A week ago, on Jan. 6, Donald J. Trump secured his place in history by becoming the only president of the United States to ever incite the violent overthrow of the government. His legacy in now further cemented by his becoming the first president to ever be impeached twice. The House of Representative has voted 232 to 197 to impeach Trump, formally branding him “a threat to national security, democracy, and the Constitution.” Ten Republicans broke with their party and joined the Democrats in condemning the White House occupant.
With Trump impeached, again, the Senate now has the duty to initiate a trial of the president and return the only legitimate verdict: Guilty.
At least for now, however, it looks like that body will dodge its responsibility. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made it clear he plans to boot the trial into the post-inauguration period, sparing Trump the disgrace of being dragged out by police. He joins the likes of Vice President Mike Pence and other members of the Trump cabinet who’ve refused to do their job and remove the president under the 25th Amendment.
The impeachment article approved by the House focuses foremost on Trump’s act of intentionally encouraging his assembled mob to assault the seat of the U.S. government with lying claims of a stolen election, resulting in five deaths. But it also includes mention of Trump’s most recent impeachable offense just before the terrorist actions in Washington—his effort to force Georgia Sec. of State Brad Raffensperger to overturn the election result in that state and rob President-elect Joe Biden of its Electoral College votes.
Congress had listed the rest of the crimes Trump has committed while in office: Islamophobic travel bans, the kidnapping of migrant children, the bombing of Syria, and his encouragement of the neo-Nazi killers in Charlottesville, to name only a few.
Negligent manslaughter would have been an appropriate addition, too. More than 4,000 people a day are dying of coronavirus in the U.S., with Trump’s abdication of responsibility on track to claim 400,000 lives before his term comes to an end.
But even though the coup put their own safety at risk, the remarks of many Republican members of Congress during the floor debate showed that no matter what Trump does, the GOP just can’t quit him. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., quoting a conservative legal scholar, actually had the audacity to say that even though the damage caused by the rioters was “enormous,” it paled “in comparison to the damage from… impeachment.”
Not even the construction of a gallows and noose in front of the Capitol, the revelation that the mob planned to take hostages and carry out assassinations, the sporting of Confederate flags and Ku Klux Klan symbols, nor outright murder in the halls outside their offices was enough to cause most Republican hearts to skip a beat. Fresh information suggests that a few of them were even in on the attack before it happened, arranging what amounted to pre-offensive scouting missions of the Capitol building for some of the riot organizers.
And as for the mob itself? Many kneejerk media accounts dismissively characterized them as the rural rabble or referred to them with that favorite term, “working class whites.” There was even commentary about how Trump himself, happy as he may have been that the Capitol was under attack, was embarrassed by the “low class” image of his adoring crowd portrayed on television.
But as has been repeatedly proven, the Trump army on Jan. 6 was white, but it was not, largely, a force drawn from the working class. The Atlantic magazine has amply documented the fact that the MAGA insurrectionists were a cavalry made up of “business owners, CEOs, state legislators, police officers, active and retired members of the military, real-estate brokers,” and, of course, the openly fascist groups like the Proud Boys and others.
Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., was correct when she called Trump the “white supremacist in chief” during the impeachment debate, but the president stands at the head of a large legion of accomplices.
No, the insurrection last week was not the work only of the president, his violent mob, or the GOP lawmakers who worship at his altar. Behind the explosion of American fascism stands an array of billionaires, lobbyists, and major corporations. They’ve bankrolled the extreme right for years and, with their money, effectively summoned the Trump movement into existence.
The dark money flows through blandly-named groups like the Republican Attorneys General Association, the Concord Fund, the Judicial Crisis Network, and others. Outfits that served as both organizer and funder for last week’s reactionary attacks, like Turning Point USA—which paid for the busses that shipped in Trump’s mob—are backed by big corporate money. Among its donors are executives from companies including Home Depot and shipping giant Uline as well as billionaires like the Koch family and former Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner.
Taken together, they represent a portion of what 1930s anti-fascist fighter Georgi Dimitrov called “the most reactionary, most chauvinistic, and most imperialist” elements of the capitalist class. They are the forces that will still stand as enemies of the working class and democratic movements in the United States even after Trump leaves the scene.
Along with fighting the coronavirus crisis and working to overcome the economic depression, the Biden administration and the new Democratic Congress would do well to undertake election finance reforms to begin cutting into the power of these far-right titans who sit atop corporate America.
Cutting dark money out of politics is one way to fight them; strengthening unions and workers’ right to organize in the workplace are another. Implementing greater public control over police and public order agencies are yet one more. The capitalist class is obviously well organized; workers must to likewise if they are to beat back the immediate threat to basic democracy and open the path to a different, better political and economic system.
Another part of the capitalist class whose power has become blatantly apparent in the midst of this crisis is the social media and communications technology sector. With good reason perhaps, many cheered this week when they denied Trump his megaphones. But their actions raise democratic dilemmas of their own. Why have we allowed tech corporations to become the gatekeepers of the First Amendment? Trump is banned today, an action worth cheering, but what if it is People’s World or other progressive outlets and leaders who someday come into the crosshairs of Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, or Google? Mega-tech capitalists should not be the final arbiters of what counts as allowed speech.
What the Trump insurrection showed is that the basis for fascism exists in the United States. The street fighters drawn from among the middle class and disaffected elements showed their willingness to fight. Trump’s Republican enablers and would-be successors in Congress demonstrated their determination to help undermine democracy from within. And the most reactionary sectors of the capitalist class proved they would continue to pony up the cash for the extreme racist right come what may.
Trump will be out of office in one week no matter the pace or outcome of a Senate trial. But the coup attempt at the Capitol proved, if anyone still had doubts, that the threat of fascism won’t disappear once he’s gone.
C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People’s World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left. In addition to his work at People’s World, C.J. currently serves as the Deputy Executive Director of ProudPolitics.