Interview: Trump’s fake populism must be answered with a socialist program

On Jan. 29, the newspaper SoL of the Turkish Communist Party (TKP) interviewed Ben Becker, editor of the PSL’s Liberation newspaper, about the program of the Trump administration, the political character of the recent mass protests, and the role of socialists within the “resistance.” The interview was originally published on the SoL website in Turkish here.

1. How do you evaluate Donald Trump’s political program according to the American working class? He withdrew the USA from TPP, he has an anti-free trade discourse, he wants corporates to invest in the USA in order to rise employment and so on. So, what do you expect about Trump’s economy policy? Does he have a new model?

The “pro-working class” imagery of the Trump administration is a complete deception. It is a government of oligarchs and generals, and his so-called “infrastructure program” amounts to the wholesale looting of the public sector, from education to roads and bridges and basic utilities. The Republicans in Congress are encouraging him to try and privatize the public retirement system, Social Security, as well as Medicare and Medicaid, which provide health care to the poor and the elderly. He wants to sharply cut taxes on corporations and wealthy inheritances. He is going to eliminate environmental restrictions, leading to a bonanza of oil drilling and super-profits for energy corporations.

Trump’s first executive order was to eliminate a tax benefit that was designed to help low-income homeowners. A few days later he announced the expansion of the U.S.-Mexico border wall and new funding for the country’s deportation force against immigrant workers.

His cabinet is stacked with billionaires and the super-rich. Trump handed the Labor Department to a fast food CEO who wants to cut wages and increase automation. Trump handed the Treasury Department to a hedge fund manager. Trump handed the Education Department to a school privatizer. That is why Wall Street is quite excited by Trump. Whatever disruptions his administration may cause to overseas trade, and even if they would have loved to see the TPP enacted, they know they can make incredible super-profits through the destruction of the public sector and these other handouts.

U.S. labor unions almost universally opposed Trump and the only ones backing him now are some of the leaders of the building trades, who are historically the most conservative, racist and pro-imperialist. They are narrowly thinking that more oil pipelines will create temporary work for their members, and don’t care at all about the environmental impact or the fact that the pipelines are destroying Native peoples’ land.

Trump claimed he convinced one auto company to not move a factory to Mexico, but the CEO later admitted that they had canceled the move because of declining market demand. Trump “saved” a few hundred manufacturing jobs in Indiana from being outsourced by convincing the state government to give a multi-million dollar tax break to the company. When the steel union leader complained that the company did not deserve a tax break, and that thousands of workers were still losing their jobs, Trump went on Twitter and attacked him personally.

Trump is using scapegoating and racism, and a few well-publicized stunts, to portray himself as a defender of American workers, especially white workers. But in truth his program is one of unrestrained capitalism that will further devastate the conditions of the whole working class.

2. During Trump’s inauguration day and after that there were lots of demonstrations against the President. What is your position about those protests? Actually, we see a lot of anti-Russian slogans or signs in those demonstrations (which reminds us of a “Soros” finger), and also a kind of “Democratic Party show.” I think, there are at least two ways to resist Trump policies.

Thousands gather along the Inaugural Parade route, Jan. 21

The ANSWER Coalition — which the PSL is the anchor of — led a mass protest against Trump on Inauguration Day, at the Inaugural Parade. The government tried to block us for months in advance, and on the day of the inauguration with security checkpoints, but we prevailed in bringing tens of thousands of people to D.C, and to simultaneous demonstrations in other cities. We have been on the front-lines protesting Trump from the very beginning of his candidacy because we saw his far-right rhetoric as very dangerous, and knew that it could grow because of people’s disgust with the neoliberal status quo. Many liberals at that time criticized us for taking Trump seriously and thought his campaign was a joke.

The PSL also participated in the Women’s Marches the following day. The Women’s March idea began on social media, without any organizational direction, but its leadership was quickly assumed by a group of NGOs involved in the Movement for Black Lives, migrant rights and other progressive causes. From there, some elements within the “left-wing” of the Democratic Party and much of the corporate media began to promote the protests, and that media coverage really made them take off. There is no question that there is a split within the U.S. ruling class and that one section is attaching itself to this mass opposition movement and trying to harness it for its own purposes.

There is a lot of confusion in liberal and progressive circles because of all the anti-Russia corporate propaganda over the last four months. There are 1,000 good reasons to oppose Trump and none of them have to do with Russian influence. Some people wrongly believe that this is how to portray Trump as “illegitimate” and portray the opposition movement as “patriotic.” There were some anti-communist organized forces promoting these politics in the protests, and some people brought handmade anti-Putin signs. But the vast majority of people brought signs to defend immigrants, workers’ rights, women’s rights, and environmental protections. The anti-Russia line did not dominate the program of the events either.

Some important labor unions mobilized for the Women’s March protests as well. As in any mass opposition movement, there will be contending class politics. Ruling-class funding institutions like those set up by Soros, Ford, Rockefeller, etc. always try to project their own agendas into progressive movements — this is true even going back to the U.S. civil rights movement — but they are not all-powerful.

The PSL’s main ideological campaign has been to expose the Democratic Party as the party of the status quo, as an imperialist party that will ultimately capitulate to Trump. We are loudly opposing their anti-Russia program. We are saying that independent revolutionary politics are necessary and our socialist program received a positive hearing among the crowds. All the socialist organizations have seen a surge in membership applications in the recent months, reflecting a new broad desire to struggle against Trump.

3. Is Trump’s foreign policy really less hawkish than Obama’s and Hillary’s? He has projected harsh rhetoric against China, his team considers Iran as an enemy and Israel as a close friend in the Middle East…

No, Trump is a complete imperialist. He is expanding military spending. The new Secretary of Defense — approved by the Republican and Democratic Senators 98 to 1 — is nicknamed “Mad Dog.” His foreign policy officials are still calling Russia a top threat to U.S. security. They are calling for regime change in Venezuela. Trump says the main mistake in Iraq is that the U.S. did not “take the oil” as they should have. He is a 100% supporter of Israel and is appointing people who do not even believe the Palestinians exist as a people. He says that he will create “safe zones” in Syria, which could end up being very similar to what Clinton had proposed. Because Trump contradicts himself day-to-day, it is hard to say what his policy will be in all these areas.

To those anti-imperialists who hoped Trump would give breathing space to the rest of the world, we say it is time to wake up. Trump may reorient U.S. policy in a few places, but the U.S. ruling class has no intention of giving up its Empire, and Trump is now their new executive.

4. Will anti-Trump protests continue? If they will, how?

Mass protests in Philadelphia against Trump and the Republican Party leadership.
Mass protests in Philadelphia against Trump and the Republican Party leadership.

They are continuing. The last 48 hours have seen massive protests at all major U.S. airports against Trump’s anti-Muslim refugee and immigration order. Our comrades are reporting that the vast majority of people they are speaking to at those action have never been involved in politics before. As Trump rolls out his bigoted, militaristic and pro-Wall Street agenda, each new measure will be greeted with fresh protests.

The main challenge for socialists will be to give this energy a revolutionary thrust, to break it from the dead-end strategy of electing neoliberal Democrats as the alternative to far-right Republicans, and to build a multinational, diverse movement so that each community is not fighting the Trump agenda alone and on its own terms. The answer to Trump is not a return to the status quo, but a new system that provides housing, health care, a job or living income, and a retirement to all. Without such a program to rally around, Trump’s fake-populism could continue to grow.

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