US President Donald Trump made a fool of himself when he stood next to Russian President Vladimir Putin, but that’s not the only thing he did in Europe. An editorial in US Socialist Worker, abridged below, says the left needs to keep its eye on the deeper threat.
Turns out that Donald Trump really is the “great unifier” he sometimes promised to be during the 2016 campaign.
After a press conference with Vladimir Putin at the end of his Europe trip, where Trump managed to look like a dupe of one of the most transparently evil people on the planet, the whole spectrum of mainstream US politics — from Democrats to the toadiest of Trump-toadying Republicans — erupted.
“Disgraceful”, “sign of weakness”, “lie-stuffed”, “damn near treasonous” — and those were just the judgments of fellow Republicans.
Trump’s bizarre appearance — where he repeatedly sided with Putin’s denials of Russian meddling in the US’s 2016 election, against the conclusions of his own administration, while condemning the FBI for investigating his campaign — overshadowed a trip that provoked plenty of outrage, though not as unanimous.
The protest blimp in London depicting Trump as an orange, tantrum-throwing infant in diapers was the perfect symbol for the real-life president’s usual mixture of compulsive lying, whiny insults and epic self-absorption.
Trump may pay a price for his press conference display of basic incompetence at the job he never expected to have. The US ruling class has put up with a lot from Trump because they’ve gotten a lot from him.
But Russia is one of the empire’s major rivals, and it won’t do to have the US president looking weak and craven next to Russia’s.
<sh>Little actual opposition
Then again, there’s very little stomach for actually standing up to Trump, among Republicans or Corporate America or anyone else in the elite. Today’s outcry could quickly become tomorrow’s afterthought — especially if Trump’s handlers can get him to take back his testimonials to Putin’s honesty and good character.
As for the Democrats, the obsession with Trump’s ties to Russia continues to be a convenient distraction to avoid taking a stand on issues like the revved-up deportation machine and Islamophobia. In those cases, their party is complicit in the injustices they denounce.
The uproar about Trump’s meeting with Putin and the Europe trip may dominate the headlines for a while. But for the left, anyone who stops at the limits of that discussion — with the “shock” and “outrage” at Trump’s “unstable” behaviour and his “lack of resolve” against Russia — is missing the deeper threat we must confront.
For all his unpredictable outbursts, Trump’s objective isn’t merely egotism and self-promotion — and still less servitude to Putin. It is to advance a right-wing agenda of nationalism, xenophobia and class war against workers and the poor.
If the opposition to Trump is confined to outrage at how he upsets diplomatic protocols and the old ruling order, the right wing will gain more ground. This is because the right thrives on discontent with this discredited status quo.
The millions who hate Trump need to unite in a resistance that confronts all the reactionary atrocities of the right — not so we can go back to the old days before Trump blundered into power, but to work toward an alternative to the system that spawned him.
Trump’s press conference in Helsinki will refuel the speculation machine about what Putin has on him. We have no trouble believing this — though our money has always been on criminal business dealings rather than election-fixing.
The left shouldn’t be indifferent to Russiagate, because how the scandal plays out can convince large numbers of people about the corruption of not just Trump, but the whole system.
But we also can’t forget the simpler answer for Trump’s affinity with Putin: The two share the same authoritarian and reactionary tendencies. Putin’s ruthless repression and contempt for democratic rights complements Trump’s.
The lovefest with Putin didn’t begin in Helsinki. From the moment Trump touched down in Brussels last week for the summit of the NATO military alliance, he couldn’t have been clearer about his hostility toward traditional US allies in Europe, particularly Germany — and his admiration for Russia’s authoritarian leader.
The reaction of European leaders was to bemoan Trump’s erratic behaviour. But outbursts aside, Trump is a reliable peddler of a right-wing agenda shared by European parties that have won more victories than suffered setbacks in the past several years — most recently in Italy.
<sh>Promoting the far right
Trump may have proven himself a fool to those who already believe he is one, but the popular base for right-wing politics is hardening around support for him — in the US and beyond.
In between the NATO and Putin summits, Trump went to Britain. There, he was actually pretty savvy in promoting his toxic mix of nationalism, xenophobia and the rest.
In an interview with the Rupert Murdoch-owned Sun, Trump attacked Conservative Party Prime Minister Theresa May for not pursuing a sharp “Brexit” from the European Union. He threatened that the US might withhold a closer economic partnership after Brexit, underlining Trump’s preference for country-by-country economic agreements, the better to leverage US power against divided rivals.
He even promoted May’s Tory Party rival, the recently resigned foreign minister Boris Johnson.
Trump also added his voice to the chorus of right-wingers who blame the continent’s problems on an invasion of migrants and refugees that is breaching the walls of Fortress Europe and threatening its “culture.” Europe’s Nazis stood taller because of Trump.
Meanwhile, Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon set up shop shortly before Trump’s arrival in a five-star London hotel, where he met with a parade of vile reactionaries that included Louis Aliot, boyfriend of France’s National Front leader Marine Le Pen, and Trump cheerleader Nigel Farage, former head of the UK Independence Party.
Bannon announced to anyone who would listen that he was there to drum up support for the president — while simultaneously helping to cohere the far-right forces in Europe.
The alarm at Trump’s behaviour among European leaders — and a bipartisan establishment consensus in the US — is genuine. Trump is threatening to upend an economic and imperialist order that has been lucrative, economically and politically, for a long time.
But the loud complaints from both sides of the Atlantic about Trump’s lack of respect for “democratic norms” and “multilateral negotiation” are sheer hypocrisy.
French President Emmanuel Macron has positioned himself as one of Trump’s main adversaries among Western leaders. But since he took office, his intensification of austerity policies has been increasingly carried out through the French equivalent of Trump’s executive orders.
Macron’s government, like its predecessors from both the centre-left and centre-right, has joined in the scapegoating of migrants. It enforces repressive laws that criminalise Muslims in the name of “national security” — a not-so-distant analogue to Trump’s Muslim travel ban.
Germany’s rulers may yearn for the pre-Trump days when US government officials respected international treaties and practiced diplomatic niceties. But within the EU, Germany is very much the undisputed power.
There was no question of “democratic norms” or niceties when it came to dictating the terms of surrender and immiseration to Greece during the debt crisis. It didn’t matter that the Greek people said “no” to austerity. The blackmail of the EU bankers and bureaucrats was unrelenting.
In every country of Europe, the neoliberal program of economic austerity and political repression has dominated under centre-left and centre-right governments alike. If the far right has gained a hearing, it is because the status quo presided over by these mainstream parties has become intolerable.
In some cases, left forces have had success in putting forward an answer based on solidarity and hope. But more often, the right has won out — and it has the discredited policies and programs of the mainstream parties to thank for paving the way, particularly on hot-button issues like migration and civil liberties.
The same is true in the US. Trump is president today not because the Russians fixed the election, but because the Democrats nominated a despised pro-corporate hack who was the very symbol of business as usual. Trump still suffered a nearly 3-million-vote loss in the popular vote, but secured a narrow victory in the undemocratic Electoral College that won him the White House.
All this leads to the conclusion you can’t fight the right by creeping toward it from the centre — or by upholding a corrupt and dismal status quo, as Hillary Clinton did when she declared the US to be “already great”.
In Europe and the US, the political situation is a story of polarisation.
Since the 2008-09 economic crisis, there has been a clear radicalisation to the left. This is expressed in various struggles, such as the Occupy movement that was inspired by the Arab Spring and surges of protest in Spain, Greece and elsewhere, as well as political developments like the success of left-wing Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in Britain and Bernie Sanders in the US.
But there has also been a radicalisation on the right, ranging in form from Trump’s mix of nationalism and bigotry in the US to more explicitly Nazi-like parties in Europe.
And the right has an advantage: Its reactionary program can build on the conservative shift in politics during the neoliberal era, while also exploiting discontent with how the status quo has failed masses of ordinary people.
The right wing can be fought — and pushed back. But two things are needed.
First, the right must be confronted — and confronted by our side’s strength in numbers.
In August, white supremacists are planning to celebrate the anniversary of their murderous violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, that ended with the death of a protester, Heather Heyer — with a demonstration in none other than Washington, DC.
The call will go out from Democrats to ignore the far right, but we know what that led to last year in Charlottesville.
The left needs to organise a counter-protest like the response after the murder of Heather Heyer: an immediate upsurge of protest around the country that swamped racist mobilisations in Boston, Berkeley and elsewhere — proving that we are the anti-racist majority, and they are a tiny, hateful few.
There is a second task for the left. We have to confront the right’s politics of hate and despair with a political alternative.
Fighting the right doesn’t only mean confronting white supremacists when they try to mobilise, but challenging its wider agenda.
Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court offers a perfect opportunity to unite different struggles and movements against the right. Kavanaugh is a legal warrior for injustice, and he doesn’t confine his reactionary views to one issue. He’s an enemy of abortion rights, LGBTI equality, unions, voting rights and more.
Shamefully, the national leaders of the Democratic Party aren’t preparing for an all-out fight to derail the Kavanaugh nomination. Some liberal groups seem to be accepting defeat before the fight.
That can’t be our answer. Once again, we need to use our strength in numbers to mobilise a resistance that can’t be ignored.
Anyone who attended the Women’s Marches or the protests against the NRA and gun violence or the huge June 30 mobilisation to protest Trump’s cruel anti-immigrant crusade will know that people on our side are ready to take a stand.
The struggles we organise today are a first step toward making a left-wing answer to the social and economic crisis at the heart of politics in the Trump era. Against the right’s scapegoating, hate and nationalism, we answer with solidarity, democracy and struggle.