U.S. government’s legitimacy crisis calls out for socialist solutions
Protesters march beside the Plano Police Department at a protest organized by the Bernie Sanders-linked organization Our Revolution, June 3, 2020, in Plano, Texas. | Stewart F. House / The Dallas Morning News via AP

Trump lies. Habitual dishonesty, whether it is masking the jobs crisis, the pandemic, or downplaying racism, is his signature feature. It has cost lives and threatens democracy.

Trump’s lies have never been more deadly than in the past three months. Two million U.S. cases of COVID-19 have been accompanied by more than 117,000 deaths. Experts believe that data collected by public health agencies undercounts the pandemic’s true extent. Few believe that those undercounts are simple mathematical errors, but appear to be driven by Trumpian political pressure.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently believes that 4 million Americans will contract the virus, and 500,000 will die as a result. But fearing more negative publicity, the Trump administration has simply stopped talking about the pandemic and refuses to give a platform for science-based public health information to the people.

A man holds a red flag with a black fist on it as members of the Archdiocese of Washington walk from the White House to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, June 8, 2020, in Washington. | Andrew Harnik / AP

From the beginning of the crisis, Trump saw his leadership as a public relations battle. Administration officials downplayed the pandemic’s severity. Economic advisor Larry Kudlow insisted in March that “America should stay at work.” Later that month, Kellyanne Conway falsely claimed the virus was being “contained.” Trump callously smirked, “I like the numbers being where they are,” and “we have it well under control.”

Reality, however, forced establishments to close to contain the disease. Instead of leading by example, Trump mocked safety measures such as physical distancing and masks. He taunted governors who refused to applaud his leadership. He orchestrated armed Republican Party rallies against “stay home” policies.

Instead, he has pushed for early economic “reopenings,” despite the advice of public health officials. Trump’s ally Gov. Ron DeSantis in Florida pressured public health officials there to hide data about the pandemic to support an early “reopening.”

Now, new data spikes have upended much of the confidence public health officials held for containing the pandemic.

Trump has manipulated an undercount of unemployed workers, as well. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the workforce has shrunk by one-third. 50 million workers since March 1, even before the onset of “stay home” policies, have applied for unemployment benefits.

U.S. government agencies have hidden this reality. On June 3, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an unemployment rate of 13.3% for May, lower than expected. This “good news” sent Wall Street speculators into a frenzy, boosting the stock markets by hundreds of points. Later that day, Trump delivered a speech that stupidly and callously bragged about the jobs report and weakly attempted to co-opt public opinion about the racist police murder of George Floyd to rally his sinking approval ratings.

Scrutiny of the BLS report, however, shows an inconsistency between its details and its conclusions. The 13.3% number is four percentage points higher than what was reported for April. And when the official unemployment rate is added to the percentage that measures those who don’t apply for unemployment benefits, the total adjusted rate is a staggering 19.7% for May.

BLS officials subsequently admitted that a “classification error” caused them to undercount millions of workers who lost their jobs due to the pandemic. The official unemployment rate should have been more than 3% higher.

By June 11, the bubble had burst, and the stock markets collapsed, as the reality of a long-term unemployment crisis began to sink in.

The limited stimulus made available through the CARES Act filled only a tiny part of the deep economic hole. It provided millions in relief to Trump-owned businesses in other countries, while 40% of Black-owned small businesses are expected to close permanently. Instead of extending financial assistance to workers until safe workplaces can be more consistently assured, Trump’s Senate Republican allies plan to block unemployment relief to force everyone back to work.

Trump’s economic advisor Kevin Hassett summed up the administration’s callous view of workers. He told the media that “our human capital stock is ready to get back to work.” This reference to people as “human capital stock” dehumanizes workers as corporate pawns.

As Trump’s inept, fascistic governance grows alarmingly evident, support for his policies is evaporating and even his legitimacy as the leader of a dishonest and corrupt regime almost fully eroded. This past week Trump tried to defend his legitimacy by siding with the legacy of the pro-slavery Confederacy. This latest step toward fascism is but another sign of his last-ditch effort to prop up a dying white supremacy. He must not be allowed to win.

Where the public conversation is going: socialism

Meanwhile, the public conversation has taken new and exciting turns–without permission from Trump or other politicians, millionaire media commentators, or billionaire monopolists. We see people now questioning seriously the value and worth of the whole U.S. system–the system of capitalism and white supremacy as a co-dependent force.

Right now, residents of Seattle have occupied a section of the city—the “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, or CHAZ—designating it a police-free zone, erecting barriers, demanding the resignation of the city’s mayor for his role in the violent attacks by Seattle police on protesters during the uprising.

On June 2, in offering a solution to the racist policing crisis in their city that led to the death of George Floyd, Minneapolis City Council members called for the disbanding of the city’s police force and resources for community-based forms of public safety.

Numerous local school districts are ending contracts with police departments, which has been a major tool in the racist school-to-prison pipeline.

Louisville Metro Council has now banned “no-knock” warrants that allow the police to invade a home—the type of warrant which led to the racist slaying of Breonna Taylor, who had committed no crimes. No-knock warrants have been a massive source of police abuse of power and violence.

Instead of deferring to presidential power, mayors and governors are increasingly defying Trump’s demands for swift and violent police actions against protestors. Many are mocking him for hiding in a bunker during the uprising. A large swath of public figures, even within his own party, are denouncing him for ordering the military to attack protesters.

This turn of events signals a further collapse of Trump’s governing authority.

Renowned scholar Cornel West recently said about the ongoing uprising against systemic police racism, “We’re dealing with moral meltdown … We’re witnessing the collapse of the legitimacy of leadership …That’s the deeper crisis.”

Connecting the uprising to the devastating impact of COVID-19 on Black Americans, esteemed historian Gerald Horne recently commented that the horrific symptoms of systemic racism are “not just an indictment of capitalism, but U.S. capitalism, which by design has been the global guarantor of world imperialism, a system that allows for the looting and plundering of resources of populations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America on behalf of the one percent in the North Atlantic community.” The gaping crisis of world imperialism lies at the root of social upheaval we struggle against today, he argues.

The collapse of governing legitimacy in the U.S. has led to even deeper questions about the nature of U.S. capitalism. Lawyer, author, and activist Michelle Alexander posed some of these questions in a recent op-ed in the New York Times. “Can’t we design alternative approaches to poverty, drug abuse, mental illness, trauma, and violence that would do less harm than police, prisons, jails, and lifelong criminal records?” she wrote.

A man wears a surgical mask decorated with a red star badge. | Kemal Softic / AP

The systematic radical defunding and complete demilitarization of police departments, elimination of profit-based private prisons and public prisons, dismantling of organized white supremacist affiliations within police departments, removal of “immunity” for cops from prosecution or lawsuits, and the establishment of massive restrictions on police and civilian interactions are just starting points for the change for which she calls.

The questions do not stop with police reforms. She adds, “We cannot achieve racial justice and create a secure and thriving democracy without also transforming our economic systems.”

After praising calls for socialist transformation made by such luminaries as W.E.B. Du Bois, Albert Einstein, and Bernie Sanders, Alexander justifiably argues, “Achieving economic justice requires we work for racial justice, and vice versa. There is no way around it.”

I agree with Alexander. We have been in this moment before, poised between an uprising and meaningful change. In the past, the peoples’ movements for democratic change were limited by the failure to demand substantive socialist transformation, making it easier for the ruling class to co-opt the movement based on cosmetic reforms that provide cover for those who would preserve white supremacy and capitalist exploitation.

Even Angela Davis, a veteran of the Communist movement, the civil rights struggles, the Black Panther Party, a close friend and ally of anti-colonial struggles all over the world, and advocate for prison abolition, and socialist, anti-racist revolution, expressed enthusiasm for the mass popular support for reform in this moment to TV reporter recently, “What we are witnessing are very new demands: demands to de-militarize the police, demands to de-fund the police, demands to dismantle the police and envision different modes of public safety. We are asked now to consider how we might imagine justice in the future. This is a very exciting moment. I don’t know if we have ever experienced this kind of a global challenge to racism and to the consequences of slavery and colonialism.”

To be sure, as Davis has long argued and suggests here, only the fullest measure of reforms that dismantle systemic white supremacy and addresses comprehensively and with keen focus the self-defined needs of African Americans, Latinx communities, Native peoples, and other minoritized and racialized people can deepen democracy and make socialism, or full liberation and fundamental change, possible or workable.

Nothing short of a system-wide process of change, in which all of the multi-national, multi-racial working-class people in this country shape a new vision of society will do this time. If we can envision a just justice system based in community-controlled forms of public safety with no traditional police department, we can envision just economic forms, democratic political forms, and a value system that prioritizes public health, the environment, workers’ rights, national self-determination, community sovereignty.

This overhaul begins with defeating Trump in November, moves well beyond the meager, meandering platform of candidate Biden, even perhaps the advanced demands of candidate Sanders.

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Joel Wendland-Liu
Joel Wendland-Liu

Joel Wendland-Liu teaches courses on diversity, intercultural competence, migration, and civil rights at Grand Valley State University in West Michigan. He is the author of The Collectivity of Life: Spaces of Social Mobility and the Individualism Myth, and a former editor of Political Affairs.