Fight the system that caused the Trump nightmare

September 11, 2018

It’s not enough that everybody knows the president is dangerously unstable. Ordinary people need to recognize they have the power to do something about it — and act.

SHOCKED, BUT not shocked. Those words that have defined public life since November 9, 2016, came roaring back last week with two insider accounts of the daily workings of a White House run by an emotionally, intellectually and morally vacant buffoon.

The New York Times published an anonymous op-ed article from a White House official about how “many of the senior officials” under Trump are protecting the country by undermining and ignoring many of his orders and “working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.”

This came on the heels of the release of advance copies of Bob Woodward’s new book, with its juicy stories of cabinet officials denouncing Trump’s intelligence and temperament behind his back, and even removing papers from the president’s desk before he could sign them, knowing that Trump would soon forget all about them.

Donald Trump gets off Marine One
Donald Trump gets off Marine One (Sheelah Craighead | Wikimedia Commons)

It’s easy to get jaded about any new scandal from the White House after almost two years of breathless cable news coverage of every new breach of establishment norms. But last week’s news about Trump officials playing keep-away with the Ogre-in-Chief confirmed everybody’s worst fears.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow summed up what many were thinking when she said of the anonymous op-ed: “I just feel like somebody is trying to pull the fire alarm, and I’m not sure that we know as a country how we are supposed to respond when an alarm like this is sounded...It feels like the end of something. I don’t know what happens next.”

The op-ed could be a sign that more rats are about to jump from Trump’s ship, but we should keep in mind that that there have already been so many fire alarms, and most of them were pulled by Trump himself.

On his first day in office, he bafflingly lied about the size of his inauguration crowd, which the world could see with its own eyes was paltry. Since then, Trump has repeatedly disturbed and dismayed — from planning his response to a North Korean missile test in the middle of his Mar-a-Lago restaurant to finding good things to say about the Nazis of Charlottesville.

Dozens of commentators have compared our Trump dilemma to the fable of the emperor’s new clothes — but the comparison doesn’t hold up.

In the story, the king’s advisers and subjects all pretend to agree that the king’s robes are fabulous because they’re afraid of being revealed as fools by admitting he was naked all along. By contrast, all of Trump’s advisers — and most of his subjects — know that it’s Trump who is the fool, and they talk about it constantly among themselves.

The question is: What are we going to do about it?

IF THERE were some natural law that brought presidents down on the basis of incompetence or immorality, Trump would be long gone already.

Instead, he continues on, propped up by a political system that prefers a dangerous autocrat presiding over mass inequality to the democratic uprising that it will require to get rid of him.

The complicity of the Republicans is obvious. They may complain about the president behind the scenes in cowardly anonymous quotes, but in public, they back Trump to the hilt.

And it’s no secret why: Trump is pushing through corporate tax cuts, gutting labor and environmental laws, pumping up the Pentagon budget and filling the courts with religious fanatics and corporate ideologues — in other words, implementing the right wing agenda they all support, whatever their differences over the details.

The supposed renegade in the Trump White House who wrote the Times op-ed article made it clear that she/he wants to defend and continue the pro-capitalist, anti-worker essence of the Trump program by shutting down the unstable element of Trump himself.

Democrats, on the other hand, talk loudly and angrily about opposing Trump. But when they’ve had opportunity to back up their words with strong action — like when Trump dared them to shut down the government in defense of protecting young immigrants in the DACA program — they backed down like they always do.

These failures are portrayed in the media as a lack of unity or resolve, but the deeper reasons lie in the bottom line. Like the Republicans, the Democrats are bankrolled by billionaires and multimillionaires who benefit from massive inequality.

These mega-donors may not like Trump, but they’ve pocketed a literal ton of money because of him — and their only alternative is the pre-Trump status quo of deportations, student debt and drone strikes, only carried out with less overt racism and cruelty. Not exactly a call to action.

THE LESSON here is one that a lot of people have been absorbing since the day that Trump won office: Nobody can save us but ourselves.

That’s the heart of the socialist idea born in an equally scary time years ago — a time of early deaths from sweatshops and smog, and forged against the backdrop of fascism and world wars.

The great U.S. socialist Eugene Debs became a hero for millions of workers a century ago by preaching an uncompromising but inspiring message of working class power and responsibility:

Too long have the workers of the world waited for some Moses to lead them out of bondage. He has not come; he never will come. I would not lead you out if I could, for if you could be led out, you could be led back again.

I would have you make up your minds that there is nothing that you cannot do for yourselves. You do not need the capitalist. He could not exist an instant without you...

You do everything and he has everything; and some of you imagine that if it were not for him you would have no work. As a matter of fact, he does not employ you at all; you employ him to take from you what you produce, and he faithfully sticks to his task. If you can stand it, he can: and if you don’t change this relation, I am sure he won’t. You make the automobile, he rides in it. If it were not for you, he would walk; and if it were not for him, you would ride.

The recent increase in strikes, including an outright strike wave by “red state” educators last spring that shows signs of reviving in the new school year; the growing support for Medicare for All and #AbolitionICE; the success of socialist candidates like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — all of these show that more and more people are looking to go beyond the weak alternative to Trump put forward by corporate Democrats and their billionaire backers.

THE JOB of socialists today is to build on these wishes by organizing thousands — and eventually millions of people — around the kind of working class power that Debs talked about.

That power will be expressed in ways that might seem unique and separate: with protest movements that start modestly; with a scattering of strikes that spread and gain strength; with ordinary people attempting to express their desire for change through their votes and striving for an independent alternative to the two-party system.

Ultimately, those different expressions of radicalization will have to link together, mature and grow larger — until the working class gains the collective ability to shut down the emperor’s parade.

If that seems far-fetched, remember that teachers around the country have been walking off the job and often winning better deals from Republican regimes in red states than anywhere else — and imagine what would be possible if even more workers start following that example.

We are far from a world in which a confident and united working class is able to shake Corporate America and the U.S. government.

But we have had a taste of the strength of mass protest and workers’ power since Trump occupied the White House. Some of the largest demonstrations in U.S. history have taken place in just the last 20 months — and let’s not forget the red-state teachers who won double-digit salary increases from Trump-worshiping Republicans.

But if that still seems impossibly utopian, take a look at the ludicrous stories coming out of the White House — stories that would be hilarious if they weren’t so terrifying. What’s really far-fetched is the idea that anyone connected with the Washington system is going to change any of it — and that we can keep going on with this absurd situation.

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