Are we in an interregnum, a pause before we plunge into the abyss? Is the Joe Biden presidency just a temporary respite, the lull before the storm?
In the pre-Trump era such questions would have legitimately been considered to be alarmism in the extreme. Today, however, Trump may be out of office, but the forces he has helped unleash, and which still remain, are cause for genuine concern. In fact, anybody who is unwilling to take such questions seriously is looking at the United States through rosy colored glasses.
Out-of-control police forces, voter suppression and Republican-organized voter fraud, and demographic/geographic changes all combine with new repressive laws to threaten the very existence of capitalist democracy in the United States.
The Republican Party is dominated by the forces Trump has unleashed. Those Republicans who don’t toe the line are even subjected to death threats. The Daily Beast cites the case of Rep. Peter Meijer (R-MI): “Threats flooded in immediately [after he voted for impeachment], and… his GOP colleagues have requested armed escorts, a protection typically granted only to members of party leadership…. ‘Many of us are altering our routines, working to get body armor, which is a reimbursable purchase that we can make,’” Meijer said. Prominent Democrats – especially the more liberal ones such as Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez – also regularly receive death threats.
The Weimar Republic
There are basic differences between the United States today and Germany in the 1930s, but there are also some similarities. A myth that Hitler used to gain power was that Germany didn’t lose WW I; it was “betrayed” by the Jews. This is similar to Trump’s myth that he actually won in 2020 and was deprived of victory by vote fraud. This myth lives on.
Republicans are using this myth to politicize the state secretaries of state, which is usually the office that controls organizing and counting the results of elections in each state. In Georgia, where Raffensperger refused to “find” 11,780 votes for Trump, that office has been removed from responsibility for counting votes. Not only that, but the (Republican-controlled) state government can intervene to seize control over any electoral district, including (Democratic controlled) Fulton County. The NY Times reports that Michigan, Nevada and Texas have enacted similar measures.
Republican-run Arizona at this very moment is engaged in an attempt to perpetuate the “Trump won” lie with its third recount of votes in Democratic majority Maricopa County (won by Biden). They have hired the private company Cyber Ninja to “recount” the votes there. This company is run by a super shady character named Doug Logan. Logan has advanced the most weird conspiracy theories regarding the supposedly stolen 2020 election – a theory about some supposed computer center in Germany, raids by the US military with its members killed, etc. The only reporters Cyber Ninja is allowing observe the “recount” are reporters from the extreme right wing One American News. Cyber Ninja also refuses to specify what method they will use to “recount” the vote. They even have allowed the “counters” to come into the area with blue pens – the same color used to mark ballots. This violates state law, which specifies that red pens are the only ones counters may have.
This, combined with voter suppression, extreme gerrymandering and increased representation in several of the more conservative, Republican states due to demographic changes as counted in the 2020 census mean that Democrats could lose control of both houses of congress in 2022. (That is far from certain, but it is possible.) We should also remember that the 2020 presidential election was in reality extremely close. In just three states that Biden won, there was an average 0.2% difference between him and Trump. That combined with the above methods of the Republicans could mean a return of either Trump or a new, and more competent Trump in 2024.
Republicans are preparing to carry out increased repression of any protests before, during or after elections. One study reports that so far, 29 new repressive laws have been passed in 16 states and 69 more are pending in 45 states. Foremost among such laws is the one recently passed in Florida. Among other things, this one permits a driver to plough his or her car into protesters who are blocking a freeway, increases penalties for minor infractions, and makes all participants of a protest guilty for actions of any members of a protest.
Last summer, then-President Trump sent federal law enforcement officers into Portland Oregon. The NY Times recently did a review of that experience, which included this video. It shows unidentified federal law enforcement officers snatching people off the streets and holding them for hours, some overnight, and then releasing them without charges. Federal officials kept the cell phone of every one of those detained.
The threat to protesters of all races coincides with the daily threat to all black people. In part, this is due to the inherent role of the police, who are there to enforce “order”, especially over the most oppressed sectors of the working class. The result is seen in a Washington Post survey which revealed that on-duty police kill about 1000 people every year, about half of whom are black, despite the fact that black people represent about 13% of the total population.
The racism inherent to law enforcement in the United States opens up the various police departments to infiltration by far right, white supremacist groups. According to the Brennan Center, for example, “white supremacist and anti-government militia groups… often have ‘active links’ to law enforcement officials…. Since 2000, law enforcement officials with alleged connections to white supremacist groups or far-right militant activities have been exposed in Alabama, California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and elsewhere. Research organizations have uncovered hundreds of federal, state, and local law enforcement officials participating in racist, nativist, and sexist social media activity… activities are often known within their departments, but only result in disciplinary action or termination if they trigger public scandals.”
Even under “normal” circumstances, the police have tended to be a law unto themselves. The increased influence of the fascist white supremacist groups exacerbates this tendency, and attempts to get them under greater control have failed almost entirely, as even the Washington Post admits. We saw the result of this on January 6 of last year. According to a New Yorker report, “dozens of off-duty police officers have already been identified as attending Trump’s Stop the Steal rally, earlier in the day, and that at least a dozen were among the Capitol rioters”.
Foreign Affairs journal also reports a similar trend within the US military, which over recent years has also been able to weaken civilian control over that force. “Evidence of the decline in civilian control over the [U.S.] military isn’t hard to find,” they write. In fact, as Oaklandsocialist explained last December, even Trump’s more dictatorial tendencies strengthened the independence of the US military over civilian control.
2024 and Beyond
These would be the forces of repression that a new Trump-like government would unleash. The general tenor of such a government can be seen from descriptions of the present Republican Party. A Washington Post article details the white supremacist and fascistic connections of Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who is a likely presidential contender in 2024 if Trump does not run. That same article then explains that Cruz is the general rule, not the exception, and concludes “This increasingly radical, anti-democratic and nativist group is hiding in plain sight as one of the two major political parties. Driven by desperation and panic, it increasingly resembles a cult in which reality must conform to the demands of cult worship.”
Conservative NY Times columnist David Brooks describes something similar. He explains that 2/3 of Republican voters are motivated by the supposed threat that “our country… as we know it” won’t survive, meaning as dominated by white protestants. Brooks concludes: “With this view, the Jan. 6 insurrection was not a shocking descent into lawlessness but practice for the war ahead.” He warns of “an abyss of authoritarian impulsiveness,” and explains that “apocalyptic pessimism has a tendency to deteriorate into nihilism, and people eventually turn to the strong man to salve the darkness and chaos inside themselves.”
That would be the dominant appeal of a new Republican administration.
The strategy of Joe Biden and the Democrats to counter this threat revolves around a partially correct understanding of the basis for this crisis. That is that the nativism and more open bigotry are related to the economic devastation of large swaths of the working class. In order to counter this, neoliberalism and the austerity policies that have been in place ever since the Reagan years must be reversed. In his speech to congress on April 28, he outlined spending plans for rebuilding the US infrastructure and also to support childcare and families. Taken together with his covid relief bill which he pushed through, these amount to $6 trillion in spending. (Shades of Bernie Sanders!)
He is partially successful in this strategy. Opinion polls, which are a partial barometer of the general mood, show Biden at 54% approval rating. Trump, on the other hand, is down to 32% favorable and 55% unfavorable.
However, it is not a question of whether the Republicans need a majority to return to power; it’s a question of whether they can shoe-horn support from about one third of the people into power through the means described above combined with the inherently undemocratic rules of the US Constitution (for example, the electoral college). That is a very open question, especially since who knows what crisis may be laying in wait. And if they succeed through such means and as an overt minority, that would only accentuate these tendencies.
Working Class Alternative
That is why it is a huge mistake to simply count on Biden to keep the wolf at bay, especially since sooner or later some sort of crisis is inevitable and when such a crisis hits “Trumpism” will come roaring back. A working class and socialist alternative is necessary. That means building a mass working class movement to rein in the police, starting with a movement around the case of Andrew Brown, executed by the police in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. It means building rank and file opposition caucuses within the unions to make them fight for workers both on the job and off. It means making the unions become a major force in the Black Lives Matter type protests. Such steps can only mean one thing: The building of a mass working class political party. Such a party would not simply run candidates for office; it would be an organizing center and a center for discussion and learning from the working class struggle. It would lead workers to see all issues from a working class point of view and start to put real socialism on the agenda.
That is the alternative to the very real threat of the bigotry, anti-science denialism, nativism, anti-abortion rights and misogynist, bullying, and political violence posed by the modern day Republican Party. The return to power of this party means a very real threat to capitalist democracy as we know it.