Trump re-election battles concentrate system’s myriad crises

October 24, 2020

by Franklin Dmitryev, October 2020

The far-Right plot to abduct and threaten to lynch the governors of Michigan and Virginia exposed an extraordinarily dangerous moment. No less than the president has been busy endorsing and amplifying the fascist militia message, including tweeting, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” Already in a year of pandemic, climate, and economic disasters, we are haunted by the specter of pre-emptive counter-revolution.

The mishandling, and worsening, of the pandemic in the U.S. has been both cause and effect of white supremacy. The Donald Trump administration scrapped the plan they were devising to combat COVID-19—however belatedly and ineptly drawn up under Jared Kushner—when data surfaced that Black and Latinx people as well as the elderly would be the most vulnerable. They then turned to monetizing the pandemic by seizing personal protective equipment that states and cities bought and reselling them to private vendors, while blaming the shuttering of businesses and factories and the Depression-era joblessness on mayors and governors such as Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan. The administration made lockdowns necessary and failed to ensure the conditions to make it liveable and to actually block the spread of the virus, then spread lies about the pandemic and about mask-wearing and encouraged anti-lockdown protests.

The Trump era began with massive protests and resistance against his violent racist, sexist moves. With encouragement from Trump and his allies like Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, the far Right reacted with such events as the fascist “Unite the Right” march in Charlottesville in 2017, when counterprotester Heather Heyer was murdered. By now that has developed to the point of hundreds of white supremacist terrorists operating hand in hand with the police in places like Kenosha, Wisconsin. There, protesters Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber were murdered on Aug. 25 by a right-wing terrorist.

There have been hundreds of violent right-wing attacks against protesters this year, including over 100 incidents of driving vehicles into crowds. There are an estimated 300 self-described militia groups with 15,000 to 20,000 active members. The far Right has easily infiltrated and recruited within police forces across the nation, notably the brutal, notoriously racist BorTac unit of the Border Patrol, which was one of the federal forces used to viciously attack protesters in Portland, Ore.

The events in Kenosha cast a harsh light on the reality that neither the Republican nor the Democratic Party want to acknowledge. Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, was brutally shot in the back seven times in front of his young children on Aug. 23, paralyzing him. This new—but unfortunately unsurprising—outrage reinvigorated the revolt that has never stopped since the police murdered George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25.

Like many of their counterparts in other cities, the Kenosha police were determined to show their dominance and lack of remorse, violently repressing protests with tear gas and rubber bullets. The rebellion intensified, burning some buildings and vehicles.

In contrast to their violence toward Jacob Blake and protesters, police welcomed with open arms white supremacist terrorists who answered a militia “call to arms.” Even when one of them, a 17-year-old Trump/“blue lives matter” supporter, murdered two protesters and the crowd called for his arrest, police let him walk right by them.

There is a fuzzy boundary between the far-Right terrorists, the police, the Trump administration, and the Republican Party that has welcomed the far Right as a key element of its base, and thus squelched FBI investigations into the terrorists and their infiltration into police departments.

Hundreds of “domestic terrorism” investigations have been opened since George Floyd was murdered, but the bulk of them are aimed at anti-racism protesters. Nonviolent Indigenous water protectors and Black Lives Matter demonstrators are being investigated, and in some cases prosecuted, on “terrorism” charges, while the actual killers like the one in Kenosha do not get charged as terrorists.

Kenosha shows that fascist terrorists are on the streets and killing people. Trump’s strategy is clearly to provoke violence and to rally the forces of racism and fascism. He used the Sept. 29 “debate” as a platform to call on the far Right to “stand by” and be ready to take arms to the streets if he loses the election, as well as to call on his supporters to swarm polling places to intimidate voters. The fabricated list Trump presented there of Obama actions to prevent Trump’s ascension to the White House was actually, in Hitler-Goebbels fashion, a forecast of his own intentions. He was never running to win a majority, and this year gave up on the idea of even winning the electoral college with the aid of the normal kinds of disenfranchisement baked into this so-called democracy from its founding.

TRUMP’S FLAILING MIRRORS SYSTEM’S FLAILING

It’s true that Trump is desperately flailing because he knows he’s losing the election, but that makes it no less dangerous, especially when significant parts of the military, the police, the courts, and virtually the entire Republican Party, are all too willing to back up any and every illegal act by his administration, and we have seen checks and balances failing again and again. Only in the last three weeks before the election, sensing a looming landslide defeat for Trump, did Republican politicians distance themselves from Trump, and then only rhetorically as they pushed through his extremist Supreme Court pick Amy Coney Barrett and refused to agree on a new economic relief package.

This counter-revolution is not a personal choice made by Trump but rather the excrescence of state-capitalism in deep crisis. Trump has attempted to merge his own desperation to hold onto power with the fear of reactionary whites of losing their favored position and the rulers’ fears of being cast down from the summit. His flailing mirrors the desperate flailing of the capitalist system haunted by its own looming self-destruction. It is destroying itself both by undermining the environmental and economic conditions of its own reproduction and by the opposition it is spawning from below.

And that is precisely why the rulers’ flirtation with the far Right—theocratic as well as white supremacist as well as “anti-government” militias that decided a government with Trump at the helm is no enemy—turned from flirtation into a shotgun wedding with what Hegel called “the giddy whirl of perpetually self-creating disorder,” executed by the most brutal, corrupt, racist, misogynistic, plutocratic, anti-labor, incompetent, ignorant con artist. If they dispense with that individual, Donald Trump, the far Right will not be going away. The rulers still aim to con white workers and the white middle class into thinking that the supremacy of con artists and cronies somehow means power for them, in the alienated form of privileges over people of color and immigrants; and to con male chauvinists and heterosexists of all races into thinking that they have power in the alienated form of privileges over women and people who don’t fit into narrow gender/sex norms.

They fill the administration and courts with officials who are presented to the public as champions of a “culture war” against abortion, women’s and Queer rights, affirmative action and civil rights, and immigrants—but who are approved by the rulers primarily because they will reliably rule against workers and consumers, against environmental and other regulations, and in favor of the rich and corporations.

Because the point of all the cons and deception is to divide the working class and divert as much of the country’s oppressed majority as possible from supporting the many freedom struggles that, unchecked, could flow together into revolution. For those freedom struggles they wish to substitute a manipulated, racist power struggle. The cons do not come from nowhere but are based on the reality that race, class, sex, and gender hierarchies and oppression are intertwined, that in fact even working-class whites and men do receive some of the crumbs from the rulers’ table. And capitalism throws all workers into competition with each other, especially in a time of surging unemployment and poverty like today.

Marxist-Humanism has always held fast to the centrality to U.S. history, not alone of its deep racism, but of the resistance and revolt against it, of Black masses in motion as revolutionary subject—from the slave revolts and the Abolitionist movement they inspired to the Black Populists of the 1890s, from the Garvey movement to the creation of the CIO, from the 1960s Freedom Now movement to today’s multiracial movement led by Black youth.

The intensity of terrorist backlash is in response to the depth and breadth of that revolt, including the specter of white women and youth joining African Americans. This year’s Black-led revolt has once again showcased the power of ideas of freedom, and the multiracial participation in the revolt, especially by the youth, dealt a blow to the efforts by the rulers and the racist Right.

ASSAULTS ON VOTERS AND ELECTIONS

That does not mean they are defeated. For one thing, they succeeded in stacking the federal courts with right-wing ideologues who can be expected to rule on the election as dishonestly as the Supreme Court did in the pro-Bush coup of 2000. This is one reason for the rush to place Barrett on the Supreme Court, although the current Court has hardly found any technique of vote suppression that it does not like, from extreme gerrymandering to mass purges of voter registrations. Even Trump has not given up. In the country that already makes it much harder to vote than in other “democracies,” he and his party have redoubled their multifaceted assaults on voters and their war to disrupt and delegitimize the election, and maintain minority fascist power with a white male capitalist face. They are perfectly willing to destroy democracy and start a civil war in the process.

  • For years Republican state legislators, secretaries of state and judges have been making it harder to vote, limiting registration opportunities, absentee voting and early voting, closing polling locations and drop boxes, and adding requirements to present only certain IDs and to have witness signatures, sometimes notarized. One result has been people standing in line for up to 11 hours to vote. In the midst of a surging pandemic, all of these increase the risk of infection, and Black, Latinx and Native American areas are affected most.
  • Native Americans living on reservations often have no street addresses, live far from voting locations and even mailboxes, and are confronted by impossible requirements to present IDs with addresses.
  • More than 5 million people with felony convictions are barred from voting—a system introduced to disenfranchise Black people under Jim Crow. When Florida voters passed a referendum to lift that ban after sentences are completed, state legislators, backed by federal courts, gutted the law with the equivalent of a poll tax.
  • Republican politicians, backed by federal judges, sustained restrictions on mail-in ballots that, during a pandemic, turned absentee voting into a death risk for many.
  • Trump installed his crony Louis DeJoy as head of the Postal Service, which he has been sabotaging to slow down the mail. In some states, Republicans fought off measures to allow extra time for mailed ballots to arrive.
  • States like Michigan and North Carolina throw out large numbers of mailed ballots because of arbitrary judgments that signatures don’t match or failure to follow pointless rules, using the excuse of fraud, which rarely occurs. As of Oct. 15, North Carolina had already rejected over 5,000 mail-in ballots.
  • Slow absentee vote counting was engineered in some states, specifically to allow Trump to make false claims about vote fraud. Initial vote totals will not include mailed votes, which usually lean Democratic.
  • Trump declared of mail-in ballots, “We want to get rid of the ballots” to make sure that “there won’t be a transfer [of power], frankly. There’ll be a continuation.”
  • As in 2016, Black and other anti-Trump voters are being targeted with disinformation campaigns on Facebook and other social media, aiming to convince them not to vote. Latinx voters are being targeted with anti-Black messages. This occurs in the midst of a tsunami of lies and propaganda from the White House and allied media and organizations.
  • The Justice Department is acting as Trump’s personal lawyer and public relations agency, not only attacking voting rights but publicizing phony criminal investigations of his political opponents.
  • The Republicans have assembled a well-funded team of lawyers to challenge ballots and dispute results, and Attorney General William Barr can be expected to join them with all the power of the federal government.
  • Trump openly called on his supporters to descend on polling sites to intimidate voters, as has already happened in Philadelphia and Fairfax, Va. He claims to have an “Army” of over 50,000 volunteers to go after “suspicious” voters. This sort of tactic has a long history in the South, aimed at African Americans.
  • After Trump called on the Proud Boys to “stand by,” they and other white supremacist and far-Right groups took it as a call to arms. They are preparing for an armed insurrection and a hoped-for civil war after Trump’s defeat is announced. But they would take his victory as open season on “Communists” and people of color.

The open Republican game plan is to sow enough disruption and chaos in the election to delegitimize it and allow their swing-state legislators to send their own pro-Trump “electors” to the electoral college. Some military leaders are already discussing whether to resign if Trump invokes the Insurrection Act after the election and orders them to seize ballots or otherwise intervene. In this situation, some civil society organizations are making plans for resistance to a coup, and there is talk of a general strike. What must not be underestimated is the power of ideas, and therefore resistance is self-limiting if it fails to discuss what it is for. Philosophy of revolution is a concrete, practical need even, or especially, when the specter of counter-revolution looms.

THE ANTI-DEMOCRATIC INSTITUTIONS OF THE U.S.

The delegitimizing of elections has a head start because the U.S. political system has shown itself to be anti-democratic and illegitimate from its beginnings, when only about 6% of the population (a subset of white men) could vote. The founders opposed democracy and the Constitution was designed to protect the institution of slavery. To this day some of its aspects remain anti-democratic, like the Senate and the electoral college—which notoriously handed the White House to the losers of the popular vote in 2000 (Bush) and 2016 (Trump), and without which Trump would stand no chance of re-election.

It took a second revolution, the Civil War, before the Constitution was amended to enshrine voting rights for all races except Native Americans—but not women. The post-Reconstruction South managed to nullify those rights, until the Black revolution of the 1960s. But the Roberts Supreme Court—dominated by extremist justices from the party that lost the popular vote in six of the last seven elections—is an instrument of the counter-revolution, sanctifying the “free speech” rights of corporations while gutting the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Furthermore, it has been clear since the Occupy Wall Street movement that most people know that the 1% are in charge. The Democratic Party’s subservience to Wall Street and the big corporations made it easier for the fake populism of Trump to pretend to stand for the working class—at least the white part of it.

DIVISIONS WITHIN CLASSES: FASCISM vs. RETURN TO NORMAL vs. REACH FOR FUTURE

Trump’s catastrophic mishandling of the pandemic, together with the spiraling crises of capitalism, has divided both the ruling class and the middle class. Some have recoiled from the rush to destruction and chaos. Division of the ruling class has long been held by Marxists to be a prerequisite for revolution. What we see is a loose convergence in first negation, that, is, opposition to what is: opposition to what may or may not be recognized as a 21st-century U.S. flavor of fascism on the rise, at the same time that fascism is rearing its head in many countries. That converging opposition is an uneasy mixture of those who want to salvage the Clinton-Bush-Obama normalcy with people who are reaching for the future. The latter has been manifested in this year’s deep and persistent nationwide revolt, as well as in the many strikes that have erupted, probably amounting to more strikes and unofficial labor actions than we have seen in any year since the 1980s. In fact, class struggles over the pandemic sparked the first global strike wave in many years.

That includes creative acts of resistance by postal workers across the country. According to a recent report:

“Mechanics in New York drew out the dismantling and removal of mail-sorting machines until their supervisor gave up on the order. In Michigan, a group of letter carriers did an end run around a supervisor’s directive to leave election mail behind, starting their routes late to sift through it. In Ohio, postal clerks culled prescriptions and benefit checks from bins of stalled mail to make sure they were delivered, while some carriers ran late items out on their own time. In Pennsylvania, some postal workers looked for any excuse — a missed turn, heavy traffic, a rowdy dog — to buy enough time to finish their daily rounds. ‘I can’t see any postal worker not bending those rules,’ one Philadelphia staffer said in an interview.”[1]

Through ups and downs, the revolt sparked by the police murder of George Floyd never ended. One of the latest outrages to reinvigorate it is the unconscionable but expected failure to charge any of the police for the killing of Breonna Taylor. As one protester in Chicago said, “This is how the system operates. It’s not broken. When we fight for Breonna Taylor, we fight to destroy the system and create a new one.” The power of the revolt impacts everything from everyday conversation to national politics, though it is clear that at best electoral politics will deliver only a dim shadow of the seething from below. For revolt to turn into revolution and overcome counter-revolution requires the self-determination of the Idea of freedom.

The reaching for the future has been manifested as well even before this year in recent outpourings of women, youth, Queer, immigrants, Latinx, Blacks and Native Americans, such as in Black Lives Matter, the Women’s Marches, the battle over family separations, the climate strikes, the March for Our Lives, and the struggle at Standing Rock. The urgency of defeating Trump and the fascists must not be allowed to cover over the way the system-preservers represented by the Joe Biden campaign want to harness, channel and tame the potentially revolutionary forces. The Biden slogan of “unity” means class collaboration under the guidance of the capitalist class. In other words, the battle is not only one of first negation but within that opposition to clarify and move toward a full negation of the negation, the positive movement toward the new, toward full liberation, emerging out of the first negation.

THE WISH TO RETURN TO NORMAL

We should not underestimate the pull of the longing for a return to “normal,” away from an avalanche of self-perpetuating disorder. The pandemic, as well as the overall ecological crisis that unleashed it, show that is impossible. Every day we see effects of the climate crisis in the fires in California, Brazil and Siberia; hurricanes and floods; heat waves and locusts. A UN official for Humanitarian Affairs issued a warning to the Security Council that Yemen, South Sudan, Congo and Nigeria are on the verge of famine, and that is only the beginning. Nor are the far-Right forces that rallied around Trump going away. But returning to normal is not just a wish. It is being used as an ideological weapon in the battle for the future of humanity. The urgency of negating so many crises generates the temptation to focus on the first negation.

Trump’s defeat is urgent. But his defeat is not certain, despite the increasing opposition to Trump’s rule, especially with the tools of voter suppression that Trump and his allies routinely deploy. Grassroots resistance has sparked anti-Trump opposition since the millions-strong Women’s Marches the day after Trump’s inauguration, and has continued through this year’s historic movements against police killings. Those movements have even thrown forward electoral candidates like Cori Bush—a leader in the Ferguson, Mo., protests—and environmental justice activist Marquita Bradshaw running for Senator in Tennessee.

DEFEAT TRUMP—BUT THE FUTURE IS NOT ELECTORAL POLITICS BUT THE SELF-ACTIVITY OF THE MASSES

Nevertheless, a Biden victory, or even a Democratic Party sweep, would be no solution but at best a breathing space. He presents himself as a more competent manager of American capitalism and has opposed Left liberatory ideas and tried to rein in freedom movements for his entire career. This is reflected in his current stance.

For instance, Biden, a key supporter of the 1994 Clinton crime bill, adamantly opposes defunding the police and denies their systemic racism in words similar to those of Trump and Barr: “The vast majority of police officers are good, decent, honorable men and women. They risk their lives every day to take care of us, but there are some bad apples.”[2] In addition, his administration would be just as likely as the Obama administration to accelerate the growth of the pervasive police and corporate surveillance apparatus.

On climate, he made substantial concessions to the Democratic Party’s left wing, but in return required his running mate Kamala Harris and other key supporters to abandon their demand for a ban on fracking. He never acknowledges the urgency of the need to wind down all fossil fuel extraction and use. The Obama-Biden administration in fact oversaw a huge expansion of fracking oil and gas under an “all of the above” energy policy. To this day, Biden links climate and environmental action to continued economic growth, meaning capitalist accumulation—which is the root of ever-expanding ecological destruction and global warming. Outside his Oct. 15 town hall, middle school activists held a protest to demand climate action, representing an entire youth movement that recognizes the climate crisis as an emergency and sees the future of humanity threatened.[3] No “return to normal” can come anywhere close to resolving that emergency.

Biden, who was calling for the invasion of Iraq—calling the Senate authorization of force that he pushed “a march to peace and security”—well before Bush ordered it in 2003, and who later proposed partitioning Iraq, would not consider transforming the militaristic, imperialist role of the U.S. in the world.

If Biden went as far as the party’s left wing to offer a “Green” 21st-century version of the New Deal, we should recall that it would be a plan for a statist capitalism, like the 1930s New Deal, which did not end the Great Depression’s economic crisis on the way to total war. Today’s depression is not over, already rivals the 1930s in some respects, and promises to get much worse as the surging pandemic continues to ravage the world. Neither Biden nor Trump is likely to halt the continuing disintegration of U.S.-China relations. Biden would continue the growing militarization of the economy—not only a separate internet in the West, or some section of it, without Huawei technology but also a rebuilt rare earth mining industry in the U.S. with massive Pentagon investment.

Electoral politics may briefly pull us back from the brink, but it cannot halt capitalism’s rush to self-destruction, bringing humanity along with it. The self-activity of the masses is needed to overcome reaction and move toward a new direction, and the movements of Black America, women, youth, LGBTQI, immigrants, and Native Americans will not stop because of an election. At the same time, it is imperative to recognize that, as Raya Dunayevskaya put it, “unless the freedom forces face with sober senses not only their continued struggles to realize freedom, but the unfolding of comprehensive philosophy for the reconstruction of society on totally new beginnings….unless there is unity of the movement to freedom with the philosophy of freedom, the forces for world war will swallow up everything.”[4]

[1] “Postal Service Workers Quietly Resist DeJoy’s Changes with Eye on Election,” by Jacob Bogage, Sept. 29, 2020, Washington Post.

[2] From his Sept. 29 “debate” with Trump.

[3] Emily Pontecorvo, “Outside Biden’s town hall, middle school activists demand climate action,” grist.org, Oct. 16, 2020.

[4]From the Writings of Raya Dunayevskaya: Historic roots of far Right threat to U.S.,” September-October 2012 News & Letters.

One thought on “Trump re-election battles concentrate system’s myriad crises

  1. The N&L website article “Trump re-election battles concentrate system’s myriad crises” is an important contribution to the immense flood of articles and opinion pieces surrounding this election. It is revolutionary analysis of what is at stake in the present moment that reaches far beyond Trump vs. Biden. Of course, Trump must be defeated, but one of the subheads catches what we are really facing: “Divisions within Classes: Fascism vs. Return to Normal vs. Reach for the Future”. We simply cannot just return to capitalism with its classism, racism and sexism that has been present long before Trumpism. The article shows that against the so-called “normal,” a “reaching for the Future” can be seen in the mass protests we have witnessed against racism, the mobilization marches of women against sexism, and the labor protests taking place. What remains the great challenge is that such a freedom-filled future cannot concretely come into being without working out an emancipatory philosophic view as a unifying pole of attraction for the diverse social movements and individuals who do not want a mere return to the old.

    Eugene Walker

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