The rise of Donald Trump in American politics is not much of a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention. He is the perfect political representation of American capitalism in crisis. His base of support is largely made up of rural, suburban, white members of the middle class who have grown tired of the establishment Republican Party and the hold “reasonable” right wing capitalists have had on the GOP. In their eyes these establishment types are preventing them from taking the extreme measures we have seen during the Obama era to their logical conclusion, with Tea Party Republicans ready and willing to drive the country and the economy off a cliff by shutting down and threatening the very credit of the U.S. government; something no capitalist, highly dependent on the largesse of the state, wants to see occur. Then there are the attacks on immigrants, another incredible important asset to capitalism in terms of cheap labor. Instead of a unified capitalist class putting all its energy behind two middle of the road corporatists in each political party we have a series of spectacularly wealthy individual billionaires distorting the traditional influence over the managed capitalist democracy of America, providing ample resources through dark money sources to candidates like Trump, Cruz, Carson, etc.
The most reactionary segments of the capitalist class are pouring enormous sums of money into the campaigns of candidates like Trump all across the country in a desperate attempt to restore profitability through austerity, eliminating the welfare states, unions, environmental, health and financial regulations, lowering taxes on the rich, driving down wages, expanding private access to public funds and so on. There is no middle road with these people. The only solution to capitalism in crisis is the total destruction of the 20th Century welfare state. Other factions of the capitalist class are more “reasonable” wanting to only “reform” the welfare state, not eliminate it outright. The reactionary segments of the middle class in America, largely confined to the states in the south, see in Trump an anti-establishment, ant-politician, anti-intellectual, everyman, all in spite of his family name, multi-million dollar inheritance, and the numerous times his companies have filed for bankruptcy. In Trump they see someone who has stuck it to the system and survived. Over the last four decades economic insecurity has crept closer and closer to the middle classes, slowly swallowing one family here, one family there, down into the abyss, and there has been no substantial leftist opposition to the appeals of right wing movements.
In America, class and race are greatly intertwined. As long as there are minority communities that the racist sections of the middle class can see being super-exploited then they are willing to take their licks and keep quiet. However, as the demographic trends of this country overtake this community they are going to lash out in increasingly outlandish and radical ways. The fact that the capitalist establishment is just as willing to exploit white people, as it is brown and black people has come as quite a shock. The lack of a mass mobilization of the working class by the Left in America has forced the middle class to look elsewhere for targets of their rage. Rather than target the capitalist class they cling to more tangible communities: gays, blacks, immigrants, Muslims, etc. In many ways the period through which we are living is very similar to the inter-war period of the 1930’s. Right wing political parties have emerged across Europe as viable electoral entities. Given the nature of American democracy, a bicameral, non-parliamentarian government, there is very little chance that a third party could develop that could challenge the two major parties. Instead, the Republican Party has built its electoral success through integrating some of the vilest sections of the ideological descendants of the southern confederacy.
Now it has become fashionable on the Left to just come out and label Trump and the Republican base fascist. Even I have resorted to this lazy kind of analysis. While there are many elements of fascist ideology in the modern Republican Party, such as the radical support of extremist capitalist ruling class economic policy, and the nativist, nationalist, xenophobia of the regressive factions of the middle classes, there is very little evidence of any real attempt to seize political power outside legal, electoral, means. Of course, even the Nazis were elected to the parliament before seizing power. But in the preceding years there were hundreds of political murders. Labor leaders, progressive politicians, artists, intellectuals, scientists, anyone with sufficient popular support to challenge fascism were eliminated. This is not to argue that fascism cannot take hold in America. It surely can. Were it to seize power it would do so hiding behind a love of the constitution and waving the American flag.
Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, the American working class is so utterly depoliticized that there is no need for a true fascist movement in America. The German capitalist class turned to the fascists because they were terrified of a communist revolution. Millions of German citizens had joined the Social Democratic and Communist parties in the aftermath of World War One. Revolution was sweeping across Europe, toppling governments and threatening to overthrow capitalism itself. While there are many elements that are reminiscent of the inter-war period there are also a great many significant differences. Americans have been propagandized for more than a half century that to organize collectively to change the world is something inherently dangerous. The kind of psychological repression unleashed on the populace during the Cold War to imbue a sense of unbreakable patriotic fervor that translates into a love of, in particular, the militarist capitalist state, with the anti-collective, individualism of the post Cold War period wherein everyone is supposed to screw or be screwed, has turned politics into something antithetical to being an American.
Include in that the fact that working people are desperate not for a living wage but to simply keep the jobs they already have it is no surprise that Americans have little time for politics. As far as many of them know politics has only ever harmed them. Americans turn inward, blaming themselves and look for personal solutions, moving from one city to another, going back to school to earn a new degree, etc. Politics as the solution to this crisis is dirty. This level of apathy cannot even be considered within the realm of Marx’s concept of false consciousness. Talking to the average person one gets the sense that they share a general recognition that something is wrong beyond themselves as an individual, but it is such an abstraction, an incomprehensible, almost platonic ideal, that it might as well not even exist at all. Is it any wonder that recent years have seen the upsurge in popularity of zombie movies and television shows? The Walking Dead is so popular it almost acts as a kind of sublimation of the social, economic, and political impotence of the American working class.
There does not seem to be a working class movement on the horizon. The Left is so mired in identity politics and electoral reformism that there seems very little chance a genuine revolutionary movement could take shape without running out of steam as the Occupy Movement did, or being snuffed out by the Democratic Party. Black Lives Matter is the most recent incarnation of liberalism’s frustration with the status quo. They appear to be more sophisticated than Occupy, though that should come as no surprise. The African American community in America has historically been among the most progressive, radical, well organized, and focused political communities. Unlike Occupy they have specific demands, a variety of tactics and strategies for attaining the realization of their demands, have targeted specific, vulnerable, members of the police state, and have seized on modern communications technology to spark popular outrage. However, they have no class analysis or structural framework for explaining the origins of oppression, exploitation, and white supremacy. Without this kind of analysis this movement will not offer any solutions beyond the electoral, beyond electing “better” politicians.
Ultimately our goal should be to build a working class, militant, socialist party where there is none. Splintering off into factions whereby we fight for our narrow interests has been a tremendous failure. The rejection of class politics by the Left in the post-war period has accomplished nothing other than constantly giving ground to our enemies. While they have been on the offensives for decades we have been back on our heels for decades. Instead of building a genuine revolutionary movement we subsume ourselves into political parties. While there is nothing wrong with attempting to reform the most obscene aspects of capitalism we should not relegate ourselves to merely that. Until the Left has a legitimate political program for how to build a class based socialist party in America, out of American traditions that can appeal to working class Americans we are going to accomplish nothing more than applying the breaks on a system catapulting itself toward self-destruction.