Confronting the Danger of Trumpism

In response to the recent two-part article, Trump Indictment: What Is at Stake?, reader Mtomas3 wrote:

“Neither the lawyers nor the Democrats are doing this in our interests at all. But in the context we find ourselves today, it is by far the only instrument currently available when the working class is so politically weak. I share your view that there is indeed a better more viable way out, a politically strong, more directly conscious working class united in common struggle against sexism, racism, xenophobia, and capitalist rule. And I do understand what appears as your intent to try and educate working people about the differences between their (capitalist rulers) interests and ours (working people, women, and the oppressed). I believe it is short sighted to focus on the nuances in this issue and but the more dire need to ensure this criminal misogynist racist hater of democracy is crushed along with the current he represents inside the working class.”

The full comment can be found below the second part of that article. We encourage reading it in full. While we don’t share the conclusions he’s reached, we agree that the dangers of Trump and Trumpism are real. Many are thinking through how to answer the challenges posed by a political phenomenon we have not seen before in U.S. politics.


World-Outlook has explained our view that Trump is a “Bonapartist.” We have cited more than once this explanation of Bonapartism, offered by Marxist scholar and working-class leader George Novack in his book Democracy and Revolution:

“Bonapartism, carries to an extreme the concentration of power in the head of the state already discernible in the contemporary imperialist democracies. 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… 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.’”

Trump’s campaign to overturn the 2020 presidential election results was a clear example of his future intentions. Following the failure of the January 6, 2021, right-wing riot at the U.S. Capitol, it became increasingly clear that, in its vast majority, the ruling class — the tiny handful of wealthy families who hold economic and political power in the United States — does not see the need for a Bonapartist figure today. The virtually universal condemnation of Trump after January 6 is evidence.

Yet contrary to what most observers expected after the riot that day, Trump was not pushed off the political stage. Trumpism — the deep-seated belief among millions in the middle classes and sections of the working class that only Trump can “drain the swamp” to solve the economic and social problems facing the nation — has continued to gather strength. The aristocracy of bankers and industrialists that rules this country is not ready for Bonapartism. But the increasing lack of confidence in the traditional political leaders, among millions, has brought a Bonapartist to the center of capitalist politics.

Former U.S. president Donald Trump during election campaign rally in Waco, Texas, on March 25, 2023. Support for Trump is rooted in the deep-seated belief among millions in the middle classes and sections of the working class that only Trump can “drain the swamp” to solve the economic and social problems facing the nation.
(Photo: Rod Aydelotte / Tribune-Herald)

We do not disagree with Mtomas3 that class consciousness remains low among working people in the United States today.

As we wrote previously, “No mass working-class organization exists to explain the political issues clearly. The working class has no mass voice that can answer Trump’s appeal, which is based on the politics of resentment and U.S. chauvinism. Trump’s demagogy, including his ‘America First’ rhetoric, is aimed, among other things, at targeting scapegoats to avoid the real source of the genuine grievances many working people have today: the workings of the capitalist system. His nationalist appeal is directly counterposed to the worldwide solidarity working people need.”

Facing reality squarely

However, we believe that revolutionary socialists, no matter what the state of the working-class movement, need to begin with an accurate understanding of the reality working people face. This often means resisting the pressure of public opinion shaped primarily by the class that holds political and economic power.

Most in the ruling class today want Trump gone from his powerful perch in U.S. politics. They have no confidence in him to lead the country. Some fear he will take the current factionalism in capitalist politics to a new level, targeting his Democratic Party opponents in response to their open hostility to him and deepening the criminalization of those with whom he disagrees.

Moreover, so long as Trump maintains his stranglehold on the GOP, making the Republican Party an instrument of Bonapartism, the ruling class cannot effectively try to breathe new confidence into the two-party system, which is so key to maintaining its political control. It is even less able to inspire trust in its ability to govern the country.

The prosecution of Trump is the rulers’ response to this problem that stares them in the face. Their intention is to jail, or at least discredit Trump — hoping such an outcome will dissipate the movement that has grown up around him.

In the days following January 6, 2021, Congress failed to seize one opportunity to try to achieve this. After the House of Representatives impeached Trump, the Senate did not secure the two-thirds super-majority needed to convict him. (We leave aside whether such a conviction — which could have barred him legally from seeking the U.S. presidency again — would have definitively ended Trump’s political career.)

U.S. Senate staff member tallies final vote on impeaching Trump on February 13, 2021. Senate fell short of two-thirds majority needed to convict Trump (67 of 100) on the single charge of “incitement of an insurrection” for his role in encouraging the mob attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6 of that year. (Photo: Erin Schaff / Redux)

The most plausible explanation has two components. One is that many Republican politicians refused to vote for impeachment out of fear that angry Trump supporters who have dominated recent Republican primaries would subsequently drive them from office. The second is that they did not believe impeachment was necessary, with only days left in Trump’s presidential term. Many Republican leaders, like many liberals and millions of others, hoped the January 6 violent assault on the U.S. Capitol, and Trump’s role in instigating it, had sealed his political fate.

It quickly became clear that was not to be. Every step taken since — from the 2022 Congressional investigation and hearings on the January 6 events to the avalanche of indictments this year — has only put more wind in the sails of the Trump movement.

Mtomas3 argues that, given the state of working-class consciousness today, there is no choice other than to support the ruling class efforts to convict and jail Trump (and in the Georgia case, many of his collaborators).

The danger to democratic rights

We see things differently. We do not join the campaign led by the Democratic Party to drum up popular support for convicting Trump — which inevitably aims to lead working people to see the Democrats (and those Republicans who support the prosecution) as the “defenders of democracy.” Nor do we join those who call for dropping the charges against the former president.

The predicament the U.S. rulers face today is very different from the political crisis known as Watergate that unfolded in the early 1970s. That crisis was resolved when a bipartisan congressional delegation informed then-president Richard Nixon he would be decisively impeached if he did not resign. Nixon took the advice and left the White House in disgrace.

New York Times front page featuring Richard Nixon’s resignation from the White House on August 8, 1974.

While no direct analogies can be made, it is of interest to look back at how revolutionary socialists responded to that challenge. They neither backed the impeachment efforts, nor did they crusade against them. Instead, they carried out a campaign of political education that differentiated the interests of working people from those of the capitalist class. They explained that the impeachment mechanism was conceived as a tool for the rulers in extreme circumstances that is no more democratic than the other “institutions of the Republic,” established in the U.S. Constitution, that form the basis for capitalist rule in America.

They also initiated and won broad support for a campaign to defend democratic rights and civil liberties, aimed at exposing government spying and harassment of unions, civil rights and Black nationalist groups, the movement against the Vietnam war, and socialist organizations.[1]

In a different way, Trumpism is also a danger to the political interests of working people. It plays on divisions in the working class, using scapegoating and other forms of reactionary demagogy in response to the deteriorating economic and social conditions we face. It points to an obscure “deep state” and other conspiracy theories rather than the capitalist system as the source of these conditions.

The government’s campaign to convict Trump speaks to none of these issues because the ruling class — regardless of its views about Trump — has no interest in working people truly understanding Trumpism or why capitalism is the root of our problems. Getting on the bandwagon of the rulers’ efforts to solve the problems Trump poses for the wealthy does not serve the political clarity and class consciousness working people need.

There is no guarantee that the efforts to use the courts to suppress Trump will succeed. If they do, as we’ve explained at length, there is the serious risk of setting legal precedents that will be used to restrict political advocacy by the working-class movement.

Opponents of the planned Atlanta Public Safety Training Center protesting in June 2023. (Photo: Erik Lesser / EPA)

We call attention to the comment of another reader, Barry Sheppard. In response to World-Outlook’s recent two-part news analysis, he wrote: “Good articles. The whole history of the labor movement and of all the related struggles clearly demonstrates that capitalist governments’ attempts to oppose the right, including bonapartists like Trump or even fascists by restricting their democratic rights will be used with a vengeance against the democratic rights of socialists, labor unions, Black organizations, and so forth.”

It would also be a mistake to believe that a conviction of Trump in one or more of these indictments will alter the factional dynamic that permeates capitalist politics today. That conflict — and the underlying economic and social problems that Democratic liberals, and Trump or other Republicans, cannot solve — will leave the door open to other Bonapartist figures and even more extreme versions of rightist reaction.

As Novack explained in Democracy and Revolution, “When social tensions tighten to the breaking point, parliament is less and less able either to settle the disputes at the top or act as a buffer between the power of property and the wrath of the masses. General disappointment with its performance plunges bourgeois parliamentarism together with its parties into a period of acute crisis.”

George Novack’s Democracy & Revolution examines the limitations and advances of various forms of democracy in class society, from its roots in ancient Greece through its rise and decline under capitalism. The book discusses the emergence of Bonapartism, military dictatorship, and fascism, and how democracy will be advanced under a workers and farmers government.

Dangers to capitalist stability

Some might find it easy to dismiss the arguments of Republican figures who oppose Trump but question the use of the indictments against him. Their concern is neither fairness nor regard for democratic rights. Their goal is strictly to preserve the stability of the capitalist political setup and maintain the two-party system as the bipartisan tool against the interests of the working class it has always been.

Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard law professor who served in the Justice and Defense departments of the G.W. Bush administration, is one such figure. In a New York Times opinion essay, titled The Prosecution of Trump May Have Terrible Consequences, he argued that many who are not die-hard Trump supporters doubt the objectivity of the Biden Justice Department.

 “These are some of the reasons the Justice Department, however pure its motivations, will probably emerge from this prosecution viewed as an irretrievably politicized institution by a large chunk of the country,” he wrote.

“The prosecution may well have terrible consequences beyond the department for our politics and the rule of law. It will probably inspire ever more aggressive tit-for-tat investigations of presidential actions in office by future Congresses and by administrations of the opposing party, to the detriment of sound government.

“It may also exacerbate the criminalization of politics. The indictment alleges that Mr. Trump lied and manipulated people and institutions in trying to shape law and politics in his favor. Exaggeration and truth shading in the facilitation of self-serving legal arguments or attacks on political opponents have always been commonplace in Washington. These practices will probably be disputed in the language of, and amid demands for, special counsels, indictments and grand juries.”

Our political outlook is diametrically different from Goldsmith’s. But his prediction has a ring of truth.

Working people will continue to be bombarded with the demand to choose between the machinations and political rhetoric of either capitalist party, rather than find a way to chart our own road forward to deal with the economic and social conditions we face.

Political independence: the greatest challenge

Mtomas3 wrote that he sees the need “for a better more viable way out, a politically strong, more directly conscious working class,” but believes “it is short sighted to focus on the nuances in this issue.”

This is where we disagree. It is not only that we see the importance of the defense of democratic rights as more than a “nuance.” We also believe that one of the biggest challenges facing the working class remains understanding the need for political independence from the capitalist class because our interests are counterposed. This challenge has been posed since the inception of the modern working-class movement in the United States. It explains why the U.S. working class has never formed its own mass political party and why many workers mistakenly still believe the Democratic Party represents working people. (It also explains why sections of the working class now mistakenly believe Trump does.)

In an editorial hailing the special counsel’s indictment of Trump, the New York Times asserted, “Those legal tools are part of a broad American justice ecosystem that is, at its core, a mechanism for seeking the truth.”

This idea is false. That “American justice ecosystem” has targeted Trump and some of his rightist allies who did pose a real threat to voting rights, other democratic liberties, and even to the personal safety of election workers. But that does not change the fact that cops, prosecutors, and courts are instruments of rule for the capitalist class. They are not a mechanism for seeking truth for working people, who are most often targeted and victimized by that system.

Novack offered a concise explanation of this point in a 1968 talk. “Regardless of their claims to the contrary, the ruling class of the capitalist state and their servitors are the inveterate enemies of democracy,” he said. “They fear its application and resist its expansion. This imposes the obligation upon the forces of socialism and spokesmen for the working class to be the most vigorous and consistent champions of democratic liberties.”

Mtomas3 is certainly right that many working people today will not understand or agree that the prosecution of Trump is the exploiters’ response to Trumpism. The same will be true come the November 2024 presidential election when — if Trump is on the ballot — most working people, who have good reason to despise what he and his movement stand for, will see no alternative other than to vote for Joe Biden, or another Democratic Party candidate should Biden falter.

It is unlikely that there will be any working-class alternative in the 2024 election to recommend to working people. But that will not lead us to urge a vote for the Democrats. Even if our political impact is limited, we will continue to explain why the two-party system is a trap for working people and a lynchpin of capitalist rule.

We agree the political situation facing working people in this country today is unprecedented in some important ways. A right-wing, Bonapartist candidate enjoys substantial support and may again win the Republican nomination for president. He makes no secret of the methods he may be willing to use.

While skipping the August 23 televised debate among other Republican contenders for the presidential nomination, Trump gave an interview to right-wing commentator Tucker Carlson. As a Washington Post headline put it, “Trump suggests in Carlson interview that U.S. could see more political violence.”

Carlson asked about the prospects of such violence. Trump replied, “I don’t know. I can say this: There’s a level of passion that I’ve never seen. There’s a level of hatred that I’ve never seen. And that’s probably a bad combination.”

Trump then went on to portray the January 6 right-wing mob attack — with its racist and other reactionary symbols, such as the confederate flag and wooden gallows with a noose erected near the Capitol — as a model for the future. “Jan. 6 was a very interesting day because they don’t report it properly,” he said. “People in that crowd said it was the most beautiful day they ever experienced. There was love and unity. I have never seen such spirit and such passion and such love. And I’ve also never seen, simultaneously and from the same people, such hatred at what they’ve done to our country.”

Trump supporters erected wooden gallows during January 6, 2021, rally in Washington, D.C., where the former U.S. president pushed his “Stop the Steal” campaign and incited the attack on U.S. Congress. (Photo: Shay Horse/Nurphoto)

Government won’t defeat Trumpism

No matter how healthy working-class revulsion against Trump may be, it is an illusion to believe that the dangers posed by Trumpism can be successfully met by the government’s current attempts to convict and jail him.

We repeat what we wrote earlier:

The only effective answer to Trump’s right-wing demagogy and his readiness to challenge any established norm of bourgeois democracy that does not suit his purposes is a political one. It could include using independent election campaigns, the media, on-the-job discussions, and other means to explain that a billionaire acting as an autocrat does not represent the interests of working people, any more than his liberal or conservative opponents. This would require mobilizing labor and its allies around an action program of demands to defend our livelihoods and democratic rights. Such a response could only be effectively waged by a working-class organization independent of the employers and their institutions of power.

From Third Trump Indictment: What Is at Stake?

That’s the political truth today, even if it is not yet widely understood because the conditions have not yet led to the development of a layer of class-conscious working people who could put it into practice on a mass scale.

We offer no defense of Trump or Trumpism. We reject Trump’s claim he is the victim of a “witch-hunt.” We condemn his efforts to overturn the 2020 popular vote. We speak out against the bold-faced lie of a “stolen” election. We warn of the dangers Trumpism poses to democratic liberties.

At the same time, we do not support the steps the government is now taking to rein in Trump because it is a ruling class “solution,” one riddled with its own perils for democratic rights. It is not what working people need.

—    World-Outlook editors


[1] For more information, see Behind the rulers’ impeachment ‘solution’ to Watergate and How revolutionary socialists responded to W’gate opportunities, the third and fourth articles in a four-part series published in the Militant newsweekly in 1974.

3 replies »

  1. I was previously under the impression that you were in fact calling on the government to drop the charges against Trump. I don’t now know what you are saying. I don’t agree that the Senate Hearings were a “showtrial”. They were necessary and informative in their way. They brought out the truth and served as a springboard for further investigation. I was glued to them like the Watergate Investigations, which shed light on a lot of Nixon administration lawbreaking and violating constitutional rights of us all. We all have an interest in everyone learning what happened and how it happened, so then we can have a beneficial and educational national debate about what to do about it. The courts will do what the juries decide, and the lawyers will appeal any convictions, so this will take a long time, and in the meantime, we can learn a lot, but also not forget about all of the other nightmares unfolding in the age of the simultaneous collapse of the Goldilocks climate and capitalist democracy. Here is a tip – make sure your passports are up to date, because renewing them is harder now and could get real hard.

  2. Hello, My apologies. I replied to this post yesterday, but I lost it while responding on my phone. My mistake. I will just say here that I found this post clariffying and cannot disagree with much of it. I do believe that, as is unfortunately too common, there is a tendency to ascribe almost conspiratorial motives to the reactions of the Democrats in their attempts to blunt the effects of Trumpism on what they believe to be democratic rights and democratic process. I agree that the reactions of the Democrats are ultimately aimed at preserving the two-party system, their hold on it, and using their efforts to prosecute Trump as a way to apply their efforts to the working class and their organizations. It’s not surprising. They are a capitalist party with people dedicated to preserving capitalism. However, I am skeptical that there sometimes knee-jerk efforts going after Trump are an organized concerted effort to blunt the rights of working people and the oppressed and “using” the prosecitom of Trump’s clearly anti-democratic crimes to override the bourgeois elections. It seems more of a capitalist-inspired reaction to rightwing efforts to maintain white supremacy in local, state, and national government. I also agree that this battle is an internecine struggle between differing forces among capitalist politicians, capitalists, and their related political currents. I simply do not believe this struggle is all that deliberate except in the general way that anything capitalists and their politicians do to address their differences which are at best “nuanced”. Each such group of politicians and their masters within the ruling class want to stay in power. Thus, Republicans see that Trump still has a large following and are seeking to ride that dynamic back into a majority. Democrats purport to defend “democracy” essentially for the same reason; to maintain electoral power. That their machinations have little actual defense of democratic rights, especially for the oppressed seems secondary albeit damning and antithetical to democracy or to working people and the oppressed.
    I agree that it is a difficult place to be; to decry the racist, sexist, anti-working class politics represented in raw form by Trump and stand against the anti-democratic, sexist, racist, anti-working class power politics represented by the Democratic Party. All of that in the context so many other fronts such as wars, the catastrophe of the environment, the ongoing misogyny threatening women’s rights, the anti-immigrant xenophobia, to name just a few of the most blatant. I do not pretend to have a clear answer or best way forward better than what is outlined in your posts. What I am responding to is the tendency to apply analyses in sectarian frameworks; from the near conspiratorial ascriptions of the poiiticians acting in the interest of capitalism to the constant relying on past works of revolutionaries like George Novack, Marx, Trotsky, etc. Doing so appears narrow not in terms of analysis of the situation but in terms of what is needed to be done. . . . I do understand, it’s comforting to harken back to how revolutionaries dealt with similar situations, in the past. Your posts proscribe a chimera of an independent working class party that could lead “us” out of this morass, something that is, yes, needed but seemingly so distant as to be illusory. Maybe it’s all that can be done, to state what is needed. Such solutions seem more directed at some future class conscious working class that only has this tiny conscious layer of revolutionaries within this orbit. It seems both pedantic and wistful in the face of storm and chaos playing out before us. I don’t need to be convinced about defending democratic rights, I’m already there as I am sure many readers here. I don’t need have the veil of lesser-evilism re-lifted as we watch the Democrats trying so ineffectually to counter a rightwing reactionary current seeking to drive even the modicum of democratic rights we have. They do so by seeking not actually to prosecute Trump but simply to blunt his popularity. It’s the reason they are being so unsuccessful and driving many politically wavering working people frustrated by the general demise of empire into the waiting clutches of Trump’s reactionary alternative. While the Democrats have no interests in actual democracy and will reduce it if needed, Trump actually wishes to make it his platform for achieving power; not a substantial difference, but is a difference.
    Like I said, I’m not sure how better to navigate this issue and gain some advantage to the voices of revolutionaries than your points in your combined posts, including this last one. I just would like to see us find a way to “thread the needle” and gain a hearing that might actually win a broader following. Perhaps it might be useful to support bringing Trump to account so that the solution for capitalism that he represents is smashed and buried as an alternative working people will not abide. I do know the “danger” in making such a view given that the forces–the Democratic Party–in power are also implacable enemies to the interests of the oppressed. Perhaps we could be willing to make a relatively small “mistake” for the sake of a larger gain, to build a following not solely based on “purity” of thought. Sorry, I do see the weakness in the argument, but I have no illusions in capitalist democracy and feel confident in my revolutionary zeal and ability to express it without bending to reformism. It seems better than always bending toward sectarianism. It is the affliction of what passes for “leftism” in the US and even the rest of the world to bend either toward reformism or sectarianism. I think the promise of World Outlook and those supporting it have the capacity to construct a better revolutionary path.

    In any case, I do appreciate your response. I found it clarifying. For me as well. Thank you for the work you are doing.
    Always in Solidarity,
    Manuel Barrera, PhD
    (aka mtomas3)

  3. First, I want to thank World Outlook for the helpful references to various books and articles. The compilation, including the ideas of Clara Zetkin is especially good.

    I find it a little clunky that some people are posting comments only a Facebook page and others are only posting in the World Outlook comments. I encourage people to read the comments on the World Outlook page and consider concentrating the discussion there. Here is a link to a summary of the discussion so far on World Outlook. Readers Respond to Articles on Trump Indictments – World-Outlook

    I am posting this comment in both places this time.

    I am sure people participating in this discussion do everything they can to support the interests of working people, like attending anti-police violence, pro women’s rights or pro union actions. Probably everyone tries to support a local organization promoting Medicare for All, efforts to reduce fossil fuel use, or helping out with local union organizing drives like the Amazon labor union or national nurses United.

    I think an important tactical question is how best to talk to people who have been activated on some level, even small, and help them to see that capitalism is the fundamental underlying problem.

    Recently, I have tried talking to a few local, progressive activists, and a couple educators, active in the teachers union with whom I have many years of common experience working to organize tables at demonstration’s, educational programs, and specific protests around important issues. There is a lot of mutual respect and willingness to listen to me. I attempted to raise caution with all the charges being brought against Trump along the lines of the World Outlook articles. I said, I thought that he was guilty of actual crimes in some cases but that there was a danger that the government was setting a precedent that could be used against working people in the future. Mostly, I just got stunned silence and an attempt to be polite to me given our shared history. I worry that if I tried to explain abstaining on a Trump versus Biden election it would just be beyond belief to them.

    I am retired, so I don’t work with other people on a day-to-day basis, but I have relatives working in the construction unions, which are the most craven dues collecting bureaucracies. I have tried discussing this, but I just get blank looks. Respectful, but no ability to engage.

    Some national polls show Trump tied in a head-to-head race against Biden, or only a few points behind. This means that in the electoral college vote Trump has a real chance to win. Remember in 2020 Trump only lost in key battleground states by 10 or 20 or 30,000 votes.

    I completely agree that Biden is a capitalist and leading a capitalist party, that has opposite interests to working people.

    My concerns are the forces that are supporting Trump and might be emboldened and unleashed if he wins again. To be clear I don’t think we are looking at fascism, or even incipient fascism.

    Forces like, white supremacists, Christian nationalists, people opposed to even the basic rights of women, antisemites, and so on.

    I admit, I may have a skewed view because of my experience going head-to-head with a right-wing militia group in Louisville Kentucky in the late 70s. We were in a dangerous and precarious situation and only came out of it OK when some local union leadership realized they were the ultimate target and came to our aid.

    I also live in a small liberal town, surrounded by a county that strongly supported Trump and the surrounding counties voted overwhelmingly for Trump.
    The extremists mobilize to speak at school board meetings and city council meetings and especially at County board of supervisor meetings. Neighborhoods are targeted for distribution of scary antisemitic literature. Ranting about “parents rights“ and other attacks on LGBTQ+ people is a constant refrain from the extremists.

    There is a national campus organization called Students for Life of America. Their website says they have chapters on 1400 campuses and have trained 180,000 advocates since 2006. They believe in ending all reproductive rights for women. Exaggeration? Their national program clearly lays out not only their opposition to all abortion, but all kinds of oral contraceptives should also be made illegal. Do you have this organization on your local campuses?

    I am sure that the fact that I am almost 74 and having the expected medical challenges may be influencing my views. I still have firm confidence that working people will work their way through this and move forward to strengthen their unions and form parties that actually fight in their interests.

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