By Argiris Malapanis and Geoff Mirelowitz
Feb. 3, 2021—In the article titled “Radicalism, Bonapartism, and the Aftermath of the 2020 U.S. Elections,” published Jan. 13 by World-Outlook.com, we described the Jan. 6 rightist mob attack on the U.S. capitol as the culminating step in a series of developments that posed serious dangers to civil liberties and the working class.
These events, we said, “indicate that a not insignificant minority of the privileged classes at least considered sidestepping the legislative and judicial branches of government and handing all important policy decisions to the executive, run by an individual with extraordinary powers. One who would not act as a servant of the institutions of capitalist democracy, but who would instead be anointed to ‘rescue the nation,’ in order to finally ‘make America great again.’ This is what we mean by the term “Bonapartism.” 
Enough evidence is now established to detail further the extent of financial support from some sections of big business for former U.S. president Donald Trump. That backing, widespread and essential to his re-election campaign, did not end after Trump’s defeat at the polls. It diminished when Trump and his closest allies over-reached with the failed violent assault on U.S. Congress. Between Nov. 3 and Jan. 6, plenty of bankers, merchants, industrialists, and other capitalists kept up their donations to Trump as he peddled outlandish and conspiratorial claims of a “fraudulent vote” and instigated street actions aimed at overturning the popular vote and holding on to power.
The ruling class does not gather together and take a vote on such issues. Members of individual billionaire families, acting on their own or in concert with others, offer substantial funds to back particular political figures and a political course. That is in part how Trump came to dominate the Republican Party in 2016 and since. Some continued that course despite Trump’s defeat at the polls on Nov. 3, 2020. That included billionaires who are newer to the ruling class, who do not have the long history of super-rich families such as the Rockefellers, Mellons, or DuPonts.
In the two months between Nov. 3 and Jan. 6, a series of events occurred, which, if not all unprecedented, were highly unusual in bourgeois politics. It is these developments that indicated the danger of Bonapartism even before a large and resolute section of the privileged classes supports imposing such an anti-democratic regime. Let’s walk through them.
The events between Nov. 3 and Jan. 6
Prior to the Nov. 3 presidential election, “Trump repeatedly explained there could be only two outcomes,” we reported in the Jan. 13 article. “First, he would win. Second, he would be denied a second term through fraud and conspiracy. Echoing his assertion he had been the victim of ‘the greatest witch-hunt in history’ while in office, he claimed that could extend to the election outcome. He publicly insinuated there was no chance he wouldn’t be the choice of the majority.” Trump thus laid the groundwork for the post-election, “Stop the Steal” campaign that then garnered substantial public support.
Trump loudly and repeatedly refused to concede that Joe Biden won the election. Moreover, most members of the Republican caucus in U.S. Congress refused to recognize Biden’s victory, either, by publicly acknowledging him as President-elect. Mitch McConnell, U.S. Senate Majority Leader at the time, did not do so until Dec. 15, six weeks after the election. Another sign was that the vast majority of Republican State Attorneys General—17—backed a “dead-on-arrival Supreme Court lawsuit seeking to discount 20 million votes,” as the New York Times put it. It added that the lawsuit “was secretly drafted by lawyers close to the White House.”
The still-sitting U.S. president and his supporters filed 62 lawsuits in state and federal courts seeking to overturn the election results in six states—Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. They were not deterred from pressing their claims of a “rigged” vote even after these legal challenges were rejected one after another.
As Trump’s legal objections kept falling like dominos, most House Republicans joined the former U.S. president’s effort to overturn the November election. By Dec. 11, 126 House Republicans and the 17 state attorneys general had signed amicus briefs sent to the U.S. Supreme Court supporting a petition by Ken Paxton, the Texas attorney general. Paxton argued that election results in four states—Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—were fraudulent based on unsubstantiated claims of mail-ballot-rule violations. The U.S. Supreme Court subsequently dismissed the case.
At the same time, Trump used the weight of the White House to pressure governors and other state officials, including state legislatures, to alter election results in the six “swing” states where the Joe Biden/Kamala Harris campaign had been declared the winner by state election authorities. He got nowhere in the six states in dispute. Officials in other states did respond positively, as the Texas lawsuit showed. Other Republican state officials, however, recoiled. The apex of this bullying from the Oval Office occurred in Georgia.
On Jan. 2, 2021, during an hour-long conference call, Trump pressured Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, to “find” more than 11,000 votes needed to overturn Biden’s win in that state and threatened him with “criminal charges” if he declined. The Georgia Republican refused to buckle. Raffensperger’s office subsequently publicized the transcript of that call, which made headlines across the country. Trump was in no way apologetic or deterred when it became public. To the contrary.
Next in this unprecedented campaign was Trump’s demand that U.S. Congress mandate state legislatures to decide election results in states where he disputed his defeat at the polls. Congressional approval of individual state Electoral College votes has been a ritual in bourgeois politics for almost 150 years. Trump insisted that Congress could refuse to accept those results, even though Congress lacks such constitutional authority. He demanded that his supporters take such a stand on Jan. 6, when Congress would convene for that purpose. More than 25% of members of U.S. Congress, including the large majority of House Republicans, pledged publicly to do so.
Jan. 6 can only be evaluated in light of previous two months
On Jan. 6, Trump—still the sitting president and Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. armed forces—addressed a crowd of tens of thousands at the Ellipse in Washington, D.C., demanding they act to “Stop the Steal.” In particular, he accused his own long obsequious vice-president Mike Pence of being “too weak” to exert the authority Trump falsely claimed Pence had to deny congressional recognition of the Biden/Harris victory. He then called on his supporters to march on the U.S. Capitol where Congress was convened to certify the Electoral College vote. “[W]e fight,” Trump said in his closing remarks. “We fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
About 5,000 Trump supporters soon surrounded the Capitol. Hundreds of them, led by well-known members of ultra-rightist groups such as the Proud Boys, white-supremacist organizations like the Maryland skinheads, and right-wing militias such as the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters, many of them armed, clashed with police guarding the Capitol.
The rightist mob scaled walls and scaffolds and broke windows, forcing entry into the building and prompting officials to suspend for half a day the joint session of Congress that was under way. The storm troopers included at least 22 active-duty cops and current or retired members of the U.S. military.
Capitol police were initially ineffectual or stood by. Some of them helped the rioters, taking selfies with the mobsters and showing them around as they roamed the halls of Congress. According to subsequent reports by D.C. police officials, U.S. military authorities refused for hours repeated Capitol police requests to deploy the National Guard for back-up.
Five people died in the melee, including a woman, who was a U.S. Air Force veteran, shot by the cops and a police officer who succumbed to injuries suffered in the fighting. Two other cops, members of the Capitol police who were on duty that day, later committed suicide.
As the mob attack was unfolding, Trump refused for hours to condemn the assault or urge the rioters to leave the Capitol. Under pressure from Republican leaders, he later issued a tepid statement. After repeating his claims of a “fraudulent vote,” and showing his affection for participants in the day’s events, telling them, “We love you! You are special,” he urged an end to the violent attack. Later that evening, however, Trump tweeted another statement that basically condoned the riot.
On Jan. 12, in his first public appearance after the Capitol siege, Trump expressed no remorse for inciting the attack on Congress. He insisted his remarks at the Jan. 6 rally had been “totally appropriate,” adding that the effort by Congress to impeach him was “causing tremendous anger.”
The outline of these events is by no means exhaustive. It establishes, however, that Trump went well beyond the accepted norms of capitalist democracy, with substantial ruling-class support before Jan. 6. Many Republican leaders took more distance from Trump as the rightist mob raged through the Capitol. More than a few, however, reversed course not long after. While accepting that the election results could not be altered, more and more in the GOP embraced Trump. As the New York Times reported on Jan. 27, “Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky carefully nudged open the door for his party to kick Donald J. Trump to the curb, only to find it slammed shut.”
What happened on Jan. 6 can only be evaluated in light of what the former U.S. president and his supporters did in the two months leading up to it.
Big business backing for two-party system
We should note here that the politicians who jumped on Trump’s “Stop the Steal” bandwagon rely on financial support from wealthy capitalists when they run for office and seek to advance their political careers, as virtually all Democrats and Republicans elected to public office do. The idea they would act as they did without some backing from such moneyed families is not credible.
By mid-January, the New York Times and other big-business media were reporting that companies from J.P. Morgan Chase to AT&T and Walmart were distancing themselves from the Republican Party and pledging to cut off financial support from politicians who publicly backed Trump’s campaign to overturn the November elections.
What none of the big-business media reported is that historically, and up to this day, capitalists have financed and used the two-party system—individual capitalists often contribute to both parties—in order to continue enriching themselves at the expense of the vast majority. They also use it to exercise a stranglehold on U.S. electoral politics. As we pointed out in the Jan. 13 article, “The propertied classes have used the Democratic and Republican parties to absorb all dissent, to conciliate the lower classes, and to deny the working class a chance for an independent political voice.” Thus, it is no surprise that billionaires donated heavily to both the Democratic and Republican campaigns leading up to last year’s election.
It is noteworthy, however, that big-business support for Trump did not substantially dip after his defeat at the polls and during the two months he pushed to overturn the election results.
In a Jan. 31 front-page article, titled, “77 Days: Trump’s Campaign to Subvert the Election,” the New York Times noted: “As traditional Republican donors withdrew, a new class of Trump-era benefactors rose to finance data analysts and sleuths to come up with fodder for the stolen-election narrative. Their ranks included the founder of MyPillow, Mike Lindell, and the former Overstock.com chief executive Patrick Byrne, who warned of ‘fake ballots’ and voting-machine manipulation from China on the One America News Network and Newsmax, which were finding ratings in their willingness to go further than Fox in embracing the fiction that Mr. Trump had won.”
The billionaires behind Trump’s Bonapartist course
According to public records of the Federal Election Commission, a report by the Institute for Policy Studies, and articles in Forbes magazine and other news outlets, 63 billionaires with combined assets of nearly $244 billion bankrolled Trump’s election campaign and post-election push to stay in office. The list includes owners of gas pipelines, investors in pharmaceutical and cosmetics enterprises, communication and entertainment company CEOs, bankers and stockbrokers, as well as proprietors of casinos, software companies, and construction firms. This group is a fraction of the estimated 788 billionaires in the United States, but their steadfast support helped enable Trump’s unprecedented moves.
Topping the list of these billionaires, in terms of size of their financial contributions, are: Kelcy Lee Warren, CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, engaged in natural gas and propane pipeline transport; Isaac Perlmutter, retired CEO of Marvel Entertainment; Kenny Trout, founder of Excel Communications; Robert Duggan, former CEO of Pharmacyclics and investor in biotechnology firms; Sheldon Adelson, a casino mogul and founder of Las Vegas Sands Corp.; Diane Hendricks, co-founder of ABC Supply, a roofing materials company; Daniel Andrew Beal, founder of Beal Bank; David Duffield, co-founder of PeopleSoft and Workday; John Paulson, who made his fortune in hedge funds; Robert Wood Johnson IV, a heir of Johnson & Johnson, a U.S. monopoly in pharmaceuticals and medical equipment; and Ronald Steven Lauder, an heir of Estée Lauder Inc., a top U.S. manufacturer and marketer of cosmetics.
A small number of these capitalists, not only contributed to Trump’s re-election effort and directly or indirectly backed his post-election “Stop the Steal” campaign, but publicly supported Trump’s conspiracy theories and bogus claims of “election fraud.”
Julie Jenkins Fancelli, for example, heiress of the Publix Super Markets chain and daughter of its founder, paid the lion’s share of the $500,000 cost of Trump’s Jan. 6 rally at the Ellipse, according to the Wall Street Journal.
A number of wealthy donors to Trump and his most prominent congressional backers cried “betrayal” and vowed to cut off financial support to these Republican politicians only after Jan. 6, inadvertently revealing the extent of their backing for the crusade to overturn the popular vote up to that point.
On Jan. 13, for example, Ken Langone, a billionaire GOP donor and co-founder of Home Depot, told CNBC he felt betrayed by Trump in the aftermath of the attack on U.S. Congress. He pledged to switch his support to the Democrats.
Jeffrey Yass, a billionaire who had secretly backed Josh Hawley, a U.S. Senator from Missouri, leaked to the media in mid-January through stockbroker friends that he felt “deceived” by his Republican protégé. Hawley led the effort in Congress to overturn the November election results—which in the end was backed by 139 House and 8 Senate Republicans, who voted to challenge the election outcomes in Arizona or Pennsylvania even after the Jan. 6 riot. Hawley is also considered a potential replacement for Trump in the 2024 presidential race.
Republican Party majority reaffirms support for Trump
As noted earlier, Republican Senate leader McConnell and others may have thought the party was done with Trump, but they quickly learned otherwise. Liz Cheney, the third-ranking House Republican, voted to impeach Trump. Nine of her Republican colleagues in the House joined her. Within days, Wyoming GOP state senator Anthony Bouchard announced his primary campaign for Cheney’s seat in 2022.
Bouchard is only the first to act on Trump’s directive to his supporters at the Jan. 6 rally in D.C. “I’m going to use the term, the weak Republicans,” Trump told the crowd. “If they don’t fight, we have to primary the hell out of the ones that don’t fight. You primary them. We’re going to let you know who they are. I can already tell you, frankly.” Bouchard has already won support from outside Wyoming. Florida congressman Matt Gaetz traveled to that state Jan. 28 to call for Cheney’s ouster, “underscoring the divisions in the GOP as it grapples with its identity in the wake of Trump’s presidency,” as Fox News noted.
Others needed no further encouragement. On Jan. 23, the Arizona Republican Party censured prominent members of the party—Governor Doug Ducey, former Senator Jeff Flake, and Cindy McCain, the widow of former Senator John McCain—for standing up to Trump. “The America First agenda is alive and well,” the state’s GOP chair Kelli Ward said in a video. “Are we going to continue to be an America First Arizona or are we going back to the dark days before Donald Trump?” she asked.
The Arizona state party organization is by no means alone. The Republican Party in Pennsylvania is among Trump’s most tenacious supporters in the country and continues to bolster his false claims of a “stolen” election. “Far from engaging in self-examination,” said an article in the Jan. 28 New York Times, “Pennsylvania Republicans are already jockeying ahead of the 2022 primaries to prove that they fought the hardest for Mr. Trump, who, in spite of the losses by his party in the White House, the Senate and the House, still exerts a strong grip over elected Republicans and grass-roots voters.”
In South Carolina, U.S. congressman Tom Rice has also come under fire for voting to impeach Trump. In an interview aired on National Public Radio, Rice acknowledged his long-time support for Trump. He added he was not in favor of impeachment charges being considered again by the House, because Trump was on his way out of office. But compelled to cast a vote when the charges were brought to the House floor on Jan. 13, he was one of the 10 GOP members who voted for impeachment. “The president stepped over a line,” Rice told WMBF News. “He violated the Constitution, that’s why I did what I did.” Condemnation from within the state GOP was swift. On Jan. 30, South Carolina Republicans formally censured Rice.
Signs that Trump is winning the battle inside the GOP go well beyond his strong support in state party organizations. It extends to the very top of the party as well, beginning with the setbacks dealt to McConnell and others. McConnell made clear to associates after the Jan. 6 attack “that he viewed Mr. Trump’s actions around the riot as impeachable and saw a Senate trial as an opportunity to purge him from the party,” according to the New York Times. His decision on Jan. 26 to join all but five Republican Senators in voting to toss out the House impeachment case against Trump as unconstitutional, seemed to be “a recognition that the critical mass of his party was not ready to join him in cutting loose the former president,” the Times said. “Far from repudiating Mr. Trump, as it appeared they might in the days after the Jan. 6 rampage at the Capitol, Republicans have reverted to the posture they adopted when he was in office—unwilling to cross a figure who continues to hold outsize sway in their party.”
GOP House minority leader Kevin McCarthy traveled to Mar-a-Lago to pay fealty to Trump and “mend fences,” as Fox News reported, “after the former president reportedly took offense to the fact McCarthy said he bore some of the responsibility for the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol—a stance McCarthy later reversed.”
New ‘normal’ in U.S. bourgeois politics
Trump’s campaign to overturn the 2020 election may have had the backing of many in his party but did not have a serious chance for success. Statements in December by most big-business leaders, the U.S. Secretary of the Army, and the 10 living defense secretaries—all reported in our Jan. 13 article1—made that clear, well before Jan. 6. Had it been successful, the drive to overturn the November election would have led to the de-facto imposition of a Bonapartist regime. That was its logic.
What is noteworthy is that, despite its minimal chance of success, Trump went ahead anyway, and his support from a not insignificant section of the U.S. ruling class did not begin to crumble until after the ultra-rightist mob stormed the Capitol.
In the end, Trump did accomplish this much: He firmed up his popularity among millions in the GOP base, maintained his standing as the most viable leader of the Republican Party, and kept alive the myth of a “stolen” election.
The political danger of Bonapartism was clearly posed, though not realized, by the events between Nov. 3 and Jan. 6. This is not unusual. The danger of new anti-democratic measures, be it Bonapartism, military dictatorship or fascism, is often posed well before the rulers are prepared to pay the political price of successfully imposing them. But new precedents have now been set for what is “normal” in U.S. bourgeois politics today. While most leading political figures have now distanced themselves from Trump’s “Stop the Steal” campaign, that will not prevent such charges from being raised again in future elections. Moreover, it can be expected that such charges will now go hand-in-hand with long-term efforts to restrict voting rights.
The Democratic Party and its heralds in the union officialdom will point to the growing danger of a more extreme right-wing in capitalist politics to persuade working people to stick to the lesser-evilism the two-party system rests on. That remains a political dead-end. The support Trump has won from working people is largely a result of the failure of bourgeois liberalism to remedy deteriorating economic and social conditions for the majority. The only way out of this bind is working-class resistance to the employers’ attacks that points the way toward working-class political action independent of the Democrats and Republicans.
 For a thorough explanation of Bonapartism and its historic precedents, see “Radicalism, Bonapartism, and the Aftermath of the 2020 U.S. Elections,” published Jan. 13, 2021, by www.world-outlook.com. Here’s the link to the article: https://world-outlook.com/2021/01/13/example-post-2/
Categories: US Politics