Photo: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama and Joe Biden at Trump’s Inauguration in 2017. Public domain image
Right now, the Democratic Party has the power to take decisive action that would completely marginalize the far right and deal a severe blow to Trump-ism. The Democrats could pass a sweeping set of economic reforms enacting a living wage, canceling rent for the duration of the pandemic, expanding union rights, and establishing a system of universal healthcare without needing a single Republican vote in Congress. Joe Biden could cancel student loan debt through executive action. The Biden administration’s Department of Justice could immediately arrest Donald Trump, now a private citizen, for insurrection along with his high-level co-conspirators.
Millions of people voted in the Georgia Senate runoff in the hopes that electing Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff would unlock just this type of bold action. But instead the Democratic Party is squandering this historic opportunity — not because they have to, but because they are choosing to.
One key area where this is playing out is in the negotiations over a new stimulus bill to address the pandemic and related economic fallout. Biden is pushing a $1.9 trillion package that already falls short of what is needed to address the crisis. But the administration is willing to further water down their proposal by negotiating with a group of Republicans who have joined forces with right-wing Democrats.
Biden has tasked National Economic Council Director Brian Deese with leading talks with the group of 16 “centrist” Senators. Before joining the Biden administration, Deese was a top executive at the multi-trillion dollar finance firm BlackRock. The top priorities of the group the Biden administration is now negotiating with include reducing the $1,400 stimulus checks and killing the bill’s provision that would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
This is wrapped up with the question of the filibuster. This refers to the procedural rule in the Senate that requires 60 votes in favor of a motion closing debate on a bill, which is a prerequisite for it to be taken up for a final ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote. The filibuster is an internal rule, not a law, and the party with a majority in the Senate — no matter how slim — can simply decide to do away with it.
But Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer, who is now the Majority Leader, has not taken this step and instead is engaged in deadlocked negotiations with Republican leader Mitch McConnell on the overall Senate rules that must be passed at the beginning of each new Congress. Because new Senate rules have not been passed, several key committees continue to be led by Republicans even though they no longer have a majority in the chamber. McConnell is demanding that the Democrats essentially swear in writing that they will not abolish the filibuster. Schumer is resisting this for now, but at the same time signaling that he has no plans to actually take such a step and is committed to President Biden’s effort to forge “unity” with the right wing.
Impeachment fiasco gives far right room to regroup
The Jan. 6 fascist-led assault on the Capitol Building that dispersed Congress and nearly led to the kidnapping and possible murder of key political leaders provided the crisis, which gives the new Democratic leadership in Washington license to take dramatic action. Trump is no longer shielded by presidential immunity. If the federal government wanted, Trump could be indicted and arrested at any time for instigating what was essentially an effort to overturn the election outcome. If leaders from the socialist left or the Black Lives Matter movement instigated a violent mob assault on Congress, the federal government would have had them immediately arrested. They would be charged with seditious conspiracy. But because Trump is a right-wing billionaire he is being treated with kid gloves.
In the aftermath of the Jan. 6 attack, the Republican Party elite was disoriented and divided. Trump, in order to save his own skin, released a video calling for the arrest of his fascist allies after the putsch attempt failed, leading to profound demoralization in their ranks as well.
Instead, the Democrats have chosen to initiate a theatrical exercise called impeachment. An impeachment trial is not a deterrent to Trump, but rather gives Trump and the far right an opportunity to regroup and rehabilitate themselves. Instead of taking up urgent matters related to the pandemic and enacting new measures to provide relief to poor and working people, the Senate will be consumed in the Biden administration’s crucial early days by a proceeding that once again makes the personality of Donald Trump the central focus of the country’s politics — something he badly needs after having his social media accounts taken away. Schumer even agreed to delay the trial by two weeks to give Trump a chance to prepare his defense!
Because the most severe punishment under consideration if Trump is found guilty is being barred from seeking the presidency again in the 2024 election, it will be easy for him to spin the trial as an anti-democratic effort by his political opponents to deprive the American people of their right to elect whoever they choose as president. This was exactly what happened with the Russiagate hoax. The Democrats’ fixation on the Russia-Trump collusion conspiracy theory allowed Trump to portray himself as a victim of Washington elites and the FBI. This will happen again as they impeach him even after he has left office.
If they continue on this path, it makes Trump the center of the attention and also allows him to reinvigorate his currently demoralized base of hardcore supporters by casting himself as the target of persecution by the political establishment — the same thing he did during the farcical 2020 impeachment.
On Jan. 19, the Wall Street Journal reported that Trump had “talked in recent days with associates about forming a new political party … The president said he would want to call the new party the ‘Patriot Party’.” Because of the winner-take-all electoral system in the United States, even if Trump was able to win over a relatively small fraction of Republican voters to a new “Patriot Party,” the Democrats would be able to sweep elections with far less than a majority of the vote.
The threat to split the right wing vote with a third party is Trump’s main point of leverage over Republicans in Congress, who are personally furious that he put their lives in danger by unleashing the mob on Jan. 6. Many Republicans are beginning to coalesce around the argument that it is unconstitutional to hold an impeachment trial for someone who is no longer president — a position that allows them to hold their voter base together without directly endorsing the assault on the Capitol Building.
It is appearing increasingly uncertain that the Democrats will be able to find the 17 Republican Senators necessary to secure a conviction. Being acquitted by the Senate would be a massive political gift to Trump and pave the way for his reentry into mainstream bourgeois politics. The utter uselessness of the Democratic Party as a vehicle for progressive change is on display for all to see.