Donald Trump

Are the Republicans,  one of the main parties of American capitalism, really going to choose Donald Trump as their candidate in next year’s presidential election?

He leads the field in the race for a candidate to face off against Democratic president Joe Biden and is well ahead in many crucial Republican states.

And that’s a sign of the ­growing disintegration of the US political establishment.

The disgraced former leader has already been found guilty of sexual abuse and faces two trials relating to fraud and the theft of ­government documents.

Last week he and six co-conspirators were also indicted to face charges of attempting to overturn the 2020 election. And they were charged in relation to the crowds that stormed Washington’s Capitol ­building on 6 January 2021.

Put together with his ­disastrous years in office— including his deadly mishandling of the Covid pandemic— it is shocking that Trump is still free to walk the streets.

Yet the charges are the tip of the iceberg. They have been deliberately arranged in ways that shield the wider political establishment from responsibility for crimes committed during his term in office.

Many commentators would have us believe that Trump alone poisoned the well of American politics. But the whole system was rotten long before his arrival.

Their strict focus on Trump as an individual malevolent politician serves to disguise how the Republican party has always been prepared to wade in filth to win office.

In the late 1960s as the Civil Rights and Black Power ­movements raged, senator Richard Nixon embraced white supremacists in a bid to win the White House.

He signed up Strom Thurmond, an arch-segregationist senator from South Carolina, who told him to ignore the “Jewish and Negro” vote and “go for Catholics” instead because “they’re afraid of Negroes”.

This infamous “Southern Strategy” got Nixon elected. It also legitimised waves of racist violence and brought the far right into the Republican fold.

A decade later presidential hopeful Ronald Reagan courted the new religious right that sermonised against Communists, homosexuality and racial integration.

Reagan nodded his approval, telling a revivalist rally, “I know that you can’t endorse me… but I want you to know that I endorse you.”

As president, Reagan laid waste to the overwhelmingly black and brown inner cities, allowed HIV/Aids to ravage LBGT+ communities, and smashed his way through trade unions.

In the 2010s, the Republicans fused with the rebel Tea Party movement that emerged in response to Barack Obama’s election as president. They howled with rage against the idea of a black person being the US Commander-in-Chief. Together they fumed that Obama was a secret Muslim “born in Kenya” who was in league with shadowy elites.

They waved Confederate flags and railed against “drugs, gangs and crime”—a well‑understood political dog whistle to racists.

It is out of this hard right sewer that Trump emerged.

He could have remained a marginal figure on the fringes of politics and TV game shows. But what catapulted him into power was the huge political and social crisis that followed the financial crash of 2008.

The consequences of the neoliberal era, and the austerity that followed, remain devastating.

President Obama’s Democrat government handed out more than a billion dollars to “save” the world’s ­biggest insurance companies and millions more to buy stock in major banks to stop them from collapsing.

The rich then gorged ­themselves on rising stock ­markets and profit dividends. 

The wealthiest 1 percent took home about 8.5 percent of US national income in 1976. After a generation of ­neoliberal policies, they grabbed over 20 ­percent of it.

Welfare for the top was matched by cuts for those below.

Whole industries were ­decimated, real wages went into free fall and services supposed to catch those that could no longer cope were shattered by cuts. Even those that thought of themselves as middle class saw the prospect of their lives ruined by the crash.

And, when Obama lent money to the ailing giants of the US car industry— General Motors and Chrysler—he demanded massive “restructuring” in return.

The result was mass layoffs and gutted wages. The Democrats used the recession to say that for the US to compete with its rivals, it too had to become a low wage economy.

Trump was ready with a ­message for those at the sharp end.

He said the US was in decline because the “Washington elite” had subordinated America’s national interests to those of others, such as China and the European Union.

Posing as a spokesman for the voiceless “American people”—rather than the multimillionaire fraudster that he is—Trump said a government he led would bring ­manufacturing jobs back home.

He would go further and reset the system in favour of ordinary people, he said. That meant building walls to keep out immigrants and fighting back at what was then called “political correctness”.

It was this message that ­enabled Trump to reach out beyond the ranks of traditional conservatism, which still made up the bulk of his support, and attract votes from the politically homeless, as well as some that had previously voted Democrat.

Around 20 percent of his vote in the 2016 presidential election came from those described by Forbes magazine as “anti-elite”—that is people that hated the political system.

A further 5 percent came from a group it described as “the disengaged”—people that didn’t follow politics but which blamed migrants for their problems.

These additions won Trump millions of votes that pollsters had never previously considered.

That the Republicans were able to cultivate votes from among workers too is entirely the responsibility of the Democrats, and their candidate Hilary Clinton, who promised to follow in Obama’s footsteps.

The rich loved Trump as they loved all previous Republican presidents that bowed to their agenda. The party had long since been their first choice for office.

Trump slashed taxes and government spending ­allowing stock markets and profits to boom. But some capitalists found his anti-globalisation rhetoric and the possibilities of a trade war with both China and the European Union disturbing.

As far as the bosses were ­concerned, globalisation had been a massive success for the US, and it was impossible to imagine the domination of firms such as Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Netflix without it.

So long as the cash flowed in, they were prepared to tolerate much of Trump’s hate speech and chaotic policy making. But they could not tolerate the 6 January assault on the Capitol that Trump called into being.

It was not that they wanted to defend democracy. 

After all, many ­multinational firms continued to bankroll dictators all over the world. But that the Washington revolt risked breaking the political system that enshrined ruling class power. 

The US constitution had served capital well.

Rupert Murdoch was among many when he said that he and his media firms would not back a future Trump presidential run.

But no matter the lack of such support, Trump and his supporters appear to have been successful in their takeover of the Republican Party, and even many of those that rival him mirror many of his key policies.

The Democrat strategy for defeating Trump seemingly rests on four key attack lines.

First, a generalised loathing of Trump—even among Republican voters.

Second, pushing the pro-war and pro-imperialist fear that he is too close to Russia and president Putin to be trusted with leading the slaughter in Ukraine.

Third, to use the recent, ­comparatively bright economic figures on unemployment, wages, and inflation to win back sections of workers that either peeled away to Trump or stopped voting altogether.

Fourth, to use the fear of Trump and what horrors he might bring in a second term, to discipline all those that long for something far better than Biden will offer.

Maybe that will be enough to get the Democrats through this round with Trump, but it won’t be enough to shut down a ­rampant right indefinitely.

For that we need far more radical forces to break from the straitjacket of the two-party system and embrace something that the US left used to know better—class struggle.

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