What is really going on at Trump Tower and why it isn't fascism
by Chris Nineham
Inappropriate use of the F-word misleads and disorientates at a time when clarity is key, warns Chris Nineham
No wonder people are protesting all over the US. It’s going to be a groundbreakingly horrible presidency. Previously fringe discourse - casual condemnation of Muslims, Mexicans, unashamedly misogynistic and racist drivel - is now coming from the main stage of US politics. From forced deportations to the new Mexican wall, chilling and provocative policy proposals just keep on coming. Hard right groups and fanatical reactionaries are rejoicing, and from what I hear from US friends, minorities and most straight-thinking people are shuttling between deep anxiety and outrage.
As Trump hunkers down to select his administration, both responses are in order. Steve Bannon, now Trump's main strategy advisor, is a racist fanatic who wants to turn the clock back on all sorts of gains made last century. The list of cabinet possibles is a roll call of reactionaries including Rudi Giuliani, Sarah Palin and John Bolton. Trump’s own record of bigoted outbursts hardly needs repeating.
But when it comes to the real policy direction, there are more unknowns than knowns. The way things actually shape up will depend on just how ideological Trump turns out to be, the nature of his team, and most importantly, his interpenetration with the state machine.
Reports suggest the president elect is having a tricky time in Trump Tower with what commentators laughingly call 'the balancing act' between unsavoury characters jockeying for places on his team. This reflects his first and biggest problem; how to maintain an outsider image when he is really going to be at the centre of the institutions of the World’s No.1 Capitalist State.
This immensely powerful bureaucracy will do its best to mould him according to the interests it serves, those of corporate America. It exists, amongst other things, to control and limit the difference elections make to actual policy. As even Bush supporting small-stater John Yoo argued earlier in the year, ‘A determined president acting alone can only temporarily rein in the bureaucracy. He would have to surrender enormous policy-making power back to Congress, exercise great vigilance in policing subordinates, and resist the temptation to solve all of society’s ills.'
And as the financial press has reported widely, the bulk of the US capitalist class are not keen on Trump. What is going on right now behind the scenes is an attempt at correction, at damage limitation. The extent of the pressure building on Trump within the establishment was on show on Thursday when more than 150 members of the House of Representatives signed a letter urging him to rescind Bannon's appointment.
The selection process is further complicated by the fact that this is a moment of real disagreement and tension within the Republican Party and the wider ruling class about how to take American capitalism forward at home and abroad when its power is under extreme challenge. There are differences over international trade policy, how to stimulate growth at home and how to deal with the rise of China, Russia and the crisis in the Middle East - all differences that will be inflamed by the election upset.
The cabinet that emerges will be an unpleasant and unstable concoction of these different tendencies. Undoubtedly it will represent a swing to the right for the US ruling class and will lead to intensified attacks on a spectrum of minorities, and on working people in general.
But the analogy that some people are making with the period when the Nazis took power in Germany is unhelpful, to put it mildly. Fascist regimes took power in the 1920s and 1930s on the basis of a broad agreement in ruling class circles that a radical break from previous forms of class rule was necessary in order to annihilate working class and other opposition in the aftermath of insurrectionary levels of struggle.
Amongst other things this involved mobilising armed militias from the middle classes and the unemployed to smash any and all resistance. In the words of Leon Trotsky, one of fascism's sharpest analysts:
'When a state turns fascist...it means first of all for the most part that the workers' organizations are annihilated; that the proletariat is reduced to an amorphous state; and that a system of administration is created which penetrates deeply into the masses and which serves to frustrate the independent crystallization of the proletariat. Therein precisely is the gist of fascism'.
No such process has taken place in the US thus far. It is possible that Trump may start to mobilise popular forces to smash up opposition and democratic organisations - there are clearly groups in the US that could be drafted in and developed to perform this kind of function. But any such moves would dramatically change the situation and take the crisis on to a completely new level.
They would cause grave concern amongst corporate leaders let alone anyone else. Given that he is now head of the most heavily armed state in world history it seems more likely that he will use these institutions to pursue whatever strategy he and his team develops on behalf of US capital.
It is clear too that whatever the exact balance of opinion, the bulk of his support base would not be ready for a full frontal assault on democracy. As the Financial Times reported, the bulk of his voters don't support mass deportations, let alone closing down democracy, as the FT reports, 'the Pew Research Center found that only 32 per cent of Trump backers were in favour of an effort to deport unauthorised immigrants."
Having a reasonably accurate assessment of the actual balance of forces matters because it is essential in trying to calibrate a viable counter strategy. To believe that the Trump victory is a fascist takeover is a counsel of despair, because it would mean the fight has already been lost when the truth is there is still everything to play for in a very dangerous situation.
Recognising that Trump's vote was not an improvement on previous republican votes is essential. So is absorbing the clear evidence that Trump's vote amongst workers - such as it was - was largely powered by anger over an economic system that hasn't delivered for working people in a generation. Identifying tensions within the ruling class is crucial, too, as they can open up space for victories from below. It is also worth considering that, given the state of the US economy, let alone his own inclinations, Trump is not going to be able to deliver on many of the promises he made to the working poor to win votes.
Because there is one factor in all this flux that the establishment - while monitoring it carefully - will not want to discuss publicly. That is how ordinary people react to the most right wing President ever. The big demonstrations already taking place, the momentum behind plans for protest on inauguration day, and the anger that clearly exists in US society, all point to the possibility of a popular pushback. That will require clear heads, and audacity. Defeatism just won't cut it.