Stopping Trump juggernaut
Sleepy Joe is driving voters into Republican arms. The more he tries to stop Trump, the stronger Trump gets, argues Daniel Lazare
In the wake of the smashing victory in the Iowa caucuses, Donald Trump has all but sewn up the Republican nomination and is now in a position to take back the White House in the fall.
This assumes that former UN ambassador Nikki Haley does not out-perform the sceptics in New Hampshire’s Republican primary on January 23 or that Florida governor Ron DeSantis does not pull off some come-from-behind upset in South Carolina on February 24. But, with Trump garnering an outright majority of the vote and carrying 98 out of Iowa’s 99 counties, it is looking more and more unlikely. If Iowa proves anything, it is that the Republican Party is now Trump’s personal property to do with what he will. With Haley and DeSantis all but out of the picture, no-one is in a position to say otherwise.
The Trump juggernaut has so many things in its favour at this point that it is hard to keep count. There is Joe Biden and the age factor, which is to say the fact that the 81-year-old president is growing frailer by the week, yet stubbornly refuses to step aside for anyone younger. There is the Kamala Harris problem: ie, a politician so unpopular that she had to drop out of the 2020 presidential race when her polls plunged to the low single digits, yet who, as vice-president, could well take over the Oval Office if Biden dies after winning a second term. It is a scenario that voters regard as all too likely - and one they do not like a single bit.
Then there is wealth polarisation, which is fuelling resentment of the limousine liberals and well-heeled neocons who run the Democratic Party. Plus a sputtering economy that saw real median household income plunge 2.7% during the Biden administration’s first two years. There is the war in the Ukraine, which Washington expected Kyiv to win handily, but which is now turning into a nightmare in the wake of last summer’s failed offensive. There is war in Gaza, war in the Red Sea, and looming confrontations in the Persian Gulf and the South China Sea - all adding to jitters back home. There is global warming, which is leading to much talk, but zero meaningful action - not to mention a government structure in general that is corrupt, dysfunctional and increasingly undemocratic, but which is also beyond reform.
Finally, there is the Democratic legal offensive, which was supposed to discredit Trump, but which has backfired by boosting his popularity all the more. Supposedly, Trump was finished after Democrats performed strongly in the 2022 midterm elections. All the TV talking heads said it, so it must have been true. But then New York district attorney, Alvin Bragg, indicted him the following April on charges of paying hush money to porn star Stormy Daniels, and his sputtering poll numbers reversed course. They rose again after a federal grand jury indicted him for possessing secret documents and then took another leap upward when a grand jury charged him with undermining the 2020 presidential election.
“Any time they file an indictment, we go way up in the polls,” Trump joked in August. “We need one more indictment to close out this election.” Democrats, as usual, accused Trump of spreading disinformation. But the problem is that some of the cases are weak - most notably the Stormy Daniels affair, which involves ancillary fraud charges so convoluted that not even liberals can figure them out, plus a dubious civil suit brought by a Democratic prosecutor named Letitia James, who ran for office on a promise to bring Trump down. “I will never be afraid to challenge this illegitimate president,” she said during her 2018 campaign. “I will be shining a bright light into every corner of his real-estate dealings.”1
Now the same Letitia James is in a New York state courtroom accusing Trump of fraudulently inflating the value of some of his assets - except that, thanks to a legal quirk, she does not have to prove he defrauded anyone in particular or caused real, tangible harm: merely that he exaggerated in his usual carny-barker style. Indeed, Trump’s bankers have testified that they were happy to do business with him despite such hyperbole, that they made oodles of money, and that they hoped more deals were on the way.2
So Republican complaints that Democrats are “weaponising” the judicial system in order to bring their hero down are not easily dismissed. Voters are getting the message, which is why support for Trump continues to grow.
To be sure, Democrats are now pinning their hopes on yet another legal manoeuvre - this time an effort to strike him from the ballot on the grounds that the post-Civil War 14th amendment precludes anyone from holding office who has “engaged in insurrection or rebellion”. Since this is what Trump plainly did on January 6 2021, by urging a Republican mob to invade Capitol Hill and stop Congress from certifying Biden’s election, Colorado and Maine have both decided that he is ineligible to run.3 But as a New York Times columnist recently admitted, short-circuiting a Trump candidacy in this manner can only lead to more trouble still.
“There’s no doubt that knocking Trump off the ballot would send shock waves through the American body politic, but why would anyone believe that it’s inherently less destabilising if Trump runs?” - the columnist, David French, wrote. It is worth it, he said, because a Trump victory means there will be “an insurrectionist in command of the most powerful military in the world, who is hellbent on seeking vengeance on his political enemies. Does anything at all sound stabilising about that?”4
Instability will ensue whether Democrats remove him from the ballot or not. So they figure that they might as well go for it. But what strikes Democrats as a gamble worth taking strikes Republicans as no less a coup than what happened three years ago.
“The one thing that unites Americans of all political persuasions ... is the conviction that our democracy is failing and our country is going to hell,” observed another Times columnist, Michelle Goldberg. “Tonight, Iowa’s Republican caucus goers have sent it a little further on its way.”5 The process is unstoppable short of a radical restructuring of America’s 18th-century slaveholders’ constitution, something that only a workers’ revolution can accomplish. But, since that is not remotely on Goldberg’s radar screen, all she can do is blame Americans for not voting the way she would like them to.
This is not to say that Republican victory in November is assured. While a recent poll shows Trump two points ahead, another has the two men running neck and neck.6 Sleepy Joe might thus pull it off. Still, given his Job-like list of woes, such an outcome is growing ever more distant. Democrats are panicking because they fear they are on the brink of disaster - which they are.
What does it mean for the world if Biden does not succeed? Certain self-proclaimed Marxists might argue that, Tweedledum or Tweedledee, none of it matters because US imperial interests always prevail. But this borders on the tautological, since all it means is that imperialists got to do what imperialists got to do. More important is what a second Trump presidency means for the direction of US imperialism and its subsequent evolution.
One thing it will mean, for instance, is a harsher attitude toward staid centrists, who have previously served as Washington’s most reliable allies. Emmanuel Macron and Olaf Scholz will be out, while a new crop of ultra-rightists will be in - people like Javier Milei of Argentina, Giorgia Meloni of Italy, Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders, etc. This does not mean that Trump will give them all they want, since if ‘Make America great again’ means anything, it is that US interests come first. But they will certainly receive a powerful boost. From Iberia to Scandinavia and beyond, the upshot will be an Axis-lite reminiscent of 1939-45. Muslim immigrants, the Jews of the early 21st century, will feel the heat, while Jews themselves - at least those who do not go around shouting pro-Palestinian slogans - will acquire something like favoured nation status. Repression of anti-Zionist protests and strikes will increase. So will climate denialism, even as the crisis accelerates.
Other changes loom as well. Even though Trump refused at a recent Fox News town hall to say whether the US would remain in Nato or not under his second presidency, there is no question that the Atlantic alliance will face a major shakeout. The far-right Alternative für Deutschland might not mind if it means that Nato stops blowing up German pipelines. But Poland, the Baltic states and others will all be in a state of shock.
Vladimir Putin will gain, as he and Trump sit down together to hammer out a Ukrainian deal over the head of Volodymyr Zelensky. Territorial concessions will follow, along with ‘Finlandisation’, in the form of neutrality, demilitarisation, plus removal of all those statues and plaques commemorating Stepan Bandera, Roman Shukhevych, and other wartime collaborators whom nationalists in Lvov and Kyiv insist on portraying as national heroes. Strangely, however, de-Nazification will result in more rightwing authoritarianism rather than less. Benjamin Netanyahu will gain, although the real winner might well turn out to be an out-and-out fascist like Itamar Ben-Gvir. So will Qatar and Saudi Arabia, thanks to their close business ties with the Trump family.
Domestically, the results will be extreme. At last week’s Fox News town-hall meeting, Trump tried to walk back such alarming comments as “I am your retribution” or his recent pledge not to be a dictator “except for day one”. Instead, he was nice-nice, as he assured the audience: “There won’t be time for retribution [because] there will be so much success.”
But one thing is clear. Trump is determined to avoid a bureaucratic revolt like the one that nearly toppled his first administration - one characterised by incessant leaks to the press and top officials working hand-in-glove with congressional Democrats to bring his policies down. So leakers will be crushed, while the prosecution of journalists who publish unauthorised information will likely follow. If Trump does not pursue old enemies like Hillary Clinton, then he will come up with new enemies to go after instead. A new element of vindictiveness will prevail.
Trump is also promising to use military funds to build detention camps for illegal immigrants and to invoke the 1807 Insurrection Act, so he can deploy troops along the southern border. He says he will use military force to go after Mexican drug cartels - which, of course, will only make drug problems worse inside the United States, while further destabilising countries to the south. Arrests, round-ups and family separations will all ensue - horrors that the working class must mobilise to prevent. But most important of all is the fact that a Trump victory will amount to a vindication of the Capitol Hill insurrection, which means that elections will give way to some form of mob rule. Voting will continue, but it will be a long time before a Democrat enters the White House again. The squabbling on Capitol Hill will also continue, but checks and balances will fall by the wayside, as Trump calls the shots.
Relying on Joe Biden to hold off such a disaster is like relying on Typhoid Mary to hold off bubonic plague. Sleepy Joe is driving voters into Republican arms and, the more he tries to stop Trump, the stronger Trump gets.
Workers must overthrow one in order to stop the other - and vice versa. America needs a new birth of freedom that only socialism can provide.
See my article, ‘More ballot games’, January 4: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1472/more-ballot-games.↩︎
www.nytimes.com/live/2024/01/11/opinion/briefing: see “Disqualify Trump (or Else)”.↩︎
www.nytimes.com/live/2024/01/11/opinion/briefing: see “Iowa’s depressing and inevitable result”.↩︎