Last week was one helluva week, a week in which:
- The federal government came within hours of shutting down entirely, due to the machinations of the QAnon Republicans whose goal, as the Wall St. Journal editors put it, is to “blow things up and count their Tik Tok followers”.
- Trump said that Mark Milley, retiring chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was guilty of treason and that he deserved the death penalty.
- Milley called Trump a “wannabe dictator”.
- President Joe Biden took the unprecedented step of appearing on a union picket line.
- Trump called for looters to be shot on sight.
- A neighbor of mine had her purse snatched in broad daylight as she sat at a table outside the neighborhood coffee shop. (And yes that is relevant, as you will see.)
Let’s unwind the clock a bit:
Mark Milley and Donald Trump
Milley’s relationship with Trump soured after Milley criticized himself for having marched in uniform with Trump during the George Floyd protests. At that time and also after the general election, Milley let it be known that he would not obey any order to follow a declaration of martial law and bring the U.S. army out onto the streets.
Trump’s reference to Milley was a reference to recently published reports that the then-Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had twice called his Chinese counterpart to reassure them that the US had no plans to launch a strike against China. The first such call was on Oct. 30, 2020, four days before the general election (when nobody knew what Trump would do if he lost). The second call was on January 8, 2021, two days after youknowwhat. Although Milley kept civilian authorities informed of his calls, it still is highly unusual in that a military leader was, in effect, conducting diplomacy. This is in the context of the revelation that Milley had been concerned that Trump “had gone into serious mental decline” and might “go rogue”. As a result of these concerns, Milley had ordered the National Military Command Center not to take any orders unless they were approved by himself. The Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff serves as the liaison between the military and the president; they are not formally part of the chain of military command, so this was an unprecedented step on Milley’s part.
Role of U.S. military
The entire affair shows how close the US government came to fragmenting entirely at that time. It also shows the dangers. What does it say if the U.S. military is the alternative to Trump-style demagogic dictatorship?
Further, the U.S. military is not immune to MAGAism as the editors of the Wall St. Journal implied. They criticized Milley for having given that speech while still in uniform. They pointed out that “a large chunk of the enlisted ranks of the United States military services” supports Trump and that Milley’s speech risks “polarizing” the U.S. military. Since they specified the enlisted troops, this means that the higher chain of command in general does not support Trump. This puts at risk the reliability of the military, now when that reliability is needed more than ever in many decades.
Overall, though, what these developments mean is that US capitalism offers a choice between a deranged “rogue” president or an increasingly independent role for the US military.
Government shutdown and Ukraine
As noted, a government shutdown was averted with hours to spare also this week. This was accomplished through a 45 day spending agreement. That agreement included the QAnon Republicans dropping their demands for really draconic spending cuts on nearly all social programs. In exchange, they won by excluding support for Ukraine from this agreement. If that exclusion continues, it may lead to an absolute catastrophe in Ukraine. It
won’t only be the QAnon Republicans who would be responsible for such a catastrophe; so would the “progressive” crowd which includes Code Pink, the Green Party, and the Putinized “revolutionary left”. The former simply supports Putin. The latter have succeeded in largely muting the “progressive” wing of the Democrats on the issue of aid to Ukraine. The two work together.
Significance of President Biden on the picket line
Biden’s visit to the UAW picket line is relevant in this way: No U.S. president has ever appeared at a union strike/picket line. Doing so overtly took the side of the strikers against the company. Biden did so because he – and Corporate America – are extremely worried about Trump’s support among U.S. blue collar workers, including industrial workers. All polls show that his campaign against Trump is in trouble and he must win back some of those blue collar workers.
This is not just the normal election campaign competition. This is a campaign to retain what Biden calls “the soul of America”. What he really means by that is retention of the tried and tested means of rule by U.S. capital – “our democracy”, which means democratic rule through consent from below. It means trying to prevent the divisions around race, gender, national origin, and now sexual orientation, from boiling over. Trump’s alternative is ruling through creating hysteria. Biden and his class are desperate to keep that “rogue” and many times indicted and unbalanced individual (Trump) out of the White House. That is why Biden took that unprecedented step.
Trump calls for looters to be shot on sight
Just a few days later (Sept. 29), Trump gave a speech confirmed the reason for their desperation as he threw more raw meat at his blood thirsty crowd. Among other things, he said: “We will immediately stop all of the pillaging and theft. Very simply: If you rob a store, you can fully expect to be shot as you are leaving that store.” He received a round of applause for that. Speaking in California, Trump also made sure to stir up all the other divisions: “This is not a great state anymore. This is a dumping ground. You’re a dumping ground. The world is being dumped into California. Prisoners. Terrorists. Mental patients,” he said.
Nor is this just a matter of Trump himself. He has a lock on the Republican Party in general, as the near government shutdown shows. The QAnon Republicans (Greene, Gaetz, Gosar, et al) are the tail that is wagging the Republican dog in the House. There are a number of factors that enable them to do so. One is that due to internet fund raising, individual Representatives are no longer so dependent either on the party leadership (meaning Kevin McCarthy in this case) or on major capitalists to get campaign donations. They can get millions of individual donors through the internet.
A socialist approach
The main reason, though, is the continued fragmentation and also alienation of U.S. society. As Oaklandsocialist has discussed many times (see for example Donald Trump: an unprecedented crisis), the U.S. capitalist class has lost a tremendous amount of influence among large sectors of the U.S. population. It’s ability to hold society together has been seriously weakened. The potential exists for the working class to step into the breach, and reverse the direction of U.S. politics. We do not mean shoring up the U.S. capitalist class and the Democratic party. We mean through playing an independent role. That potential can be seen in the UAW auto workers strike. The workers are demanding a 30% wage increase and a 32 hour work week for 40 hours pay. These demands would be overwhelmingly popular among almost all workers, and the UAW leadership could use this strike to kick off a national political movement based on them. This would have a dramatic effect in the poorest communities in the country. Furthermore, we must recognize that the companies the UAW is striking are global. The UAW leadership should immediately call an international auto workers conference to establish joint demands and start to organize international strikes. This would immediately put a dent in the anti-(Latin American) immigrant propaganda that Trump and others play on here in the U.S. However, to gain any traction, the UAW would have to drop its demands that companies like GM shift production away from countries like Mexico. These demands simply mean that Mexican auto workers be put out of a job. International working class solidarity is the only way forward.
And all of this brings us to the last point about my neighbor having been mugged in broad daylight. This was not an isolated incident. A neighbor of mine was just telling me about a series of muggings, carjackings and burglaries around here. He said that the problem is the politicians and police let criminals get away with it. And this guy told me he “used to be a gangster in Chinatown”! In other words, he used to be one of those criminals. This beginning of a breakdown in society adds to the law and order mood that Trump plays on, and it’s not only white racists who will respond.
But here is another relevant story:
A young couple has been living in their car outside my home. The other morning, the young woman disturbed the entire neighborhood by conducting a loud yelling match at somebody across the street. It went on for nearly a half hour. A few hours later I was outside doing some yard work. This same young woman was standing by her care studiously avoiding making eye contact with me. After a few seconds of her unwillingness to look my way, I just called out, “good morning! How you doing today?” She looked over at me and gave me the sweetest smile. We had a wonderful conversation for 15 minutes. We talked about life, the situation in this country, having a dog… you name it. Breaking through the sense of isolation that this young woman must feel was as easy and natural as falling off a log. But that is just with two individuals. It makes no difference as far as changing the overall situation, but it shows the potential. A mass independent working class movement and socialism is the only alternative.