[Marxism] FW: Korean Crisis Spotlights Trump Agenda

Richard Fidler rfidler at ncf.ca
Thu Aug 10 08:27:37 MDT 2017

The author is a long-time US Marxist and currently columnist for a number of
international web sites. -- Richard Fidler

By Barry Sheppard

The threat by President Trump to unleash nuclear war against North Korea was not
a Trumpian “excess.” That has been made clear by his Secretary of Defense,
retired Marine General James Mattis, who backed Trump. What the administration
is demanding is that North Korea freeze its nuclear program, including the
testing of missiles.

When Secretary of State Rex Tillerson emphasizes diplomacy, that is in no way a
contradiction to Mattis’ and Trump’s position. What Tillerson seeks by
“diplomacy” is the same demand that the North freeze its program, in return for
nothing from the U.S.

Pyongyang cannot agree to this demand. It knows that if it agreed to such a
freeze that would just be a first step toward its giving up its nuclear program
entirely. If that happened, Trump would invade, and end the Korean War by
overthrowing the North. That would directly threaten China.

The situation has become very dangerous.

The crisis bolsterers Trump’s claim that the U.S. needs an authoritarian regime
headed by him.

To understand better how this state of affairs has come about, it is useful to
review Trump’s trajectory. 

Donald Trump has been president for over six months. In this period, in addition
to calling him out over his lies, abrupt changes of position, racist and sexist
comments, etc., the establishment media have complained that he has not acted
“presidential” by refusing to accommodate the political establishments of not
only the Democrats but also increasingly the Republicans.

An op-ed in the New York Times said, “In Donald Trump’s White House, Reince
Priebus and Sean Spicer were more than chief of staff and press secretary. They
were the president’s connection to the Washington establishment: the donors,
flacks and apparatchiks of both parties whose influence over politics and the
economy many Trump supporters wish to upend.

“By firing Mr. Priebus and Mr. Spicer 
 President Trump has sent a message:
after six months of trying to behave like a conventional Republican president,
he’s done. His opponents now include not only the Democrats, but the elites of
both parties.”

Early in his term Trump fired FBI Director Comey, a Republican who while in the
Bush administration backed the use of torture including waterboarding and other
reactionary measures Trump backs. He wasn’t fired for those policies but for his
disloyalty to Trump.

During the 2016 election campaign Comey took the unusual step for an FBI
director of intervening in the election by opening public investigations into
the two mainstream candidates, Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump. Apparently he
wanted to be in the position of holding something over whichever candidate won,
like the notorious witchhunter and former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover did.

One week before the election Comey publically said the investigation of Clinton
was still open. After the election, Clinton charged she lost because of the
Russians and Comey. When Trump was sworn in, Comey dropped his threats against
Clinton, and continued his investigation into Trump’s alleged collusion with
Russia to fix the U.S. election. Suddenly Clinton and the Democrats were singing
Comey’s praises. Trump, however, told him “you’re fired” (his favorite phrase
from his TV program) for not quashing the investigation.

Trump recently publically humiliated his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, for
recusing himself from the investigation – clear disloyalty. As of now Sessions
is hanging on, doing his best to kowtow and grovel before Trump by vigorously
carrying out his policies from immigration to promising to put “leakers” of
Trumps secret shenanigans in jail.

When the Republicans were unable to overturn Obamacare because of their internal
battles, Trump blamed Congress, where the Republicans hold majorities. He also
keeps demanding that the Republicans somehow return to the job of overturning
Obamacare (which he knows is dead in the water) so he can keep humiliating them
for their failure to do so.

Trump’s approval ratings are low compared to other presidents at this stage in
their term, holding in the 35-40 percent range. But the approval ratings for
Clinton are even lower, and for Congress much lower than that, in the single
digit range. Blaming the do-nothing dysfunctional Congress does not reduce his

In spite of his approval ratings, Trump is going full steam ahead. While courts
have blocked his sweeping Muslim bans, his Immigration and Customs Enforcement
(ICE) agency is using “extreme vetting” to accomplish most of what he wants. ICE
has been unleashed to engage in brutal deportations of Latinos, building upon
the quieter but massive policies of Obama -- “the deporter in chief” until Trump
came along.

He has used executive orders (a tool to strengthen the executive at the expense
of the legislative that has been steadily built up for many decades) to give the
go-ahead to the fossil fuel energy giants, while his Environmental Protection
Agency is being dismantled under the leadership of a climate change denier.

Voter suppression in Republican controlled states in recent years have been
given a boost by Trump’s efforts to “investigate” how “three million
undocumented” workers managed to vote last November, which “explains” his loss
of the popular vote.

Public education from kindergarten through high school has been under attack by
both Democrats and Republicans, with progressive cuts to funds, attacks on the
teachers’ unions, etc. Trump’s new education department head, billionaire Betsy
DeVos, is carrying the attack further. She is well known for attempts to divert
funds from public schools to private (especially religious) ones.

Trump’s refusal to “act presidential” and stop his incessant tweets attacking
the media, the establishment and anyone in his administration who is not 100
percent personally loyal to him, etc. leaves many media talkingheads and
progressives puzzled. Some have expressed hope that Trump’s replacement for
Priebus, General John Kelly, as his White House chief of staff will tame Trump.

General Kelly was Trump’s head of the Department of Homeland Security, which
oversees ICE and the unleashing of the agency against not only the undocumented
but the Latino community as a whole. This fact should give progressives some
pause, but hope springs eternal in the breast of naïve believers in progressive

While Kelly will likely bring some military discipline to the White House staff
of self-interested advisors jockeying for favor, the idea that he will
discipline Trump is laughable. Any move on his part that smacks of a lack of 100
percent loyalty to the Commander in Chief will bring down “you’re fired!” on his

What Trump is doing is not crazy or stupid on his part, but coldly calculated.
Every tweet, every act, is being used to consolidate his hard base.

Trump, as well as Sanders, knew that 80 percent of the population whose real
incomes have stagnated or fallen since 2005 (according to the Financial Times),
and whose overall situation has gotten even much worse since the financial
crash, Great Recession and its aftermath, were fed up with the establishment.

Sanders proposed pro-worker reforms, while Trump took the opposite path. The
Democratic Party establishment smashed Sanders, while Trump smashed the
Republican establishment, a task he is again turning to with relish.

Trump’s answer was to appeal to white racism, and to blame immigrants,
foreigners, Blacks and other non-whites as the cause of the suffering of those
whites in the lower 80 percent. He won the hardest racists of all classes into
becoming his undying loyalists. This group is smaller than the majority of
whites who voted for him, but is significant, and numbers in the tens of
millions. These people were seen at his rallies, cheering on the manhandling of
Black protesters among others.

This group applauds, is not appalled, by his attacks on the media and the rest
of the establishment.

He demagogically appealed to white workers and small businesspeople with his
“America First” economic nationalism, which dovetailed with his white

In spite of, or rather because of, his belligerence against the establishment,
his appeal remains strong among those who voted for him. While all polls should
be taken with a large grain of salt, around 90 percent who voted for Trump say
they would do so again. His support among Republicans in general remains strong.

The Congressional establishment did score one victory over Trump. That was the
bipartisan lopsided vote to impose new sanctions on Russia, supposedly for its
“meddling” in the U.S. elections. Trump wants to better relations with Russia,
and didn’t like this bill. He was especially incensed by a clause which says he
can’t change these or other sanctions, which he says is an unconstitutional
invasion of presidential powers.

Germany was vehemently opposed to part of the proposed sanctions which would
have stopped its project with Russia of piping natural gas to Germany. The
leadership body of the European Union (controlled by 
Germany) even threatened retaliation if those sanctions were passed. The bill
was rewritten to remove any sanctions against American firms doing business with
Russia on energy, and this perhaps covered German firms as well, or perhaps
Trump gave them assurances behind the scenes. It is not clear how or even if
Trump will carry out these sanctions.

Following Trump’s signing of the bill, the Russian government needled him,
charging that he ignominiously capitulated to “the establishment” and is weak. 

In his election campaign, besides his white and economic nationalist proposals,
Trump presented himself as the strongman who could cut through the disarray in
the political establishment. Both parties are riven with deep internal
contradictions and neither has come up with realistic proposals of how to deal
with the suffering of the 80 percent. Trump, with his demagogic “solutions,”
promised he would do so – just trust him.

He would take personal charge of the government and lead the way out of the
“swamp” the establishment has gotten the country into. In other words, a
strongman authoritarian presidency, with the trappings of bourgeois democracy
and a tamed and supportive Congress.

It will take him some struggle to reach this goal. All the investigations into
his Russian connections and his finances are the establishment’s best current
hope of stopping him.

By concentrating now on shoring up his base, Trump is preparing his troops for
the battles down the line. He is still in the first year if his term, the
beginning of his authoritarian drive.

Part of shoring up his base is his courting of right wing groups outside of
Congress. He schmoozes with Sean Hannity of Fox News and leaders of groups like
the Heritage Fund and the Family Research Council, whose head, Tony Perkins, was
behind Trumps recent ruling that transgender people would not be allowed into
the armed forces anymore.

Trump and members of his administration have been using his first six months to
solidify the support of these and other groups in the conservative movement,
“including small-government tea Party followers; abortion opponents; evangelical
Christians and other culturally traditional voters,” in the words of an article
in the New York Times about his “warm embrace of the right.”

Trump has taken a new step in his anti-immigrant drive by his new policy of
restricting legal immigration to those applicants who already speak fluent
English, have college degrees, already have top-paying job offers in the U.S.

When Stephen Miller, one of Trump’s policy advisors, gave a press briefing
defending the new restrictions, a reporter raised that they were unfair. Miller
ripped into the reporter, charging he had revealed his “cosmopolitan bias.”
“Cosmopolitan” has long been known as a dog-whistle for “Jew,” and is so used by
the Alt-right, where anti-Semitism runs deep.  

 Another group he is cultivating is the police. At a recent police ceremony, he
urged the cops to rough up suspects and not to care too much about their rights,
to the cheers of the assembled. Police chiefs later disassociated from his
remarks, but not the leaders of the police “benevolent” societies.

He is appealing to officers of the Army, Navy, Marines and such by appointing
generals and admirals to high posts in his administration. He has also given the
generals full rein in deciding military policy in Washington’s wars in the
Middle Eat and elsewhere. The support of at least a major section of the armed
forces would be necessary for Trump to make a real move to establish his vision
of an authoritarian presidency.

Most leaders of socialist groups in the U.S. see no danger that Trump could
establish an authoritarian regime. In contrast to them, the activist and writer
Noami Klein, while certainly not a Marxist, is sensitive to this possibility. On
a recent Democracy Now!” interview, she raised the concern that in the event of
a major shock, like a terrorist attack on the scale seen in Britain and France
this past year, or even a major economic downturn, or some other comparable
event, Trump could declare a state of emergency that could usher in an
authoritarian regime.

An intensification of the crisis in Korea could also be such an event. There is
nothing like a war threat to rally the population around the flag and the

Another aspect of the present and future situation of the Trump regime is the
attitude of the decisive (wealthiest) sections of the capitalist ruling class.
It is important to keep in mind that when talking about the “establishment” we
are not talking about the heights of the capitalist class.

Trump, himself a billionaire, is not part of those heights, which are dominated
by established large ruling class families, with their wealth spread across
family members, in foundations, and hidden in other ways. But he is not opposed
to them and does not include them in the “establishment.”

On the contrary, he looks to them for support, and indicates this in his
appointment of multi-millionaires and billionaires to his administration, as
well as generals.

Right now, the big capitalists like what they see in this administration, and
that is reflected in the galloping stock market (leaving aside more fundamental
economic factors). They like Trump’s deregulation and other pro-business
policies. They would like to see more of his promises put in place, like a big
infrastructure program and tax reform in their favor. They know the stumbling
block is in fact the political establishment in Washington which can’t agree on
whether or how to do all this.

If the big capitalists conclude that Trump is an obstacle in the future, they
will clip his wings. Or, if they grow impatient with the disarray in Washington,
they could throw their support to a Trump authoritarian presidency, or that of
another figure, to establish stability.

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