From the March-April 2020 issue of News & Letters
After the House of Representatives impeached Donald Trump and he easily beat the rap as the Senate failed to convict, he crowed that he is unrestrained. House Democrats, knowing he would not be convicted, still did not add articles of impeachment for the deaths of children in inhuman refugee camps and other human rights violations. Senators voted along party lines except for Mitt Romney adding one vote to convict.
A SPLIT IN THE RULING CLASS
Beyond the political split is a split within the ruling class over whether current capitalist crises can be handled with capitalist business as usual or require ceding power to a strong man (however personally weak). Trump has tried to paper over that split, courting the ruling class by lowering taxes and gutting labor and environmental protections.
Even before impeachment Trump had stated that “Article II allows me to do whatever I want.” He taunted: “If you go after the king, you have to kill the king.” He quickly enacted payback. On Feb. 7 he fired Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman (and, to make it personal, his twin!) and called for the army to punish him for testifying against Trump. Even Gordon Sondland, such a Trump loyalist that Sondland bought his ambassadorship for a million dollars, got fired for committing perjury for Trump’s benefit only the first two out of the three times he testified.
Trump rewarded his friends with pardons and commutations of convicts who committed white-collar crimes like Trump. Michael Milken got rich (and has stayed rich) peddling worthless junk bonds. Rod Blagojevich, as Illinois Governor, was caught offering Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat to the highest bidder. Bernard Kerik was a Rudy Giuliani bodyguard, police commissioner and public grifter.
But Trump knows how to hide one scandal with another, dumping Robert Maguire as Acting Director of National Intelligence for allowing the House Intelligence Committee to hear about Russian election interference and replacing him with loyalist Rick Grenell.
TRUMP: PRESIDENT OF PURGES
Trump has given the green light for deeper purges in the State and Defense Departments, demanding lists of anyone suspected of being disloyal, or insufficiently loyal, to him.
As revolutionaries we have condemned past administrations marshaling those agencies to carry out counter-revolution and regime change in one country after another—from Iran and Guatemala under Eisenhower to Bush’s invasion of Iraq. Before our eyes Trump is using those government departments to carry out regime change at home: making the (un)popularly elected President (by a minority of voters) unchallenged.
News & Letters in 1974 called Nixon’s ambitions in his second term a “criminal campaign to set up a one-party state within the two-party system.” He was thwarted by Congress and the Supreme Court. Trump seems determined to be stopped by nobody in government, and to make elections irrelevant even as Democratic politicians insist that the only weapon left against Trump is the vote.
He made Ginny Thomas the chief compiler of enemies’ lists at the above agencies and at the Justice Department. Her husband happens to be Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Trump already has the Senate in his pocket, William Barr as his enforcer at Justice and the Supreme Court majority supporting administration policy regardless of the law or of justice.
REVOLUTION DEFENDS THE DEFENSELESS
When the political system is defenseless against autocracy, people in other countries have taken to the streets. Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Syria from the end of 2010 on, not only spread across the Middle East and Spain, in the U.S. they inspired Occupy Wall Street and labor activists in Wisconsin singing “Walk Like an Egyptian”—and, in turn, the banner of workers across the U.S. was “We Are All Wisconsin.”
The Syrian Revolution that has persisted for nine years—despite a hellish rain of bombs, shells, bullets and poison, suffering war crimes perpetrated by Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian protectors—has been invisible to many anti-Trump activists. It would be revolutionary malpractice to ignore the philosophy of freedom that Syrian revolutionaries have developed and expressed in banners and videos and, in every brief cessation of fighting, their massive demonstrations.
We have seen the limits of political maneuvering in Congress, and the threat that even using the vote as a defensive weapon is in jeopardy. Americans have been expressing their opposition, from Women’s Marches and teachers’ strikes to pipeline occupations.
If armed with the philosophy of freedom that has challenged regimes from Sudan to Iran, the opposition to Trump and to the capitalist system that spawned him and is using him would give Trump the challenge that fellow politicians could not.