- Created: Sunday, 13 March 2016 22:51
- Written by Steve Palmer
Every time Donald Trump opens his mouth, he vomits up reactionary sewage, yet he is still the most likely Republican presidential candidate. Liberals are appalled, shocked and have no idea how to respond except to vent their repulsion. The grandees of the Republican Party establishment are also appalled because they fear that Trump’s candour will cost them the presidency. Much is at stake: with Justice Scalia’s death in February, the Republicans lost one of the five conservatives who control the nine-judge Supreme Court. The Court is the final court of appeal and interpreter of the Constitution, so can have enormous power over the final effects of legislation. Justices are nominated by the President and have to be approved by the Senate, so whoever gets to appoint Scalia’s replacement will shape the court for a generation, determining the social programme of the United States with respect to abortion, civil rights, the relationship between church and state, gun control and many other social issues. If Trump wins the Republican presidential nomination, the Republican leaderships fears that the conservative programme is doomed and a vital opportunity lost, since they believe he is either unelectable in the November general election or completely inappropriate to be President.
From reconstruction …
It has taken the Republican Party 150 years to transform the ‘Party of Lincoln’ into the filthy racist sewer Donald Trump wallows in. It was founded in 1854, bringing together Whigs and ‘Free Soilers’, a coalition of northern business, free white labour and independent farmers, opposed to the extension of slavery to the western states and territories where labour was free. Attitudes to slavery in the party ranged from simply maintaining the status quo, to full abolitionism. Lincoln was elected President in 1860, defeating a Democrat coalition. Seven (later joined by another four) of 15 slave states seceded from the Union, forming the Confederacy. With the Confederacy’s attack on Fort Sumter, the Civil War began. Secession led to the resignation of most Southern Congressmen and enabled the Republicans to pass their economic programme, including building the transcontinental railroad, introducing tariffs to protect northern industry and to secure higher wages for white workers, establishing a national banking system, the issue of fiat currency, and passing the Homestead Act which was intended to grant land to independent farmers rather than plantation owners.
With Lincoln’s publication of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, the United States entered what is known as the ‘Reconstruction Era’, when the Radical Republicans, a radical faction, set the agenda. Between 1865 and 1877, the Radical Republicans, representing Freedmen (former slaves), ‘Scallywags’ (anti-racist Southerners, so-called by Confederate supporters) and ‘Carpetbaggers’ (the derogatory name for Northerners who came to the Southern States to participate in, and perhaps profit from, Reconstruction) promoted a radical bourgeois democratic programme which included complete expropriation of slaveholders, civil rights, voting rights and full equality of Freedmen. The period witnessed spontaneous struggles to divide up slave plantations, attempts at radical land reform, the formation of black militia alongside the Federal troops stationed in the South, ‘Constitutional Conventions’ which drafted radical constitutions for the former Confederate states, and the widespread (though not proportionate) election of black legislators, including Federal Congressmen. This was the high point of Republicanism.
… to counter-revolution
The radical programme and events were increasingly opposed, not only by revanchist whites who founded terrorist organisations such as the Ku Klux Klan to intimidate blacks and their white allies, but also, increasingly, by ‘moderate’ Republicans, representing the Northern bourgeoisie, who were horrified by the possibility of expropriation of property and the rise of dangerous radicalism amongst farmers and workers. The radical Republicans became divided, since the major obstacle to capitalist expansion, chattel slavery, had been destroyed. Placing property and profits first, the Northern bourgeoisie could not and would not complete the revolution it had initiated. Counter-revolution gained the upper hand with the withdrawal of Federal troops from the South, radical gains were reversed, former enemies pardoned and racist tyranny under the Democrats was established in the Southern States, leading to segregation, stripping blacks of most civil and political rights, lynchings and a reign of white terrorism that was to last for another century.
This counter-revolution laid the basis for the subsequent expansion of Northern capitalism, and the consolidation of Southern reaction. At the Federal level, Republicans did everything they could to help accelerate the expansion of US capitalism, while at the State level Democrats spent the next several decades consolidating racist regimes across the South. Republican Presidents predominated until 1932; the Republicans also controlled Congress for much of that time.
The Great Depression began in 1929: between then and 1933 GNP fell from $104 billion to $56 billion; income per head was halved; farm income fell from $5.7 billion to $1.7 billion; and unemployment rose from 1.5 million to 12.8 million according to official figures – 25% of the workforce. The Republicans, the party most identified with big business, seemed incapable of solving unemployment and restoring production and were defeated in the 1932 Federal election. So, from the 1930s, it was the Democrats who came to dominate both the Presidency and the US Congress for successive decades.
US imperialism and domestic civil rights
After the Second World War, US imperialism attempted to replace the colonial rule of the European imperialists with neo-colonialism – formal independence, but actually dominated by the US. Simultaneously, it attempted to undermine the socialist countries and struggles for national liberation. All this was carried out under the slogan of ‘democracy’. Yet back in the US, there was no democracy for black people – just constant discrimination and repression.
The oppression of black people in the US was widely publicised by the socialist countries. For example, when fire hoses and dogs were turned on black children demonstrating in Birmingham, Alabama, in May 1963, the US Information Agency complained that the Soviet Union had ‘stepped up its propaganda on Birmingham over the weekend to campaign proportions, devoting about one fifth of its radio output to the subject’. In 1952, Chester Bowles, US ambassador to India, stated that most Asians and Africans were ‘convinced that, solely because of their color, many Americans are denied a full share in the life of the richest nation on earth, and in their ears this conviction gives our claim to world leadership a distinctly hollow ring’. The US ruling class became increasingly aware of, and concerned about, how the oppression of black people in the US undermined the strategic interests of US imperialism. Under the combined pressure of the civil rights struggle domestically, and the obvious hypocrisy of its claims internationally to be ‘defending the Free World’, the US ruling class, after a series of piecemeal reforms, eventually moved to protect formal civil and political rights of black people: the Civil Rights Act was enacted in July 1964, and the Voting Rights Act in August 1965.
The Civil Rights and Voting Rights Act had been proposed by a Democratic President and passed by a predominantly Democratic Congress. Consequently, support for the Democrats in the Southern States plummeted amongst white electors, while most black people switched their allegiance from the Republican Party to the Democrats. The stage was set for the Republicans’ ‘Southern strategy’, as it has been called, although it actually applied nationally. It is based on implicitly appealing to racist attitudes. Instead of directly attacking black people, a ‘dog whistle’ approach is used, where seemingly neutral-sounding phrases such as ‘States’ rights’, ‘law and order’, ‘forced bussing’ and the like, are a kind of code, have a silent message, ‘heard’ in a racist sense: States’ rights (to implement discrimination and segregation); law and order (against the black people who are supposedly always rioting and committing crimes); forced bussing (of pupils between different schools in order to ensure integration). The idea was that this approach would attract white voters to the Republican Party in the South.
The strategy was helped by the support of many right-wing capitalists. For example, the Fox News Network, a creation of Rupert Murdoch, is now the leading TV news network in the US and an aggressive conduit for conservative ideologies. Climate change is presented as if it were a controversial ‘theory’; news bulletins feature apoplectic anchors reporting the latest liberal outrage; time is given nightly to bigots like Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly to vent their spleen against anything to the left of their prejudices.
The Koch (pronounced ‘Kotch’) brothers, David and Charles, one-time Democrats and now zealous conservatives, with a combined fortune of $94.2 billion, have built a powerful network of foundations, think tanks and activist organisations which develop and propagate conservative propaganda, promote ‘entrepreneurialism’, oppose taxes and spending on social services, and intervene to influence elections and legislation. Without them, the right-wing ‘Tea Party’ movement would be a handful of cranks crying in the wind.
But dog whistle politics, support from Fox News and bankrolling by billionaires are not enough: to be successful, the right-wing Republicans have had to find fertile ground to plant their poisonous seeds. Huge numbers of US manufacturing plants have relocated abroad over the past three decades. At the same time as these jobs have been ‘off-shored’, the wages of blue collar workers in the US have stagnated and inequality has rocketed. Politically, Congress has stagnated, failing to maintain growing living standards, or to do anything to halt the erosion of workers’ job security and conditions. Trade unions have been decimated and often reduced to a rump or corralled in the public sector. Hungry for explanations and solutions, without a serious left-wing alternative, these workers have turned mainly to the conservative snake-oil salesmen for answers. The result has been an increasing polarisation of US politics.
Trump has seized on this: when he isn’t walling off Mexico, deporting illegal immigrants or excluding Muslims, he rails against the raft of trade deals negotiated by the US ruling class – the North American Free Trade Area, the Trans Pacific Partnership and the rest – which have facilitated the transfer of US manufacturing abroad. It is telling that the only other US politician to have won support from this group of electors is the left-wing Democrat, Bernie Sanders, who speaks with the same voice about the trade deals. It is hardly surprising that polls show that if Sanders doesn’t win the Democratic nomination, this group of his supporters have indicated that they will turn, not to Hillary Clinton, but to Donald Trump.
Trump is admired, not just because of his racism, but because he speaks his mind, doesn’t care what anybody thinks of him and promises quick punchy solutions to difficult issues, especially the economic concerns of this constituency.
Liberals have responded to Trump with scorn, outrage, ridicule and eyeball rolling because they have no alternative to offer. Mainstream Republicans, who thought themselves Prometheans, now find, as they get elbowed aside by the right-wing populist surge they fostered, that they are modern-day Frankensteins whose monster has got out of their control and turned on them. For the past few weeks, mainstream Republican leaders have been conspiring behind the scenes to try to derail the Trump juggernaut before he can win the Republican nomination. The nearest alternatives are Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Florida Senator Marco Rubio. But Cruz is only one step behind Trump ideologically, and is universally hated by other Republican politicians, while Marco Rubio is clearly punching well above his weight. It seems unlikely that Trump can be prevented from winning the Republican nomination. Then what? The Clinton camp seems to believe that this will guarantee her election – after all Trump has left hours of vile sound bites with his scorched-earth take-no-prisoners attitude. But there is widespread dissatisfaction throughout the electorate with conventional politics and politicians, so the pundits may well be proved wrong, and we’ll wake up in November to find Trump at the helm of US imperialism.