By MARK UGOLINI
Donald Trump, a pompous real-estate mogul and multi-billionaire, has taken the White House while surrounded by billionaire cabinet appointees who have a combined net worth greater than one-third of the United States. An Ivy-League-educated bigot, who from childhood has become accustomed to an opulent lifestyle, including a Manhattan “grand penthouse mansion” with gold-plated furnishings, has the temerity to present himself as the voice of the downtrodden and the defender of American workers.
Trump’s inaugural address was a demagogic mixture of populist and nationalistic rhetoric. The assembled dignitaries were a “Who’s Who” of the ruling elite: nationally prominent political hacks, lobbyists, and influence peddlers intermingled among the most powerful captains of industry and finance.
Oblivious to the irony, Trump said: “Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered, but the jobs left and factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. … That all changes, starting right here and right now.”
Trump’s comments are intended to manipulate and deceive workers into believing that he can bring back good paying manufacturing jobs. Despite his orchestrated media events, posing to “threaten” companies planning to move operations elsewhere, he has offered few details on how more jobs will be created.
Trump blames Mexico, China, and other countries when U.S.-based companies outsource jobs and build factories outside the U.S. where wages are very low. He also continues scapegoating immigrants for loss of jobs.
The new administration plans a major shift in trade policy, and Trump has already threatened Mexico with a 20% tariff if they don’t pay for the wall on the border. Other statements, and selection of Peter Navaro as a top trade advisor, signal an aggressive move on China. Navaro is a well-known advocate of this approach. However, the administration has received harsh warnings that raising tariffs will only cause higher prices for consumer goods, added unemployment for some sectors of the U.S. workforce, and run a high risk of a trade war.
Trumps words are deceitful, cynically ignoring the reality of an ever-expanding global economy dominated by huge multinational corporations and banks. The only way U.S. capitalists might attract new jobs would be to accelerate severe austerity measures that drive down wages and weaken or eliminate unions and all the protections they provide.
According to Trump, the U.S. role in the world will reflect “a new vision … America First,” to advance U.S. domination and supremacy over world markets by means somewhat different from past administrations. His aggressively nationalistic foreign policy will drive toward the same objective as Obama’s before him—free reign for the huge multinational corporate and banking interests to dominate and control the world economy.
Trump revealed more of his view of “America First” in a Jan. 25 interview with ABC News. He explained, “We should’ve kept the oil when we got out” of Iraq in 2011. “To the victors go the spoils,” said Trump in another interview, arrogantly declaring an intention to steal Iraq’s national resources. He prefers this course, recognized as “illegal” under international law, rather than the more veiled imperialist approach of previous administrations, allowing the huge energy giants like Exxon and Chevron to exploit Iraq’s oil resources through “legal” means. Either way, mega-profits end up in the hands of the same capitalist oil barons.
Reactionary executive orders
During his first week, Trump made sweeping executive orders to begin implementation of his party’s reactionary agenda. Here are some of the most significant:
- Health care: Allowed government agencies and states to waive or delay implementation of Affordable Care Act provisions and undermine existing insurance markets. These actions threaten the existing insurance-based system and could result in the loss of health insurance coverage for over 20 million Americans.
- Women’s reproductive rights: Reinstated the so-called “Mexico City Policy,” which prohibits use of taxpayer money to fund non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that perform or promote abortions. One NGO that promotes family planning reports that loss of funding will result in 2.1 million unsafe abortions worldwide.
- Climate change: Provided backing for construction of both the Dakota Access and Keystone XL Pipelines. TransCanada, the energy giant behind the XL Pipeline, is instructed to re-submit its application for a presidential permit to construct the pipeline and promises action by the Secretary of State within 60 days.
- Immigration: Orders were issued to: take first steps to construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, which will cost up to $25 billion; construct and operate detention facilities near the border; hire 5000 additional Border Patrol agents and 10,000 additional immigration officers to intensify harassment; empower state and local police agencies to act as immigration officers; target undocumented immigrants for removal who have been convicted or accused of a law violation; end federal aid to “sanctuary cities”; institute a 90-day ban of nearly all permanent immigration from seven majority Muslim countries (Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen), with provision to extend the ban indefinitely; suspend the entry of refugees into the U.S. for 120 days, and direct officials to determine additional screening; suspend entry of refugees from Syria indefinitely.
The sweeping executive orders signify a major escalation in a racist war on immigrants and immigration rights. The new restrictions constitute state-sponsored religious persecution of Muslims; Trump said priority for admission would be given to Christians. These immigration orders need to be forcefully condemned by all who support and value democratic freedoms; the demonstrations that have erupted in cities and airports around the country point the way forward.
Outpouring of protest in the streets
Even before Trump’s inauguration, a massive outcry of opposition was already erupting. Millions have taken to the streets in this country and around the globe.
Most prominent were historic Woman’s Marches in over 600 U.S. cities and on seven continents, involving over 4 million worldwide. This was the most powerful mass protest in U.S. history. Over 600,000 protested in Washington, D.C., 750,000 in Los Angeles, 500,000 in New York City and 250,000 in Chicago, but these are just the largest.
The Woman’s Marches were fueled by widespread revulsion with Trump’s sexist actions and statements, and strong support for abortion rights and other woman’s right’s issues. Strong opposition to other aspects of Trumps agenda were raised in homemade signs and banners. Special focus centered on the fightback against Trump’s racist anti-Black, anti-Latino, anti-Native American, and anti-immigrant policies. Many protesters were also fighting for health care, climate justice, and LGBT rights.
The message was crystal clear—a resounding “no” to the plans of Trump and his reactionary cohorts. The woman organizers of the protest developed a powerful “Guiding Vision and Defining Principles” document that codified the goals of the march. It expressed a realization that all forms of oppression are connected and related; and to fight against one can require a fight against all.
This represents an important step for the women’s movement, one that points toward generalized awareness that the system itself breeds these injustices. As socialists and Marxists, we believe that all forms of oppression have their roots in the capitalist system, one that is organized for profit rather than human needs.
The power of the woman’s march was also reflected in the very large number of marchers who demonstrated for the first time. This first experience in independent political action can have a large impact on political consciousness.
A few unions endorsed the Woman’s Marches, but sadly, the vast majority of unions were not supporters. Substantial union participation would have greatly enhanced the power and strength of the movement and more broadly reflect the support of American workers.
Democrats try to mislead protesters
The Democratic Party and its support groups have played a prominent role in the organization of many anti-Trump protests, including the Women’s Marches. At a number of these events, office holders, officials, and organizers who are affiliated or aligned with the Democratic Party were prominent on speaker platforms and set a political tone designed to channel activists into various lobbying efforts to advance future electoral success.
Left-liberal Democrats are strongly promoting “100 Days of Resistance,” urging lobbying actions designed to block the Republican congressional agenda and promote local and national electoral campaigns. They urge protest activists to lobby members of Congress, run for local offices as Democrats, and work with organizations committed to “taking over the Democratic Party.”
The notion that the Democratic Party, built on endless wars and racism, can be “taken over” and transformed from a capitalist party to one that represents working people is pure fantasy, and will only confuse and disorient the movement. It’s part of a broader effort to manipulate independent struggle, tamp down its militancy, and channel new activists into an electoral framework and capitalist politics. Obama correctly explained the common ruling-class interests of the two major parties after the election when he reminded his supporters, “We are all on the same team.”
This has been the primary role of the Democratic Party throughout history. In past elections, the Democrats often presented themselves as champions of working-class and minority communities. But during the 2016 presidential race, Hillary Clinton’s campaign largely took these traditional allies for granted and more openly featured full-throated support for Wall Street interests, leaving the field wide open for Trump’s populist message.
The preceding eight years of a Democrat in the White House proved to be anything but “hope and change” for working people. It started with bailouts of the giant financial firms and auto barons, while the working class fell victim to large-scale unemployment, union-busting wage cuts, home foreclosures, and other austerity measures.
These years produced record profits for the tiny few and soaring income inequality. Good paying jobs remained scarce, with growing poverty and homelessness. The Democrats paid little attention to the despair and anger that was growing, and were only concerned with counting heads when it came time to “get people to the polls.”
The illusion that fundamental social progress can be won under the leadership of the Democratic Party, or any capitalist political party, is one that is challenged directly by revolutionary Marxists. This is borne out by history.
Some Democratic Party-influenced anti-Trump protests portrayed the election as “illegitimate” because Trump’s victory was determined by the Electoral College, despite Clinton’s winning the popular vote. This is premised on the conception that, despite a few flaws, the U.S. government operates on principles of democracy and majority rule. Instead, a tiny capitalist ruling class maintains its rule through a highly organized and repressive state apparatus. It will maintain its vital interests through brutal force and violence whenever necessary. The democratic rights available to working people were won through bitter and hard fought working-class battles over years past.
Presidential elections were never based on majority rule. This is why the Electoral College was codified in the Constitution in the first place, along with other measures designed to ensure domination by the wealthier strata of society. Today, eliminating the Electoral College would not make U.S elections democratic. The restrictions imposed by the rigid two-party electoral system are one reason for this.
An onerous set of undemocratic election laws effectively lock competing political parties out and restrict their ability to compete. These laws create insurmountable obstacles for smaller parties to gain ballot status and participate in forums and debates.
The Democratic Party’s strategy relies on bickering over Trump’s cabinet appointments and participation in electoral activities, keeping opposition to new attacks within the narrow framework of the routine legislative sparring between the two capitalist parties.
We need a fundamentally different approach—a strategy that builds massive independent actions in the streets opposing all racist attacks; assaults on woman’s, LGBT, Native, and immigration rights; for climate justice; and opposing all austerity measures designed to drive down the standard of living of U.S. workers. Powerful independent demonstrations in the streets around these issues can provide a political impact truly capable of defeating Trump’s ugly plans.
There are signs that the growing movement has begun to include sections of the U.S. working class that have a major stake in the battle—including African Americans, Latinos, and all immigrant communities. These forces will play a big role in future class battles.
Unfortunately, today’s unions and many traditional organizations of the oppressed communities are hobbled by a severe crisis of leadership, utterly enmeshed in Democratic Party politics. Hopefully, the organized labor movement, when faced with the inevitable attacks from the new Republican administration, will begin to rely on its own strength and power, rather than following the bankrupt strategy of the Democrats.
Ultimately, the fightback will require working people and their allies to make a clean break with the Democrats and to form their own political party.
Photo: Women’s March in Chicago, Jan. 21. Mark Ugolini / Socialist Action