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Trump’s Indictment Won’t Stop Trumpism

Donald Trump has been indicted. But this indictment is an attempt by the regime to relegitimize itself and remove Trump as a threat to capitalist stability.

Sybil Davis

April 4, 2023
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Image by CNN

After years of legal action, former president Donald Trump has been indicted. The charges are currently under wraps, but there are about 30 charges of fraud and business malfeasance related to Trump’s paying off Stormy Daniels, whom he allegedly had an affair with and then paid to keep quiet. The reaction to this indictment has ranged from outrage (from Trump’s supporters) to gleeful celebration (from sectors of liberalism) to hand-wringing about the “precedent” that charging a former president sets.

On the one hand, it is somewhat satisfying to see Trump, a notorious capitalist criminal even before he became president, finally face some legal discipline. Indeed, capitalists are rarely charged for their crimes, for the harms they cause working and poor people and the environment; most of those crimes are even legitimized by the system. It isn’t illegal to work people to the bone to turn a profit, it isn’t illegal to charge people exorbitant amounts for health care and housing, it isn’t illegal to exploit the environment to enrich yourself. These crimes are legal because they are what the capitalist system is built on, and Trump is just one malignant manifestation of this.

On the other hand, it is outrageous that, out of everything that Trump has done throughout his career in business and politics, it is misreporting hush money payments that are finally catching up to him. He is not being charged for the multiple alleged sexual assaults he has committed, for encouraging the January 6 riot, or asking the attorney general of Georgia to “find” votes for him. He isn’t being charged with the multiple instances of fraud that his organization committed, nor for racial discrimination his company oversaw; he’s being charged with relatively light charges. Trump, both as president and as a businessman, crossed the lines of bourgeois legality countless times, but he has been able to use his political and financial power and influence to shield himself from these more serious charges. This alone makes a farce of so-called capitalist justice.

But to examine Trump’s crimes demands that we look not only at the crimes that crossed the line of bourgeois legality but also the countless crimes he committed as the overseer of the capitalist state. Like every president, Trump will never see any justice for these crimes under a capitalist system. He will not be charged for killing Syrians in air strikes, for ordering family separation of migrants, or for any other action associated with overseeing U.S. imperialism, the carceral state, or capitalism because, in order to charge him with these crimes, the courts would have to acknowledge the violence that is the heart of the capitalist and imperialist state. To charge Trump with these crimes would require charging every president for their crimes in this area as well. Justice, true justice, is impossible under capitalism as these stewards of imperialism are allowed to kill with impunity — Trump himself oversaw drone strikes, bombing campaigns, migrant detention centers, and the tightening of the border, all actions which caused massive amounts of death.

Indeed, these charges are little more than a slap on the wrist to a man who oversaw war crimes, mass imprisonment, countless human rights abuses, and decades of capitalist malfeasance. In this sense, any talk of the indictment as “accountability” ignores how this episode shows, yet again, that those with money and power can escape even the most basic legal consequences for their actions.

Why is Trump facing this legal discipline? To understand that, we have to zoom out to look at the broader crisis of the capitalist regime. Trump’s presidency was, in many ways, very negative for many elements of the regime. Trump’s big mouth, obvious bigotry, and lack of subtlety revealed to many the violence that lurks at the heart of the U.S. state. Unintentionally, he revealed the true nature of many of the institutions of the political regime and did so in a moment where there was rising discontent among the masses for these institutions. In addition, Trump’s approach to the broader crises of capitalism was not always in line with what the bourgeoisie wanted from him. He took on an isolationist foreign policy, mishandled the COVID crisis, strengthened relationships with foreign despots, and escalated tension with China. These moves did not represent the interests of all sectors of the bourgeoise, and his overall method of doing politics destabilized both the political situation and the economy. Because of this, there is a sector of the bourgeoise that is trying to ensure that he won’t become president again.

Trump emerged at a specific political moment. After the capitalist crisis of 2008, faith in every institution of the regime has fallen, and Obama’s “hope and change” administration could not fully rebuild public trust in these institutions. This provided a political opening for Trump to emerge with false promises to “drain the swamp.” Trump’s political profile was based around him as a “Bonaparte” — an outsider who would reveal and “reform” the corrupt elements of the regime. To quote a 2020 Left Voice article by Maria Aurelio,

[The term Bonaparte] comes from Marx’s 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852), and it refers to an authoritarian leader who emerges when different sectors of social classes are struggling against each other and cannot find a way to impose their own representative. In this context, a “Bonaparte” emerges, presenting himself as an arbiter from above, seemingly free from institutional mechanisms and from the dominant classes. … Trump’s Bonapartism arbitrates between different wings of the Republican Party and of the capitalist class by acting as a strongman. … The Trump administration uses populist rhetoric to bolster its Bonapartism, leaning on the most undemocratic aspects of U.S. capitalism to govern, such as his many executive orders.

So, in many ways, Trump posed a threat to the regime as a candidate, and that threat was only slightly diminished once he took power. The so-called adults in the room could not fully incorporate Trump into the establishment way of doing politics, and his Bonapartist tendencies manifested in his tweets and executive orders, fired off without concern for how they might affect the public’s perception of these vital capitalist institutions. The somewhat contentious relationship between Trump and the establishment reached a boiling point when Trump rejected the election results and then instigated the far-right riot on January 6, leading to the temporary occupation of the Capitol. This period showed a deep rupture between Trump and elements of the regime as Trump was willing to mobilize his supporters against key institutions of the U.S. state and dispute a peaceful transfer of power.

One of the main tasks of the president of the U.S. is to ensure capitalist stability and to keep the masses under control. Trump was unable to fulfill either of these tasks to the satisfaction of multiple sectors of the regime. His last few weeks in power were perhaps the clearest example of his lack of interest in behaving the way the establishment wanted him to. Because of this, whole sectors of the regime have dedicated themselves to ensuring that Trump cannot gain power again. The indictment is, just like the investigation into his keeping of classified documents, a relatively transparent turn popular opinion against him and be a hurdle to keeping him from being President. The regime is attempting to resolve its crisis in part by stopping an unreliable actor from taking up the leading role again. But this move reflects the crisis itself. Trump still maintains a high level of support; it is even possible that he could be reelected. Because the crisis of the regime remains unresolved, the regime cannot be confident that the masses won’t elect Trump again, so it is making the move to legally discipline him in hopes that it will quell him as a threat.

This indictment, however, has already mobilized his base. The so-called “martyr-ing of Trump allows him to solidify his profile as an outsider whom the establishment hates, and he is mobilizing his base to support him both financially and on the streets. Georgia representative Marjorie Taylor Greene has called a protest of his arraignment, and his supporters mobilized to support him on his journey to turn himself over to prosecutors in New York City. If anything, these charges only strengthen Trump’s relationship with his base and gives them more morale to fight.

As socialists, we can’t fall into the trap of putting our faith in the criminal “justice” system. These are the same courts, after all, that threw BLM activists in jail, that deport immigrants, that put people of color in prison for years for minor charges, that let police walk free after murdering people of color. The courts are not neutral actors, despite what the capitalist regime would like us to believe. Simply bringing a few charges against Trump isn’t enough to change the nature of this system, which exists to legally justify the murderous capitalist system. Trump is facing charges because he’s a threat to the stability of the capitalist system, not because he oversaw a racist, xenophobic, and misogynistic regime. If the courts were actually to punish Trump for his crimes, they would also have to indict every sitting and former president, which they certainly have no plans to do. Because, to do so, they would have to admit what it is the capitalist state relies on: exploitation, oppression, imperialism, and violence. To admit this would destroy the false legitimacy the state has given itself and likely cause mass unrest as the masses would begin to organize more actively against institutions that clearly do not serve their interests. This risk is too much for the capitalist regime to take, so they will never truly hold any president accountable.

Just like the legal discipline of elements of the Far Right after Charlottesville and January 6, this legal advance against Trump is, in part, an attempt to relegitimize the courts. “See,” these capitalists servants are saying, “we go after the bad guys. They’re not like us.” But even a casual analysis of the Far Right and Trump can reveal that these elements are birthed, fostered, and empowered by the exact same system that the courts prop up. Because of this, the courts and “justice” system can never be trusted to bring about justice in capitalism, and they certainly cannot be trusted to fight the Right.

Trump won’t be defeated in the courtroom. If anything, this legal advance is giving him more political capital as it is making him a martyr in the eyes of his supporters. Even if he is imprisoned (a very unlikely outcome) or prevented from running again, all that would do is clear the path for Ron DeSantis to win the Republican nomination. And DeSantis is no improvement over Trump. If anything, he is a more dangerous political actor as he has found ways to put forward a hyperreactionary program without going too far in clashing with elements of the regime. This makes him a much more effective representative of the Far Right.

The courts aren’t the way to fight Trump and the Far Right. Rather than place our faith in those institutions of the capitalist regime, we must place our faith in the united working class, the oppressed, the social movements, and all those who organized against Trump and those who are organizing against Biden’s policies as the means of fighting the advance of the Right. History has shown us, time and time again, that the capitalist regime will enable the Far Right and will, when necessary, bend their knee to them. Rather than wasting our time in pressuring the capitalist state to repress the Far Right, we must take this fight into our own hands and organize to defeat the Far Right. This organization must happen in our workplaces and in the streets and must be done with a firm understanding that neither party of capital will ever truly represent our interests. We need to reclaim the energy of the mass protests against Trump such as the airport occupations following his Muslim ban if we hope to defeat Trump. The bourgeoisie and their political parties don’t want Trump because he destabilizes their precious economy. We don’t want Trump because he unleashed assaults on the working class and oppressed. Our opposition is not the same.

This political fight against the Right must take on a class-independent perspective if it is to be successful, because the fight against the Right is part of the fight against capitalism. To truly root out and destroy the Right, we need to destroy the material factors that lead to their rise, and those factors are inherent to the capitalist system. Oppression and exploitation are vital building blocks of the capitalist system, and it cannot exist without them. So, if we are to truly expel oppression and exploitation, then we need to overthrow this wretched system and replace it with a system based on worker control, in which all get what they need and rights are ensured. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans want this, so we cannot organize with them to defeat the system that they are actively propping up. Trump is but a malignant symptom (as is DeSantis) of a capitalist system that is happy to strip us of our most basic rights if it makes others profit more.

Rather, we need to build our own political project — a party independent from the capitalists, a party that fights for socialism and the oppressed. This party can organize our opposition to the Right and Trump and unite our struggles under the banner of socialism. This is the political force that can confront and defeat the Right. Indicted or not, convicted or not, Trump will never face justice because, the court system would have to admit the countless crimes of the regime and capitalism. This indictment is just political theater, intended to show that the system can take care of Trump. But we know that it can’t. The system helped create and empower Trump. To defeat him and the political forces he represents, we need to organize against the system. This means not only organizing against Trump but also fighting for unions in our workplaces, fighting the capitalist attacks on trans people and people of color, organizing against the bipartisan attacks on immigrants, organizing combative mass movements against the advance of the Far Right, and forming our own political party that can unite all these struggles under the same banner: the banner of socialism.

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Sybil Davis

Sybil is a trans activist, artist, and education worker in New York City.

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