United States: The battle against Trumpism can’t be left to the Democrats

Trump’s claim that the election was stolen from him has become the rationale for Republican-controlled states to restrict voting rights. Image: Greg Roose/Pixabay

Part One: The danger Donald Trump represents

The Republican Party has been thoroughly transformed. Donald Trump is in complete control.

A large part of the Republican base reveres him as the strongman who alone can set the country right. They are part of a cult, personally loyal to him, believe whatever he says, and ready to do what he wants.

Trump is now taking on a more public role, including projecting mass rallies, his preferred venue. The first one happened on January 15.

He has amassed a large fund he intends to use in Republican primaries this year in support of candidates loyal to him against any whom he thinks are not sufficiently subservient.

His renewed public efforts will continue through to the November 8 mid-term elections, where all 435 seats in the House of Representatives, a third of the Senate and numerous state, territorial and local elections will be contested.

This is the first stage of his campaign to run for president again in 2024.

In November, Trump wants Republican candidates most loyal to him to take back the majority in the Senate, where there is a 50-50 split today, and the House, which has a slim Democratic majority.

Threat to voting rights

Republican legislators — in states they control — have passed laws that will curtail Black voting rights, echoing how Black voting rights were eliminated in the South under Jim Crow (segregation). While not explicitly stated, the new laws will remove many registered voters in urban and rural areas where African Americans live.

In addition, there are new laws changing how votes are counted, and giving more power to Republican-controlled state legislatures and Republican officials to change the election results if they go against them in November.

These laws will also be used to guarantee a Trump victory in 2024 — even if he loses the popular vote, as he did in 2016 and 2020.

In the US, presidents are not elected by the majority of the eligible voting population, but by an arcane procedure established in the Constitution — the Electoral College.

Under this system, each state legislature appoints electors to represent the state, not the voting population.

The main author of the US constitution, James Madison, boasted that this was done to exclude those allowed to vote. At the time, only white men who owned property were allowed to vote.

Over time, it has become the norm that in most states the candidate who wins the majority of popular votes gets all the electors from that state to the Electoral College.

This has resulted in Republicans George W Bush in 2000 and Trump in 2016 winning in spite of receiving a minority of votes cast nationwide.

With their new laws certain in most contested states, pro-Trump Republicans can control the Electoral College to ensure his election, if, as is likely, the election is close.

In 2020, Trump got about 48% of the vote. If these new laws had been in place then, Trump would have been re-elected.

Racism and authoritarianism

To understand what Trump represents, it is useful to remember what his two campaigns, in 2016 and 2020, and his years in office, revealed.

Firstly, his projection of himself as the authoritarian strongman needed to right America’s wrongs, right from the day he announced he would run.

Second, his open racism against Blacks, Latinx, Mexicans, non-white immigrants and other people of colour, tapping into white’s fears that they were losing their position of supremacy and privilege.

Trump’s hard base was racist whites of all classes. Others who voted for him did so by ignoring his racism — that’s the best that can be said of them.

From the time he first announced his candidacy in 2016, violent racist groups like the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys knew that they would prosper under a Trump presidency.

White supremacy over Blacks and Native Americans has been a characteristic of all governments — in what became the United States — since colonial times.

The ruling classes — at first capitalists and slave owners, and then capitalists after the Civil War — and their political parties have been founded on and enforce white supremacy.

This was obvious under slavery, then in the Jim Crow period in the South and across the country. As the Black Lives Matter (BLM) mass uprising in 2020 demonstrated, white supremacy continues to this very day.

BLM popularised the concept of institutionalised, system-wide racist oppression, which has been extended to all non-whites, Latinx and others.

White supremacy

The Proud Boys and other white nationalist (or white supremacist) groups that have grown under Trump are best characterised as violent incipient fascists.

Trump relied on them to “stand by” after the election and then to “stand up” on January 6, 2021, in the violent attempted coup at the Capitol building.

Liberals and many socialists thought that the election of Democratic President Joe Biden meant the end of Trump and a return to “normalcy”. They have been proved wrong.

Trump prepared his comeback weeks before the 2020 election, when it looked like he would lose, by declaring that he could only lose by fraud.

After Trump’s election loss, he continued to trumpet that the election was “stolen” from him by massive fraud. He opened a new campaign to have the election reversed by legal means in state legislatures and courts, in what has been described as an attempted “self-coup”.

The violent events of January 6 were a last attempt to prevent Congress from certifying the election results. They were also a demonstration that Trump was ready to use extra-legal means. He also prevented the Army from allowing National Guard to intervene at the Capitol for almost four hours.

Since then, Trump’s relentless campaign to say the election was stolen from him by fraud has become the rationale for Republican-controlled states to restrict voting rights and gain control over the election results in key states.

Trump and the Republicans also rode the wave of white backlash and rage against the massive, Black-led demonstrations of 2020.

The Republicans have launched a mass campaign against critical race theory and the teaching in public schools that systemic, institutionalised racism exists in the country. School boards and state legislatures from Tennessee to Idaho have banned teaching about racism in classrooms.

Trump supporters have vociferously and sometimes violently intervened in local school board and town meetings against critical race theory. Education officials have been threatened with violence and even death.

In the weird world of Trumpism, this has been combined with attacks against mask mandates and vaccines to fight COVID-19, including in schools.

‘Race-baiting’

It also includes the use of “race-baiting” to claim whites are being discriminated against in vaccine distribution and treatment.

Trump told an Arizona rally on January 15: "The left is now rationing life-saving therapeutics based on race, discriminating against and denigrating, just denigrating white people to determine who lives and who dies. You get it based on race. In fact, in New York state, if you're white, you have to go to the back of the line to get medical help. If you're white, you go right to the back of the line."

The Proud Boys have been concentrating on intervening in these local disruptions to recruit.

Through this campaign, Trump has intensified his control over and discipline of the Republican Party and is emerging stronger than ever.

What Trump represents is what Marxists call Bonapartism, when in a period where the capitalist parties are deadlocked in feuding and disarray, a strong man emerges who promises to set things right through autocratic means.

This can take different forms, from outright dictatorship and the dispersal of the legislature to virtual autocracy with bourgeois democratic trappings, such as in Hungary today under Victor Orban. Trump has praised Orban and endorsed his re-election, and his spokespeople have visited.

Trump and Trumpism represent an anti-democratic danger, such as we are seeing developing in much of the world.

Part Two: Democrats and Biden in crisis

While Biden and the Democratic Party establishment are opposed to the anti-democratic and authoritarian transformation of the Republican Party led by Trump, their response has been weak and defeatist.

Biden and the establishment Democrats, who dominate the party, conspicuously do not defend critical race theory against the Republicans.

Biden does not even mention Black Lives Matter. The party establishment avoids talking about the institutionalised racism BLM exposed.

Biden and the Democratic Party establishment believe the wealthy and Wall Street will someday dump Trump and go back to the “old” Republican Party — however, that is not on the cards for the foreseeable future.

Biden is losing popular support as he appears weak. He and the Democrats are losing support among Black people by their failure on civil and voting rights.

The Democrats’ strategy is to rely on the courts and Congress while the Republicans mobilise their right-wing base to undermine democratic changes won over the decades.

Maintaining political power, no matter what, is Trump’s objective. He is advancing, as Biden and his Justice Department refuse to go after him for organising the January 6 Capitol attack and other crimes.

The activist groups trying to protect voting rights keep telling Biden that his approach of waiting for the Republicans to change course and go back to the way of bipartisanship, will not succeed.

Biden’s “which side are you on?” on voting rights in Atlanta on January 11 did not outline a plan of action.

Meanwhile, these new restrictions are already being implemented. Letters are being sent to residents in Texas under its new law alleging they are undocumented and warning them they could face criminal charges if they try to vote. Some are US citizens.

Federal intervention

The power of the federal government and executive power of the presidency is not being used to challenge Republican-imposed state laws that undermine voting and civil rights, the health and safety of workers, women’s rights and more.

In the 1950s, when the Supreme Court ruled that Black children could attend whites-only schools, federal troops were sent to states that refused to comply, to escort Black children to school.

Biden and his supporters are so far refusing a similar course of action today.

He could send Federal monitors to Republican-controlled states that restrict voting rights to oversee voting.

The Federal government could take pre-emptive legal action to stop the harassment and threats to those in charge of elections. Such steps can be done without Congressional approval.

Biden, as chief of the military, could also instruct the Pentagon to vet its forces and force out white supremacists and far-right veterans and active-duty military and police.

The issue of voting rights shows the failure of the Democratic Party establishment to protect the rights and interests of working people and what it calls “democracy”.

What can African Americans and others expect when the next attempt at authoritarian rule inevitably occurs? Democratic Party liberals and other white allies will simply hope for the best.

Martin Luther King Jr

Martin Luther King Jr and the civil rights leadership told Presidents John F Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson — both Democrats — that the people would never stop marching and fighting until the government stopped the segregationists and imposed basic democratic rights for African Americans.

The Black Lives Matter leaders took this approach in building the racial justice movement against police violence and for radical reforms.

Today, Biden represents the white moderate that King spoke about from the Birmingham jail on April 16, 1963:

"First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but ‘the white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a ‘more convenient season.’

“Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

Two years later, on August 6, 1965, the Voting Rights Act was passed, as the civil rights movement continued in the streets and a militant left wing inspired by the words of Malcolm X and others grew.

That’s what forced “white moderates” leading the Congress to pass this historic law. It became the first time that the concept of one person, one vote included African Americans in all 50 states.

Civil and voting rights are not only Black issues. They are the touchstone for basic human rights that benefit all working-class people — Black, white, Latinx, Asian and Indigenous.

They were won in a long bloody struggle over decades. That lesson is crucial today in fighting and defeating Trumpism.