Part of an ongoing debate: see here for all the contributions
Thomas Carolan begins his latest article on the Trump phenomenon with these words, “US democracy is in its greatest crisis since the civil war of the 1860s.”
Is it really?
So the crisis is worse than the ending of Reconstruction after the 1876 election, which allowed the imposition of Jim Crow and white terror? Worse than the repression used against the labour movement in the period after the US entered the First World War, the rebuilding of the KKK and widespread lynch-law and racist violence?
Worse than McCarthyism?
This election was worse than the run up to 1968, with the assassination of Robert Kennedy, and the police attacks at the Democratic Convention? The time when an open Jim Crow segregationist, George Wallace, won nearly ten million votes and carried five states?
Anyway, let me concede a point. It may be the case that we look back at the Trump Presidency, from some years in the future, and see a turning point when a struggle for US democracy became central. So let’s discuss this, without exaggerations.
For the time being Trump – and the amorphous movement aligned with him - has just been seriously defeated. This seems an obvious point to make, and I only make it for clarity and because I suspect it might even be contentious.
In fact, given Trump is an ostentatious, preposterous right-wing demagogue with a mass base, one way of looking at the 6 January riot is: is that it? Frankly, I expected much worse from Trump and his supporters. I expected him to call people onto the streets from November. And the fact that we didn’t see much worse underlines the point: Trump is not a Nazi, he is a weird right-wing chancer who wanted to maintain personal power, but without a plan to destroy US democracy.
The current aggregated polling figures on 5-38 suggest 58% of the US electorate disapprove of Trump, 38% approve. His polling numbers took a very serious hit following the 6 January riot.
As early as 15 January Pew polling showed: “Trump is leaving the White House with the lowest job approval of his presidency (29%) and increasingly negative ratings for his post-election conduct. The share of voters who rate Trump’s conduct since the election as only fair or poor has risen from 68% in November to 76%.”
True, Trump is not out of politics, and his supporters remain a threat. But his support base is confused and disorientated. Many of the rioters have been arrested and charged with serious crimes.
QAnon, for example, is in crisis.
The Financial Times reports that Facebook has removed more than 40,000 QAnon Facebook and Instagram pages and accounts since August 2020. Their supporters expected the mass execution of Democrats on 20 January, but instead Biden was installed President. They are confused.
Carolan is not interested in things that get in the way of his thesis (vote Biden, orientate to the Democrats, denounce Trump as a fascist).
In fact the real fascists have denounced Trump after he renounced the Capitol rioters.
I am not saying Trump was not a problem as President. Of course he was. And Trump could be a serious political problem in the future? Yes, he might be. And if he isn’t, presumably someone else will try to take his place.
I’m also not saying the right movement has gone away, either. Its roots pre-date Trump; it was supercharged by the aftermaths of the 2008 economic crisis and feeds off problems which have not been solved.
“In four years Trump ripped apart the culture of agreed ways and means, agreed procedures,” writes Carolan. Yes, he did. But that culture is reasserting itself. US democracy is strong and resilient (And I write that while also knowing, of course, that it is not impregnable and it is possible to undermine and damage democracy, too).
The US is not Turkey, for example. Sure Erdogan, Modi, Bolsanaro, Johnson and the Brexit vote, are all products of the same worldwide crisis. But local traditions and conditions are important too.
The US has enormous power and money, with traditions of free speech and liberty of the individual that will not just be blown away easily. The US has a ruling class with no interest in throwing support behind QAnon or Proud Boy crazies.
And, while we discuss international parallels, the events of 6 January differed from the riot of 6 February 1934, in Paris, where the first result was the fall of Daladier and a new government under Doumergue. The election and 6 January was a defeat for US right, when Biden replaced Trump, a setback, not a step forward.
The US ruling class opposes the Trump movement. And it is not just the tiresome “liberal” elite that runs the social media companies that have banned him recently that have clearly rejected Trumpism. The big investment banks, Marriott Hotels, CocaCola, AT&T, Walmart and, most recently, Microsoft’s political funding committees have pulled money from Republicans who defend Trump’s claim that the Presidential election was rigged.
Deutsche Bank has stopped banking for Trump’s businesses. Signature Bank has closed two of Trump’s personal accounts.
Trump faces various lawsuits. So do some of those around him. Rudy Giuliani faces a $1.3bn lawsuit lodged by Dominion Voting for lying about electoral fraud.
Carolan states that the Republican Party is in flux and that Trump controls it (as any decent fascist would). Well, it can’t be both.
Reuters has completed an interesting survey of the opinions of Republican Representatives. Almost none of them actually believe that Trump won the election. Those that voted to not recognise Biden’s victory did so out of fear of the Republican base. However, that is more problematic than it might seem: Reuters write that about a third of those representatives face electorates where they might lose their seats if they are associated with such lies about the election.
It is difficult to know how the tensions will play out.
Carolan states that Trump “brought over 60 cases of alleged electoral fraud, every one of which he lost.” Indeed, including at the Supreme Court, packed by him. Which underlines my point: US democracy has not been overrun, despite four years of Trump’s rule. And, if I concede, for the next ten seconds, that Trump is a fascist, perhaps Carolan might concede, in turn, that Trump is an incompetent fascist.
Yes, there is now a real danger of right-wing terrorism. But that has become more probable precisely because of the defeat of Trump and of the movement around him.
It is most likely, now, that the right wing mass movement will emerge around future elections and, in particular, the run up to the next Presidential election. Unfortunately that movement might well thrive because the Biden-Democrat government will solve none of the problems faced by US workers.
A lot now rests on the activity of the US left. And our solidarity with them.