Millions around the globe tuned in to Joe Biden’s inauguration yesterday, hoping for a reprieve from the horrors of his predecessor. Kieran Allen discusses the context of the transition as well as the movements necessary to put out the dangerous far-right fires lit by Trump.
Joe Biden was protected by 25,000 US troops when he was inaugurated as US President – three times more than the numbers currently serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The US’s self-image as a beacon for democratic values is the first casualty of this surreal event. US policy makers always claimed a role as teaching poorer countries how to do democracy. Henceforth, many will shout back – ‘look after your own ‘storms’’!
And indeed, the fallout of the attack on Capitol Hill Trump supporters is escalating.
There is evidence that sections of the US security establishment knew about January 6th in advance – and did nothing to stop the plans. Far right social media sites had been buzzing for weeks about going ‘wild’ in Washington yet the Capitol Hill police pretended to be overwhelmed.
An army captain in Fort Bragg has resigned after it was revealed she organised a group of one hundred Trump supporters to go to Capitol Hill. Twenty five serving soldiers have already been revealed as participating. The contrast between the treatment of the Black Lives Matter movement could not be more stark.
The second casualty is the Republican Party. For decades, the party embraced the most extreme of neoliberal proposals, combining it with dog whistle and more overt racism. But its support base has been radicalised – partially expressing frustration at the long term decline of US capitalism – and are increasingly drawn to the far right. Until recently, the more respectable leaders of the Republican party were able to use this radicalised right for electoral support.
Now the balancing act is coming asunder. Big business wants a break from the ‘Trump mob’ because their activities are destabilising. American Express, Marriott, Dow, Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, Morgan Stanley, Commerce Bank and others have suspended donations to Republican lawmakers who objected to certifying the votes of the Electoral College. Companies who gained from Trump’s tax breaks want to cut links.
On the other hand, Trump is not giving up. He is running a campaign to unseat republicans who voted to impeach him. His more militant supporters are staging ‘armed protests’ at several state capitals. The stage is set for a split or the formation of a far right party led by Trump or another.
Here, there is an important analogy from history. In 1923, Hitler staged his beer hall putsch when 2,000 Nazis tried to take control of Munich, resulting in the deaths of 16 of his supporters and four police officers. He was scorned by the rich and the officers of the Reichswehr. But after the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the same class turned to Hitler to smash the left.
The more Trump – or one of his replacements – is able to build a far-right movement, the more the rich return to this option if they deem it necessary to crush a genuine upsurge from below.
Many already sense this as a danger but, in despair , they look to the Democrats and even sections of big business to take action against Trump. This is a big mistake. Biden is a centrist neoliberal with close ties to Wall Street, Big Pharma and Silicon Valley. Democratic presidencies such as Clinton and Obama helped create the conditions under which Trump grew. Time magazine – hardly the voice of the left – ran a headline recently that summed it up: ‘The Top 1% of Americans Have Taken $50 Trillion From the Bottom 90%—And That’s Made the U.S. Less Secure’.
Any repressive measures promised against the right will invariably be used to target the left. The FBI’s record has not exactly been one of suppressing white supremacism. It has mainly targeted the left.
The real opposition to Trump must come from an active left that knows how to mobilise masses of people on the streets. And here there are hopeful signs. The Democratic Socialists of America has grown from a conventional social democratic network within the Democratic Party to an organisation of 85,000. Its growth has continued even after Bernie Sanders made his peace with Biden and took up the chair of the Senate Budget Committee. The past year has been punctuated with not just Trump mobilisations. It has also seen powerful protests by Black Lives Matter.
There are weaknesses, however. While the DSA has a tremendous culture of activism, its emphasis on internal pluralism has meant that it has been weaker at responding nationally to either BLM or the wider current situation. The next period will tell whether the DSA carries out its ‘dirty break’ with the Democratic Party and transforms itself into a strong party that is able to promote national slogans and take national initiatives that give expression to the deep anger in the US working class.
The existence of such a group as the DSA does give me some hope Kieran though I find it scary how polarised people have got here in Ireland. I think we have a tinderbox here that’s only a small spark away from combustion.