21st August 2017
The election of Donald Trump to the US presidency last year was in part due to the failure of the US liberal establishment to produce a credible alternative candidate. Trump’s characterisation of Hillary Clinton as ‘crooked’ had enough resonance with enough of the electorate to leave the door open for Trump’s particular brand of populism to succeed. Clinton may still have won 3 million more votes than Trump but the Electoral College system worked in his favour in enough key states to ensure victory.
While the liberal intelligentsia and much of the media in the United States continue to characterise the Trump presidency as dysfunctional, it is becoming increasingly clear that Trump does not acknowledge that being President means playing by the usual rules. In fact, there is little in the first few months of the Trump presidency to suggest that he gives a damn about the rules. On the contrary, there is every indication that Trump and those backing him are looking to change the rules entirely and shift the ground of debate in US politics firmly to the right.
The events in Charlottesville, Virginia last week were not, in themselves, unusual in the history of racism and apartheid in the United States. White supremacists, Nazis and the ideology of the Ku Klux Klan have lurked beneath the surface of areas in the Southern United States for decades. However, this racism is being met by a new assertiveness, on the part of those from non-white heritage in the US, to address symbols of the nation’s slave owning history resulting in a number of moves to remove public symbols of this past.
General Robert E. Lee, the slave owning Confederate leader, is seen as a hero of the Right. The decision to remove his statue in Charlottesville is the latest in a range of moves to de-toxify public images and monuments in the United States. Confederate monuments, statues and images are up for discussion in many US cities including Baltimore and San Antonio, as well as Lexington, Kentucky; Memphis, Tennessee; Jacksonville, Florida.
The response of the Right to defend this legacy has been emboldened by the election of Trump and the initial actions of his administration. As the Communist Party of the USA has noted recently,
“The Trump policies of mass deportations, voter suppression, Muslim bans, investigating “race-based discrimination” against whites, “law and order”, reviving the “War on Drugs” and encouraging police brutality are all geared at mobilizing a white nationalist constituency and slowing down, stopping and reversing the vast demographic and cultural shifts to ensure permanent white nationalist rule.”
The difference for the Right is that they have a President who is openly prepared to defend their position and publicly attack those who stand up to oppose racism. Equating those who were protesting against the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville with the racist mob, Trump stated in his press conference on the issues,
“I watched those very closely, much more closely than you people watched it. And you had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent, and nobody wants to say that, but I’ll say it right now.”
While Trump and the alt-Right racists around him attempt to shift the agenda and legitimise racist attitudes, resistance continues to grow. A so-called “free speech” rally in Boston over the weekend, organised by the alt-Right, was abandoned as over 30,000 anti-racist protesters turned out in opposition. Business leaders, previously associated with the Republican Party have deserted Trump’s economic advisory councils in the past week, forcing Trump to disband them.
The opposition within the business world is not always a matter of principle but a growing recognition that Trump’s overt racism is bad for business. The Trump agenda of de-regulation is widely welcomed but fomenting racial unrest is not conducive to business stability.
As C.J. Atkins, writing in the CPUSA People’s World notes,
“Because if he has accomplished anything, it is this: Trump has blown apart the idea that the United States has moved past racism or that discrimination is a relic of our troubled past. By emboldening white supremacists and fomenting racial animosity on the part of white workers, he has exposed the tactic of dividing working people by race. The threat for capitalism is that more people begin to put together the pieces and realize that it’s not only Trump who is the problem, but the system itself, which thrives on built-in racial divisions.”
Even the New York Times last week was moved to comment,
“Comparing the Trump administration to the Nazis may be a stretch, but many business leaders are concerned that stirring up deep-seated racial and nationalist animosities could be destabilizing, leading to riots, property damage, and widespread civil unrest reminiscent of the late 1960s.”
On the one hand the liberal establishment is attempting to re-assert itself and stabilise capitalism in the United States. On the other, the hard core around Trump and his more vociferous supporters in the country remain keen to push the alt-Right agenda, reverse the limited social and political gains of the civil rights era of the United States and move towards a more openly institutionalised form of apartheid.
Neither of these options will meet the needs of the mass of the people of the United States. Removing an overt racist from the White House is only the first step and the growing demand for his impeachment must be supported.
However, in order to build a movement which can unite the interests of the working people of the USA, from across the range of ethnic communities, the struggle will need to be seen as something far more fundamental, taken beyond the White House and into the communities of the United States.