After Mueller: Trump’s presidency a product of US capitalism

April 5, 2019
A protest supporting the Mueller investigation in New York on November 8.

The most important finding of the long Mueller investigation into United States President Donald Trump — that there was no collusion with the Russians to fix the 2016 US election so that Trump would win — came as a shock to most liberals, progressives and even many socialists.

I have seen only one figure in the mass media who faces even parts of the truth. Farhad Manjoo, an op-ed writer in the New York Times wrote on March 25: “Trump’s win was not the illegitimate product of a treasonous conspiracy … The president was not a Manchurian candidate …

“Indeed the truest horror in Mr. Mueller’s finding is that we didn’t need Mr. Putin to be pulling the strings. We know that under our shambolic democracy, a man as unfit as Mr. Trump really can legitimately acquire all the terrifying power of the presidency without being controlled by a foreign puppet master … 

“Collusion was a seductive and convenient delusion. For many Americans, the simple truth that Mr. Trump really had won was too terrible to bear. The ease with which a racist, misogynist, serial con man had slipped past every gatekeeper in American life suggested something deeply sick at the core of our society.”

He concluded: “Trump was the corrupt, misbegotten choice of a citizenry mired in partisan mistrust, seething with racial grievance, informed by a beleaguered and fracturing news media, and laboring under an economic and political system that had long ceased functioning for all but the wealthiest of its citizens.”

The Mueller report was a blow to the mainstream, capitalist, political forces that have sought to curb or even remove Trump by putting all their eggs into the Mueller investigation basket. These forces include Democratic and Republican politicians.

Trump emerges stronger, further consolidating his base and his hold over the Republican party. He has strengthened his boast that he is the “strongman who can set things right” by defeating this challenge.

The Trump presidency has given cover for the expansion of the ultra-right — individuals and organisations grouped around the self-described “Alt-Right” white power movement. These fascist-minded forces will be further encouraged by the findings.

Trump is increasingly testing the waters over how far he can go towards ruling by fiat. He declared a “national emergency” to give himself the authority to bypass Congress, which had explicitly denied him the funding he wanted to build a wall along the US-Mexico border. He has set in motion a process to take federal funds Congress earmarked for other purposes and divert them to his pet project.

Now he says that if Mexico does not stop asylum seekers at the border, he will shut it down. He may be making an empty threat, designed to appeal to his base, but we do not know if he will carry it out partially or all the way.

He has also cut off US aid to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. This aid is woefully inadequate to address the dire situation in those countries, but cutting aid will make things worse.

The poverty and violence in these countries, impelling many to attempt the long, dangerous journey to the US border to seek asylum, is a result of the US imperialist policy of economic exploitation, fomenting military coups (the latest in Honduras in 2009) and so forth, going back more than a century.

In recent decades, the US’ “war on drugs” has done nothing to stem growing demand for them. It criminalises drug use instead of treating it the way alcohol and nicotine use are treated — as a health problem. This creates a vast, illegal criminal network to meet demand, stretching from the US across the border to Mexico and Central America.

Just as prohibition in the US in the early 20th century created a vast criminal network to meet the demand for alcohol, which resulted in violence and gang warfare, the “war on drugs” has done the same inside the US and south of the border.

What is “deeply sick at the core of our society” that could result in a figure like Trump to rise to the top? It is the economic and political evolution of US capitalism.

Since the 1970s, there has been increasing inter-imperialist economic competition, within the context of US hegemony. In the US, as elsewhere, the rate of profit has been squeezed. The ruling class has responded by putting downward pressure on workers’ wages. Since the 1970s, wages have risen anemically in the US.

US capitalists shut down many industries, shifting production to low wage countries. Social programs have been cut.

Unions were decimated. The labor bureaucracy made concession after concession to the owning class.

The Great Recession of 2007–2009 came, followed by the sluggish recovery. Workers were hit hard by unemployment (official figures underestimate the impact). There were foreclosures of many homes.

Workers saw the government bail out the big banks and other institutions, while their situation was ignored by the government of former president Barack Obama. The lower sections of the middle class also suffered, and their living standards were pushed down.

There was some resistance. “Occupy Wall Street” targeted increasing wealth for the “1%” at the top while the large majority was suffering. It struck a chord.

The eruption of Black Lives Matter exposed the oppression and violence directed against African Americans. Young Latinos demanded rights for immigrants. There were other instances of resistance to the capitalist offensive.

Since the 1970s there have been push-backs against the social gains of the 1960s and early 1970s radicalisation. The Republican Party led the charge, but the Democrats followed in their wake. The Republicans moved to the far right and became the chief party of white racism.

The “war on drugs” championed by both parties became a war on people of color, and sharply accelerated the mass incarceration that has earned the US the dubious distinction of “jailer in chief” of the world. The result has been the rise of the “New Jim Crow” that civil rights advocate Michelle Alexander has documented.

When the 2016 presidential election campaign began, deep fissures emerged in both parties and between them. There was a deadlock in Congress as the Republicans made gains playing the race card, especially in light of the election of the first Black president in 2008.

The parties differed over how much to continue the austerity drive, or whether to let up and make concessions to workers and the middle class.

They differed on how to meet the challenge of increasing inter-imperialist competition — with economic nationalism and protectionism, or free trade.

With no mass workers’ party to present an alternative way forward, the stage was set for the emergence of an authoritarian strongman to rise above the fray.

Polls showed 80% of people were suffering economically. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Party and Trump in the Republican Party both recognised this fact — from opposing poles.

Sanders proposed some positive pro-working class reforms, including national health insurance, free tuition in state colleges and universities, and more. He was defeated in the primaries by the Democratic establishment.

Trump was openly racist from the beginning. His first and ongoing theme was opposition to Latino and Muslim immigration. His rallies featured incitement against Blacks. He played into and amplified the fear and racism of the white middle and working classes who blamed non-whites for their situation. Trump promised he was the strongman who knew how to defend them.

This message galvanised his base — white racists of all classes. He demolished his Republican opponents and captured the Republican nomination. His Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, countered his “Make America Great Again” with “America Is Already Great”, which 80% of the population knew wasn’t true for them.

Undemocratic presidential election procedures — codified in the Constitution — allowed Trump to capture the presidency, despite losing the popular vote. In Republican-controlled states, he was aided by various subterfuges used to push Black and Latino voters off the rolls.

The sickness at the core of US society is the attacks on workers, especially Blacks and Latinos, the intensification of racism in a country with a long history of institutionalised racism going back to the 17th century slave trade, the oppression of women, and all the evils of US capitalism, including war.

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