As soon as one Trump crisis fades, another one appears. The recent events around Trump and the Mueller investigation are a whirlwind of hard-to-follow developments in the increasingly polarized and nightmarish American politics.
But the Mueller investigation has been by far the most consistent and prominent crisis for the Trump administration. In the face of immigrant families being separated, falling wages for workers yet tax cuts for the rich, record-high heats and a burning California, the investigation is seen by many as a beacon of hope.
Every time a new Mueller report is released, indictment is made, or former Trump ally turns against him, millions of people wonder: “Is this it, the beginning of the end? Will this be enough to tip the scale this November and get the Republicans out of Congress? Will Trump be impeached?”
Confirming What We Knew
The Mueller investigation is showing what was already generally known, even if there wasn’t concrete evidence: that Trump and his associates are white collar corporate criminals and are overall corrupt.
Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, was found guilty on eight counts of evading taxes by stashing tens of millions of dollars in foreign bank accounts and lying to banks to obtain millions of dollars in loans. This is all fairly standard behavior for the global elite, as the 2016 Panama papers exposed. Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, pled guilty to paying off Stormy Daniels and another woman with campaign money at the direction of Trump to stay silent about their affairs with him. Manafort, facing the rest of his life in prison, could turn informant to try to lessen his sentence, which would even further expose the Trump administration.
The Mueller investigation can put pressure on Republicans politicians, caught between their pro-Trump constituents and their desires for the Republican party to return to its pre-Trump “normalcy,” to pick a side. As the New York Times reports, “Even the president’s staunchest defenders acknowledged privately that the legal setbacks he suffered on Tuesday [the Manafort conviction and Cohen plea] could open fissures among Republicans on Capitol Hill.”
Trump’s Support Based on Weak Economic Recovery
Despite the divisions at the top of the Republican Party, Trump’s approval ratings among the Republican base remain relatively high. Polls show no significant change following Manafort’s conviction and Cohen’s plea.
As much as he can, Trump has used the Mueller investigation and the Russiagate narrative to his advantage, instilling a siege mentality in his supporters that the political and media establishment are out to get him. This helps Trump reinforce his image as a president standing up to the corrupt establishment and “draining the swamp” in Washington.
Trump’s vicious anti-immigrant policies have helped him shore up the more conservative section of his base, and the surface-level health of the economy lets him portray himself as fighting for good jobs. In general, Trump’s high approval ratings do not represent an expansion of his base of support, but rather a consolidation of his position among Republican voters for the above reasons.
But while certain statistics, such as low unemployment rates, show a strong economy, this is not the reality experienced by the overwhelming majority of ordinary people – young or old; rural or urban; Democrat, Republican, or unaligned.
A new study from Pew Research shows that the real average wage, defined as “the wage after accounting for inflation” has remained essentially the same since 1974. USA Today makes a point that many of us understand with firsthand experience. “If you get a $1,200 annual raise on the same day that your rent goes up by $100 a month, you don’t need an accountant to tell you that you didn’t actually make any financial progress.” And while some workers are getting raises, most of them are going to those who were already on the higher end of the pay scale to begin with. The situation is even worse on average for women, immigrants, and black workers.
More and more, capitalist financial commentators are beginning to sound warnings that surface-level economic statistics do not reflect the deeper processes at play. A new recession is likely in the coming years, and if it happens under Trump’s watch, then his support would be drastically undermined.
Taking Down Trump and the Republicans
The Trump administration is in a perpetual state of crisis and with more former Trump allies turning on him, he is especially weak. If the Democratic Party leadership were to call for mass demonstrations, direct action, and acts of civil disobedience, then millions would respond and the question of bringing down Trump could be realistically posed. These actions could make a strong call for impeachment and link that to a concrete alternative program to the Republicans that speaks to people’s everyday needs, such as Medicare for All, stopping deportations and abolishing ICE, running the U.S. on 100% renewable energy, and free college for young people. These demands are becoming increasingly popular, with Medicare for All now supported by 70% of Americans, including 52% of Republicans.
Some more progressive Democratic candidates have tried to call for impeachment, but are facing clear opposition from the Party’s leadership. Earlier in the summer, in response to the idea at a Town Hall event that Democrats should run on impeachment in the midterms, Nancy Pelosi said, “I do not think that impeachment is a policy agenda.” But when impeachment could help put an end to some of Trump’s most vicious anti-worker and anti-minority policies, of course impeachment is a “policy agenda.” Even after Manafort’s conviction and Cohen’s plea, Pelosi told reporters that impeachment is still “not a priority” for Democrats.
This is not merely a mistaken strategy but a reflection of the Democratic Party’s position in U.S. politics not as a “people’s party” but as the more liberal party of the capitalist class. Rather than confronting the Republicans by building mass on-the-ground opposition to Trump’s worst policies and active mass movements for policies such as Medicare for All, the Democrats have shown they would prefer Trump stay in the White House and use him as a bogeyman to mobilize voters. They fear-monger about Russia in ways reminiscent of the Cold War and only fight Trump’s most abhorrent policies with mostly verbal opposition. The clearest failure of the Democrats to lead an actually effective opposition to Trump was around DACA, when they downright abandoned immigrant students fighting for their rights.
The movement cannot afford to sit back and let the Mueller investigation run its course and hope the Democrats will act. The Democratic Party leadership will continue to argue against impeachment unless there is mass organized pressure from their base, and even then they will be hard to budge. If the Democrats take control of the House in November, a highly possible outcome, they will likely face some of this pressure, but exactly how much depends on the strength and organization of the movement and crucially, its leadership.
A “Blue Wave” and Progressive Democrats
The Democrats are likely to retake the House with a “blue wave” in the midterm elections, possibly increasing confidence to take action against Trump and his agenda. It would be wrong though to think the Democratic leadership will fight Trump for us, because they are more committed to maintaining the corporate agenda and funding of the party than taking down Trump. Activists are currently fighting against establishment Democrats through organizing insurgent left campaigns in the primaries with mixed results. Millions of people now look to Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and other ”socialists” or progressives in Congress to help lead the way against Trump’s vicious policies.
Bernie Sanders has argued sharply against Trump and the billionaire class, but he has failed to build an organization or movement that can take to the streets, instead leading “Our Revolution” which focuses overwhelmingly on elections. The struggles against sexism, racism, and inequality could be majorly strengthened if Bernie and other left Democrats built movements, but Sanders has unfortunately failed on several occasions to call for mass demonstrations, most glaringly in the wake of Trump’s DACA repeal when millions would have taken action if a lead was given.
The potential exists for him to turn his popularity into the ongoing movement or organization we so desperately need to fight against the right-wing agenda. The “Sanders wing” is now strengthened in Congress with the victory of Ocasio-Cortez, providing a new opportunity for the 50,000-strong Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) to play a bigger role in building decisive struggle, fighting against the failed strategy of the Democratic leadership and making steps towards a new working-class party to the left of the Democrats. Utilizing Ocasio-Cortez’s public office and profile to advance the cause of socialism will be an important test for DSA’s growing organization.
With the teachers strike wave that swept several Republican-ruled states in the Spring, we saw the type of action necessary to win real victories. Through well-organized strikes and community support, teachers in several states were able to win higher wages for public school workers, increased public education funding, and in the case of West Virginia higher wages for all public employees too in just a matter of days. Even under Democratic governors and mayors, this is the type of action that will be necessary to win the change we need.
Socialist Strategy Needed
Change does not start in government buildings, but rather in workplaces and the streets when people demand it. Even a New York Times op-ed recently stated, “What ultimately gives shape to socialist [and any progressive] desire is less the specific policies in a politician’s head than the men and women marching with their feet.” Socialists put forward demands and tactics to win gains today to improve the lives of workers and the oppressed while also pointing to the need to challenge and defeat the capitalist system as the root of our problems.
We absolutely should “march with our feet” in mass united action to bring down Trump and his agenda, but simply marching isn’t enough. The coming climate catastrophe and the big fossil fuel companies will not be stopped with a few big rallies. Shutting down the deportation machine and abolishing ICE will take more than some national days of action. Simply electing a Democratic majority won’t win us Medicare for All, as we saw in California last year.
Even reforms like Medicare for All and free college tuition that seem like common sense to so many will require a socialist strategy including mass movements, strike action, working-class political organization, and ultimately systemic change along socialist lines. Public ownership and democratic planning of the major corporations and banks will be necessary in order to run society democratically, according to the needs of billions of people rather than the profits of billionaires.
So while we fight against Trump and his right wing policies and for any progressive change we can win under this system, we must also fight for socialism because the for-profit capitalist system, with inequality and exploitation baked into its very DNA, cannot handle the change we so badly need.