With Trump now out of office for six months, it’s time to look back over what the Trump years meant, and especially his last year in office. A series of new “Trump” books have recently been published, including American Kompromat by Craig Unger and I alone Can Fix It by Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker which deal with that. While both books are long in detail, neither provides a vision of a pattern or, put another way, you can’t see the forest for the trees. That is typical of the capitalist media even at its best.
To get a sense of the overall pattern, an understanding of the principles of capitalist rule through “democracy” vs. through one person dictatorship (aka “bonapartism”) is necessary:
Democracy vs. One Person Dictatorship
Where the capitalist class has been able to actually lead society forward, it has built a base within the working class. It has credibility. In that situation, they can use the “free” media along with their political representatives to define the issues. Their academics also play an important role. Their differences in the end are fought out in “democratic” elections. It is also through these means that the capitalist class can discipline or, if necessary, rid themselves of politicians. That includes when a politician becomes so corrupt that he or she even rips off the capitalist class to an unacceptable degree.
Sometimes, however, the conflict between the classes gets so intense that normal democratic means are not possible. In those cases, a settling of accounts becomes necessary. Once or twice in history this has resulted in the working class rising up, crushing its opponent, and taking power. Where it is not organized sufficiently, then something very different happens: Some strong man or woman arises. “I alone can fix it,” is their message. Unable to rule through normal means, the capitalist class has to hand over power to her or him. That strong man/woman rises partly above the class that handed her or him power in the first place.
That is “bonapartism” or one person dictatorship. Such a form of rule is inherently less stable than democracy. Also, since the capitalist class cannot directly control the dictator through normal means such as a “free” press and democratic elections, that dictator uses their position to exploit not only the working class but the capitalist class itself. In her famous book The Shock Doctrine, for example, Naomi Klein shows how military dictator Pinochet not only murdered thousands, he also was completely corrupt and ripped off the capitalist class itself. Not only that, but such a dictator can tend to pursue policies that are aimed at the dictator’s own, personal self-interest rather than the interests of the capitalist class as a whole or even any significant wing of that class.
Trump’s Struggle to Become Dictator
Oaklandsocialist has commented time and again about how Trump was struggling to become exactly such a dictator, how he was struggling to become a bonapartist ruler. His problem was that his class was not ready for bonapartism; they believed (and still believe) that they could maintain their rule a with greater stability through “normal” democratic means. This view was not only reflected in the majority of the capitalist media; more importantly it was reflected in the thinking of the overwhelming majority of career officials in all wings of the federal government. This includes the State Department, the Department of (in)Justice and the military. Throughout his term in office, Trump struggled to gain complete personal control over these important wings of the government. He did this by bullying, intimidation and most important by trying to purge these bureaucracies of those officials who were loyal to “our Constitution” rather than to him personally. Oaklandsocialist has commented on this time and again, and I Alone Can Fix It documents this in excruciating detail.
Trump Out of Control
The reasons for capitalism’s preference for the democratic form or rule (vs. dictatorship) are also made clear in the book: Namely, with the extreme weakening of the credibility of the capitalist media and that of “normal” capitalist politicians, the US capitalist class was left nearly unable to get Trump to carry out their preferred policies. Exhibit Number One is covid. From dismissing its threat entirely, Trump veered wildly from one insane approach after another. The most clear example was his advocating that people should drink bleach, but there were others, the most important being his dismissal of getting people to wear masks in public. On foreign policy, Trump made clear his hostility to the single most important alliance of the US capitalist class – the alliance with most of Western Europe as expressed through NATO. He followed policies geared towards his own financial interests in relation to Turkey. Towards the end of the book, the authors make it appear that Trump was actually planning to pull the US out of NATO had he been reelected.
Trump brought Barr into his office as an attorney general who was meant to be completely subservient to him. In fact, Barr’s entire philosophy of government – the “unitary executive” theory – should have justified this. Under this theory, all executive policy on all matters is set by the president and the president’s appointees are obligated to carry out his policies to the letter. Until nearly the very end, Barr did this. He undermined one federal prosecution case after another because he knew that Trump did not favor them. He instituted a phony investigation of the FBI’s investigation of Trump’s loyalty to the Russian capitalist class vs. his own capitalist class. Barr also parroted Trump’s claims that mail in ballots were rife with fraud. However, when it came down to the decisive moment, when it came to actually taking the steps to overturn the election itself, Barr balked. He remained loyal to the US Constitution, meaning to the democratic norms favored by his class – the capitalist class – at this time, vs. loyal to the individual (Trump). A couple of Barr’s underlings were willing to go the final mile, but Barr blocked them.
Mark Milley and US Military Command
The top military commander, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley is a similar example. He operated in tandem with Defense Secretary Mark Esper. Trump had proposed a huge military parade for July 4, 2020. Esper and Milley opposed it since it would present an image too close to outright military rule. They proposed a scaled-down version. “It’s fine to celebrate our military, but it has to be done proportionately,” said Esper. Milley said that was “a good idea”.
In the end, Trump surrounded himself with a tiny band of crackpots including Mike Flynn and Rudy Giuliani. They proposed bringing out the troops and outright martial law in order to overturn the elections. Milley made clear his complete opposition to this. He also devised a plan where there would be a series of rolling resignations, starting with himself, that would so delay any such order that it could not be carried out until Biden became president.
Covid 19 and Career Scientists
Trump also tried to gain complete control over the department of health and human services, but he couldn’t get complete loyalists as scientific and health experts. Some, like Deborah Birx, went a ways down that path, for example when she tried to explain away Trump’s advocacy of drinking bleach as a cure. But like most scientists, she had her legacy and her future career to think of. Ultimately she and almost all the scientists and health experts clashed with Trump and his band of loyalists.
Racism and Division
Another key aspect of US capitalist rule has been using racism and other forms of division within the working class. But the capitalists try to keep that simmering on the back burner. Trump threatened to cause it to boil over. That was the meaning of the continual complaints in the mainstream capitalist media about how “divisive” Trump was, and the majority of people in US society are not ready for this overt racism… at this time.
Trump’s short sightedness and narcissism rendered him incompetent as a politician. Because of these qualities, he was unable to really build a team around himself, and this in some ways was part of his undoing.
Trump at Odds With His Class
Overall, though, the main reason for his failure to establish an outright bonapartist dictatorship was the simple fact that the overwhelming majority of the US capitalist class does not believe that is necessary at this time. While Covid created a huge crisis in US society, the US capitalist class always saw it as something temporary, something that was an accident of history and would pass in time. Certainly, they do not see the US working class as a real threat to their power. Mark Milley made it clear: In referring to Trump’s move towards a coup, Milley commented: “They may try, but they’re not going to fucking succeed. You can’t do this without the military. You can’t do this without the CIA and the FBI. We’re the guys with the guns.”
One key issue the book entirely ignores is: What communication was there between the White House and those who planned the lynch mob/coup attempt of January 6? Was Roger Stone, for instance, a go-between? The same question applies to members of congress like Marjorie Taylor-Greene.
As we pointed out elsewhere regarding the role of the AFL-CIO, you couldn’t get a more clear statement of their criminal failure. Even the Vermont Labor Council’s mention of a general strike in the event of a Trump coup brought threats from the AFL-CIO against that council – just the mention of it, not actually doing anything to organize it. And now, as the Republicans are moving towards voter suppression and election nullification in one state after another, the union leadership is silent. From its attempt to push through cheap contracts to its craven subservience to the capitalist Democratic Party, it is hard to imagine a leadership that could possibly do more to confuse and demobilize the working class.
Just imagine what will happen if and when the US capitalist class changes its mind!
Trump and Putin
One important aspect of Trump that the authors fail to explain is his subservience to Putin. This was not simply a personal preference. Putin is the capo di tutti capo of the Russian mafia capitalist class, and Trump had been a money launderer for them for many years before he was elected president. (See Money Launderer in Chief for example.) The fact that he could get elected and always retained over 40% approval ratings despite the media’s continual attacks on him, really shows how the base for the capitalist class has shriveled. It is unable to influence a huge sector of the population as it once did. The problem is that the working class is almost completely absent as an independent force.
And so, a strange situation has developed. Normally, the tendency towards bonapartism develops when the two major classes are mobilized, but neither can decisively defeat the other. In this case, it’s the exact opposite. We see the weakness of the working class on one side and the inability of the capitalist class to fully influence society and to control its president. What can break this deadlock would be a major move towards the working class taking its independence through building its own political party – a mass working class party. That cannot be accomplished as long as we continue to support and campaign for the Democrats, any Democrats, including the Bernie Sanders wing.