Impeachment, the State and so-called Russia-gate: Socialists Must Think Clearly

The crisis for Donald Trump continues to deepen. The latest is that Donald Trump supposedly told Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, during their meeting last week that FBI Director James Comey was a “nut job” who was impeding Trump’s foreign policy options with his public pronouncements about the Russia investigation. It comes days after Comey alleged that Trump asked him to “let go” of the investigation of Michael Flynn — and that he has a memo to prove it. Congressional Republicans are creating distance from the White House, and could allow a special investigator and prosecutor in the coming weeks. This is not a passing story.

Former FBI director Robert Mueller has been brought back to lead that agency’s investigation. Mueller is a Comey ally who carried out unconstitutional spying operations against the U.S. peace movement, the Occupy movement and oversaw the illegal mass arrests of more than 1,000 Muslims and sent FBI infiltrators into mosques around the country. Mueller was the longest-serving FBI Director with the exception of J. Edgar Hoover and is one of the most powerful figures in the high levels of the U.S. state apparatus. Rather than tell the truth about his record, the corporate-owned media is deceptively calling Mueller “fiercely independent” with a strong “moral anchor” and other such meaningless stock phrases.

If the investigation into the Trump Organization goes wide, it is all but guaranteed it will uncover corruption and criminal conduct — even if not to do with Russia. Trump’s whole career has been based on swindling investors and workers, and the real estate industry in which he operates runs on political bribery. U.S. urban real estate in particular has boomed on account of foreign capital infusions, in New York City and elsewhere, as appreciating land values and condominium prices have attracted overseas oligarchs as a “safe haven” for their fortunes. If the investigators are sincerely looking for evidence of Trump being compromised by foreign entities, they will find something.

Evidence of a state campaign against Trump

The way the information against Trump has come out this week could not be random or accidental. First was the leak from the highest level officials in the national security apparatus that Trump allegedly shared classified intelligence with the Russian foreign minister in last week’s meeting. Then came the leak of James Comey’s memo, which top intelligence officials had in their possession for months but did not disclose during last week’s storm of coverage. Instead they let the press float the suggestion of whether Trump had pressured Comey, and then once the initial coverage passed, they leaked the existence of a memo showing precisely that, creating an additional firestorm.

Then, with Trump already reeling, another leaked recording of a conversation from last March appeared, featuring Paul Ryan and the Republicans’ Congressional leadership “joking” about Trump being on Russia’s payroll. The next day there was a story that the Trump campaign had 16 points of contact with the Russian government during the campaign. This is not illegal — and clearly is a piece of information that intelligence officials and Trump’s opponents have long known — but its release further points to an intensified campaign among the highest summits of institutional power to weaken Trump and potentially bring him down.

Who knows how deep this campaign goes, its level of coordination or what else they have on him, but this is surely not the end of the revelations. Either way, Trump’s blood is now in the water and there are lots of predators who have picked up the scent.

It appears that the editors of the New York Times and Washington Post are writing their headlines specifically to enrage Trump, to get him to explode and go further off-message. Every day they provide a new story of a White House in despair, a sinking ship ruled by an incompetent captain with a demoralized crew considering mutiny. This sort of pressure will inevitably bring additional defections and firings from Trump’s inner circle.

Some former national security officials and investigative journalists including CIA analyst Ray McGovern and Robert Parry have argued for months that powerful elements within the state apparatus — the FBI, CIA and NSA — are pursuing a “soft coup” against Trump, using tactics from the J. Edgar Hoover playbook. The method is to leak information that puts the White House on the defensive, provides at least the imagery of criminality (even without concrete proof) and gets the rest of the political establishment to turn on the administration as a liability for the system as a whole.

Whether or not such a conspiracy exists, the outcome may be the same. The Democratic leadership has seized the opportunity to boost themselves and fundraise around Trump’s “treason”; the news media is enjoying record viewership covering the daily scandal, and the word “impeachment” is now being raised with greater regularity.

Why the state is turning on Trump

From the perspective of the ruling class, the problem with Trump is not his bigotry or his ruthless war on poor people. He says in public what they all say to each other in private. Since its very inception the FBI and the state apparatus have been built specifically for intimidation and suppression of oppressed communities, the working class and people’s movements. They have been carrying out political targeting, mass incarceration and deportation long before Trump came along.

Trump’s fatal and inescapable flaw is that he considers himself bigger than the state. He substitutes himself — his interests, needs and relationships — over the common affairs of the ruling class. He calls the military “my military.” He replaced career officials with cronies whose main attribute is their personal loyalty to Trump. With early-morning Tweets he recklessly threatens carefully crafted relationships — from China to NATO.

That is why the main centers of power preferred Clinton over Trump during the presidential race. After he was elected, the intelligence and foreign policy establishment used a variety of carrots and sticks to try and bring him into line, especially to cancel his proposed Russia reorientation.

But Trump did not fully concede to them. While bringing in some Washington insiders, he retained his crew of renegade ultra-rich figures who came with their unconventional ideas about foreign policy and trade. The modern imperialist state does not function this way. It is not set up so that whatever little assemblage of the billionaire class captures the White House they immediately get to impose their vision and program on the rest of the ruling class and society.

That is why the ruling class has the state, and no one — not even the president — stands above it.

It is no simple task to manage a U.S. Empire facing diverse challenges and perhaps irreversible decline. Trump is an embarrassment to the foreign policy and intelligence establishment. The details of what Trump shared with Russia’s foreign minister is still in dispute, but the notion that Trump is the first president to share classified intelligence with foreign leaders is preposterous. (A simple review of the Kissinger transcripts with Soviet and Chinese Communist leaders in the 1970s demonstrates that.) The real point for the ruling class is that Trump is in over his head in the conduct of high-level foreign policy, which requires discipline and firmness to extract concessions. But Trump is highly subject to personal flattery, and is thus easily manipulated. Despite his boasts as the world’s best negotiator, he has negotiated nothing of value for the U.S. Empire.

In short, all Trump has “achieved” is to throw everything off-balance — which works for a presidential campaign but is unacceptable for those institutions that have invested so much in the current global order. The permanent managers of the U.S. Empire desire someone who is reliable, stable and persuasive, who is generally popular enough to give their operations legitimacy; someone who knows to kneel before the generalized class dictatorship rather than project his own.

Of course, Trump is no fool. He attempted to shore up ruling-class support by designing the largest corporate giveaways in history — hundreds of billions in tax breaks, the looting of the public sector, the build-up of the military and the elimination of regulations. If he were to succeed in this ambitious wealth transfer from poor to rich and permanently destroy what remains of the public sector, the ruling class would forgive his instability. He would become a legend, like Reagan did. Wall Street and the Fortune 500 would have his back.

But all of Trump’s vulnerabilities have stalled this domestic agenda. Both his tax reform and health insurance initiatives are now on hold. Few legislators in his own party are willing to fully stand behind him. As his poll numbers decline, more and more of the Republican establishment must be whispering, “how about Pence?”

Trump vs. Pence

For the intelligence agencies and foreign policy establishment, especially the Pentagon, Pence does not come with any of the same eccentricities and liabilities as Trump. Pence is a known entity, a vetted ruling-class figure and if he owed his position to a “Deep State” impeachment, he would certainly be their faithful servant. To create distance from Trump, Pence would drive up the antagonism with Russia to perhaps unprecedented levels — a threat to peace everywhere.

Pence is ideologically to the right of Trump. He is a religious extremist and would work hard against women’s and LGBTQ rights, while retaining all of Trump’s repressive program against Black, Latino, immigrant and Muslim communities. He would carry out the same assault on health care, labor unions and the public sector, which has the corporations salivating, but would do so with greater efficiency and discipline. He would sign equally bigoted and harmful executive orders but would check on their legality first.

Those who are demanding impeachment should be careful what they wish for. After shedding Trump, a Pence presidency could re-stabilize the ruling class and make for a far more ruthless execution of the Trump program, which is really the program of unrestrained capitalist looting.

The Democratic Party leadership, which is posing as the “resistance” to Trump at present, would at that point find a working relationship with the White House. As we wrote last week: “The Russia card gives the Democratic leadership a strategy to weaken or potentially bring down Trump — as their base wants — without actually meeting the demands from below to move the party in a more left-wing, progressive direction. The anti-Russia campaign gives cover in fact to the maintenance of a right-wing, neoconservative foreign policy, and domestically the promotion of the FBI and the CIA.”

If the Republican and Democratic establishments work with the FBI to impeach Trump on the basis of Russia “connections,” rather than his many crimes against the people, this will move the government in a right-wing, not a progressive direction. For that, we need to keep building a powerful independent movement in the streets organized to combat whichever enemy sits in the Oval Office.

Fighting the far-right, fighting capitalism

At the lower and mid-levels of the state apparatus, among cops and sheriffs, correctional officers, the Border Patrol, commissioned military officers, and “tough-on-crime” district attorneys, Trump remains quite popular. These forces of state-sanctioned violence have celebrated the rise of Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who have taking the “leash” off of them. They are being told they can wage war as they please against the Black, Latino, Muslim and immigrant communities.

Attached to this repressive sector of society is a whole range of “civilian” militias — “3-percenters,” white supremacists, right-wing conspiracists and the like. They also remain core supporters of Trump and are the advanced guard of the country’s homegrown fascist movement — what we could call fascism with American characteristics.

These social forces would not disappear with a Trump impeachment. It would likely make them even more aggressive, as they would be mobilized by the greatest grievance of all — that their leader had been illegitimately removed. The progressive and anti-racist movement would still have the same tasks as it does today: to defend oppressed communities from such forces while at the same time resisting an energized ruling-class assault.

The ouster of Nixon through Watergate in its own twisted way allowed the ruling-class to regain its footing, and in fact facilitated the neoliberal assault through the 1970s and 1980s.

Impeachment is not a revolution. Under the present conditions, it would serve as a mechanism for the ruling class to take out one of their own who has become a liability. It is not a way for the people to throw out the whole administration, and replace the billionaire class with people’s power. That is what is needed more urgently than ever, and tens of millions of people feel deeply that the whole political system is rotten and must be replaced. There is no shortcut to this sort of transformation. It requires building united fronts of struggle, a revolutionary leadership rooted in the working class and a second power to challenge the existing power.

Trump is the symptom. Capitalism is the disease. Socialism — poor and working people holding power — is the cure.

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