Notes on the Revolution / Column #66
February 5, 2020
Who’s distracting? Trump or the Democrats?
By Charles McKelvey
There are those who say that Trump’s confrontation with Iran and his Middle East peace plan were distractions from the impeachment. It seems to me that it is an accusation that misses the mark. To be sure, Trump had a domestic political intention with these strategies. But it would be better said that Trump in these initiatives was showing that the impeachment was not crippling him, that he was actively engaged in governing the nation, indeed, in his reckoning, achieving great things. Moreover, the strategies have a positive reverberation with his conservative base, and he he will be able to emphasize what he and his followers view as achievements in his reelection campaign. He wasn’t distracting; he was governing, in his own unique style.
I have a different angle on the issue of distractions. It seems to me that it was not Trump doing the distracting, but the Democrats. Through the impeachment, the Democrats have been diverting attention away from the fact that they have no historically informed, globally conscious, and politically intelligent response to Trump. They wage hostile political battle on a matter of minor importance, thereby hiding, perhaps even from themselves, that they are incapable of responding to his true defects and crimes.
There is precedent for this in the impeachments of Nixon and Clinton. In 1970 and 1972, even though the war in Vietnam had already been lost and peace talks had begun, Richard Nixon authorized the massive bombing of North Vietnam, more intense than at any point in the war, a conflict in which the United States dropped three times more tons of bombs that it did during World War II. However, there did not emerge in the public discourse an anti-imperialist critique of the barbaric aggression against Vietnam as the culmination of seven decades of imperialist policies, in violation of the democratic values on which the nation was founded. Rather, Nixon was forced to resign from office because he tried to coverup a burglary of the Democratic Party headquarters carried out under his indirect authorization. For his part, Bill Clinton authorized bombing of civilian populations of Bosnia in 1995 and Kosovo in 1999, under false pretexts; but he was impeached for lying about sex in the Oval Office with a young White House intern.
The “crimes and misdemeanors” for which Donald Trump has been impeached also fall into the category of the less important. This eventually became the argument of many of his defenders in the Senate trial, who declared that his conduct was “inappropriate” but not impeachable. Trump was inappropriately pressuring the government of Ukraine to dig up dirt on a political opponent. Apparently, the inappropriateness of this behavior is not that he was applying pressure on a foreign government, without sensitivity for that nation’s sovereignty, which indeed has been central to U.S. foreign policy since the beginning of the twentieth century; nor that he was looking to smear a political rival, a common practice that debases the political process of the nation. The inappropriate behavior here was the combining of these two common practices. And even in combining them, he was not entirely on new terrain, inasmuch as all presidents think of the domestic political implications of their foreign policy initiatives.
So, if you support Trump’s program of immigration control, economic protectionism, environmental deregulation, military strength, and aggressive attacks on nations that defy U.S. interests; you were not going to be persuaded by a discourse that exposes inappropriate behavior that verges on the commonplace. It is not surprising that the percentage of people that approve of Trump’s policies and oppose impeachment are similar at the end of the impeachment process to what they were in its beginning.
What are Trump’s true defects and crimes? First, he has a myopic view of the history of the United States, seeing it as a democratic beacon of light, leaving aside the conquest, slavery, trading with slaveholders, imperialism, and war that have been the foundation of the nation’s spectacular economic ascent. Secondly, he scapegoats undocumented immigrants, rather than explaining and addressing at its source the problem of uncontrollable international migration, which is as rooted in the underdevelopment that is a consequence of centuries of colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, and insufficient international cooperation. Thirdly, he aggressively attacks nations that seek an alternative more just road; through economic sanctions and blockades, ideological distortions, interference in their internal affairs, and military threats and actions; thereby exacerbating global problems such as underdevelopment, poverty, political conflict, crime, and violence; and strengthening global tendencies that push uncontrollable international migration to the developed nations. Fourthly, he increases military expenditures, strengthening the decades-long negative tendency of excessive U.S. state budget deficits, rather than gradually reducing the nation’s dependency on the military industry and investing in sustainable forms of production. Fifthly, he dismisses scientific evidence with respect to climate change and supports the short-term interests of corporations in environmental deregulation, rather than taking responsible steps to reduce the probable causes of climate change and prepare for the projected consequences.
The Democratic Party is unable to offer an alternative to the Trump project. It too has a myopic view of U.S. history; it too does not understand the problem of uncontrollable international migration in the context of the colonial foundations of the world-system; and it too supports imperialist policies toward the neocolonized nations and peoples. The democrats, to be sure, tend to support less militarism and more environmentalism, but they do not see these issues in a global and historical systemic context.
The appeal of the Trump project is that it is a coherent alternative direction, exploiting the declining legitimacy of the political establishment, which has taken the nation in recent decades down the road of neoliberal globalization, financial speculation, deindustrialization, and indifference to the social and economic needs of the majority of the people. The Democratic Party is incapable of formulating an alternative direction for the nation, different from the projects of Trump and the political establishment.
Impeachment is an extreme step, and it therefore is a kind of radical opposition to Trump. But it is an opposition that has not engaged the issues. The impeachment process focuses on relatively unimportant matters, while important issues, if they are addressed in the U.S. political process, are discussed superficially, and not in a reasonable, scientific, and politically intelligent form.
In the context of a political process in which both major political parties reveal their limitations, the Left ought to assume its responsibility. It ought to observe carefully what is presently going on in Latin America and the Caribbean, China, Vietnam, Iran, the Non-Aligned Movement, and the G-77 plus China, where an alternative, more just and sustainable world-system is being envisioned, and where public discourse is characterized by scientific, historical, and global consciousness. With cognizance of Third World dynamics today, the Left ought to formulate a narrative on the nation, a patriotic narrative that defends the nation and the principles for which it stands in the context of national and global historical consciousness; and a politically intelligent narrative, that is able to forge a consensus among the people, by connecting to their concrete needs as it educates them to a larger vision. The Left ought to form an alternative political party that focuses not on a presidential candidate in the short-term but on the long-term education and organization of the people, moving toward the goal of taking political power, through the consensual support of the people, from a political establishment that has demonstrated its moral and intellectual incapacity to govern, and from an emerging fascist movement, today symbolized by Trump, that only deepens the crisis that the nation and humanity confront.
This is Charles McKelvey, reflecting on the unfolding global popular socialist revolution forged by our peoples in defense of humanity.
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