United States: Trump is sweeping the Republican primary. What would a second term mean for working people?

Varun Belur, Socialist Alternative (ISA in the United States)

(This article was first published on 1 February 2024)

The Republican presidential primaries are underway, but it isn’t much of a contest. After decisively winning the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, Trump remains the frontrunner. Former rivals like Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy closed ranks and endorsed Trump before even the first competitive primary, a shocking reflection of Trump’s hold over the GOP.

Meanwhile, Nikki Haley’s campaign, kept afloat only by the billionaire Koch brothers, takes a distant second place to Trump. It’s clear Haley won’t win, but her establishment Republican backers and those of Trump’s former primary rivals share the same hopes as the Democrats, that the machinations of the courts will knock Trump out of the running. But as we’ve written before, this is extremely unlikely.

Given Trump’s absolute dominance over the Republican Party and Biden’s staggering unpopularity, even among Democrats, it’s very possible Trump wins a second term. If he does, what would that mean for working people?

Trump poses as anti-war

If reelected, Trump would enter office in the context of a changed and highly volatile world situation. The New Cold War, the economic, political and military conflict between US and Chinese imperialism and their allies, has seriously escalated since Trump’s term.

A Trump victory would be a major headache for the broader Western imperialist alliance because of his “go it alone” approach and opposition to NATO, but it would not make US imperialism less dangerous or less warmongering. While Trump says he would “end the war” in Ukraine which has been a priority for the US and its allies, this is only because he sees it as the “wrong war” and would prefer to focus even more on ratcheting up the direct conflict with China. There is zero difference between Trump and Biden on giving unconditional support to the Israeli regime for the slaughter in Gaza. Trump, however, might be more quick to start a full-scale war with Iran. And he is promising to raise tariffs on all goods from all countries to 10% which would further destabilize the world economy. Most of all his victory would be a massive boost to the populist and far right around the globe.

What’s at stake?

Trump could well be better able to implement his right-wing agenda in his second term. His first term was marked by tumult and constant turnover in his administration (Trump’s “A Team” had a 92% turnover rate over his entire term). But today’s GOP is stocked with Trump loyalists and a great number of his opponents have been essentially purged from the party.

Beyond his primary goal of purging the state apparatus, which we detail below, other key targets for Trump would likely be attacks on immigrant rights, environmental regulations, and workers’ rights. We can also expect more vicious anti-”woke” attacks on LGBTQ people and any teaching of the history of racism.

Trump’s 2024 platform on immigrants is draconian, promising mass deportations, the end of birthright citizenship, barring all refugees and much more. This goes far beyond Trump’s promise to “build the wall” in 2016. Horrifyingly, Trump’s attacks on immigrants will not in reality be that dissimilar from what Biden has already done in his first term.

Trump plans to use military funds to build vast camps on the border to hold undocumented migrants. In a speech in Iowa, Trump spoke of migrants crossing the southern border “poisoning the blood” of America, literally the language of Adolf Hitler and an indication of the type of racism and xenophobia he will stoke. Trump also plans to reintroduce and expand the Muslim ban, which was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2018, to include Gaza. Trump has also stated that he will send deportation officers to protests to target immigrants who support Hamas, in reality a threat against all protestors speaking out against the bloodbath in Gaza.

One thing is certain. Trump is no friend of working people. His main agenda will be to reward the CEOs and owners of big corporations and to to build his own financial empire. This will include weakening the labor movement and using the government to defeat working class struggles.

There is also a strong potential for Trump to overreach on a number of issues. This can provoke a backlash to his policies and provoke a broad crisis. International markets are much more fragile than during his last administration. Serious financial analysts fear if Trump pushes through an extreme policy on tariffs or further sharp cuts in taxes on the rich, it could trigger a financial implosion and/or an economic recession. This could create a political and social crisis as Trump fumbles to find any measured response.

Trump’s policies and attacks could trigger a revival of struggles, further revive the labor movement and trigger a growth of the socialist left. However the stakes for such struggles will also be tremendously high and defeat would have major consequences. This points to the critical need for the left to draw lessons from the past period, especially the need for independent sustained organization, clear leadership and a bold program. The Economist, an international business publication, warns the ruling class: “If Mr. Trump is broadly corrupting of American politics, and businesses are seen to profit from his rule, that poses a big risk to them in the future. In Latin America, when big businesses have become associated with autocrats, the result was usually that capitalism was discredited and the appeal of socialism rose.”

Project 2025

If Trump were to win a second term after blatantly trying to overturn the results of the 2020 election and inciting the attempted coup on January 6, it would would shake the whole system of capitalist democracy to its core. The goal of Trump 2.0 would be to create an authoritarian regime more like Hungary or even Turkey where the media and state apparatus are under the direct control of one party and its leaders and dissent is dangerous. Capitalist democracy exists to serve the interests of the rich but this outcome would also be a direct threat to the right of working people and the oppressed to organize in their own defense. It would be an even more brutal and naked dictatorship of capital.

Under the banner of “Project 2025,” a coalition of right-wing organizations is preparing for a Trump presidency that will not only surround the president with hardline loyalists, but also expand presidential power. This will involve making dramatic changes to government bodies under federal authority to bring them under direct presidential control. Under capitalism, no arm of the state operates in a truly independent or “nonpartisan” manner, but the prospect of the entire machinery of the federal government under the control of Trumpism is rightly frightening for many working people.

How do we get out of this mess?

Trump’s re-election would mean a dramatic setback for workers and youth, both in the US and internationally. The key responsibility for this disaster would lie with Biden and the Democrats. The Biden administration has escalated Trump’s economic war with China and increased military tensions, poured billions into wars and presided over a huge transfer of wealth from workers to the ruling class. Because working people lack a positive alternative to vote for, it’s likely that Trump would win the presidential election, were it held today – not because the American people are a hopeless, reactionary mass, but because the political options are so dreadful and a lot of people stay home. Of course, a lot can happen between now and then.

How do we get out of this mess? There are no shortcuts to building a political force to represent working people. The Democratic Party can’t offer this alternative. But neither can independents like Robert F Kennedy Jr., a former Democrat who is increasingly moving to the populist right in order to court a section of Trump’s base.

We urgently need to forge a mass movement in the US which takes aim at all wars, bi-partisan anti-migrant policies, and organizes for Medicare for All, a cancellation of student debt, and a Green New Deal. The potential for such a movement can be seen in the mass protests that have swept Germany in recent weeks. Over a million people have marched against the far right AfD party whose support has been growing alarmingly. This is the scale of fightback we need against our own reactionary threat here at home.

In a longer term sense, one of the most critical projects that the American working class needs to take up is the creation of our own political party that makes no concessions to corporate or right-wing politics. We need a party that is truly democratic and fights for the very ideas that inspired millions to get involved in the Bernie Sanders campaigns in 2016 and 2020. The construction of a working-class political alternative to the Democrats and Republicans is the only way we can stop the never ending cycle of “lesser-evil” matchups like Trump vs. Biden.