A great event can throw into sharp relief the virtues and flaws of political tendencies. Regarding the anti-climactic report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the greatness lies in the loudness of the dog that didn’t bark. Evidently there are no new indictments of Trump cronies, nor hard evidence of Trump collusion with the Russian state.
For Trumpaphobic, MSNBC obsessives who have placed their hopes on the machinery of state bringing down the president, this Hindenburg ending leaves them deflated, if not in flames. Meanwhile, radicals who reject the legitimacy of that legal process remain in a political wilderness, armed with little more than their alienation. And finally, it hardly needs to be said, the glorious victory of another week without being indicted is just the latest dubious achievement of our toxic, ruling junta.
It happens a lot with some liberals. They focus their discontent on a clear but narrow point of criticism and work it energetically. But when it fails or falls apart, they are left at a loss. For instance, in the case of the run-up to the Iraq war, we got assorted procedural objections to invasion. There was no buy-in from the UN. We should keep inspecting for weapons of mass destruction.
The foundational point was glossed over. Iraq was no kind of existential threat to the security of the U.S., with or without WMDs, and in fact the entire enterprise was never motivated by any concern for U.S. national security. The same process is playing out now with respect to Iran and Venezuela. There is no meaningful liberal bulwark against some new U.S. military misadventure in either of those places. If you indulge economic warfare, it is not a giant step to the military kind.
Now in the case of Trump, liberal hopes hinge on a continuing uprising in the suburbs. To be sure, there is ample evidence of such discontent, mostly recently in the midterm electoral successes of Democratic candidates for Congress. The suburban campaign, however, is founded on generalized revulsion at the plethora of corrupt practices on display in the Administration, as well as the Russian suspicions. This posture is at odds with the actual habits of winning Democratic candidates in 2018, who talked more about health care and other pocket-book issues than about Trump. Matt Taibbi made a useful point, that raising expectations on the legal front will turn out to be unhelpful, if not backfire.
The shortcoming of the legalistic, suburban approach is that it fails to unravel the hard core of Trump’s support – the 35 percent or so who block most Republican senators from basic human behavior. They don’t care about Trump’s crimes; in fact, these crimes, as well as his Putin friendship, fortify his above-the-law, ‘big man’ persona, and his pretense to the power to right all wrongs.
Trump’s constituency needs to be demobilized, broken up, and ultimately eliminated as a political force. For one thing, it shelters a smaller but homicidal contingent from which terrorist attacks have been staged against an assortment of minorities. To impeach Trump, enough supporters need to be peeled off to flip the U.S. Senate. The same goes for winning the Electoral College in 2020. For that to be within reach, class politics are required. The extent of Trump’s support from the “white working class” has often been exaggerated, but it is not insignificant.
The fact is that, uncomfortable though it may be, racist voters can be mobilized to useful ends. The Democratic Party and the welfare state have advanced to their current state in no small part thanks to such votes. These voters can be approached without resort to racist appeals, which appeals would in fact be totally, stupidly counter-productive considering the trending, Democratic Party base.
For its part, most of the left rejected the entire Mueller project, and worked itself into a posture of quiescence with respect to an explicitly neo-fascist president. Imagine for a second that Russia is entirely out of the picture, as far as the 2016 election and the White House are concerned. In the face of the president’s lengthy criminal career and the avalanche of misdeeds by his cronies, his children, and his Cabinet members, is there not a target-rich environment for any garden-variety leftist?
Although it requires getting more deeply into the weeds, the contrast between the current Administration and its 2016 alternative – the Clinton political machine – should be obvious. There is no category of domestic policy where anything that Hillary Clinton might have initiated could possibly have been worse than what Trump has either done, tried to do, or aims to do. Anyone who doesn’t understand this has not been paying attention. The gradient is clear – the Republicans are worse in every dimension, to a non-trivial degree.
This should be starkly obvious in the field of foreign policy. From this standpoint, the misgivings of those who failed to vote Democratic in 2016 because of purported dangers of Hillary starting World War III shift from misguided to idiotic. The greater threats of Trump to peace, compared to Clinton, are undeniable. What some have missed is that isolationism in the case of Trump does not mean abstention from violent meddling in foreign affairs. It means rejecting traditional alliances, but finding new alliances among less savory, traditional U.S. adversaries. It also finds political sustenance in threatening other countries. Fascists subsist on fantasies of violence. Fascists in power have the means to actually play out such fantasies.
But this still understates the reality. We need to step back to see the bigger picture: Trump would lead the U.S. into an international coalition of neo-fascist regimes. Some on the left might celebrate the passing of an ancien neoliberal regime responsible for numerous crimes since World War II. Its successor, however, promises to be worse. To their credit, Bernie Sanders and Yanis Varoufakis have taken a stand on this front.
The prominence of Russia in this new, revolting constellation leads some to caution against Cold War or Red Scare rhetoric. But there is no communism under attack. An anti-Russian/Putin message has no negative implications for efforts in the U.S. to advance the welfare state or the well-being of the working class. There can’t be a Red Scare without Reds. Instead the Putin regime should be called what it is – an expansionist, authoritarian criminal syndicate that participates in attacks on the working classes of other countries, not least of all, our own.
Some folks are still running on the fumes of U.S.-Soviet Friendship Society talk. Sure, nuclear war would be really bad. Nobody wants it. We ought to seek peaceful coexistence with the Russian state. But there are a lot of ways to constructively reckon with the current, rightward drift of the Russia short of Armageddon.
Trump has advanced the interests of Russia in several overarching, strategic ways. He has downgraded the NATO alliance. This helps Putin. (That we don’t need that alliance is a separate question.) He has promoted the break-up of the European Union, through support for ‘Brexit’ and for neo-fascist regimes in continental Europe. (The EU has grave shortcomings, but not as many as a Europe salted with neo-fascist regimes, with no EU to check their worst anti-democratic impulses.) He has blocked aggressive implementation of sanctions enacted by the Congress. He has rejected the human rights framework, all its hypocrisies notwithstanding, that would be basic to criticism of Putin, and prospectively to other dictators. He seeks to bring discredit on the U.S. government’s own counter-intelligence capabilities while resting satisfied on the “very strong” protestations of innocence from Putin.
This is really a Marxian moment – Groucho, not Karl. Who are you going to believe, me or your lyin’ eyes? Trump collaborates with Putin. It could not be more obvious. And Putin does not have the interests of the U.S. working class at heart. The election is over; whether Putin decisively tilted the result, difficult to know under any circumstances, is secondary. It’s obvious which side he and his Wikileaks poodle were on.
Arguments about the degree and details of the collaboration, about its strictly legal ramifications, are all beside the point, if of great interest to journalists, political scientists, and lawyers. Under current circumstances, the Senate is not going to vote to impeach. We’ve got a neo-fascist president who has taken over the country’s conservative party, done considerable damage to the welfare state, and unleashed murderous hounds from the bowels of the Internet-fed grass roots.
The alliance with Putin is secondary in this sense, but salient in light of the international ramifications of the regimes and political tendencies to which Trump and Russia lend comfort. How about a little internationalism, comrades?
For his crimes, both past and ongoing, Trump should be brought to account. The political focus, however, should not be on graft and legally unconfirmable, politically invulnerable collusion with a foreign power. Rather, it should be twofold: on attacks on our basic democratic norms, economic security, racial justice, and environmental sustainability; and, second, on threats to peace embodied in aggressive acts towards countries who pose no threat to the security of the U.S.
The focus on scandal is analogous to the frenzied horserace coverage of polls in the heat of election campaigns. Scandal is diverting, and when sex is involved it is huge fun. It is also a distraction from the overarching ideological struggle – socialism or barbarism – on which our survival depends.