In March, Donald Trump became the first former US president to ever be charged with a crime. In the months since then, his legal problems have multiplied. He now faces several court cases over a variety of charges and the possibility of prison if convicted.
The accusations against Trump range from the bizarre, like sharing military secrets with Kid Rock, to electoral matters like pressuring local officials to manipulate Georgia’s election results in 2020. The most serious accusations, in terms of their legal danger to Trump, are the 37 felony charges of mishandling classified documents, obstructing justice, and making false statements. He also faces a civil suit over alleged financial fraud, an ongoing federal investigation into his involvement in the January 6 coup attempt, and alleged “hush money” payments to cover up an affair.
Socialists do not defend Trump, who certainly deserves to face trial for his real crimes against working people. But what explains this sudden barrage of legal cases against a billionaire who, by all accounts, has been getting away with wrongdoing for his entire life?
Is The Political Establishment Really Dedicated To The “Rule Of Law”?
Although most Republican leaders have predictably rushed to Trump’s defense, much of the Democratic establishment has sought to cast the prosecutions as a defense of lofty ideals like the “rule of law.” For example, former president Obama pointed to Trump’s legal woes as proof that “nobody’s above the law.”
In fact, however, when the perpetrators are wealthy and powerful, the political establishment generally takes a very lax approach to law enforcement. For instance, the IRS says that, because it doesn’t have the resources to match the high-priced law firms retained by wealthy people and corporations, it loses about a trillion dollars per year from tax evasion; rather than dealing with this, both the Democratic and Republican parties just voted to decrease funding for IRS tax enforcement. And Obama himself, despite his supposed fidelity to the law, steadfastly refused to prosecute those who oversaw the George W. Bush administration’s torture program and destroyed evidence to cover it up. Finally, although ordinary people face harsh punishments for mishandling classified information, presidents and members of Congress have been getting away with it for years, including current President Joe Biden. So why has a significant section of the political establishment decided to go after Trump?
What’s Really Going On
To understand this, it is necessary to zoom out a bit. Although formally democratic, the US political system is, in practice, dominated by the wealthy. Tax rates for rich people and corporations have been falling for decades, even as a consistent majority of Americans have said they should pay more. But even as the ruling class enjoys these enormous advantages, their position is never completely secure. In fact, examples like the Amazon Tax campaign in Seattle show that it is possible to defeat the billionaires by organizing working people against them.
As the rot within capitalism continues and quality of life continues to deteriorate for ordinary people, we can expect more challenges to the status quo. For the ruling class, this makes Trump extremely dangerous, because although he has greatly benefited from the existing system, he has nevertheless shown a willingness to destabilize it in the service of his own narrow political ambitions. This is intolerable for much of the ruling class, especially his opposition to the Ukraine War. While Trump’s position on Ukraine is in no way a genuine antiwar position, it is totally unacceptable to the majority of the capitalist class due to the strategic importance of the conflict in the US/China Cold War. For this and other reasons, they are pulling out all the stops to prevent him from retaking the White House.
How To Defeat Trumpism
It is difficult to foresee how all the charges will play out, but it is unlikely they will block his path to the Republican nomination or that he will face prison time during the 2024 presidential campaign. And no matter what happens in court, Trumpism is likely to remain a force in society. So far, the legal charges have only strengthened the resolve of his followers.
As things currently stand, it is not hard to imagine Trump returning to office. Despite the unpopularity of Biden, and the fact that a majority of Democratic voters have said they do not want him to run again, the party leadership has ruled out the possibility of even holding debates to choose a different nominee. And some polls already show Trump beating Biden in the next election.
In the final analysis, the Democratic Party is impotent against Trump because it only offers a different version of the same billionaire-dominated politics. To defeat Trumpism, we need a real alternative that points a way out of the multiplying crises working people face. Cornel West’s recent entry into the presidential race can offer a sorely needed left alternative to working people, particularly if it takes on a mass grassroots character.
Working people need a new party that—unlike the Democratic and Republican parties — is internally democratic, is funded by membership dues instead of corporate donations, and can serve as a launching point for mass working-class action against billionaires of all stripes.