In the days following the storming of the Capitol by extreme-right Trump supporters, the reactions from the bipartisan political establishment and media have run the gamut from cautious embarrassment to pearl-clutching denunciations of violations of the “foundation of our democracy.” It’s been called a “coup,” an “insurrection,” and the American “Kristallnacht.”
What this amounts to is a nearly unanimous rejection, not only of the events at the Capitol last Wednesday, but also of Trump’s leadership, by the dominant political forces of the U.S. state — from leaders on both sides of the aisle to the military apparatus. Many, though certainly not all, of Trump’s last-standing allies in the government likewise repudiated him and have sought to distance themselves from the events. It was clear even before Biden’s election that the bourgeoisie had lined up its support behind him and Harris to carry it through the current crisis. This support has been mobilized in the days following the storming of the Capitol, as the National Association of Manufacturers calls for Trump to be deposed and big tech companies have deplatformed both Trump and many of his far-right supporters. After the attack on the Capitol, the ruling class is posing the question of how much space the regime will allow Trump to take up in the political arena after he leaves office at the end of January.
In the days following the attack on the Capitol, the answer to this question has now taken shape. The anti-Trump consensus both within the government and in sectors of capital have mostly taken the form of deplatforming Trump and defunding his supporters in Congress. For its part, the Democratic Party and its allies in the GOP have mostly coalesced around a political agenda of punishing Trump and penalizing the extreme-right supporters that he unleashed on the Capitol. After Mike Pence refused to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office, the Democratic Party — with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer leading the charge, and Mitch McConnell reportedly supporting the maneuver behind closed doors — put forward an article of impeachment this week. Yesterday, it passed the House of Representatives, 232 to 197. Ten Republicans voted in favor of impeaching Trump and charging him with “incitement of insurrection.”
But the call to impeach Trump goes beyond the halls of Congress. Liberal activist groups and non-profit sectors — such as BLM and the ACLU — are also raising support for the demand to impeach Trump, and they are joined by sectors of the Left — namely the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). In the days following the storming of the Capitol, various state and local DSA chapters from Portland to NYC have made statements or called demonstrations in support of impeachment as a response to the current moment.
Taking a stand against Donald Trump and the Far Right is an essential task for socialists: we have to show that only the working class can truly fight back against the Right and every other attack against the working class and oppressed. But supporting calls for Trump’s impeachment and aligning with the program of the bourgeois establishment is not the way to do it; impeachment is a political move by the Democratic Party to sow the illusion that it is “fighting the Right” while building consensus around the Biden administration and its neoliberal project. Rather than back a bourgeois political maneuver that legitimizes the institutions of bourgeois democracy, socialists must prepare ourselves and the entire working class to face the next four years of an administration that has the full support of the bipartisan political establishment and capital.
Renewing Faith in Bourgeois Democracy
The Democratic Party politicians leading the fight to remove Trump from office say that Trump poses an “imminent threat” to both “our Constitution and our Democracy.” But we should be clear: the establishment’s intention to push for invoking the 25th or issuing an article of impeachment is not about removing Trump from office. It is nearly impossible for the Senate to vote on impeachment before Trump leaves office. The purpose of the move is to punish Trump and build anti-Trump consensus in the incoming government. In doing so, the move lends legitimacy to the promise of “stability” and “reconstruction” of the Biden administration and rallies the masses around this project.
Right now, Trump and Trumpism are in retreat: Trump has been banned from public platforms, alienated from his own administration and party, and he is leaving office next week. This is not to underestimate the political influence of Trump and the Far Right in the long term — if January 6 proved anything, it’s that the Far Right has been increasingly activated in the months since the election. But Democrats aren’t really worried about what Trump will do in the next seven days; they’re more worried about creating optimal conditions for the Biden administration and making it seem like they’re holding Trump responsible for the attack on the Capitol.
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This is why they’re calling last week’s events a “coup” or an “insurrection”: to build a case around pushing Trump out of the political arena for good and painting Biden as the antidote to the last four years. While in actual policy Trump may have governed very much in line, however erratically, with the neoliberal agenda, his populist rhetoric and the support it has garnered from sectors of the disaffected petty bourgeoisie and working class have helped to call into question (from the right) many of the United States’ seemingly untouchable institutions, from the intelligence apparatus to the electoral process. This came to a head last week at the Capitol. Now that Biden is taking office, it is more important than ever for the political establishment — on both sides of the aisle — to try to restore legitimacy to those institutions and paint the Trump years as an aberration.
Retroactively trying to impeach Trump — whether it is successful or not — is a way for the political establishment to wash their hands of their own culpability while continuing to enact the same policies that paved the way for his rise to power in the first place. Impeachment isn’t about stopping the Far Right, but about putting the Biden administration in a better position to enact its agenda over the next four years, and in the long term, placing renewed hopes in the neoliberal project and U.S. democracy. Moving to impeach Trump after the events at the Capital last week is the bourgeois democratic system’s way of proving that it can self-correct and protect itself from extreme political expressions of capitalist crisis, like Trump.
Fight Biden and the Right
Why does any of this mean that socialists shouldn’t call for Trump’s impeachment? Wouldn’t getting him out of office quicker and preventing him from running for office again be a good thing?
Impeachment — and signing onto the program of the bipartisan establishment in the process — is not the way to fight Trump or the Far Right. Impeachment is a mechanism of bourgeois “democracy” completely controlled by the bourgeois state. It is initiated by bourgeois politicians, voted on by bourgeois politicians who are not accountable to the people they purport to represent, and its outcome is completely determined by whatever bourgeois party happens to control the Senate.
But it’s not just “undemocratic” in the abstract — it is undemocratic in the service of protecting the interests of capital and its representatives. It wasn’t the Muslim Ban, the concentration camps at the border, the allegations of sexual assault, the innumerable disgusting comments against marginalized groups, or even the many white supremacist dog whistles that precipitated the first impeachment vote against Trump — it was Trump’s use of his position as president to move against Joe Biden and the Democratic Party that finally brought one side of the establishment against him. This time around, impeachment isn’t about white supremacy but about the fact that Trump and his supporters threw a wrench in he fragile illusion of “U.S. democracy,” tarnishing its image worldwide and challenging the strength of its institutions.
Further, we can’t make the mistake of looking at impeachment outside of the current political conjuncture. The fact of the matter is that Trump is leaving office in the next seven days. If the impeachment proceedings do pass the Senate (which in the short term is impossible), his impeachment will only be retroactive, and preventing Trump from running for office again or opening him up to criminal charges doesn’t negate the fact that Trumpism beyond Trump is alive and well both among voters and within Congress. This isn’t a question about impeachment in the abstract — or even about Trump — but about the consequences of raising this demand in lock step with a political establishment that is trying to use the threat of the Far Right to consolidate the masses around its bourgeois program for the next four years, a program that will mean new attacks on the working class and oppressed.
The bipartisan regime is attacking Trump and the Far Right now because it is politically expedient for them to do so, but that does not mean that they are not still our class enemies. The Democrats and their GOP allies will threaten impeachment now, but in just seven days they’ll be cutting funding for social programs, increasing the budgets of the police who opened the doors to neo-fascists, imposing sanctions and sending bombs abroad, and keeping the weight of the pandemic and economic crisis squarely on the shoulders of the working class. Critically, impeachment won’t stop Trumpism in the long term. As much as we must recognize the real threat of the Far Right, we can’t underestimate the immediate threat of our other enemies by counting on them to stop Trump and his supporters.
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Impeachment is only one of the measures the ruling class is using to punish Trump and the Far Right; its response also includes increased repressive measures that they will undoubtedly use to repress the Left when the time comes. Social media bans, increased police budgets, the militarization of the capital, and perhaps most terrifying, Biden’s Domestic Terrorism bill, are all being used against neo-fascists and Trump today, but we can’t ignore the fact that they will be used against marginalized communities, the Left, and the entire working class at the first opportunity.
As socialists, we need to look beyond the storming of the Capitol last week and towards the most imminent threat to the working class, which is the incoming Biden administration. In this moment, it is the job of socialists, not to ally with the bourgeoisie today and promise to fight them tomorrow, but to break the consensus forming around the Biden/Harris administration and pose our own solutions. Rallying behind the demand for impeachment — and worse, without any delimitation from the program of Nancy Pelosi and even progressives who say that impeachment is critical to “healing” the U.S. — won’t empower the working class; it relegates it to the position of observer in a fight that is of the utmost importance. Rallying around impeachment only renews faith in bourgeois institutions as the means of checking the Right when it was these institutions that gave rise to it in the first place.
When socialists raise demands, it should be with the intent of pushing for revolutionary perspectives to fight in the interests of the working class and to get them to break with the idea that their oppressors can become their saviors. We need to take the widespread rejection of Trump and his politics and direct it, not towards strengthening the bipartisan regime, but against it and the entire system, against the neoliberal world order that created Trump and his social base. That means using the next period — one of economic uncertainty and attacks on the working class in the name of “fighting the pandemic” — to organize ourselves in our workplaces to respond directly to every threat to the working class and oppressed whether it comes from the Far Right or the political establishment. We don’t just use protests to pressure bourgeois politicians to take our demands as far as their agendas will allow, but to force their hand and build our power in the process. When the Far Right attacks, we must mobilize in the hundreds of thousands to push them back. To fight back against the attacks of a new administration we must call for the unification of workers organizations and social movements in the streets, around demands like direct payments to working people who are suffering economic hardship as a result of the crisis, against increases to police budgets and police terror, a permanent moratorium on evictions, the release and dropping of all charges against political prisoners, and an end to layoffs as the economic repercussions of the pandemic hit corporations’ profits.
On January 20, a new oppressor-in-chief will take power. We already know who Biden and the Democratic Party are: friends to Wall Street and the racist status quo, whose job it is to resolve the capitalist crisis in favor of the capitalist class. As socialists, we can’t waste any energy trying to use bourgeois methods for our own ends. We need to prepare to fight both Biden and the Right with our own program and our own methods of struggle, a program to confront the pandemic and the crisis and against the anti-working class policies of the imperialist bourgeoisie.