Greensboro, NC – The pandemic continues to kill Americans at an alarming pace as the unemployment rate climbs quicker than it did during the Great Depression of the 1930s. As of Friday afternoon, the confirmed death toll from the virus was 36,118 while unemployment claims stood at 22 million. Some of us know people who have died or are ill from the virus, some on the brink of death as I write. And what of the millions of unemployed who are now staring destitution in the face? How could this have happened so quickly? How long will it be before we forget what it meant to think and act normally when we are now being told that there will not be a vaccine for at least a year, that we must resign ourselves to a life of masks, protective gloves and, more importantly, the loss of our humanity since we cannot even be close to one another unless we occupy the same physical space?
Then behold Trump & Co. on CNN, as I do at the end of my workday. For me, it is a spectacle disgusting and tragic. Whatever pain I have turns to anger and the wish that almighty forces would sweep these evil doers away since we the people seem powerless to do so – at least to this point.
This is especially the case for me and, I am sure, many others since Sen. Bernie Sanders ended his campaign for the presidency. It is downright crushing to those of us who went through this before in 2016. Then when Hillary Clinton lost because she ran a shortsighted campaign even after the Democratic National Committee sabotaged Sanders, we had to listen to mainstream Democrats tell us that we gave the election to Trump because not enough of us supported Clinton to their satisfaction. Well, I voted for her, as I held my nose, because I could still justify it as the lesser of two evils. This time, I’ll vote for Joe Biden because Donald Trump is a fascist and I understand what that means. Still, as I have lately said to friends in person and on FB, if Trump is the express train to hell, Biden is the local.
Sanders quickly endorsed Biden and pledged his support to defeat Trump in November. His longstanding challenge to the status quo, his call for a political revolution, his determination to win over the working class by pledging to them what they needed, his ability to recapture the spirits of people like me who made Herculean efforts to help him connect his worldview with ours – and now this capitulation. What a stunning loss of nerve for a man who could not see his mission in the context of the struggle against the current fascist reordering under Trump & Co, and the path of socialist transition that lay within it.
Sanders was always more the social democrat – someone who will compromise with capitalism to, hopefully, get the best out of it – than a democratic socialist. Actually, the latter is easily applied to Karl Marx, the founder of what historians call “scientific socialism.” Several years ago, I had the good fortune to correspond with a very fine scholar of Marx’s writings who knew them well and wrote a cogent analysis of how Marx generally used socialism and communism interchangeably in his writings because he understood the basis of both to be the principle of what he called “associated labor.” For Marx, this meant that production and exchange could be organized on the basis of cooperation, not competition as it is under capitalism, and this required that all activities involved in both be democratic in design, purpose, and function.
“Know When To Hold ‘Em, Know When To …”
There are two reasons why the Sanders campaign collapsed. First and foremost, the good senator from Vermont who has done so much for working people and the disenfranchised all his adult life is to blame. In the end, he just could not see the necessity of connecting his national agenda with local needs and desires. How else could he put meat on the bones? What would be the local multipliers in cities like Greensboro if we had universal health care, free college tuition at a public institution of higher learning, and massive funding for infrastructural needs? Some of us here tried to make that case to the national campaign in 2016 but got nowhere.
Nevertheless, Sanders inspired Americans to put themselves in motion by calling for a “political revolution” that would level the playing field between the few oligarchs at the top who own and control the economy and the working class bitten repeatedly by ruling-class Republicans and Democrats alike. It was in this spirit that Democracy Greensboro took shape for the purpose of electing a progressive city council in November 2017, and to that end played a formative role in creating a “Community Platform” that remains a seminal, revolutionary document for the working people in this city.
To win over the working class – regional differences did not have to matter if the campaign had been guided by people from their own communities – required greater decentralization of Sanders’ national campaign; in other words, a vital movement inspired by the spirit and practice of democracy at the local level. Yet Sanders himself could never get beyond trusting a few of his longtime advisers, who obviously gave him bad advice. His patented stubbornness and apparent arrogance are even more telling now that he’s quit. On Friday, he told CNN that it was “hard” to accept this second defeat. “But we knew what we were doing, and nothing happened that really shocked me.” Then he defended his tactics. “I don’t think it was the tactics that ended up helping us lose.” He wound up blaming Americans for not being actively involved in the political process because they don’t feel the system works for them. “We as a nation have the lowest voter turnout of almost all of the major countries on earth. I think it is very difficult to get people to vote when they believe the system is totally rigged against them and that their vote does not make a difference.”
Sander is wrong. His tactics were incorrect because they flowed from a strategy that was utterly flawed. Imagine if African Americans concentrated on the East Side in Greensboro, where conditions caused by a destructive tornado two years ago and now COVID-19 added to the burdens of underdevelopment, inequality and racism, had become a focal point of his national campaign? Suppose Sanders himself had appeared in the city and held up a copy of his national agenda in one hand and a copy of the Community Platform in the other, and standing side by side with the folks who put it together? Suppose he had established a viable campaign office in Greensboro from the start, where staff from the nerve center of the national campaign worked closely with people here who had so much to offer in the way of expertise and commitment. No, the “tactics” were quite wrong because there was no such strategy.
The second reason is even more difficult for most people to grasp. And that is the failure of the real Left in this country, the anti-capitalist Left whose ranks are made of socialists, communists, independent Marxists, anarchists, revolutionary Christians, as well as the legions of academics in their various disciplines whose efforts make them pathfinders and the vanguard for the future, if not the revolution. This is a complex matter I will leave for another time, though the critique is essential before too long. In the meantime we can only hope that Biden won’t prove weaker than Clinton four years ago.
Trump & Co. and the March toward Fascism
Now that Sanders is gone, the bulk of the American people – the working class – face a daunting challenge. But whatever leadership emerges can take comfort in the knowledge of what contemporary U.S. history reveals: the harbingers of President Donald J. Trump who occupied the White House from time to time during the last century.
From 1920 to 1932, they were the corrupt drunkard Warren Harding; the saintly promoter of business, Calvin Coolidge; and Herbert Hoover, the “Great Engineer” who became the most despised man in America because he proved himself an insensitive lout in the face of mass unemployment, deprivation and misery during the first Great Depression of the 1930s. All three served Wall Street and Big Business during the so-called decade of prosperity of the 1920s, known to historians as the Great Boom. In the space of just seven years (1922-1929) America was catapulted to a new kind of capitalist empire as the world’s unprecedented creditor and banker, making it the epicenter of the world capitalist system. Think about it. Three marginal human beings played historic roles as president in the coming of Pax Americana.
On the other hand, Richard Nixon was an evil genius who upped the ante in Vietnam until he quickly recognized that America’s “Golden Age” of imperial power and global reach was coming to a close. Ever so clever, Nixon peered into the future as only a good Machiavellian can and opened the door to relations with “Red” China. Why? Because it was the only way to sustain U.S. influence in Asia after calling it quits militarily in Vietnam, and also to make the Soviet Union rethink its own Cold War strategizing. Let us not forget that Nixon was also a nasty drunk who abused everyone around him, wife Pat included, though nothing like Warren Harding who suddenly and somewhat mysteriously croaked in his hotel room during a rousing political sweep of the Northwest in a push for a “return to normalcy.” This was the political mantra Harding sounded in his 1920 campaign for the presidency because massive labor unrest, political turmoil, and the flu epidemic had hit America hard after the World War ended two years earlier.
Then less than a decade after Tricky Dick resigned, we got Ronald Reagan, or the “Great Communicator” as he is known by all who have kissed his mantle at one time or another – even Barack Obama did in 2009 when he said he liked some of Reagan’s ideas and initiatives. Reagan was more than ably assisted by his conniving vice president, George Herbert Walker Bush, who played perhaps the key role in the Iran-Contra scandal. Selling missiles to Iran, a terrorist state as was declared by the U.S., and using the proceeds to fund the terrorist Nicaraguan “contras” against the Sandinista government – even when Congress said no – marked a qualitative break with the Constitution. Reagan escaped impeachment for a crime bigger than Nixon’s Watergate criminality and Bush became president. You can draw a line from Reagan through both Bush I and II to Trump.
Except that Trump & Co. mark a qualitative break with their predecessors. In their thought and actions, they have severed all ties with the principles of democracy and representative government. Not only do they wield power in the most abusive and disgusting manner compared to those who paved the way for them. They are mobsters and Trump is the Big Boss. Together, they have taken over the Republican Party, always steeped in reaction and whose obeisance to Big Business and Wall Street since Harding is a matter of historical record.
What makes Trump & Co. fascist in appearance is its politics of hated and scapegoating. As fascists, they hold within them and represent to others all retrograde political ideas and forces grounded in ignorance, fear, irrationality, and the closed mind. Still, Trump & Co. came to life because finance capital and Big Business fueled a general crisis of American society by raking up profits while driving down wages. Unprecedented polarization of wealth and poverty, racism, mass violence, and the punitive powers of militarized policing – to list only some of the nation’s many ills.
At its core, American fascism is a much greater force than Trump & Co. What makes this mob fascist is the role it plays for the titans of Wall Street who seek to own and control the democratic state in the same manner that President Franklin Roosevelt defined fascism in 1938 as “ownership of Government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power.” In other words, fascism is the domination of finance capital over society, its political institutions, and mass consciousness.
America’s oligarchs are itching to reopen the economy they own and control in order to save their banking, industrial, and commercial empires, which they and Trump & Co. deem too big to fail. Remember the last time we heard this? Different folks, same strokes. These are elites who literally live atop the capitalist pyramid of wealth and jet across the globe to find comfort in their multiple residences. They stay safe from COVID-19 because their underlings are taking care of business and, well, doing the shopping. We’re talking about people who own $120 million apartments – whole floors in some cases – in tall and eerily slender residential skyscrapers like the ones rising in the clouds above midtown Manhattan called “Billionaires Row.”
Trump, who still owns his own palatial projectile nearby, promised the lower middle class and enough working-class whites in four states that he would drain the swamp in Washington. Instead, he and his fellow gangsters have done much to pollute the natural and political landscape. Then came the “the China Virus” as Trump calls it, bringing all their pillaging to a grinding halt. Until now, Trump & Co. had become Wall Street’s dreamboat. Deregulation pushed through arbitrarily by means of executive order. A Republican-dominated Congress passed tax reform, a boon to the already super rich. Legislation boosting the military industrial complex to even greater levels of deadly force while screwing its uniformed ranks by putting it in harm’s way and then leaving veterans to fend for themselves through physical injuries and mental scars. Anything that removed impediments to capitalist accumulation and greater profits only fortified those already swimming in corporate wealth and personal fortunes – a political mainstay of Trumpism in the White House and throughout the Republican Party that now belongs to Trump himself. This is why our predecessors in the 1930s, the most astute American writers on the subject, defined fascism as the “rule of finance capital itself.”
Meanwhile, the upward trajectory of Trump & Co., despite the lies, the deceit, and the abuse it delivers to the American people in the daily coronavirus briefings, is a lesson only to those who question CNN, MSNBC, The New York Times, and the Washington Post, as well as the majority of local media now mere appendages of concentrated corporate ownership and power. The language varies but never goes astray of what corporate ownership and management thinks is safe. So we get drivel day after day. Trump thinks he’s a king, which is why the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution as they did to prevent this from happening. Trump is a clown, a buffoon, a moron. Lately, the labels have revealed bolder claims; for example, Trump is behaving like an authoritarian leader and we are a democracy. Even the word dictator has been used this past week. And while he’s often compared to Mussolini or Hitler, it never occurs to those who are making the comparisons that both were fascists who came to power and destroyed their respective nations.
Behind the language Trump uses to claim absolute authority to do whatever he wants is the reality of the constant dance he and his gang must do every day with Wall Street – which always leads. Sure it takes two to tango. But Wall Street owns the dance floor. Trump’s big push to reopen the economy only makes sense for a ruling class of financial and business titans salivating about the Boss’ call for a $2 trillion infrastructure plan that will make Big Business even more concentrated and politically powerful. Moreover, Trump boasted that his so-called plan would be no Green New Deal and, in fact, would rely on greater use of fossil fuels. All the time, there is the ongoing threat to get tougher on China, to make sure we build the wall, to let every other country know that it is about “America First” – a slogan used repeatedly by Warren Harding a century ago. Trump is making sure of this today by promising to do what the neoconservatives dreamed about two decades ago when, surrounding their hapless president, George W. Bush, they put forth a new foreign policy based on building what it called “Fortress America.”
As COVID-19 is the tipping point to a crisis already deepening in America, Trump & Co. unabashedly puts the oligarchs and their interests first. This calls to mind what two Americans writers, A.B. Magill and Henry Stevens, wrote in 1938 when they called Wall Street the “fountainhead” of American Fascism.
Both men were communists. But were they wrong?