We can’t rely on the state to fight Trump
Tom Crean, Socialist Alternative (ISA in the United States)
The FBI raid on Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate on August 8 was presented as an attempt to recover boxes of documents that Trump took from the White House, including many that were top secret.
In reality, it appears to be part of an attempt by a section of the state apparatus to prevent Trump from running in 2024. He certainly made enemies in what he likes to call the “deep state” during his time in office. This desire to block Trump reflects a widespread view among the ruling class that capitalist democracy in the U.S. might not survive another four years of him in the White House.
Socialist Alternative has also warned about the threat of Trump and Trumpism but we do so from an independent working class position. We recognize that we live in a “democracy for the rich” where the role of the president historically has been to serve the interests of corporations, not the interests of ordinary people. At the same time, we relentlessly defend the democratic rights and other gains working people have won through hard struggle against any threat from the reactionary right. But we do not place any faith in the Democrats or the FBI to defend those rights. That is why we have to carefully look at what’s going on here and how it could play out from an independent class standpoint.
Will Trump be indicted?
The investigation into the documents taken by Trump is only one of several investigations that are currently targeting him and his business. In New York State, Attorney General Letitia James is conducting an investigation into possible tax fraud by the Trump organization. Trump “pleaded the fifth” nearly 450 times during a four-hour deposition in this case in early August. He is also under investigation for his role in the January 6, 2021 storming of the Capitol and for engaging in a criminal conspiracy to overturn the election results in Georgia in 2020.
In the weeks since the August 8 raid there has been an escalating war of words between the Trump camp and the Department of Justice. Trump’s poodle, South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham, has said there “will be riots in the streets” if Trump is indicted, then claimed he was just trying to “state the obvious” in response to allegations of incitement. Trumpistas in Congress like Marjorie Taylor Greene have hilariously called for “defunding the FBI.” Trump world has also doubled down on counterclaims that the FBI sought to suppress news about the content of Hunter Biden’s laptop in the run-up to the 2020 election.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Merrick Garland has said he stands behind the “brave men and women” of the FBI. Don’t forget that Obama nominated Garland for the Supreme Court in 2016 but the then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to allow a hearing or a vote to be held on his nomination.
Last Wednesday, the Justice Department distributed a photograph of various documents strewn around Trump’s office, many clearly marked “top secret.” It has also revealed that there were an incredible 11,000 government documents in Trump’s residence, including 100 marked either secret or top secret. Now it is reported that some of the documents may have related to the nuclear weapons capabilities of different nations. There can be little doubt that Garland is seriously considering indicting Trump, probably for obstruction of justice.
What are the consequences?
Garland and the Justice Department are playing a high-stakes game with a very uncertain outcome, especially if there is a criminal prosecution of Trump and (which is still very hard to conceive) if he is actually jailed.
What has been the net effect of the raid so far? If the goal was to tarnish Trump among his supporters and weaken his popularity, this has definitely not worked. It has actually strengthened Trump’s already tight grip on the GOP. The FBI’s action, unprecedented against any former president, only reinforces to his base Trump’s narrative that the “deep state” and the Washington elite are out to bring him down at all costs.
A New York Times/Sienna poll conducted a few weeks before the raid indicated that about half of Republican voters might be prepared to consider someone besides Trump in 2024. The most prominent possible challengers are Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Trump’s vice president Mike Pence. But within days of the raid, the whole landscape changed. As one Republican strategist told Politico, “Completely handed him a lifeline… Unbelievable … It put everybody in the wagon for Trump again. It’s just taken the wind out of everybody’s sails.”
To be clear, Trump can still run for president even if he is jailed. Ironically, the greatest socialist in American history, Eugene Debs, ran for president in 1920 after being jailed under the Sedition Act. This is part of the same batch of World War I laws as the Espionage Act the DOJ is now using against Trump.
Trump runs from jail?
So there is no straightforward way to remove Trump from the political scene if he is determined to continue and still retains a significant base of support.
A number of ruling class mouthpieces that want Trump gone for good are urging caution. The Economist (August 19) for example pointed out that:
“Being on trial and even being convicted could fuel Mr Trump’s return. A revenge tour, in which he campaigned on retribution for his persecution by the legal system, would play to Mr Trump’s worst instincts and further exhaust America’s institutions.”
They go on to say, “In another era, the influence of corporate America might have helped sideline Mr Trump. Yet the political clout of big companies is waning, as the Republican Party becomes a movement of working-class whites and an increasing number of conservative Hispanics.” The Economist is admitting that in this period of extreme political polarization, the ruling class’ ability to control the political process has waned. The political institutions of U.S. capitalism (Congress, the Supreme Court, etc) are all, to one degree or another, discredited.
The FBI and Justice Department that are going after Trump are certainly deeply discredited in the Republican base. After all, it was former FBI director Robert Mueller who played a key role in the attempt to impeach Trump over his alleged connections with Russia. “Russiagate” turned out to be a giant distraction with almost zero real content. It helped give Trump cover as he sought to blatantly use the state apparatus to pursue his vendettas. Ultimately, he unsuccessfully sought to force the Department of Justice, the Supreme Court, and Republican state officials to help his shambolic coup attempt.
But while Garland and the DOJ have zero credibility with the Republican electorate, this doesn’t mean that their investigation can’t ultimately succeed in undermining Trump in a different way. Even if the attacks on Trump consolidate his grip on the base of the GOP, this can also come at a certain cost to the party in the broader electorate, particularly with independent voters who largely don’t want a return to the Trump era chaos even if they aren’t thrilled with Biden. This process may play out in the midterms with Trump’s return helping to resuscitate Biden and the Democrats’ poll numbers along with the Dobbs decision and some student debt relief.
Threat to bourgeois democracy escalates
Meanwhile, the Trumpist GOP is determined to step up its drive to undermine the election process so as to be able to steal elections “legally” in the future.
A number of states have enacted brazen voter suppression measures. Meanwhile the Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case (Moore v Harper) that would test the “independent state legislature theory.” Essentially this “interpretation” of the Constitution would allow state legislatures to completely control the conduct of federal elections without judicial oversight. This case was prompted by the North Carolina legislature approving an incredibly gerrymandered map that gave Republicans a 10–4 advantage in their state’s Congressional delegation, despite Democratic voters outnumbering Republicans!
The “independent state legislature theory” would also allow states to pass endless measures of suppression or repeal protections. This concept was also invoked by Trump as he sought to overturn the 2020 election when he urged Republican state legislatures in states Biden won to elect their own slate of Electoral College delegates and replace those selected by voters.
Clearly the outcome of this case could directly affect the 2024 race. In any previous period, one would have assumed that there was no chance the Supreme Court would support this, but given the firmly reactionary majority on the Court, it can’t be excluded. It has been widely reported that Justice Thomas’ wife, Ginni Thomas, was directly involved in helping Trump’s coup.
How do we defeat Trump and Trumpism?
Biden gave a speech in Philadelphia where he said that “MAGA Republicans” threaten “the very foundations of our Republic.” While he said that not all Republicans are MAGA Republicans, he said that the MAGA wing is fully in charge of the GOP. In the Philadelphia speech and on several other occasions, Biden has gone even further and said that people who support Trumpism support “semi-fascism.” Senator Marco Rubio responded by asking if this means all 74 million people who voted for Trump in 2020 are semi-fascist.
In fact, the Democratic Party has played the key role in creating the space for the dangerous growth of right populism and the normalization of far-right ideas. But it is utterly false and dangerous to insinuate that tens of millions of ordinary Americans are “semi-fascist” because they voted for Trump. This is reminiscent of Hillary Clinton talking about the “basket of deplorables.”
Trump’s crimes are very real. He relentlessly sought to divide people in this country on racial and other lines. He stood by fecklessly as hundreds of thousands needlessly died of COVID. He tried to force election officials in various states to help him overturn the results of the 2020 election. Stealing (a lot of) government documents for no very clear purpose is not high on this list. George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 led to hundreds of thousands of deaths and was based on an outright, concocted lie. However, the Democrats who voted for that vile imperialist adventure never talked of indicting him.
The difference is that killing hundreds of thousands for imperialism is perfectly acceptable and has been done by both parties historically. When certified war criminal and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger left office he took a huge trove of highly incriminating records with him which he treated as his personal property. No one in the state apparatus suggested retrieving these or raiding his home. But of course they related to the dirty war in Indochina where millions died that both parties were responsible for.
The hue and cry over democracy from Biden is rooted in the desire to maintain “political stability” in order to retain the dominant global position of U.S. imperialism. The bulk of the ruling class see no need to remove the safety valve that formal democracy has provided them. Having the longest established constitution of any country is a key part of American prestige.
Ending constitutional rule would be a clear sign of terminal decline and would put them at a severe disadvantage in their global conflict with China which is now facing multiple crises and resorting to ever more extreme measures to crush dissent. The U.S. ruling class would only see a dictatorship as necessary if they were threatened by social revolution. In that case they wouldn’t hesitate for a second, and indeed there was a serious plot to overthrow Roosevelt in 1933 by big business figures who felt he wasn’t doing enough to crush the working class and the left.
But the level of extreme polarization in the U.S. and the fact that the state apparatus is having to resort to such overt measures as raids on the home of the former president and threatened criminal indictments shows how the previous model of political rule is no longer working. Contrary to what many commentators hoped at the time, the strains on bourgeois democracy did not end on January 6.
Now the Republican party has nominated candidates in a whole series of key races who are committed to the Trumpist idea that the 2020 election was stolen and that he is the legitimate president of the U.S. Last weekend Trump held a rally where he called Biden an “enemy of the state” and attacked the FBI.
The Democrats may be able to prevent the electoral disaster they originally seemed headed for in the midterms in part by invoking Trump who is deeply unpopular in wide sections of the population. But they have no answer to the grip of reactionary right populism on sections of the population but to organize raids and call people names.
Actually defeating Trump and Trumpism will require an ongoing mass mobilization of working people around a program of demands that are proven to have overwhelming support including a $15 federal minimum wage, Medicare for All, ending mass incarceration, massive investment in renewable energy, and guaranteeing the right to abortion across the entire country.
The potential for building such a mass movement was indicated by the millions who supported Bernie’s platform in 2020 or took to the streets for Black Lives Matter the same year; by the tens of thousands who took to the street this year to oppose the overturning of Roe v. Wade; and by the wave of strikes and labor organizing we have seen in the past year. The willingness to fight is there but clear leadership and organization is missing. A fighting labor movement and a new workers party could appeal to millions who supported Trump while isolating the actual far right and fascist elements.