What if Trump 2.0 happens?

Whether Biden or Trump wins, we are heading for more unstable times

Hong Liuxing, chinaworker.info

Donald Trump is sweeping the Republican primaries. If there was an election in the US today, the polls say he would beat Biden. While the elections are still far away, Trump could very well return to the White House. There are warnings in the main Western capitalist publications that Trump could undo the US-led imperialist alliances built up on Biden’s watch as a counter to Chinese and Russian imperialism. Many Chinese nationalists are jubilant, calling him “Trump Builds China”.

But whether Trump or Biden wins, the boiling-hot temperatures of the global imperialist power struggle will only rise further. The likely rematch between the two candidates in November is itself an expression of the historic crisis facing American capitalism and its two-party system. But Chinese capitalism faces its own historic crisis and is in no position to gloat.

Attacks on migrants

On the home front, Trump’s campaign signals a renewed assault on immigrants, the workers’ movement, and the environment. He says he will build vast camps to hold undocumented migrants on the southern border, invoking the language of Hitler in saying migrants are “poisoning the blood” of America. His platform includes dismantling even the meagre steps toward green energy transition made under the current administration.

However, Biden hardly offers a stark contrast. Under his watch, the rate of forced migrant deportations nearly doubled last year over 2022. The Democrats have also presided over the greatest defeat for US women’s rights this century with the loss of abortion rights. Biden, alongside the so-called, left progressive “Squad” that includes Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other “democratic socialists” in Congress lined up together to outlaw the rail workers’ strike in 2022.

Marxists oppose all capitalist parties. During an election, while the masses are drawn into politics, organisations on the left will face pressure to side with the supposed “lesser evil”. Instead, Marxists call for a new mass party of the working class. One that genuinely represents labour, opposes imperialism, fights oppression, and aims to put working people in charge of society and the economy from top to bottom.

Not like 2016

Biden’s hardline defence of Israel as it commits horrific war crimes in Gaza has further undermined his support. In key battleground states, Muslim and Arab Americans have launched campaigns to #AbandonBiden. This, and historically low Black support for the Democrats, could cost Biden the election.

Unlike Trump’s victory in 2016, the Republican Party today is stocked full of Trump allies. They hope to use his election to conduct a deep purge of the state and governmental apparatus and massively expand presidential powers. Dubbed “Project 2025”, they want to give Trump greater powers to implement his domestic and foreign agendas. Their aim would be to introduce authoritarian controls over the media reminiscent of regimes in Turkey or Hungary. We are already seeing a slew of anti-LGBTQ education legislation at the level of different states.

This ultra-reactionary agenda is not the preferred option of the US ruling class, but could be the explosive result of their system in crisis. In the event of Trump winning, there is a high likelihood his agenda will overstep and backfire. Historic mass movements could develop fostering a broader socialist and anti-system consciousness amongst young people and workers.

In his first term, Trump threatened to pull out of NATO. More recently, his threat that the US would refuse to defend member countries not meeting NATO defence spending targets from Russian attack has raised alarm bells in Europe. There is a populist element in this: it resonates with the growing war-weariness of the US masses.

Yet just like many of his first-term threats, this is likely a bluff and a negotiating tactic. Trump employs a form of rhetorical brinkmanship. Rather than break-up NATO, Trump wants to make Europe pay more for it. Since Trump’s first term NATO has undergone a transformation brought about by the Ukraine war. From just four countries in 2017, last year twelve of NATO’s 32 members met the target by spending at least two percent of GDP on defence. In 2024, this is projected to rise to 18 countries. So in reality, Trump’s line has prevailed. NATO has added a colossal US$600 billion in military spending since 2014. Indeed, Europe’s capacity to produce shells is set to outstrip the US. This gigantic arms bill is being paid by the working class through pension and welfare cuts and decimated public services.

Trump’s Republican allies in the US Congress have held up a US$60 billion weapons package for Ukraine. But of course, this is not out of any pacifist sentiment. Trump instead seeks to push for loans rather than “gifting” military aid, aiming to extract a bigger payoff from US hegemony. Furthermore, Trump’s cynical “anti-war” comments regarding Ukraine are totally undercut by his support for Israel’s “total victory” over the rubble of Gaza.

Europe and China

In China, the CCP dictatorship hopes to split the US and Europe, with foreign minister Wang Yi trying to court European leaders, highlighting Xi Jinping’s “consistent and stable” policies compared to the unstable Trump. Nevertheless, the CCP’s hopes for an “independent” Europe capable of becoming a third pole – a more China-friendly pole – in the imperialist conflict will be dashed.

The strategy of European leaders is still to try and keep a future Trump presidency committed to Ukraine, whose victory or defeat will have massive ramifications for the global balance of forces between the US-led and China-led imperialist blocs. As a hedge against the possible impact of a Trump victory, NATO’s chief Stoltenberg has said it is “inevitable that Ukraine will join” NATO. This is coupled with new laws passed by Congress to rein in Trump’s volatility. Last year, legislation was passed that would require a majority in the House or two-thirds in the Senate for any president to withdraw from NATO. Ultimately, the idea that the pro-Western Ukrainian regime will just be “abandoned” by the West under Trump is unlikely.

Marxists and ISA oppose the imperialist war in Ukraine, but we are also clear in warning against any imperialist “peace” deal. The only force that can end this horror is a massive global anti-war movement in support of Ukrainian and Russian workers fighting to overthrow capitalism and thereby create the conditions for genuine peace.

Trump threatens to impose a whopping 60 percent tariff on all China’s imports. This kind of “China bashing” will make Beijing nervous throughout the election period, as no matter who wins it will shift the US government towards even harsher measures against China. Any further “Trump tariffs” will not only hurt Chinese exports to the US but also to Europe. Goods driven away from the US market towards Europe will provoke greater protectionism from the European capitalists. Macron’s push for European EV tariffs could hit as soon as July, one Bloomberg article reports. This will spell big trouble for the gigantic mounds of unsold Chinese cars building up at home.

Trump’s former top trade representative Robert Lighthizer, who may make a comeback if Trump wins, proposes to remove China from the US’s “most preferred trading partner” category. This is a list of all countries except Cuba, North Korea, Russia and Belarus. The effect would be to cut China’s share of US imports from around 14 percent currently to just three percent. Such a savage escalation of the trade war that began eight years ago could actually trigger a global slump.

“Abandon” Taiwan?

Whether in this convulsive manner or under Biden’s more phased approach, decoupling will clearly accelerate as world capitalism splits into two imperialist blocs. More Chinese trade was conducted in yuan than in dollars last year. Biden’s trade policies can be seen as a continuation of Trump’s first term agenda with the US reshoring supply chains back to itself. “So, Trump was right?” said an audience member at the recent Indo-Pacific trade talks.

One theme in the Western bourgeois press is that Trump’s so-called “indifference to Taiwan” could invite China to invade. Japan’s Nikkei newspaper warned of the possibility he might “sleepwalk” into abandoning Taiwan during a war. Beijing’s propagandists have seized on this news to boisterously proclaim that the island will go from a “chess piece” to an “abandoned piece”.

But mostly, what irks Trump is Taiwan’s dominant share of global semiconductor production. On this score, Taiwan’s ruling class is already acceding to US pressure, with its leading chip manufacturer TSMC setting up a US$40 billion plant in Arizona. Trump’s real position on Taiwan is ambiguous, boasting that “China won’t try anything under my watch”.

From the standpoint of US imperialism, if a Trump presidency was to abandon Taiwan, that would mark a point of no return. As Marxists have explained, this scenario would signify a historic defeat for US imperialism, with far greater consequences than the defeat in the Vietnam war. America would be reduced to a (Western) hemispheric power. Its loss of dominance in Asia would cause the US-led bloc to unravel as various governments tried instead to negotiate a place at China’s table.

The coming US election reveals the terrible crisis of global capitalism and its number one superpower. Whether with Biden or Trump, we are entering a far more unstable period with an accelerating imperialist power struggle. The historic crisis in China, America’s only serious economic and military rival, completes the picture of a world in total disarray. This underscores the urgent need to build an international, socialist labour movement to overthrow capitalism and imperialism.