(This is the first of a two-part series. The second can be found here.)
By Geoff Mirelowitz and Argiris Malapanis
The federal indictment of former U.S. president Donald Trump is one more sign of the factionalism that characterizes virtually every aspect of capitalist politics in the United States today, and the crises of the system that underlie it.
Although the charges for alleged violations of the Espionage Act and other offenses will be adjudicated in federal court, it is unlikely they will be resolved there. As a June 10 New York Times column put it, “The prosecutor’s audience is not only the judge and jurors. It is also the American public.”
A cogent New York Times opinion headline read, “The More Opposition Trump Faces, the More Popular He Becomes, and He Knows It.” The author, Damon Linker, writes for the newsletter Notes from the Middleground. “How politically radical could the base of the Republican Party become over the 17 months between now and the 2024 presidential election?” he asked. “There’s really no way to know. We are heading into uncharted and turbulent waters.”
The wealthiest and most powerful U.S. families who have always controlled both the Democratic and Republican parties are divided over what to do about Trump. He was not their preferred candidate when he won a surprise victory in the 2016 election. Many in the ruling class adapted themselves to his victory, especially as he enacted policies that benefited the wealthy, including an enormous 2017 tax cut. Nevertheless, substantial sections of the ruling class were uncomfortable with how Trump upended many of the traditional norms of capitalist political functioning. Others welcomed the change.
An October 2020 Wall Street Journal (WSJ) editorial called the then upcoming November election “The Trump Referendum.”
“The public likes his policy results, but his chaotic governance may cost him a second term,” the Journal declared. Leaving aside the judgement that Trump was popular with “the public,” the Journal’s editors accurately explained, “The case for Donald Trump is political disruption. So we wrote four years ago, and the Trump Presidency has certainly delivered that, for better and worse.” They continued, “His policies and breaks from convention have accomplished much that was needed.”
However, broader ruling class dissatisfaction with Trump came to a head with his unprecedented refusal to accept the results of the 2020 presidential election that his Democratic opponent Joe Biden won. In the wake of the January 6, 2021, riot by Trump supporters at the U.S. Capitol substantial ruling class opinion turned against him.
The WSJ itself signaled this change in a January 7, 2021, editorial that called on Trump to resign the presidency. It is instructive to read now what the Journal editorial board wrote then.
“The leader of the executive branch incited a crowd to march on the legislative branch,” the Journal said. “This was an assault on the constitutional process of transferring power after an election,” it continued. “It was also an assault on the legislature from an executive sworn to uphold the laws of the United States. This goes beyond merely refusing to concede defeat. In our view it crosses a constitutional line that Mr. Trump hasn’t previously crossed. It is impeachable.”
The WSJ has long spoken for the more conservative sections of the ruling class. After January 6, more liberal voices castigated Trump in similar and more vehement terms. In previous periods of U.S. politics such overwhelming rejection of a leading political figure would have led to that politician’s disappearance from the stage.
Instead, the opposite has occurred. Not only did Trump remain on the political scene, he is still the single most powerful figure in the Republican Party. He has begun a new campaign for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination that rests on a base of many millions of loyal supporters. That in large part explains the dilemma facing the ruling class.
Sharp divisions in the ruling class
This dilemma is indicated by sharply differing responses to the indictment by leading publications that speak for those with wealth and power. The New York Times editorial board supported the U.S. Justice Department’s indictment of Trump with an editorial headlined, “Donald Trump Should Never Again Be Trusted with the Nation’s Secrets.”
The Wall Street Journal, which had excoriated Trump after January 6, 2021, expressed a very different view. Its June 9 editorial was headlined, “A Destructive Trump Indictment.” It went on to ask, “Do prosecutors understand the forces they are unleashing?” (Emphasis added).
The Journal’s editors — and those they speak for — are wary of political instability. “Whether you love or hate Donald Trump,” they wrote, “his indictment by President Biden’s Justice Department is a fraught moment for American democracy. For the first time in U.S. history, the prosecutorial power of the federal government has been used against a former President who is also running against the sitting President. This is far graver than the previous indictment by a rogue New York prosecutor, and it will roil the 2024 election and U.S. politics for years to come.”
Similar divisions within the ruling class are observable in the reactions of congressional Republican leaders. Speaker of the House Republican Kevin McCarthy jumped to Trump’s defense. “This is going to disrupt this nation because it goes to the core of equal justice for all, which is not being seen today. And we’re not going to stand for it,” McCarthy told Fox News Digital.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, however, has remained silent. “Senate GOP leaders break with House on Trump indictment,” reported the website The Hill on June 11. “Senate Republican leaders, including Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), are staying quiet about former President Trump’s indictment on 37 criminal charges, letting him twist in the wind and breaking with House Republican leaders who have rushed to Trump’s defense.”
Most contenders for the GOP presidential nomination — all of whom need the backing of Trump supporters to win — opposed or questioned the government’s action against Trump although there was a dissenting voice or two. Vivek Ramaswamy, one of several candidates hoping to win over Trump supporters, quickly announced that if elected he would pardon Trump. On June 12 he went further, challenging all GOP candidates to make the same pledge.
He was answered by former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson who declared, “It is simply wrong for a candidate to use the pardon power of the United States of the president in order to curry votes, and in order to get an applause line…We do not need to have our commander in chief of this country not protecting our nation’s secrets.”
Trump’s former vice-president Mike Pence declared his own candidacy on June 7. Referring to the January 6, 2021, events, he attacked Trump, stating, “I believe that anyone who puts themselves over the Constitution should never be president of the United States.” On June 11, however, Pence called on Attorney General Merrick Garland to “stop hiding behind the special counsel and stand before the American people” to explain “this unprecedented action” of indicting Trump.
South Carolina Senator Tim Scott said the charges against Trump were “serious,” but he went on to add, “What we see today across this administration of President Joe Biden is a double standard,” he stated. “That double standard is both un-American and unacceptable. You can’t protect Democrats while targeting and hunting Republicans.”
Florida governor Ron DeSantis, widely believed to be perhaps the only candidate with much chance of blocking Trump’s quest for another GOP nomination, accused the Department of Justice (DOJ) of “weaponization of federal law enforcement” while vowing, if elected president, to “bring accountability to the DOJ, excise political bias and end weaponization once and for all.”
Hardly ‘twisting in the wind’
The suggestion that Trump is twisting in the wind is wishful thinking. While previous U.S. political figures would have feared a federal indictment, Trump is unabashed.
Trump renewed his claims that he is the victim of a “witch hunt.” He also deepened the rightist rhetoric that increasingly characterizes his speeches.
Speaking to the Republican state convention in Georgia on June 10, Trump said, “This is the final battle. Either the Communists win and destroy America, or we destroy the Communists.” Reporting on the speech, the New York Times said the reference to “Communists” seemed “to refer to Democrats.” The Times continued, “He made similar remarks about the ‘Deep State,’ using the pejorative term he uses for U.S. intelligence agencies and more broadly for any federal government bureaucrat he perceives as a political opponent. He railed against ‘globalists,’ ‘warmongers’ in government and ‘the sick political class that hates our country.’”
Even Trump’s former Attorney General William Barr has challenged Trump’s witch-hunt accusations. In a June 11 interview with Fox News, Barr asserted that the indictment is “very damning.” The claim of a witch hunt, he declared, “is ridiculous.”
The problem for the ruling class, and those like Barr who work and speak for it, is that tens of millions agree with Trump. CBS News reported June 11 that a poll conducted by the network and the marketing firm YouGov revealed that a whopping 76% of likely GOP primary voters believe the indictment of Trump is politically motivated. Only 12% thought the documents Trump retained posed a “national security risk.” Another 12% thought both statements were true.
The belief that the indictment is politically motivated provides space for more of the most extreme right-wing politicians to escalate their rhetoric and continue to get a hearing. Kari Lake, the unsuccessful 2022 GOP candidate for governor of Arizona, who, like Trump, claims a fraudulent election result because she lost, also spoke at the Georgia GOP gathering.
“I have a message tonight for Merrick Garland [U.S. Attorney General] and Jack Smith [Special Counsel in Trump investigation] and Joe Biden — and the guys back there in the fake news media, you should listen up as well, this one is for you,” Lake said, according to the New York Times. “If you want to get to President Trump, you are going to have go through me, and you are going to have to go through 75 million Americans just like me. And I’m going to tell you, most of us are card-carrying members of the N.R.A.” [National Rifle Association]
Lake added, according to the Times, “That’s not a threat, that’s a public service announcement.”
The specter of Bonapartism
After pleading not guilty at his June 13 arraignment, Trump declared to supporters in a Bedminster, New Jersey, speech later that evening: “I am the only one that can save this nation.”
Trump has made this assertion before, including when he accepted the 2016 presidential nomination at the GOP convention declaring, “I alone can fix it.” It sounds grandiose and pompous to many, but it resonates with those in the middle classes and sections of the working class who remain loyal to him.
As World-Outlook explained less than a week after January 6, 2021, the accurate term for the phenomenon of a “savior” who claims to rise above the traditional institutions of government to “rescue the nation” is Bonapartism.
More than 50 years ago Marxist scholar and working-class leader George Novack explained the essential meaning of Bonapartism. In an essay titled “Bonapartism, Military Dictatorship and Fascism,” which appears in his book Democracy and Revolution, Novack explained:
“All important policy decisions are centralized in a single individual equipped with extraordinary emergency powers. He speaks and acts not as the servant of parliament, like the premier, but in his own right as the ‘man of destiny’ who has been called upon to rescue the nation in its hour of mortal peril.”From Democracy & Revolution by George Novack
Trump and many of his supporters may be unfamiliar with the term but they see Trump precisely as such a “man of destiny.” They also know what they want: a president who is not a traditional politician, who promises to speak for the aggrieved, and who will assert extraordinary powers to “drain the swamp” to “make America great again.”
Underlying this confidence in Trump is the lack of any trust or belief in the traditional political figures from both parties who have presided over decades of deepening economic and social problems.
A decisive section of the ruling class is not yet ready to take this course. Trump’s conduct and his “stolen election” campaign persuaded many he is not the man for the job, even if they thought such a course necessary. But they have been unable to drive him off the political stage. They must contend with the likelihood he will again be the GOP presidential nominee — with or without substantial ruling class support — and that the prospect of his reelection is plausible.
If Trump does not win in 2024, he and his supporters are laying the groundwork for an even more serious challenge to the election results than the one mounted after the 2020 race. Trump’s indictment, brought to court by a Justice Department overseen by Biden and his appointees, is already being cited as proof that his opponents will do anything to stop Trump.
For his part Trump made clear in his Bedminster speech what his supporters can expect if he returns to the White House.
“I will appoint a real special prosecutor to go after the most corrupt president in the history of the United States of America, Joe Biden, and the entire Biden crime family, name a special prosecutor, and all others involved with the destruction of our elections, our borders, and our country itself,” Trump said. “They’re destroying our country. And when I’m re-elected, and we will get re-elected, we have no choice, we’re not going to have a country anymore. I will totally obliterate the deep state, we will obliterate the deep state.”
(This was the first of a two-part series. The sequel can be found here.)
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Categories: US Politics