The method of capitalist rule in the United States is shaking. It is not shaking because of a clash between the classes. It is shaking because of a crisis at the top.
The U.S. capitalist class rules in part through its political parties, which means the Republican and Democratic Parties. Now their entire system of rule is in crisis. That is what the four (!) indictments of Trump represent. This article is the second in a series on this crisis. In the first part (Donald Trump: an unprecedented crisis) we discussed what Trump’s time in office had meant, how he had taken over the Republican Party, what that meant for the main wings of the US capitalist class, and how the 150 year capitalist rule through both competition and collaboration between the parties has ended.
This crisis is reaching a climax with the Trump indictments (although an even greater climax may yet be coming). The criminal charges against a former president are unprecedented. That word has almost become a cliché in the US media for a reason: Because there is hardly a better one to describe this situation. That is why the workers movement (such as it is) and socialists within the working class (few as they may be) should pay close attention to these charges. They are an example of how changes don’t always start with a clash between the two classes; they frequently start with a crisis at the top. In order to pay attention, we first of all have to be familiar with exactly what the charges are and what are the weaknesses and strengths of the charges. That will be our starting point and we will take them in chronological order:
- The Manhattan “hush money” charge
New York D.A. Alvin Bragg has brought criminal charges against Trump for the hush money he paid to Stormy Daniels. According to the charge, this money was in fact part of the Trump presidential campaign, but he hid the payment as coming from his business, which was falsifying business records. “Under New York state law, it is a felony to falsify business records with intent to defraud and intent to conceal another crime,” Bragg told reporters. “That is exactly what this case is about: 34 false statements made to cover up other crimes.” The other crime was the filing of a false campaign statement of expenses.
Trump evidently is claiming that he tried to silence Stormy Daniels simply to save his reputation and that it had nothing to do with his running for office. Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen, who is the one who actually made the payment, claims that the payment was made as part of his campaign. Trump’s defense team will certainly attack Cohen on the grounds that he’s a convicted perjurer so his word cannot be relied upon. But the only person who can really contradict Cohen is Trump himself, and when he tells the truth it’s only by accident. So putting him on the stand is very risky.
Bragg has charged several similar cases and had he let this one go, he would have been signaling that Trump should be treated differently under the law.
- The Mar-a-Lago classified documents case
This case is almost open and shut. Trump took over 100 classified documents with him
when he left office and flew to Mar-a-Lago. Some of them were of the most secret order, including some which would reveal who US agents (spies) are in other countries. Then, in defiance of several court orders, Trump refused to return the documents. In fact, according to the indictment, Trump and his associates (personal valet Walt Nauta and Mar-a-Lago groundskeeper Carlos de Oliveira) conspired to hide the documents by moving them from one location to another. Not only that, but evidently they tried to delete footage of security cameras that show them moving those documents. Furthermore, Trump is recorded talking about one of the secret documents and, based on what he’s saying, showing them to people who are unauthorized to see them. So, Trump is not only charged with mishandling the government documents, he’s also charged with obstruction.
While the DOJ may have Trump dead to rights in this case, Trump’s inability to keep his mouth shut certainly has made matters worse for him. In a Fox “News” interview, Trump directly justified not turning over the documents after he’d been ordered to do so. By justifying his actions, he admitted that he’d done it. The facts of the case are incontestable: He took the documents, he refused to obey court orders, in at least one instance he showed one of them to unauthorized people, and he tried to cover it all up.
However, because the DOJ had to bring the charges where the crimes were committed (Southern Florida), they’re going to end up with a jury pool that will tend to be highly sympathetic to Trump. And if that isn’t enough, he lucked out and got a federal judge that he appointed – Aileen Cannon – who in a previous and related case made a pro-Trump ruling that nearly every single legal mind said was ridiculous and that was swiftly overturned by the appeals court in that circuit. Maybe Cannon has learned from getting her hand spanked, but maybe what she’s learned is to be a little more subtle in favoring Trump. Will her favoring Trump and getting a Trump-friendly jury be enough?
- The special counsel January 6 investigation
This indictment includes Trump and 6 unnamed co-conspirators. They evidently are
(1) former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, (2) former Trump legal advisor John Eastman, (3) former Trump legal representative Sidney Powell, (4) former Justice Department lawyer Jeffrey Clark, (5) former Trump 2020 campaign worker and lawyer Kenneth Chesebro. The sixth is not identified but is thought to be Trump campaign worker (and also a lawyer and investment banker) Boris Epshteyn. The “Democracy Docket” describes them and their alleged roles further.
This indictment is more complex. Trump and his co-conspirators are indicted for allegedly conspiring to “to corruptly obstruct and impede an official proceeding, that is, the certification of the electoral vote; corruptly obstruct and impede an official proceeding, that is, the certification of the electoral vote; corruptly conspire free exercise and enjoyment of a right and privilege secured to them by the Constitution; [seeking to prevent] one or more persons in the free exercise of… the [the Constitutional] right to vote, and to have one’s vote counted.”
Included in the evidence of the charges are Trump’s pressuring Pence to refuse to carry out his Constitutional duty of counting the electoral votes, helping organize the fake electors, and trying to delay through illegal means the counting of the electors’ votes.
There are a couple of reasons why this case (and the fourth one) are more complex: Team Trump seems headed towards the defense that Trump genuinely believed he’d won the election and therefore he was only doing what he believed was right. Some of the evidence seems to point in the other direction, including the fact that his own attorney general, Bill Barr – the highest lawyer in the land – and others had told him the opposite. Also, at one point Trump told his VP, Mike Pence, “you’re too honest” when Pence insisted that he lacked the authority to block the count of the electoral college votes. This shows that Trump, himself, knew that Pence lacked that authority.
In any case, this is no defense. For example, somebody can claim that they don’t “recognize” the sole right of the federal government to print up money and that any individual has the same right. Based on this claim they then start printing up their own $100 bills. Whether they really believe this or not is irrelevant. They are guilty of counterfeiting.
- Violation of Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) act
This is the case brought by Fulton County, Georgia, DA Fani Willis and is the most wide-ranging of all. It indicts Trump and 18 others and includes 30 other unindicted co-conspirators in the 98-page document. Basically, RICO cases charge a group of people with conspiring to commit a crime. It’s usually used (often abusively) against members or alleged members of a gang. DA Willis is claiming that Trump and his co-conspirators formed the equivalent of such a gang to prevent the fair counting of the Georgia votes in the 2020 presidential election. Trump’s infamous call to GA Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, in which Trump demanded that Raffensperger “find” 11,780 votes, figures in the indictment. But there is a lot more. It also includes several individuals trying to illegally get into the ballot machines in Coffee County. It also includes the organizing of fake slates of (Republican) electoral voters in Georgia as well as several other states which were narrowly won by Biden.
Team Trump claims that they were organized just in case the court challenges to the
election results were successful. But these Republican fake electors certified themselves as being the official electors, which was a lie. The fake electors scheme was part of a larger plan. That plan was to give Pence an excuse to refuse to certify the results and send the results from those states back to the state legislators, thereby giving Team Trump more time to work on the Republican-controlled state legislatures to fake the results. Pence was the key to this plan, and unfortunately for Trump he was more tied to the system of capitalist democracy than he was to Trump. This left Trump with no alternative but to hope that the Capitol insurrection could delay the certification of the election enough. He tried, including delaying for several hours calling on his supporters to leave the Capitol.
In all but the New York case, Team Trump is also claiming the indictment infringes on Trump’s First Amendment right to free speech, but “free speech” is not an absolute. A gang boss who orders a hit on a rival is not protected by the First Amendment. Nor is a group of bank robbers who collectively plan a bank heist, nor is a group of KKK members who collectively plan a lynching. It’s not only the act itself that is the crime, conspiring to commit the act – as shown by what they say and write to each other – is a crime in and of itself. So is conspiring to deny people their Constitutional rights.
If it gets that far, it will be interesting to see how the Republican-controlled US Supreme Court rules on this “free speech” issue. That’s especially so considering how they weaponized freedom of religion as a cover to discriminate against LGBTQ people. Will they now weaponize “free speech” to mean allowing Trump and his political party to conspire to deny people the effective right to vote?
The case also shows how widespread the whole conspiracy was. Those charged are not only national figures like Trump or Sidney Powell. They include Kanye West (AKA “Ye”) publicist Trevian Kutti and Coffee County (GA) supervisor Misty Hampton. The significance is that if proven it shows that this plot was not only by just a small group of national figures. Dozens of people who normally would never be known were involved. How many hundreds – in fact thousands and even millions – of other Republicans would have been willing to be involved in arranging a genuinely fraudulent election result?
Federal court’s jurisdiction?
Team Trump is also expected to move to try the Georgia case in federal court. That would be based on the claim that the crimes of which Trump & Co. are accused of were carried out as part of the role of federal government officials. But that implies that trying to defraud voters of their right to have their votes counted is part of the official duties of the president. It seems to make no sense, but it also seems this motion may go all the way to the Supreme Court, and who knows how the Republican (in)justices would rule on that.
According to the most recent polls, 85% of Democrats but only 16% of Republicans (and 47% of independents) support the charges having been brought against Trump. Trump is building and exploiting this extremely sharp difference with his claims that the charges are all meant to prevent him from standing up for his supporters. In the New York City and the Georgia cases, Trump is also using racism by calling attention to the fact that the two prosecutors are black. (He is calling them “racist”.) He also said of special counsel Jack Smith, “he’s a raging and uncontrolled Trump-hater, as is his wife.” Given the fact that his supporters have gone after the families of their perceived enemies, this is an invitation to harass and attack not only Smith but also his family.
We should remember Trump’s call on the Proud Boys to “stand by”. That was implicit support for them to commit violence in the future. Trump has done the same now, for example with his tweet “If you go after me, I’m coming after you.” This is combined with all the “Second Amendment” and “gun rights” hysteria as well as the generally bullying atmosphere that Trump has encouraged for years now. For example, a Utah man, Craig Robertson, had been sending threatening messages to Biden, including implying that he would kill Biden when he came to Utah. On August 8 the FBI went to talk with (or arrest) him, and he allegedly pulled a gun on them and was killed as a result. Then, around the same date, a Texas woman named Abigail Jo Shry left a phone message for the judge in the Washington DC case saying “If Trump doesn’t get elected in 2024, we are coming to kill you, so tread lightly, bitch. You will be targeted personally, publicly, your family, all of it.” In the case of this judge, Tanya Chutkin, as well as in the case of Alvin Bragg (the NY DA) and Fani Willis (the GA prosecutor), racist attacks, including the use of the “n word” have been common.
Just as Trump and his team (Giuliani & Co.) encouraged harassment of and threats against poll workers, so the same is starting to happen with jurors. Already the names and addresses of some if not all the Fulton County grand jury members are being publicized by some far right web sites. It is certain that they will be receiving harassing and threatening messages. This will then intimidate possible jurors for any future full on trials. And again, by his silence, Trump is encouraging this.
As we saw on January 6, the threats and violent rhetoric tend to lead to action. Surely the more thoughtful elements of the violent far right have learned something since January 6 as well as foiled plots such as the 2020 plot to kidnap and kill Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer. What they have probably learned is to be more careful in what they plan, who they plan it with, and how they go about planning it. In other words, some acts of shocking violence from them seem likely, either before, during or after the 2024 election. As Shry made clear, they will not accept any election result other than the one they want. Trump is aware that his silence about the violent threats encourages it, just as he knew that his several hours of silence during the January 6 invasion of the Capitol was a signal to carry on.
Delay in bringing charges
These indictments will make for an unprecedented (there’s that word again) election campaign, with Trump having to interrupt campaigning to appear in court. Trump complains that the charges have been delayed in order to interfere with his election campaign. In fact, they have been delayed by as much as a year, but for a different reason. Among other things, the FBI – which is under Garland’s ultimate control, delayed investigating Trump’s role in the January 6 coup attempt. That reason is the weakness of Attorney General Merrick Garland. Many Democrats, including Representative Adam Schiff, complained about Garland’s reluctance.
Department of Justice “Weaponized”
In an ironic twist of the left’s call to defund the police, the Republicans are calling for the defunding of the FBI, which supposedly has been weaponized against them. This highlights the role of different wings of the federal government in maintaing the traditional means of capitalist rule through stable democratic means in the United States. It stands alongside the role of the U.S. military tops in opposing Trump’s desire to use the army to overturn the election and democratic rights in general, as Oaklandsocialist has pointed out numerous times, including in our previous article on this issue.
Trump could not use the Insurrection Act to bring the troops out into the streets because his top military officer, the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, made it clear that he would disobey such an order. But the threat of the generals to disobey the elected president in and of itself is a danger; it starts to legitimize the generals acting independently. It is similar with the increased authority of the FBI.
So, people in the United States are faced with two apparent alternatives: Either enable the far right – which includes overt racists and fascists – to overturn basic democratic rights like the right to vote and have one’s vote counted, or strengthen the forces of repression at home and abroad. The reason for this devil’s choice is the crisis in the US working class. That crisis has been many years in the making and is due, first and foremost, to the many decades long disastrous role of the union leadership, which is the only leadership the US working class knows.
How and through what channels, indeed whether, a revolt from below against the far right will develop is the $6 million question. We can possibly look to what happened in Israel for an example. In our interview with Israeli leftist/Palestinian rights supporter Ofer Neiman, some similarities (as well as some huge differences) with a possible crisis here in the U.S. emerged. There, the extreme right ran away with things and provoked a mass revolt from below. It seems that revolt was nearly spontaneous. Will something like that happen here in the U.S.? If so, what may develop from it? How can we prepare for such a revolt… or the absence of one? And what does all of this imply for the upcoming 2024 elections?
A future article will focus on these questions.