Public hearings on the January 6, 2021, ultra-rightist mob attack on the U.S. Congress are now underway. The facts presented at these hearings offer a reminder that the effort Donald Trump led to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election was far outside the previous norms of U.S. bourgeois politics.
For this reason, we are republishing World-Outlook‘s inaugural article posted that fateful January. That analysis largely stands up to the test of time. It outlines the stakes for working people in those events.
The issues involved go well beyond establishing historical accuracy. It is still likely that Trump will run again for president in 2024. His unfounded and conspiracy-laden claim that the 2020 election was “stolen” still holds sway among the base of the Republican Party and Republican office holders at the federal, state, and local levels. Trump remains the most authoritative leader of the GOP.
It is equally possible that in both 2022 and 2024 — even if someone other than Trump is the Republican presidential nominee — rightists will repeat these challenges to the outcome of the elections if the results do not suit them.
Over the last year and a half, this much has become clear: Trump has made effective use of the technique of the “big lie” in continuing to insist the 2020 election was “stolen” from him. Many conservative politicians and their big-business backers have accepted and promoted this lie. Many others are unwilling to challenge it publicly. This suggests that these forces and the pundits who speak for them may be open to Trump’s course. They may be open to using cunning and force to change an election outcome, tossing the “rule of law” by the wayside, as a possible solution to late capitalism’s crises that are getting worse under the Biden administration.
The Democratic Party has its own agenda in organizing the current hearings. It is using them primarily to try to shore up its increasingly poor prospects in the 2022 midterm elections.
What is important to working people is what unfolded after the 2020 election. It begins with recognizing the “big lie” of a “stolen election” and the lengths to which its proponents were willing to go to enforce it.
Much of the media is drawing comparisons between the January 6 House hearings today and the Watergate hearings about half a century ago.
Watergate led to the resignation of then U.S. president Richard Nixon. More compelling than any similarities is a key difference: The ruling class united in dealing with the Watergate scandal that revealed how it uses executive power and federal institutions to govern. It claimed — falsely — that Nixon was an exception in this regard. It promised to “clean up” government.
There is no such unity today. Trump enjoys a celebrity status far removed from Nixon’s disgraced standing when he left the White House. Tens of millions across the United States continue to look to Trump for reasons the article below explains.
The Democratic Party offers no way forward for working people, as the effects of the two-year-long pandemic, raging inflation, and more are wreaking havoc in our lives.
As World-Outlook wrote 18 months ago: “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.”
Due to the length of the January 2021 article, we are publishing it in two parts, the second of which follows.
(This is the second of two parts. The first can be found in Part 1.)
Radicalism, Bonapartism, and the Aftermath of the 2020 U.S. Elections (Part 2)
By Geoff Mirelowitz, Argiris Malapanis, and Francisco Picado
Jan. 13, 2021 — Bonapartism reared its ugly head in U.S. politics during the 1992 presidential election campaign in the form of Ross Perot — a super wealthy businessman — who ran the most successful third-party campaign in recent U.S. history. Decrying the policies and politicians of both the Democratic and Republican parties, he declared to all those fed up with the U.S. economic, social and political conditions at that time, “I’m Ross, you’re the boss.”
Perot exceeded predictions of all pre-election pollsters by winning 19% of the vote against Bill Clinton, the Democrat who won, and George H.W. Bush, the incumbent Republican who lost. Perot lied through his teeth, pushed conspiracy fantasies, and explained his admiration for the Navy Seals and other special forces of the U.S. military, while refusing protection from the Secret Service, which he said he did not trust.
Perot faded from the national scene but echoes of his appeal appeared later in the 1990s when Jesse Ventura — a well-known professional wrestler — again surprised many by winning the race for governor in Minnesota. Though more successful in attaining office than Perot, Ventura too faded from the scene.
These developments suggested the beginning of a crisis in the capitalist two-party system, which has long exercised a stranglehold on U.S. electoral politics. 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. The possibility of its breakup, revealed in the 1992 elections, corresponded to the inability of both parties to offer anything other than escalating assaults on working people beginning in the 1970s, with the end of the post-World War II boom. It was deepened by administrations run by both parties in the subsequent 40 years.
Since the developments recounted above, the working class and our main organizations, the trade unions, have remained on the defensive. The organized labor movement is as weak as it has ever been. With their misleadership tied to the Democratic Party, trade unions are for the most part docile and ineffective as working people face increasing misery.
Despite the tremors of the 1990s and beyond, however, the two-party setup has so far remained resilient enough to contain most dissatisfaction and discontent. Among liberals — including many workers who still define themselves that way — and what remains of “the left” in liberal and radical politics, the consensus to support Biden was virtually universal last year. Those who argue for independent working-class political action remain a tiny minority.
Among conservatives, and on the political right, there was no challenge to Trump’s re-election effort. His electoral loss notwithstanding, vote results showed that Trump’s support broadened and grew over 2016. This included winning slightly higher percentages among Latinos, and others of all skin colors, compared to four years ago. Biden, running as a Democrat, relied from the primaries through the general election, on overwhelming support among African-Americans. Yet even there, Trump seemed to have modestly gained strength.
Failure of bourgeois liberalism
This is a testimony to the decades-long failure of bourgeois liberalism as represented by the record of the Democratic Party. It is based on the experience of millions of workers — again of all skin colors — during the 8-year-long tenures of Bill Clinton in the 1990s and Barack Obama from 2009 to 2017.
Wars and imperialist interventions in the Middle East and beyond to safeguard the profits of big business were also waged and defended under the Democrats.
Joblessness, under-employment (millions juggling two or more, poorly paid, part time jobs, forced to do so by manufacturing jobs being lost to automation and outsourcing abroad), low wages (the federal minimum wage has been $7.25/hr for more than a decade), inadequate housing (declining homeownership across the board since 2006, but with Black homeownership rates dropping to levels predating the 1968 Fair Housing Act), a failed educational system, more deportations than at any time in U.S. history (with Democrats often showing the way), and utterly inadequate medical care (only underlined by the very modest reforms of Obama’s “Affordable Care Act”) continued to afflict working people no matter who was in the White House.
And, as revolutionary leader Malcolm X often pointed out, Black people always catch more hell. A reality also faced by many Puerto Ricans, Chicanos, and Native Americans, as well as Mexican and other immigrants from Latin America and the rest of the semicolonial world.
When Trump announced his candidacy in 2015, he echoed some of Perot’s messages. If elected he would cut through the gridlock in Washington. In fact, he would do more; he would drive the “special interests” from power and restore America’s “greatness.” Trump added an edge to his demagogy, aimed initially at immigrants. “When Mexico sends its people,” he said, “they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you…. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
During his four years in office, Trump went further. He often came close to openly condoning racist attacks. One of the most egregious examples was his reaction to the white supremacist assault in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Aug. 12, 2017. That day ultra-rightists staged a “Unite the Right” rally there. Counter protesters had gathered nearby in a peaceful action. A 20-year-old, James Alex Fields, who espoused neo-Nazi views and was attending the right-wing rally, drove his car into the crowd of counter-protesters, killing a young woman, Heather Heyer, and injuring 19 others. Fields was later convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.
After this heinous act, Trump initially condemned “bigotry and violence on many sides,” which drew widespread criticism, including even from some Republican politicians who recognized his equivocating tone. Under pressure, he subsequently tried to walk back those remarks, stating that “white supremacists, and other hate groups… are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.” That did not last long, however. A day later Trump seemed to lay equal blame on the white nationalists and counter-protesters, stating, “You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.”
That kind of behavior consistently put wind in the sails of Trump’s most reactionary supporters. A dangerous example took place in Los Angeles the day the rightist mob attacked the U.S. Capitol. It was reported by the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and other news outlets.
“As Berlinda Nibo was walking home Wednesday [Jan. 6], she was met by a crowd of Trump supporters who had gathered in downtown Los Angeles,” the Post reported in a chilling account. “Nibo, who is Black, said the group began to harass her as she passed by. ‘They’re yelling at me because of my color, calling me the n-word, calling me the b-word, saying, ‘All lives matter. Black lives doesn’t matter,’ Nibo, 25, told [Los Angeles CBS affiliate] KCAL. When she yelled back, Nibo said the crowd of dozens went after her. Moments later, Nibo found herself in the middle of pro-Trump demonstrators, as they pushed her around, smacked her, snatched her wig from her head, and at one point, pepper-sprayed her, she said. Nibo said she believes the crowd would have tried to kill her had it not been for a man who stepped in to shield her before she was carried away.”
Unlike Perot who had no hope of winning the nomination of either capitalist party in 1992 and didn’t try to do so, Trump took a different path. From the beginning Perot ran as an “independent.” Neither he, nor Patrick Buchanan, an incipient fascist who ran against George H.W. Bush in the Republican primaries, could defeat an incumbent president inside the GOP at that time. The capitalist crisis, while already apparent, had not reached a stage where such options were seriously considered by the ruling elites.
More than 20 years later, Trump did the opposite. He ran as a candidate in the Republican primaries. Initially discounted or dismissed by most pundits — and other more established politicians — he registered primary victories that led one GOP “front runner” after another to drop out of the race as he ridiculed them. By the time of the GOP national convention, his nomination was a settled question. That gathering became Trump’s convention and the GOP became Trump’s party. He brooked no challenges to his authority and was quick to attack publicly any GOP leader who did not fall into line.
Perot’s “I’m Ross, you’re the boss,” was essentially transformed into, “I’m Trump, I’m the boss.” The boss who will “Make America Great Again.”
Thus a new and unusual situation developed. Trump was of the Republican Party, its undisputed leader. Yet he was also not entirely of the GOP.
Events following the 2020 election signal a new stage in U.S. politics, one with roots in the past as well as new perils.
What does the future hold?
The outcome of the election is now settled, but the danger of Bonapartism most definitely is not. Trump himself is unlikely to disappear from the political stage. Rather he has staked out a new position in it. While scheduled to leave the White House Jan. 20, he continues to portray himself as the “man of destiny,” denied his “rightful place” by vast fraud and conspiracy that Congress, the courts, and even the Department of Justice in his own administration, refused to act against.
Once outside the White House and no longer in any way a part of official Washington, Trump is free to decry every branch of government. All can be fair targets as the “swamp,” the “fraud,” the “conspiracy,” and the “witch hunt” against the only viable savior of the nation. Whatever his precise future plans, Trump’s stance and forthcoming actions will likely exacerbate the crisis of both capitalist parties and the two-party system. Even if Trump’s appeal fades, other demagogues may step forward to try to play a similar role.
Despite the promises by Biden and his running mate Harris, the new administration is unlikely to stem the decline in the standard of living of working people and threats to civil liberties and political rights, even if some of their policies seek to ameliorate these conditions. The Democratic Party remains an ardent defender of the system responsible for the crisis.
This will inevitably offer grist to the mill of Trump and his supporters. His theatrics regarding the recent bi-partisan pandemic “relief” bill, which his Treasury Secretary helped negotiate but Trump waited to attack until after Congress approved it, suggest the form this can take. It underlines the unique status Trump has claimed for himself. He is still seen as a central leader of the Republican Party, despite his electoral defeat. But he also claims to stand above it, above “the swamp,” including the “vipers’ nest” in Congress, above the federal courts that let him down by refusing to expose and reverse “electoral fraud.”
Fallout from the failed effort to stay in power despite his defeat at the polls is already affecting Trump’s standing in the GOP, as the post-Jan. 6 resignations from his Cabinet and among his aides indicate, but it may also make him more popular among his most ardent supporters.
Trump’s popularity does not rest on his role as the top GOP boss. Rather it rests on what millions see as his independence from “the system.” That is an illusion, but one that is no less powerful for being false.
Trump, or someone like him using his playbook, thus positions himself as the future solution to the deepening crisis that neither of the two capitalist parties can solve. This is the classic stance of a would-be Bonapartist dictator as Novack explained so astutely: “The Bonapartist regime makes a big show of total independence from special interests. Its head invariably claims to be above the brawling party factions, which have misruled the nation and led it to the brink of ruin, from which he has providentially snatched it in time. He parades as the anointed custodian of the eternal values, the true spirit of the people who have been victimized by selfish warring cliques or threatened by alien and subversive mischief makers.”
Bonapartist aspirations are not enough. To realize them depends on winning substantial ruling-class support Trump does not have. “Actually the ‘man of iron’ is mandated to defend the social interests of the magnates of capital by blunting the class conflicts which created the opportunity for his despotism,” as Novack said. “Though the big bourgeoisie may clench its teeth at the overhead cost of the Bonapartist experiment, it prefers to pay up lest worse befall it.”
So far there is no indication that a large and bold enough section of the ruling capitalists has decided to pay that price. However, there is now evidence that such a course has been considered. A final point Novack raised should also be noted: “The various forms of antidemocratic rule in the era of imperialism are not separated by impassable partitions. The lines of demarcation between them are often blurred and one can in the course of time grow over into another.”
Future events — not least among them, the shape and pace of any new resistance by the working class and its allies among the oppressed and exploited — will determine the outcome.
(This is the second of two parts. The first can be found in Part 1.)
Categories: US Politics
Over all, this was/is very good. But I miss a more complete explanation of the degree of working class support that an anti-democratic, xenophobic, misogynistic, and racist figure like Trump enjoyed and enjoys. Disaffection with the two big parties could theiretically go in various directions. Why does it here take such an extrem-rightist form, including among many white working people?
Bruce thanks for your comment. The issues you raised certainly deserve further discussion. We addressed them in a general way in our original article:
“The working class in the United States does not yet think and act like a class. Much of the political initiative today comes from right-wing currents. Ultra-rightist groups take advantage of their foothold within the two-party system and other ruling-class institutions. They tap into the loss of confidence in the government and suspicions of the most prominent, established politicians. Conditions are ripe for rightist demagogy and conspiracy theories to gain a wide reach.
“As post-election events demonstrate, while Biden won the election, the political initiative today remains in the hands of the right wing. This is not unexpected. The deepening capitalist crisis has resulted in a growth of radical attitudes but has not yet led to massive working-class struggles. Working people do not yet have a political voice on any mass scale independent of the capitalists and their parties that can lead workers and other exploited producers to think and act on the understanding that our class interests are counterposed to those of the privileged rulers.
“At the same time, rightist forces who always maintain a foothold in the Republican and Democratic parties, take the lead in shaping attitudes in a heterogeneous popular mass, including among those in the middle classes and layers of workers and farmers looking for radical solutions….”
I would add we are also seeing the beginning of a rise in labor resistance and organizing at Amazon and elsewhere, where workers who are Black and Latino often have taken the lead, but that certainly involves many working people who are white.
We plan to return to these issues over the next weeks and months and will try to address the question you raised more directly.