This article originally appeared on the Common Dreams news site on Oct. 22, 2020.
As the national election approaches, President Trump has made clear his threat to reject the results of an election he loses. Such an eventuality will pose the need for the American people to rally in their millions to remove this malignant authoritarian from office. A broad united front mobilized in street demonstrations, strikes, sit-ins and other non-violent actions may be necessary to defend the most basic democratic integrity of the election.
Actually, the need to mobilize a popular rebellion against Trump has been there from day one of his administration. Tax cuts for corporations and the ultra-wealthy, separating immigrant children from their parents at the border, encouragement of police violence and racist, far-right hate groups, a declared vow to overturn abortion rights and threats to undo even the modest health reforms of the Affordable Care Act, all mark this presidency as an absolute human rights disaster.
Trump’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic further has exposed with painful acuity the profound corruption and criminality at the heart of this administration. Characterized by endless lies, a contemptuous disregard for public health science, Trump’s “leadership” while more than 220,000 Americans have died from Covid-19 constitutes one of the greatest betrayals of the people’s interests in the history of the nation.
What to do? As a socialist, I don’t support Democratic candidate Joe Biden’s center-right Democratic politics. Indeed, for those whose political ideals embrace an end to class inequality, support for workplace democracy and opposition to global imperialism, what is there to support? Should we politically support Biden because he thinks one answer to police violence is to better train the Blue Meanies to shoot people in the legs instead of the heart? Or because Biden will only vote to launch invasions of other nations (e.g. Iraq, Afghanistan) after careful, responsible deliberation, in the manner of the seasoned statesman of the imperial order that he is?
Let us also be clear about something. The Wall Street-friendly legacy of the Clinton-Obama brand of liberal politics has much to do with the rise of Trump to the presidency. For decades now, the Democratic political establishment has overseen the betrayal of progressive and working-class hopes and interests. The concentration and consolidation of elite corporate power in the American economy has proceeded along with little resistance from the Democratic leadership. While the wealth gap has grown to obscene levels of inequality, the United States has excelled only in becoming the world’s leading mass incarceration state.
The latter reality bears down most cruelly on minorities, with Blacks incarcerated in state prisons now at rates five times higher than whites. The U.S. criminal justice system has evolved into a battering ram of social injustice, led by a nationwide front-line of approximately 700,000 law enforcement officers and buttressed by a racist prosecutorial system that dispenses long, often unduly harsh sentences on minorities and poor people.
The Lesser America. Indeed, from police who use “less lethal” weapons to political leaders who say “lesser-evil” politics is our only hope, the results are always similar. Get a rubber bullet in the eye for your peaceful protests. Elect a Wall Street liberal whose orations about equality and justice never betray their dutiful service to the corporate establishment. While millions live in poverty, unable even now to afford health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a small financial elite dominates the economy. As Rupert Neate for The Guardian recently reported, “The world’s current super-rich people hold the greatest concentration of wealth since the US Gilded Age at the turn of the 20th century, when families such as the Carnegies, Rockefellers and Vanderbilts controlled vast fortunes.”
Does the current electoral choice between center-right Biden and far-right Trump even remotely offer a way out of a system that has created such an unequal and unfair society? Not likely. The political establishment is seamlessly integrated into an entrenched system of corporate lobbyists, financial institutions, military-industrial and high-tech monopolies that comprise the upper echelons of American privilege, influence, and wealth.
The socioeconomic status quo is further bolstered by corporate media interests whose insidious prejudice against socialist reformers like Bernie Sanders works to prevent a socialist takeover of the Democratic Party. Thus, we enter the Twilight Zone world of the MSNBC and CNN pundits where Sanders, ranked in recent times in polls as the most popular politician in the nation, somehow translates into Sanders being unelectable nationally. This, despite the fact that 80 percent of Democratic voters support a non-profit Medicare-for-All plan, which has been a hallmark of the Sanders campaigns.
In fact, the impressive grassroots popularity of Sanders self-proclaimed socialist primary campaigns in 2016 and 2020 speaks to the yearning of millions of Americans, especially younger people, for a different kind of politics. This yearning for progressive social change is also reflected in the popularity of left-wing Democrats like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), and other new voices elected to Congress. The growth of the youth-oriented Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), with membership spiking into the tens of thousands since Trump took office, along with the growing popularity of publications such as Jacobin magazine, further speak to the percolating desires of many Americans for radical social change.
But the deep, abiding desire for social change is felt most powerfully in the sustained, earth-shaking mobilizations in the streets of Black Americans and their supporters for an end to racist police violence. All this dissident fervor cries out for a new, independent oppositional political organization, for a break from the conservatizing stranglehold of old-line Democratic Party politics. We certainly don’t need Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) ending the recent Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearings on Trump’s Supreme Court nominee with a hug for Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC), praising some idea she has about collegial bipartisanship among Senate colleagues while Republicans get ready to install another anti-abortion extremist on the Supreme Court.
A New Way, a New Society. With a catastrophic pandemic economy plunging millions into poverty, the moment cries out for a new way. Today, months into the pandemic, Trump isn’t even pretending anymore to support social measures to combat Covid-19, adopting a kind of “herd immunity” approach to Covid-19 that amounts to mass murder.
The situation is so dire The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) recently took the unprecedented step for them of calling for the current administration to be replaced. “When it comes to the response to the largest public health crisis of our time, our current political leaders have demonstrated that they are dangerously incompetent,” declared the journal’s editorial without citing Trump by name. “We should not abet them and enable the deaths of thousands more Americans by allowing them to keep their jobs.”
For similar reasons, the science journal Nature endorsed Biden in an October 14 editorial. As the editors concluded, “No US president in recent history has so relentlessly attacked and undermined so many valuable institutions, from science agencies to the media, the courts, the Department of Justice — and even the electoral system. Trump claims to put ‘America First’. But in his response to the pandemic, Trump has put himself first, not America.”
Today, some on the left might claim Trump is no worse than George W. Bush, the Republican president whose military invasion of Iraq in 2003 led to hundreds of thousands of war-related deaths, according to estimates by Brown University’s Costs of War project. But all this proves only that a case exists to indict George W. Bush as a war criminal, leader of an American administration whose policies led to mass death, torture, and destruction of a nation’s infrastructure.
With the Covid-19 death toll at tragic proportions and rising, Trump is now giving Bush a run for his money. But taking stock of a leader’s politics is not just a matter of adding up the victims. What matters is where things are going? Today, Trump is encouraging far-right white supremacist threats against liberals, Democrats, and Black Lives Matter supporters. He is calling the nation’s top infectious disease expert an “idiot,” attacking CNN for spending too much time reporting on the pandemic, while organizing campaign rallies that flagrantly violate anti-pandemic public health measures. Incredibly, Trump is also calling for his Democratic political rivals, including Joe Biden, to be arrested. The specter of justifications for what amount to a threatened coup hangs in the air.
If the election offers the people the chance to excise this tumorous growth from the body politic, toss Trump on history’s garbage heap where he belongs with all the other authoritarians, dictators, militarists, and fascists of all stripes, who could disagree? It’s hard now to tell suffering Americans, so many of whom have lost loved ones to the scourge of an infectious disease, not to vote Trump out, even if it means voting for an establishment Democrat who is an alternative to Trump, but not to the failing socio-economic and political system that created him.
There’s movement stirring now for new politics going forward, such as the recently formed Movement for a People’s Party (MPP). There are independent elected socialists on city councils in Chicago and elsewhere now, aligned with Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). In Seattle, city council socialist Kshama Sawant has become a focal point for local grassroots resistance to corporate power. There are other initiatives, too, such as the coalition of Labor and Community for an Independent Party (LCIP), that are getting organized. All show the promise for independent political alternatives to grow and take shape in the United States, offering potentially important new working-class alternatives to dead-end mainstream politics.
In many respects, Trump is the embodiment in the flesh of end-stage capitalism, in all its soulless greed and injustice. He is the police-state authoritarian and venerator of military violence, the calculating Machiavellian who only knows what’s in it for him. He is the cold-hearted sociopath for whom normal human emotions like empathy and compassion are alien values. He is the man obsessed with money and profits. But Trump isn’t an invader from Mars, he’s our own homegrown American nightmare.
Trump’s far-right politics are turning the United States into a kind of lurid neo-fascist dystopia, a place of aggressive, bullying ignorance where police violence is celebrated, science is mocked, and a large right-wing base of supporters declare their blind faith in a political hustler who threatens what is left of the limited democracy of the United States. Even without Trump in office, the far-right politics he represents are not going away. Nor can we expect Biden with his tired old austerity politics to rise fully to the challenges of pandemic America, as jobs and health benefits vanish into air and many millions of people plunge into poverty.
Regardless of who wins the election, independent mass struggles for a just and equitable society are on the agenda. If there is hope for the future, it will grow out of these grassroots struggles for genuine democracy and working-class empowerment.