Trumpian threat to democracy raises stakes for 2018 elections
Special counsel Robert Mueller. Protection of the Mueller investigation is essential to the protection of democracy in the U.S. Evan Vucci | AP

The American people face a crisis of governance and threat to democracy unlike any in our history. The stakes couldn’t be higher in the outcome of the 2018 elections.

Trump’s release of the so-called Nunes memo and his blocking of the Democrat’s rebuttal is the latest attempt by Trump, his family and closest associates to obstruct the investigation into his crimes being led by special counsel Robert Mueller.

Trump views the Mueller investigation and its accumulation of evidence as a fundamental threat to his power. Another document compiled independently by investigative journalist Cody Shearer confirms much of the infamous contents of the Steele dossier including compromising information Russian officials may be using to blackmail Trump and his corruption and criminality.

The Nunes memo named after Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), chair of the House Intelligence Committee was widely discredited. This is the latest stunt by Nunes who has abetted Trump’s obstruction all along.

The memo’s release was coordinated with the right-wing mass media and leaders of the Republican Party who have also abetted the obstruction from the start (recall Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s refusal during the 2016 election to sign a bi-partisan statement condemning Russian interference).

There are indications social media bots originating in Russia independently helped promote the #ReleaseTheMemo campaign.

Using the Nunes memo, Trump aims to oust Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who is overseeing the Mueller investigation. He can then appoint someone who will fire Mueller.

The push to get rid of Rosenstein is part of a wider purge across governmental agencies that include the resignation of career officials who have resisted or don’t want to be associated with Trump’s policies. The danger is they will be replaced with so-called “alt-right” fanatics.

Other recent incidents reflect Trump’s mindset including his charge that Democratic elected officials were treasonous for not clapping during the SOTU and his demand for a military parade in Washington D.C.

These pronouncements may sound preposterous to any reasonable person, but they resonate with his mass base that embrace the lies and hate.

It’s not unthinkable that Trump and his allies including white supremacists, misogynists, immigrant haters, climate deniers, militarists and fascists, would manufacture a provocation to end the investigation and abolish democratic rights.

This is a dangerous moment. If Trump succeeds in firing Mueller, the nation will face a constitutional and democratic crisis of a new magnitude.

This is a test for the American people and our long history of opposing tyrants and upholding the truth. It is a test of our traditions of extending democratic rights and the resiliency of existing democratic institutions and norms, checks and balances.

What we learned from Watergate

Richard Nixon attempted to place his presidency above the law when he carried out the Saturday Night Massacre during the Watergate Scandal. His administration was dubbed the “imperial presidency” when the executive branch trampled on democratic norms and acted as if they were accountable to no one.

Trump’s similar efforts to put himself above the law have occurred over an extended period with the firing of Acting Attorney General Sally Yates and then FBI Director James Comey, the forced resignation of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and his on-going efforts to fire Mueller.

Trump’s actions constitute key characteristics of U.S. – style authoritarianism: the purveyance of “alternative facts” and fear of “the other,” the attempt to purge any resistance, the escalating concentration of power in an unaccountable presidency and steps to dismantle government for the social good and efforts by the Republican Party to institutionalize single-party rule.

Trump poses an unprecedented threat. That such a figure has appeared on the U.S. political scene should come as no surprise. It is the rotten fruit of decades of economic and political developments accompanying the rise of the extreme right.

Wealth and power have become concentrated in an oligarchic capitalist class or the .1 percent. U.S. politics is marked by hyper-polarization. Democratic institutions are under assault especially from extreme right political movements and their support base among the most reactionary fractions of capital in the financial, fossil fuel and military industries. A highly developed right-wing mass media infrastructure propagates racism, misogyny, anti-immigrant hate, homophobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and militarism and holds sway over tens of millions.

And now the Oval Office is openly aligning the GOP with once on the edge American-style fascist elements.

Fascism has traditionally been defined as the open, terroristic dictatorship of the most reactionary sections of finance capital under which all democratic rights are eliminated. The history of Nazi Germany reminds us that to prevent fascism from gaining power, a broad united front must resist at every point the assault on the rule of law and the penetration of divisive and fascist ideological poisons.

U.S. style fascist ideology has specific features and characteristics rooted in the development of U.S. capitalism These include white supremacy and racial oppression rooted in slavery, misogyny, nativism, anti-working class “rugged individualism,” anti-science attitudes, single super power chauvinism, the glorification of violence and U.S. military power in the service of imperialism. It builds on the presence of the military in daily life and culture, the saturation of guns and deadly mass shootings, an extensive right-wing media and Evangelical movements, among others.

The 2018 elections are the main arena where the fight to defend democracy and the role of collective action, including government for the social good is currently being waged. By electing Democratic majorities in Congress and state legislatures, the American people can ensure that the investigations, which objectively challenge creeping fascism, continue. The American people can put the brakes on the corporate assault on democratic institutions and rights, peace and the environment. We can block the defunding of social programs and governmental agencies.

We can block the Republican Party’s efforts to institutionalize single party rule.

United resistance, fissures and institutional interests

An unrelenting democratic resistance has sharpened the political and democratic crisis precipitated by the Trump administration and its Republican enablers. It has been intensified by the Mueller investigation.

The resistance includes millions protesting and organizing at the grassroots. It includes the Democratic Party. It even includes institutions within the capitalist superstructure, which are under assault including parts of the mass media and an independent judiciary.

It also includes those fractions of the capitalist class in conflict with the extreme right for example in the tech sector and parts of finance capital. It includes fissures between the Trump administration and intelligence and law enforcement agencies and military, however temporary and self-serving, which also contribute to the resistance hindering Trump’s attempts to consolidate total power.

In building a united front against authoritarianism and fascism, every rift within ruling circles and the state apparatus should be welcomed and taken advantage of.

Take for example the conflict between Trump and the FBI and intelligence community. While these institutions are part of the state security apparatus they also constitute centers of power with specific institutional histories, cultures, contradictions and interests.

By their very nature the FBI and intelligence agencies have been incubators for extreme right and fascist tendencies, which have been alternatively resisted or used by presidential administrations.

Trump would like to purge these agencies of anyone who resists his authority. At this moment, the Trump conspiracy with the Russian government and criminal mafia oligarchs is a direct challenge to the U.S. state security apparatus. Those resisting Trump within the intelligence community see him undermining its ability to function. Here are two examples of Trump’s actions that are riling those agencies:

Trump shared classified information with Russian officials during an Oval Office meeting. He thus exposed a highly classified Israeli intelligence operation;
The intelligence community was originally tipped off to the Russia-Trump campaign conspiracy by Dutch intelligence, which had penetrated Russian hacking operations and was following the Russian government penetration of the Democratic National Committee. It appears the Dutch were deliberately exposed by Trump to protect the Russian hacking operation.

The institutional bureaucracy of the U.S. intelligence community is alarmed by these developments. They feel it compromises their relationships with intelligence agencies of allied countries.

Trump’s war with the intelligence agencies and FBI along with the acquiescence of GOP elected officials is ironic because the GOP portrays itself as the “law and order” party. The GOP base is now more negative toward the FBI.

According to historians Trump’s open war with the FBI is unprecedented and an effort to force the FBI to do its bidding. Trump couldn’t attack the investigation without attacking the institution of the FBI itself, divorcing himself from a force that in other circumstances might have been a reliable ally.

The origins of the FBI date to the post World War I era and the suppression of the radical upsurge in labor, left and revolutionary movements including preventing the birth of the CPUSA.

Authoritarianism, white supremacy and misogyny are part of the agency’s institutional DNA. Its entire history, especially under J. Edgar Hoover, is associated with criminal conduct. Its sordid history includes murders, collaboration with the Mafia, harassment and suppression of labor, civil rights, social justice movements, the left, disruption of the Black Panther Party, involvement in the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and JFK, COINTELPRO, etc.

The FBI’s professed function is law enforcement including against counterterrorism, financial crimes, espionage, drug trafficking, etc. Even though the law enforcement community leans strongly to the right, there is a struggle between extreme right and more moderate factions over upholding democratic norms.

For example, Mueller, Comey and FBI Director Christopher Wray are all registered Republicans. But all three were involved in dramatic efforts to block the Bush administration from renewing the program authorizing surveillance on American citizens, which they stated was unconstitutional.

On the other hand, during the 2016 election right-wing elements in the FBI illegally leaked information about the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails to Rudy Giuliani.

Thus prior to the election, Clinton’s emails were investigated while criminal activity by Trump and his associates weren’t including the suppression of the Steele Dossier.

In addition, right-wing FBI agents in its New York office conspired with Giuliani and Erik Prince and a right wing network in the New York Police Department to force Comey to reopen the Clinton email investigation days before the election. Trump later appointed Prince’s sister, Betsy DeVos, to the position of Secretary of the Department of Education.

Opinions differ on how much this move contributed to Clinton’s defeat but according to FiveThirtyEight analysis of polling data the Comey letter “probably cost Clinton the election”.

The FBI and intelligence community can in no way be counted on to save democracy. But these criminal actions give an idea how the FBI and other governmental agencies would function if Trump were able to purge them of resistance and bring them totally into the service of consolidating his power.

This is why ousting the GOP and Trump is vital. Electing a Congress and administration that will keep these agencies in check and ultimately reform and abolish them is a key radical democratic task.

Democracy and national sovereignty

Defense of national sovereignty is also at stake. National sovereignty is a basic democratic issue for the U.S. and every country. It is a separate issue from the long and shameful imperialist policies of U.S. government interference in elections, overthrowing elected governments and undermining of national sovereignty of other countries. These policies serve the interests of the U.S. capitalist class, which rakes super profits from plundering and exploitation of people around the world.

Nevertheless, an attack on the democratic institutions of our country – specifically our electoral system – in the interests of capitalists from another country are also against the interests of both our working class and that of the other country and are wrong.

The American working class and people are already up against powerful capitalist oligarchic, corporate and right wing forces undermining our democratic institutions. We’re up against limitless money, voter suppression, gerrymandering and a program of systematically reducing the power of organized labor. In addition, trade pacts dominated by global capital establish tribunals that can override national governments and laws.

What measure of democracy the American people have achieved has been the result of constant battles: Bill of Rights, abolition of slavery, collective bargaining, voting rights for African Americans, Native Americans and other people of color and women, direct election of U.S. Senators, marriage equality, environmental protection, etc. have all been achieved only as a result of bitter struggle. Defending these democratic gains is part of the class struggle; it’s upon these achievements that further democratic advances will be won.

In spite of the fact that the U.S. is an imperialist power and the U.S. government and electoral system are dominated by capitalist class interests, the American people will not be won to the fight for democracy except on the basis of love of country and true working class patriotism including the appreciation for all that has been won. Defense of democratic institutions, including the U.S. electoral system and national sovereignty are basic democratic issues affecting the U.S. working class and people.

There is a valid concern that anti-Russian hysteria could facilitate a new Cold War. But the sources of this danger are reactions to Russia as a capitalist rival, sharpened geo-political competition and what may be the beginning of a new global nuclear arms race.

Russia is a capitalist state with an authoritarian government and its domestic and foreign policy serves the interests of its capitalist oligarchy, not the Russian people. Our fire should be directed at our own ruling class first of all, but also against the Russian capitalists, many of who are ex-communists who looted the nation’s wealth. Their actions of interference have adversely impacted the conditions of the class and democratic struggle here. On this basis, the U.S. working class and people have common cause with the working class and people of Russia who are under the boot of that regime.

The Mueller Probe and Trump crimes

There are five known threads in the Mueller investigation. Four people have been charged and more indictments are expected. The plea deals are aimed at gaining testimony against people at the center of the conspiracy, i.e. Trump, his family and close associates.

After a year of investigation by Mueller, the mass media and the army of patriotic civilian journalists, the extent of Trump’s criminality and the conspiracy with Russia’ ruling circles in the 2016 elections is becoming clearer.

The goal of the Russian government and oligarchs was to help elect a U.S. president who would end economic sanctions imposed by the Obama administration after Russia occupied the Crimea in response to a U.S.-inspired coup in the Ukraine. The sanctions initially exacerbated the economic crisis caused by collapse of global oil prices.

The quid pro quo for the promise to end sanctions was the pledge to supply dirt on Clinton and to conduct a social media disinformation campaign.

Russian hackers targeted election systems in twenty-one states or nearly half the country in 2016. Only a handful were successfully penetrated, and Illinois is the only state to has acknowledge it was compromised. There is no evidence any votes were changed.

Some 126 million people were exposed to Facebook ads and posts during the election through hundreds or thousands of fake accounts that promoted anti-Clinton messages. These posts became feeding grounds for anti-Clinton conspiracy theories and hoaxes including “fake news” on Election Day.

Estimates of the reach of the disinformation campaign range from less than one-tenth of one percent of posts to an estimate that social media bots originating in Russia generated 18 percent of Twitter traffic.

“At least a third of pro-Trump tweets during the election came from bots, and half of Trump’s most engaged Twitter followers are bots,” reported Think Progress.

There is no way to fully measure the extent of the influence. Campaigns including fake events, memes and petitions also targeted Black Lives Matter, immigration, and LGBTQ activists, and promoted rumors about the Clintons. All were aimed at driving wedges in the anti-right coalition.

While the emails stolen from the DNC, Podesta and Clinton didn’t reveal anything truly damaging, they helped shape the impression Clinton had something to hide.

Mueller is also investigating the role played by Wikileaks. The timing of the email dumps by Wiki Leaks was impeccable – on the eve of the Democratic National Convention, they were calculated to do maximum damage to the unity of Clinton and Sanders forces.

Indications are Wikileaks coordinated with the Russian government to spread the Clinton and Podesta emails.

Mueller is also investigating if Cambridge Analytica, the data firm owned by Robert Mercer, the right wing oligarch backing Trump and Breitbart News, coordinated with Russian officials to target voters with their disinformation campaign.

Therefore, it’s vital the investigation continue until the truth is fully known. The outcome of the 2018 elections will determine the fate of the investigation. We should do all we can to ensure a victory, because it will be a defense of democracy and step toward ultimately ridding the government of the authoritarian and fascist menace.


John Bachtell
John Bachtell

John Bachtell is president of Long View Publishing Co., the publisher of People's World. He is active in electoral, labor, environmental, and social justice struggles. He grew up in Ohio, where he attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs. He currently lives in Chicago.