership.
“Defend Democracy Coalition”
Starting in April of 2020, leaders of these groups started to meet to discuss what Trump might do to subvert the election and how they could counter his plans. Through these discussions was born a coalition called the “Defend Democracy Coalition”. The group “organized mass gatherings only sparingly and in highly choreographed ways after Nov. 3,” the NY Times article reports. One of the key leaders, Anna Galund, is quoted as saying that mass protests from the left might “inadvertently turn the tide of media momentum” in favor of Trump. In other words, media like CNN, MSNBC and the major newspapers were reflecting the view of the overwhelming majority of the US capitalist class, which was overwhelmingly in favor of Biden, and the “progressive” leaders wanted to be sure not to do anything to antagonize them.
Republican Plan to Intimidate Vote Canvassers
Within those self-imposed limitations, they moved to counter the first danger: That Trump representatives would gather at the vote counting places in key swing states such as Pennsylvania to intimidate those who were counting the vote. The progressives organized their own groups to help shield the canvassers from such pressure. This is what the lawsuits complaining about Trump supporters being kept at a distance from the canvassers was all about; they weren’t allowed to pressure and intimidate as they had planned.
Fox (!) Counters Trump Plan
Trump’s next maneuver was his plan to call for an end to counting the votes on the evening of November 3, when he was ahead in the electoral vote totals due to the fact that many states only counted the (mainly Democratic) mail-in votes later. That plan was destroyed when Fox News called the State of Arizona for Biden. At that point, Biden was leading but it was unclear if he would maintain the lead. If Trump were to call for an end to counting the votes, it would have meant that Biden would have automatically won Arizona, which at that time was uncertain.
Republican Election Officials
Trump then shifted to getting Republican state election officials in key swing states to refuse to certify the vote for Biden. Trump started contacting Republican state election officials and state legislators. A major step was calling Lee Chatfield and Mike Shirkey, Republican officials from Michigan, to the White House in order to pressure them. The “progressives” responded by “bombarding legislators’ offices with phone calls and deploying several dozen volunteers to meet the two Republican leaders, Lee Chatfield and Mike Shirkey, at the airport on their way to Washington. A “corresponding group was waiting when they landed” in Washington.
We don’t know exactly what was said, but in the end the state officials remained more loyal to the US capitalist class – which opposes overturning their 150+ year method of rule at this time.
Trump’s last desperate tactic in this direction was to contact Georgia secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, in his infamous phone call of January 2. Raffensperger has been cast as a stand-up hero of “democracy”, but he is nothing of the sort. He is closely associated with the closing of hundreds of polling places in mainly black voting precincts, as well as other voter suppression tactics. But on November 3, all those tricks were inadequate to ensure a Trump victory in Georgia, so Raffensperger went with his class, the US capitalist class. In any case, by January it was clear that none of the other swing states that had gone to Biden were going to have their results reversed. This meant that even had Raffensperger complied with Trump’s fraud demands, Biden would still be the next president. That in turn would have meant that Raffensperger would be facing the wrath of the new federal administration, including civil rights investigations. Especially given his own history (plus the fact that he is now on record favoring making mail in voting more difficult in the future), it seems most likely that the fact that flipping Georgia back to Trump would not have changed the overall result would have entered into his consideration.
January 6 and Desperation
Then, as the Times writes, “Having hit a wall in Michigan, Mr. Trump had no success with attempts at back-room maneuvering in other states.” So he turned to one last desperate maneuver, and one that was totally unconnected with reality. He turned to the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, QAnon and similar scattered individuals to try to overturn the election results through sheer violence. In so doing, he apparently has made the final break with reality.
Giuliani the “Voice of Reason”: Insanity in the Trump White House
A couple of weeks before that event, Trump had had a meeting in the White House with lawyer Sidney Powell (presently being sued by Dominion for billions of dollars), Michael Flynn, and others. The purpose of the meeting was to convince Trump that Dominion voting machines had been programmed to flip votes to Biden and that he should declare martial law and overturn the election results. Trump senior aid and finance capitalist Eric Herschmann trailed along in order to prevent this ragtag team of putschist wing nuts from influencing Trump. That meeting was described in an article in Axios. Flynn and Powell engaged in lots of shouting and screaming and accusations (against Herschmann) of being weak and willing to give up. The meeting can be summarized by these two comments. The first is by Herschmann. At one point, he turned on Flynn, who was standing in an attempt to intimidate. Herschmann shouted, ‘“Why the fuck do you keep standing up and screaming at me? If you want to come over here, come over here. If not, sit your ass down.” Flynn sat back down.’ (Almost a perfect metaphor for the likes of Flynn being willing to spin the most wild plans and willing to threaten but unwilling to directly attack the US capitalist class.)
In another incident, somebody called Rudy Giuliani to get him to try to cool down the temperature in the meeting. ‘One participant later recalled: “When Rudy’s the voice of reason, you know the meeting’s not going well.’”
Such was the descent into near utter insanity of the Trump administration. And such was the determination of the US capitalist class to thwart his dictatorial/Bonapartist plans. If the first Trump administration was somewhat out of control, imagine what a second would be, especially if he was returned to office by outright overthrowing US capitalisms’s “democratic” norms.
“The Enemy Within”: Republican Insanity Remains
While capitalist sanity has been restored to the White House, insanity Trump-style seems to dominate the Republican Party. That insanity is exemplified by the fact that nearly ¾ of Republicans believe that Biden stole the election. Due to this grip at the base, House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy continues to defend its most insane representative, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia. This is the same individual who supported the assassination of House leader Nancy Pelosi and posed with an AK 47 in a tweet that implicitly called for the assassination of Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar. Greene is not some isolated nut in the Republican Party. When she ran for office, she received nearly $200,000 from the political arm of the House Freedom Caucus, which is the influential right wing caucus of House Republicans. When Greene appeared before a meeting of the House Republican caucus, she got a standing ovation.
Writing in the Washington Post, columnist Dana Millbank explains: “The supposed civil war within the Republican Party is over. The neo-Confederates have won…. Trump is gone; Trumpism reigns.” Millbank quotes Nancy Pelosi: “’The enemy is within the House of Representatives’”. Millbank adds ‘“Enemy’ is the right word.” She recounts how the Oregon Republican Party calls January 6 a “false flag” operation, the Arizona Republican governor was censured by his own state party of saying that Biden had won, the Texas state party has adopted the QAnon themed slogan “we are the storm” while the Hawaii state party has praised QAnon supporters and has promoted Holocaust deniers.
Armed Wing of Government
For the moment, the armed wing of the government – including the National Guard and the various police forces – more or less put down the most blatant threats, but they can nowhere near be counted upon. The Oath Keepers, composed of mainly retired soldiers and police, symbolize this threat, most visibly by Larry Brock, the would be lyncher who was photographed on January 6 with flexible handcuffs, prepared to “arrest” (meaning lynch) congressional enemies. And on the day before Biden was inaugurated, the NY Times reported that 12 National Guard members were removed from their duties because they were associated with the violent, far right vigilantes. The threat to capitalist democratic norms was illustrated most clearly by the fact that officials were forced to remove several Secret Service agents from the group that guards the president. Most prominent among them was former team leader Anthony Ornato, who had been on leave working for the Trump administration as deputy chief of staff. In that role, he helped coordinate Trump’s repression of BLM protests in Washington DC in order to arrange the photo op. Ornato also helped arrange several Trump super-spreader rallies across the country during the election. Scheduled to return to guarding Biden, he has been kicked upstairs; he is now overseeing the Secret Service’s Rowley Training Center, where he will be indoctrinating new Secret Service members.
Biden Riding High… for Now
For the moment, Biden is riding high and he will likely get a further boost from the likely passage if his proposed Covid relief package. Also, a layer of former Republican voters are moving away from that party. But this is just for the moment. The 2022 elections remain a possible land mine for two reasons: First is that redistricting will be carried out following the 2020 census. Redistricting is done by state legislatures and many swing states have legislatures controlled by Republicans. This was accomplished through past gerrymandering and outright voter suppression. Even more blatant gerrymandering is being planned this time. Not only that, but further voter suppression is planned, first and foremost making mail-in voting more difficult. (As we pointed out, that “hero” of democracy, Brad Raffensberger, supports this suppression in Georgia.) Nothing is guaranteed, but one possible result could be that the Republicans flip both the Senate and the House in 2022. If Biden has anything close to what’s considered success, it’s also possible that the Democrats’ lead in one or both of those bodies could increase. But in either case, relying on the Democrats to stave off the violent threats of the bigoted far right is dangerous.
Reliance on Democrats Disastrous
Yet that is exactly the strategy of the NGO’s combined with the union leadership. That strategy has a history, going back to the 2000 election when the Republicans stole the election with the aid of the Republican-controlled US Supreme Court. In that case, the election hinged on the outcome in a single state, Florida, where a recount was underway which would have probably swung the result to Gore, enabling him to become the next president. The Republicans were mobilizing what became known as the “Brooks Brothers riot” (named after the popular Brooks Brothers brand of suits). Those riots were aimed at intimidating not only the vote canvassers but also the court system. In response, there was a drive to mobilize in opposition to them. Jane McAlevey, then-official of the AFL-CIO reports the position of the union leadership, which carried out the policy of the Democratic Party bosses: “The Gore campaign has made the decision that this is not the image they want. They don’t want to protest. They don’t want to rock the boat. They don’t want to seem like they don’t have faith in the legal system…” The AFL-CIO faithfully carried out that decision, without a peep of protest either from McAlevey or any other union official, and the rest was history.
As the NY Times article referred to at the top of this article makes clear, nothing has changed as far as the approach of the union leadership and their allies, the leadership of the main NGO’s. As they reported, “one side has stifled itself to an extraordinary degree during the precarious postelection period.” That “side” was the NGO’s and union leadership, which is still carrying out the policies of the Democratic Party. In order to stop the dangerous growth of far-right politics, in order to squelch the basis of violence and murder, the influence of the NGO’s and the union leadership must be countered.
Working class Independence and democratic organization the Alternative
Despite the influence of these two forces, millions mobilized in mass protests following the murder of George Floyd. Similar movements are nearly inevitable in the coming period. Included in this is possible strikes. Socialists and working class activists should work to advance a program that combats bigotry in all its forms on a working class basis, a program that can unite the working class. This includes economic demands such as those in this Call to Action. Linked to this, a clear organization with democratic structures and a democratically elected leadership is necessary. That is the first step towards countering this serious threat from the far right and towards building a clear and independent working class independence in the movement that is to come.