Barriers to Trumpism

Submitted by AWL on 26 January, 2021 - 5:16 Author: Martin Thomas
Black Lives Matter demo

Part of an ongoing debate: see here for all the contributions

In the White House there is no longer Donald Trump. In US politics, though, there is still a large if inchoate Trumpist movement which believes that the November 2020 election result was rigged and Joe Biden is president only thanks to a coup by the “deep state”.

Donald Trump is a fascist in the sense that he aims for rule unregulated by bourgeois-democratic constraints, and has worked to build a mass plebeian movement to help him overthrow those constraints.

He is an incompetent, uncourageous fascist, unsteady of purpose, and operating in a system where the powers of the US president are still hemmed and cramped. The Trumpist movement is the product of decades of growth of far-right currents inside the structures of Republican politics and of the bringing-in of the militia movements which until Trump were largely outside electoral politics, but is as yet only a chaotic coalition.

The US has elements of fascism, with the danger of them cohering, rather than a cohered fascist movement.

So Trump didn’t manage to “build the wall”, or jail Hillary Clinton, or for that matter to run a big infrastructure-rebuilding program. He couldn’t quell the Black Lives Matter protests. He was unable to keep his promise to defy the November 2020 popular vote. His clumsy efforts have driven at least a segment of Republican Congress people to come out against him, as they almost all failed to do during his presidency. They were sincerely alarmed at having to flee for their lives on 6 January.

Maybe Trump personally will now fade. But there are others in his circle with the same attitudes and potentially able to succeed him in leading the Trumpist movement.

In the USA now, Republicans, although they are a relative minority, are stronger at grassroots politics, “in gun clubs and churches”, as one researcher put it, where the Democrats depend more on e-campaigning and canvassing areas by volunteers drafted in from outside.

If the Republican party were a proper political party in the European sense, it would be splitting now. It is not. It is more a sub-system of the official, legally-demarcated electoral structures of the US polity. There may be in Congress a return towards the wider differentiation historically standard within both big US parties. But the Trumpists look still to have the power to win primaries and intimidate the politicians.

The Republicans will also be cohered in Congress by their likely obdurate obstruction of whatever mild reforms Biden attempts. Biden is no radical, and even as a minority in the Senate, the Republicans can block almost everything by “the filibuster”. They will obstruct both because of the pressure of the Trumpist base “in gun clubs and churches”, and just because they are very right-wing.

The US political system makes legislation by Congress very difficult, and decrees by the President over the heads of Congress quite difficult.

The conditions of capitalist prosperity and growth which the US has enjoyed for most of its history have not been generated by a special elasticity in its political system. On the contrary, they have allowed arthritic political structures, and consequent vastly-deficient social infrastructure, to subsist as a tolerable burden.

We don’t know when the pandemic will subside, and what prospects will follow. But most likely, the next years will be a time of social decay and impasse, in which increasing sections of the ruling class become more impatient with a paralysed polity.

Fascism typically does not triumph by popular uprisings. Sometimes it uses military coups; sometimes it creates such an ungovernable opposition that the the decisive circles of the ruling class conclude that the only way to effective government is to have the far-right in office, sobered by collaboration with other parties and with permanent state officials, rather than in opposition.

The great barrier to that danger is not the supposed toughness and elasticity of the ancient US constitution. It is not the newly-discovered (but for how long?) bourgeois-democratic virtue of a section of Republican Congress people.

It is the movement from below. The great surge of Black Lives Matter demonstrations. The spluttering uptick of strikes before the pandemic, and the rash of small unofficial strikes even in the pandemic. The quick expansion of socialistic sentiment among younger Americans, expressed in the Sanders campaigns.

Those have the potential, at the least, to teach the decisive sections of the ruling class that an attempt at “full Trumpism” in four or eight years’ time would produce even more ungovernable responses than the Biden administration will face from the right; to force them to make serious concessions to racial and social equality and to functioning, responsive democracy; to generate real anti-fascist united fronts.

And they can begin to generate a working-class socialist movement capable of turning US capitalism upside-down.

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