The usually staid editorial board of the NY Times calls this newest Donald Trump scandal “the greatest crisis in American Democracy since the Civil War…. Mr. Trump’s actions as a public official, like no others since the Civil War, attacked the heart of our system of government.” “Donald Trump is not above the law,” ran the headline for their editorial as they call for the criminal prosecution (!) of this ex president. That was their response to the revelations the US Department of Justice (DOJ) of the heavily redacted affidavit they filed to justify their search warrant of Mar-a-Lago.
On the other hand, the Wall St. Journal’s editorial board responded: “Is that all there is?” In their view, nothing serious was involved. It was merely “a dispute over documents” they said. DOJ should have gone to a district court and gotten a court order to safely handle the documents, they said. “If you’re going to indict a former President, you’d better have him dead to rights on something bigger than mishandling documents,” they concluded.
It’s almost as if the WSJ editors have no interest in protecting the interests of the US capitalist class! After all, they gloss over the “little detail” that some of these documents contained material received directly from spies in other countries – material that could reveal who those spies are. Other documents contain intercepts of foreign governments’ communications. These intercepts could reveal the methods the CIA or other government agencies use to spy on other countries.
How to explain this extreme divergence in views?
On the one side, the NY Times editors represent the thinking of the mainstream of the US capitalist class. That mainstream figures that they have ruled more or less stably for 157 years through convincing the great majority of the population that we all have common interests together – workers, small business owners (including family farmers) and the major capitalists themselves. At times they had to use some brute repression and they continually had to keep the pot of racial, gender and similar oppression simmering while preventing it from boiling over. Overall, this system worked quite well for them. Of course, the fact of the enormous wealth and power of the US capitalist class were the material basis for this success.
Challenges to US capitalist class
Now that material basis is dissolving like a sand castle before the incoming tide, and US capitalism faces multiple challenges:
- First is the ongoing economic crisis. The globalization of capitalist investment and distribution of production has not led to an increased rate of profit. On the contrary, as Marxist economist Michael Roberts has documented there has been a steady decline in the rate of profit both for US capitalism and globally.(Note: The rate of profit refers to the rate of profit for production of goods and services vs. mere speculation.) This crisis requires a steady attack on the standard of living of the US working class.
- Second is the continual erosion of the global power of US capitalism and its ability to maintain a stable world order. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the return to capitalism in China, the US capitalist strategists thought they had permanently resolved their problems. They would be the one and only super power for all time – “the end of history” as one of their strategists (Francis Fukuyama) called it. (It’s incredible that he is still considered a serious thinker!) On the contrary, the end of the Soviet Union meant the end of all the rest of the capitalist world having to huddle together under the protective wing of US capitalism. Then the rise of Russian and Chinese imperialist rivals meant a fragmentation in the world order that is unprecedented since the Russian Revolution. The result has been that a whole host of secondary and even lesser powers are feeling their oats and the world capitalist order is fragmenting.
- Third is the mounting disaster of global climate disruption. The results of that disruption are just as chaotic as is the fragmentation of the world capitalist disorder.
The mainstream of the US capitalist class is represented by the NY Times editorial board (as well as such editors as those of the Washington Post, the Atlantic magazine, Foreign Affairs and also the producers of CNN and MSNBC). Their view is that the principle domestic threat to US stability is the MAGA crowd. That same NY Times editorial summarized that threat: “The risks of political escalation are obvious [if Trump is indicted]. The Democratic and Republican parties are already in the thick of a cycle of retribution that could last generations…..There is an even more immediate threat of further violence, and it is a possibility that Americans should, sadly, be prepared for…. Mr. Trump’s actions as a public official, like no others since the Civil War, attacked the heart of our system of government. He used the power of his office to subvert the rule of law. If we hesitate to call those actions and their perpetrator criminal, then we are saying he is above the law and giving license to future presidents to do whatever they want.”
In other words, there is no clear and present domestic danger other than from Trump and his MAGA crowd, which numbers in the tens of millions. They must be stopped or else the means of rule which have succeeded for over 150 years are under threat. This threat must be stopped. They think it can be done so by cutting off the head, that is to say by eliminating Trump’s domination of the Republican Party and undermining him within the MAGA base.
WSJ Wing’s View
On the other hand, there is the wing of the US capitalist class represented by the WSJ editorial board. They could be considered extremely short sighted… or actually just the opposite. The WSJ editors were won over to Trump when he pushed through his enormous tax bonanza to US capitalists shortly after he first took office back in 2017. His attacks on environmental protections also warmed the hearts of these capitalists. As for Trump’s appeals to bigotry of all sorts: They figure “what was the harm since it added to the confusion of the real enemy, which is the working class?” They didn’t like his isolationist economic policies nor his links with Putin. Nor do they like his inability to think beyond his own personal self-interest and his incompetence due to his extreme narcissism. But he has performed yeoman service winning over a huge chunk of the working class. And he did this with his personal, carnival barker appeal. There is nobody else on the scene who could have accomplished this to the extent that Trump did – not Marjorie Taylor Greene, not Ron DeSantis and not Josh Hawley. So they are willing to take the bad with the good.
The threat of global climate disruption also figures into their thinking, not in the sense of how to mitigate that accelerating disaster. No, in their point of view the real danger is that it may force the government – under the leadership of the Democratic Party – to increasingly intervene in the economy. That was made clear in an August 11 column by regular WSJ contributor Holman Jenkins. He claims that Trump’s repeated big lies are no greater than those of the Democrats, whose greatest lie is “that climate change is the end of the world.” The Democrats don’t say it’s the end of the world, but they do admit it’s a serious issue. The political implications of this is increased government intervention. That is what scares the WSJ editors and those they represent.
The crisis of the working class
There is one other factor that motivates their approach, and that is the extreme confusion and lack of organization of the US working class. The only truly mass working class organizations in the US are the unions. Not only is the level of unionization extremely low, but the unions are led by a bureaucracy that is massively out of touch and in denial of the real state of affairs. That may be changing, but that is by no means certain.
Then there is the question of the consciousness of US workers. Education level (rather than income level) is an inexact, but still the best, means of estimating class in the US. One poll found that while 75% of Republicans overall believe that the 2020 election was stolen, only 48% of those with a college degree believe that. In other words, the belief in this lie is significantly higher among working class Republicans.
As we know, weakness breeds aggression, and a sector of the US capitalist class seems to actually dismiss the US working class as any sort of threat at all. “So why not go all out?” they reason. That thinking is also reflected in the views of the WSJ editorial board and their columnists.
Dangers of Indicting Trump
Both wings of the capitalist class are aware of the immense dangers in indicting a former president. Nothing close to this has ever happened before. Both sides explain that this would establish an extremely dangerous precedent, one in which future presidents from the opposite party would go after past presidents much as what is done in non-democratic countries in Latin American and elsewhere in the former colonial world. Both sides are right; it would establish a dangerous precedent. But what is the alternative? Trump collaborated with Putin in order to get elected (contrary to what the Mueller Report claims) as this US Senate report shows. There were no consequences. Next he tried to use his control over US foreign policy for his own personal political gain. He was impeached for this, but that was all. So he went on to even bigger and better things: he helped organize a riot to overturn the results of the 2020 election. That, too, had no permanent consequences. So the majority wing of the US capitalist class worries that if he gets away with absconding with some of the most highly classified state secrets – for him to use who knows how – either he or another president (DeSantis?) will go even further. For them, that risk outweighs the countervailing one.
On the other hand, the WSJ wing figures “what the hell? We have the top of one branch of the US government (the US Supreme Court) under our complete control. We have a good chance of getting the rest if not this year then in 2024. Why not go for broke, especially as global climate disruption really threatens.”
At this time, this wing of the capitalist class may have miscalculated. That’s what the Supreme Court anti-abortion rights ruling shows. It may result in the more cautions wing – as represented by the Democrats – maintaining and possibly even strengthening their control over the US Senate and possibly even keeping their control over the House. That doesn’t rule out the Republicans gaining complete control in 2024. That would be quite possible if their most extreme representatives win statewide offices in the positions which control the process of elections. If that happens, and these people (usually the state secretaries of state) along with state legislatures nullify the 2024 popular vote in a series of states, it seems most likely that their partners in crime in the US Supreme Court would let them get away with it.
And so we have: the greatest political crisis for the US capitalist class since the Civil War. Even the NY Times’ editorial board admits this; an unprecedented yawning gap between the two main parties of capital – the Republicans and the Democrats; ongoing attacks on the standard of living of the working class; and massive instability in the world situation. While it’s true that major sectors of the US working class have turned to the right, whole other layers are searching for answers. This includes the youth, women and millions of workers of color. The situation is tailor made of a massive increase in the influence of socialism and the rise of a mass socialist movement.
So why is just the opposite is happening?
The reason is that the great majority of the socialist movement is at least as disoriented as is the most confused sections of the working class. Domestically, they see this Trump crisis as simply some battle “within the elites” and hardly worth commenting on. On the world scale, it completely misunderstands the so-called war in Ukraine, which in reality is an imperialist invasion. Unable therefore to shed any clarity, the socialist movement remains as its own echo chamber. It lives in its own left ghetto.
One way or another, the U.S. is headed towards what could be called a constitutional coup. In recent months there has been increased talk about the “illiberal democracy” of the Hungarian dictator Viktor Orbán. Nearly the entire Republican Party sees his rule as a model. He established that rule through what could be called a constitutional coup. That is where the Republicans are headed. The Democrats may be able to head them off this year and maybe even in 2024, but they cannot do so indefinitely.
While millions of US workers support the move towards a constitutional coup, other millions are increasingly determined to stop it. That was what the vote in Kansas to save abortion rights represented. Such votes are only the tip of the iceberg. Beneath the surface an elemental uprising of huge sections of the working class is waiting to be born. Because of the capitulation of the working class leadership – which is the union leadership – and the utter confusion of the majority of the socialist movement, such an uprising will be chaotic and confused. But it will give the hope for the rise of a new, mass working class political party and through that a base of serious socialist thinking on a mass scale.