Oct 30, 2017
At the end of October, a Grand Jury called by Independent Counsel Robert S. Mueller III issued the first indictments in a probe that could eventually lead to charges against Donald Trump himself. Paul Manafort and his business partner Rick Gates faced 12 charges, including failure to register as a foreign agent, failure to declare foreign income, money laundering, and making false statements. In addition, Mueller announced that a former campaign adviser for Trump, George Papadopoulus, had pled guilty to making a false statement under oath.
The charges against Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, weren’t a surprise. It has long seemed obvious that he and others would face criminal charges. What is notable, however, is how fast the investigation is proceeding, making it seem as though Mueller has a bigger fish on his line. Reinforcing that assumption is the fact that Mueller has widened his probe beyond the original investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and apparently has been looking at Trump’s financial dealings with some of the Russian oligarchs, including those tied to the regime of Vladimir Putin.
Moreover, some Congressional and other Republicans have removed themselves from office. It could indicate that they expect some kind of proceeding against Trump and are looking for a way to distance themselves from him.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that Trump himself is going to be put on the chopping block immediately, and perhaps not even ever. Removing a president in any way other than the every-four-year election threatens the stability of the political system, which already is undergoing strains from the turmoil the Republican Party finds itself in. And there are certainly other ways that Trump could be put aside, short of impeachment and criminal charges. Nixon was forced to resign, with the real reasons buried deep in archives that were sealed for almost four decades.
The political establishment had already moved to control Trump about three months ago when John Kelly, a retired general, was appointed as White House chief of staff. To borrow the image used by one of Trump’s Republican critics, a military man was put in charge of the “adult day care center” in the White House.
Kelly wasn’t put there to weigh on Trump’s policy choices. First of all, because it’s very hard to know exactly what Trump’s policies are. Does Trump himself even care? As the developments over the young DACA immigrants demonstrate, he is perfectly able to start from the anti-immigrant stance of the extreme right of the Republican Party, which wanted them all expelled from the country, only to shift, a few days later, to proposing a deal with Democratic leaders to maintain the DACA exclusion – as a way to get his wall built – only to pull back this offer two days later, announcing that he would find the way himself to guarantee a legal status to these young people. And Trump announced each shift with the exaggeration and open, blatant lies that he seems to glory in.
Second, to the extent that Trump represents any policy choices, they are the same ones that the Republican Party has been putting forward for decades.
No, it was not Kelly’s job to provide Trump with policy choices, nor even just to make Trump’s pronouncements consistent. It was obvious from the beginning that one of Kelly’s goals was to divert Trump from his most temperamental, vociferous and legally damaging outbursts. To that end, Kelly almost immediately swept a number of people out of the White House – those who had encouraged Trump in his tendency to engage in rants. The most important person Kelly dumped was Steve Bannon, an extreme right ideologue, who provided political ammunition for Trump. But Kelly also went after the little claque of right-wing sycophants who were roaming the halls of the White House, egging Trump on to ever more provocative tweets.
Equally important, Kelly organized Trump’s time and created a public record of it so as to make Trump appear to be doing what presidents do. There were pictures of him meeting with Senate Republicans over lunch; pictures of him negotiating with Democratic party leaders; pictures of him boarding a plane, taking off for a visit to Texas, after Hurricane Harvey, or boarding a plane for Florida, after Hurricane Irma or one for Puerto Rico, after Hurricane Maria. There were more pictures of him, shaking hands with important visitors to the White House; pictures of him meeting with foreign leaders, pictures of him signing something or other, etc.
The fact that the latest president is an unbalanced megalomaniac has not prevented the state apparatus from functioning – the state apparatus that carried over from the Obama administration, and from the Bush administration before that, and from the Clinton administration before that. The wars continue without a hitch, without even a hiccup. Taxes continue to be collected and bills paid. Insurance companies continue to be paid or otherwise reimbursed, despite his executive order on subsidies to those companies. Immigrants without papers trying to cross the border continue to be picked up and dropped back over the border, just as they were under Obama. The Federal Reserve continues to oversee monetary policy and regulate the biggest banks. The Supreme Court continues to hear cases, federal prosecutors to prosecute, etc. Even the move to reduce sentencing – not for reasons of decency, but because the ever-increasing prison population costs too much to maintain – that continues too, despite Trump’s tweets about “drug-addled criminals” and the calls by his Attorney General for still longer sentences.
The fact that Trump still can’t find people to staff the appointed administrative posts, the essential purpose of which is often ceremonial, hasn’t interfered with the functioning of the state apparatus either. The few appointed positions that are absolutely necessary for the state to carry out its functions – for example, secretary of state, secretary of defense, secretaries of the different branches of the military, head of the CIA and other secret services, secretary of the treasury – were chosen and put in place quite quickly, chosen from the same political and corporate and military circles that have long provided the individuals who really run the political system.
The state apparatus that the bourgeoisie needs to protect its class interests is well installed, rooted and able to do very well, thank you, without taking account of whoever the president may be, or whichever inanity he may amuse himself with. And sometimes, Trump has even been useful – as for example, when he threatened to create a nuclear Armageddon in North Korea, one more bargaining chip put into the pocket of the Secretary of State, who was right then “negotiating” with the North Koreans.
Finally, Trump has served the interests of the American bourgeoisie and its political establishment in a very clear way. With his tweets and comments he has systematically lent credibility to the racist ideas that already pervade the population. Of course, the racism that exists in this society preceded Trump by centuries. Even what we see happening today didn’t start with Trump. But he has legitimized the disgusting words and violent actions of those who in the past knew to be more careful in what they said and did.
Some in the political establishment may be ashamed that such a “fucking moron” – as he was called by his own Secretary of State – represents the U.S. in the face of the world. But U.S. imperialism has long straddled the world like an overgrown bully. Its military apparatus extends around the world; its nuclear armaments threaten the whole world; it dominates the world’s financial markets. It politically dominates the other imperialist powers. Embarrassed? Trump, with all his braggadocio and crude behavior, is just an accurate representative of what they are.
None of this says that Trump’s position is secure. Mueller has opened other, more serious roads to investigate beyond Russian electoral interference, making possible links between Trump’s financial empire and the Russian state apparatus under Putin. That signifies that the political establishment, at the very least, has left open the option to dump Trump.
Even if Trump finally is removed, it won’t be done to serve the interests of the working class, anymore than the working class would benefit if he were allowed to remain in office.
In any case, whatever future this impeachment saga holds, working people face a problem right now: how to answer Trump’s racist garbage. It’s in our hands to act so that the potential power of our own class is not weakened by the divisions and antagonisms Trump has worked to rake up.