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Contributions to understanding this period


  • Writer's pictureDennis O'Neil

On Trump & Treason

1. Trump’s recent European jaunt has re-centered the chaotic political struggle in the US on the question of Russia. “Treason!” is the cry from a surprising number of mainstream Democratic politicians, pundits of all descriptions and a swath of left liberals and socialists. It rings a bell among significant sections of the masses. Large demonstrations including DC’s ongoing Occupy Lafayette Park have been taking place without much media attention.

The treason charge now focuses on Trump’s kowtowing to Putin and his verbal attacks on US allies in Europe. In particular his statements at the Helsinki press conference denied the detailed reports of a range of US intelligence agencies that Russia’s GRU put a thumb on the scale of the 2016 through social media intervention and hacking and data theft, and that such covert Russian governmental efforts to shape US political and social life continue unabated. Trump echoed Putin’s disclaimer and refused even to be pinned down to saying that any Russian interference, past or ongoing, has been proved.

2. So is Trump a traitor? This is the wrong frame for revolutionaries and socialists to adopt. Our loyalty is to the international working class and the cause of humanity, not to the government of the United States. However, it appears that there is more than opportunism at work in the strident denunciations of Trump.

Forces within the US ruling class clearly do feel that he is on a course which is hurting the country they think belongs to them and severely damaging institutions they need to maintain their rule here at home, as well as the State Department and diplomatic corps, and the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and other spook shops. More, Trump is strengthening Russia, one major rival which has been on the rise as the era of US global dominance continues to erode.

3. Is Russia really The Enemy? (The Constitution defines treason as “adhering to the enemies of the United States, giving them aid and comfort.”) The Russian government is one of a number of rivals to the United States in the modern version of the Great Game, the clashing of imperialist drives to expand global hegemony. While there are other rivals, China and a German/French-headed Europe in particular, Russia has posed itself against US ruling class interests in the Middle East and works to pull Eastern European states under its umbrella, using force and subversion both. Its military capacity is second only to that of the Pentagon. If by Russia we mean the Putin regime and the ruling elite it is at the center of, let’s be clear. It is an enemy of the Russian people and the people of the world. While its particular aggressions have focused principally on restoring its Soviet-era zone of control on Eastern Europe, it has engaged in campaigns to undermine democracy throughout Europe, aiding anti-immigrant right wing and neo-Nazi parties and organizations, and attempting to damage European political, economic and military cooperation.

It is an enemy of the people of this country as well, with its campaign to lift up and strengthen white supremacy and reactionary political forces, for example, its just-exposed project of funding and steering the NRA for much of this decade. At a time when the white nationalist bloc DBA the Republican Party has been working overtime at voter suppression, Trump has in effect given Russia a green light to expand its efforts to interfere with US elections.

4. Isn’t Trump actually promoting world peace? Progress in Korea toward peace and even eventual reunification is a very good thing indeed, though it’s the governments on both sides of the 38th parallel have been doing the heavy lifting to make that happen. (The promised denuclearization of the peninsula seems remote, at best.) Many Democratic pols have disgraced themselves by attacking the progress that has been made there and beating the war drums. Similarly, Trump’s gestures at engineering a US pullout from NATO are not necessarily moves toward world peace, although NATO has served the US as a most useful front for intervention in Eastern Europe and the Arab world.

But let’s not kid ourselves. Trump is plenty bellicose. His 2019 budget increases military spending by 10%. He plans to rebuild and expand the US nuclear arsenal, reversing a reduction dating back to the Reagan era. He continues the Obama administration’s extensive deployment of special forces (now in 144 countries) and use of weaponized drones. And his demands that Japan and European countries pump up their military spending doesn’t make for a more stable world order.

The most serious danger of a war breaking out has from the start been a US-led or US-backed attack on Iran. The bloc of Saudi Arabia/United Arab Emirates/Sunni militias (in close alliance with Israel) have offered themselves as willing collaborators in such an adventure. And the crude and unstrategic trade wars he likes to threaten have the potential for turning the next major recession into a catastrophic economic meltdown in which the global working class and poor would suffer enormously.

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has published a well-known “Doomsday Clock” for over 70 years, to call attention to the danger of nuclear annihilation. This year it is set at 11:58! The last time it was this close to midnight was 1953.

5. Doesn’t focusing on “Russiagate” take away attention from other, deeper crimes being committed by the Trump regime? Hasn’t it been seized on by Clinton/Obama Democrats to turn attention away from their own crimes and political failures?

Probably. And definitely. But this doesn’t mean, as some suggest, that it’s some kind of false flag operation hoked up to produce these effects. Actually it has been one of the most consistent themes within spontaneous grassroots resistance to Trump. At the first Women’s March, the day after his inauguration, there were hundreds and hundreds of homemade signs calling him Putin’s Puppet and Traitor. And this was months before the appointment of Special Counsel Mueller.

The unprecedented tidal wave of crazy the administration and its supporters have been pumping out on a daily basis has made focusing on anything difficult. Faced with the current post-Helsinki uproar, for instance, Trump has returned to the question of athletes kneeling to protest racism. But activists, including millions newly galvanized into political life by the administration’s crimes, are displaying a growing ability to keep an eye on key issues. Spurred by the administration’s incredible attack on immigrants, by stripping children from their families, they have kept fighting on this front and even forced many Democratic pols to take up the call to shut down ICE.

6. So revolutionaries and socialists have to learn how to conduct ourselves in this situation, and pretty damn quick. There are sharp divisions coming to the fore among the rulers of this country. (Why it has taken so long is a subject for further discussion and investigation). Trump’s decreasing ability to control the narrative—on immigration, on tariffs, on tax cuts, on Russian interference in US politics—does not mean that we get to waltz in and provide the leading line. It will be Democratic politicians and center/left talking heads driving that process for the most part. They won’t necessarily be effective—their chest-thumping effort to out-jingo Trump on the Korean talks was not especially convincing.

But we will be part of an objective anti-Trump front with these ruling class forces and the blocs of capital backing them. (Note: this paper is premised on the idea that Trump, and the white nationalist block he helped forge and speaks for, pose a greater danger to the people of the US and the world than what are commonly called the neoliberals. I know there are friends and comrades who disagree passionately with this, but this paper is not intended to engage their arguments. Another time. Maybe.)

Obviously one task is to figure out what’s going on. This paper and the article by the Tuesday Group are an initial effort to make a contribution to this process and start a dialog. But, as ever, the way to learn is by joining the masses in motion. We can pick our shots—help build or at least attend, say, a Families Belong Together rally, over an Impeach Now one. As ever within campaigns and demonstrations, we raise the issues we think are key to building the people’s unity, combat capacity and political consciousness.

This approach does not obligate us to echo the line of the dominant forces in the objective anti-Trump front! We should not speak in terms of treason but of contention and collusion between great powers. We can point out, say, the hypocrisy of the right wing denouncing their longtime heroes in the FBI and CIA without ourselves becoming hypocrites by hailing Mueller as a savior. And we need our own vehicles, be it literature, posters, social media campaigns, cultural works to spread the word.

Our preference for street mobilization and militant action should not blind us to the fact that, absent a direct crisis of state rule, the main battlefield this fall is going to be electoral. There are reasons for optimism that the Republicans will lose one or both houses of Congress, but that is by no means a sure thing. We need to take part in collective mobilizing processes leading up to the midterms whether organized by our unions, by left liberal outfits like MoveOn and Our Revolution, and by DSA where that is practical. We need to support “left” Democrats in primaries, especially those from the Bernie campaign and those shocked into activism by Trump.

A final thought. This will be what the media like to call a “hotly contested election.” There will be attempts to steal it by reactionaries, domestic and foreign. And if the Republicans lose, sections of their white nationalist base will mobilize to reject the results. In either case, we must be geared to react quickly and powerfully. Some of those in the broad objective anti-Trump front will not be ready to move. We must be prepared.

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