The crisis in the Republican Party and the fracturing of the American two-party system

26 October 2017

The eruption of open warfare between the Republican Party establishment and the Trump administration marks a new stage in the political crisis within the United States.

The conflict within the Republican Party came to a head on Tuesday with the speech from the floor of the Senate by Jeff Flake, who announced that he would not seek reelection and denounced Trump’s actions as “dangerous to a democracy” and a threat to “the efficacy of American leadership around the globe.” Flake’s speech followed a series of statements attacking Trump by leading Republicans, including senators John McCain (chairman of the Armed Services Committee) and Bob Corker (chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee) and former President George W. Bush.

Leading Democrats lined up to praise Flake, a right-wing fiscal hawk and advocate of austerity. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer called Flake “one of the finest human beings I’ve met in politics,” adding that he “will be missed.”

The outbreak of political warfare within the Republican Party is the latest episode in a conflict within the American state that raged throughout the Trump election campaign and has intensified over the ten months of his administration. Central to this struggle are differences over foreign policy, with Trump’s Republican opponents denouncing his brand of “America First” ultra-nationalism as destructive of US global dominance, particularly in regard to relations with Washington’s traditional allies and the political/military offensive against Russia and China.

From the beginning of his election campaign, Trump’s strategy was to exploit social and economic discontent and widespread disgust with the Democratic Party to foster the growth of a far-right, fascistic and extra-parliamentary movement. His elevation soon after the election of Steven Bannon, editor of Breitbart News, to become his chief strategist signaled the continuation of this policy in the White House. As the World Socialist Web Site wrote at the time, “A man with direct ties to fascist, racist and white supremacist organizations will be the right-hand man of the president, with immense power to determine government policy.”

The fascistic politics of Trump and Bannon had, and continue to have, substantial support within the corporate and financial elite. The Trump administration’s agenda of social counterrevolution, tax cuts for the rich and increased military spending have, moreover, broad support on Wall Street and in the Pentagon.

At the same time, significant sections of the ruling class are concerned about the implications of the election of Trump for the strategic interests of American imperialism abroad and for the social and political stability of the United States at home.

After Trump solidarized himself with fascist groups that rampaged through Charlottesville, Virginia in August, Bannon, who had come into conflict with White House Chief of Staff and former Marine General John Kelly, was removed as chief strategist and resumed his position at Breitbart.

The departure of Bannon, however, had more the character of a release from the constraints of the White House than a demotion. Since formally leaving the administration, Bannon has pursued a political strategy of attacking the top leadership of the Republican Party and supporting primary challengers to Republican incumbents, Flake among them, who are not in line with the Trump administration’s agenda of extreme nationalism and anti-immigrant racism.

The political conflicts within the United States mirror global processes. In country after country, far-right movements have exploited the political vacuum created by the rightward lurch of the social democratic and labor parties, which long ago repudiated any concern for the issues facing the working class.

On Tuesday, the fascistic Alternative for Germany made its debut in the German parliament following elections in September in which it won 94 seats, benefiting from the electoral collapse of the Social Democratic Party.

The far-right Freedom Party is set to enter the Austrian government following elections last month in which it increased its vote by nearly 7 percentage points, coming in second, ahead of the Social Democrats. The party of a billionaire right-wing populist won last week’s parliamentary elections in the Czech Republic, which saw the collapse of the social democrats.

In Britain, the anti-immigrant UK Independence Party emerged as the leading political force in last year’s Brexit referendum. In France, National Front leader Marine Le Pen won 34 percent of the vote in presidential elections earlier this year, making it to the run-off election won by Emmanuel Macron. In Japan, the right-wing militarist Shinzo Abe won reelection as prime minister by a substantial margin.

In the United States, Trump, in alliance with Bannon, is pursuing a similar strategy, with the aim of either taking over the Republican Party or instigating a fracture that would break up the two-party system.

Paralleling international developments, Trump exploited the reactionary and militarist character of the Obama administration, the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign. Clinton ran as the candidate of Wall Street and the military-intelligence apparatus, in alliance with privileged sections of the upper-middle class based on identity politics. She evinced open contempt for the grievances of workers devastated by mass layoffs and the destruction of wages and pensions, promoting the slanderous claim that Trump owed his electoral success to racism within the “white working class.”

In the aftermath of Trump’s election, the Democrats have shifted further to the right, including a move last week remove supporters of Bernie Sanders from the Democratic National Committee. They have systematically covered up the far-reaching significance of the election of Trump and the appointment of figures like Bannon.

The central focus of the Democrats since Trump’s election has been an increasingly frenzied campaign over Russian intervention in the US elections. This has been aimed both at fighting out conflicts within the ruling class over foreign policy and, ever more openly, justifying Internet censorship and the destruction of free speech.

The central orientation of the Democrats is on winning the support of the military and the intelligence agencies, which are emerging as the arbiters of American politics. The Democratic Party’s orientation was spelled out in a column by the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman published yesterday, in which Friedman once again called for the intervention of the military against Trump.

Appealing to Defense Secretary James Mattis, best known for commanding US forces in the destruction of Fallujah in 2004, to take “action,” Friedman wrote: “I am not talking about a coup… Trump needs know that it is now your way or the highway—not his.” In other words, the military must take control, coup or otherwise.

The fracturing of the political system is an expression of an intractable crisis of American capitalism. In the conflicts within the ruling class, there is no progressive or democratic side. Trump’s open Republican critics include a war criminal and advocate of torture (George W. Bush), a fanatic war hawk (McCain), a close ally of Wall Street and the military (Corker) and a far-right advocate of cuts in social spending (Flake).

Nothing progressive can come from a resolution of the crisis from above through some form of palace coup. Any such settlement will only shift the entire political system further to the right and escalate the assault on the working class and the drive to world war.

Joseph Kishore

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/10/26/pers-o26.html

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Mounting political crisis in Washington amidst talk of removal of Trump

By Patrick Martin
12 October 2017

The conflict within the American state apparatus reached a new level of intensity this week, after a leading Senate Republican, Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, warned that President Trump was risking “World War III,” and Trump responded to media reports about internal conflict within his administration by suggesting that NBC could have its broadcast license revoked.

The recriminations between the White House and Congress and within the Trump administration itself are particularly explosive since they take place amid rising tensions between the US government and North Korea, in the wake of Trump’s repeated threats of nuclear war against the regime of Kim Jong-un.

Corker made the warning about Trump’s foreign policy producing World War III, and he has previously criticized what he called the lack of stability and competence in the Trump presidency. Trump responded with vulgar insults on Twitter, while White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders falsely claimed that Corker was responsible for the US nuclear agreement with Iran, which Trump appears ready to revoke as early as today.

Insider accounts of seemingly uncontrolled rages and wild mood swings on the part of the “commander in chief” have fueled a new round of discussion in the corporate media about the possibility of removing Trump from office, either through impeachment, which requires a majority vote in the House and a two-thirds vote in the Senate, or through invoking the 25th Amendment, under which the vice president and a majority of the cabinet can declare the president incompetent to continue in office.

An extraordinary editorial published Tuesday in the Post was run under the headline, “What to do with an unfit president.”

The editorial concluded that impeachment was not likely, and urged congressional action to counteract Trump’s policies in a range of areas (all important to corporate interests), including reinforcing US trade deals like NAFTA, and maintaining foreign aid programs that spread US political influence abroad.

That the leading newspaper in the country’s capital—read by everyone in Congress and the Trump administration—proclaimed the president “unfit” for office reflects the extraordinarily sharp divisions within the ruling class, only hinted at in the Post editorial.

The corporate media has been targeting the Trump White House, in part because of concerns over his expressions of sympathy for Russian President Vladimir Putin and professed reluctance to continue the Obama administration’s campaign of confronting Russia in Syria, Eastern Europe and the Baltic.

But there is a deeper concern that the policies and methods of the Trump administration, and particularly its increasing appeals to ultra-right, racist and fascistic forces, such as those which rioted in Charlottesville, Virginia two months ago, risk destabilizing the United States politically.

There is particular concern in corporate and banking circles that Trump’s deteriorating relations with top Senate Republicans like Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker may hamper efforts to push through a huge tax cut for corporations and the wealthy, the main item on the agenda of the Republican-controlled Congress this fall.

On Wednesday a group of six right-wing lobbies allied to the White House, including the Tea Party Patriots, the Senate Conservatives Fund, FreedomWorks, the Media Research Center and ConservativeHQ.com, called for McConnell to step down due to the failure to repeal Obamacare or enact other right-wing measures, and threatened campaigns against incumbent Republicans in primary elections next year.

They were echoing former White House counselor Steve Bannon, who is threatening to back anti-McConnell candidates in the Republican primaries, and who called Tuesday for Corker’s immediate resignation.

NBC triggered the latest round of internecine warfare with a report last week that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had called Trump a “moron” after a high-level discussion of foreign policy and nuclear strategy on July 20 at the Pentagon. This was followed by a series of denials by Tillerson and tirades by Trump, culminating in his remark Tuesday, in an interview with Forbesmagazine, that if IQ tests were administered to the two men, he would come out on top.

On Wednesday the network added further details, reporting that Tillerson was provoked to an explosion of frustration by Trump’s suggestion that the US should reverse 50 years of declining numbers in its nuclear weapons stockpile, and revert to the level of weaponry amassed in the 1960s, which would require a ten-fold increase.

Trump then launched into a diatribe against NBC, claiming that it was fabricating “fake news” about his administration, and calling for the network’s broadcast license to be revoked, apparently ignorant of the fact that there are no licenses for the networks and the federal government has no such legal authority.

This was not merely a manifestation of Trump’s authoritarian proclivities. The White House is in deep internal crisis, with top officials leaking unflattering and alarmed comments about Trump’s state of mind, inability to maintain a coherent policy, and tendency to fly off the handle over any public criticism.

The NBC report was based, according to the network, on three officials who attended the top-secret Pentagon meeting in the war room, and heard both Trump’s remarks about nuclear weapons and Tillerson’s “moron” comment.

The Washington Post reported Tuesday, in a remarkable front-page article, on the president “lashing out, rupturing alliances and imperiling his legislative agenda,” citing “numerous White House officials and outside advisers.

“Trump in recent days has shown flashes of fury and left his aides, including White House chief of staff John F. Kelly, scrambling to manage his outbursts,” the Post reported. “One Trump confidant likened the president to a whistling teapot, saying that when he does not blow off steam, he can turn into a pressure cooker and explode. ‘I think we are in pressure cooker territory,’ said this person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly.”

At least one of the “18 White House officials, outside advisers and other Trump associates” interviewed for this highly unflattering portrait was identified the following day as Thomas Barrack, a real-estate multi-millionaire and longtime Trump crony and adviser, who chaired the fundraising committee for his inauguration, but now describes himself as “appalled” by the tone of Trump’s tweetstorms.

WSWS

Trump’s threats against North Korea signify real danger of war

9 October 2017

Donald Trump continued his campaign of incendiary statements over the weekend, threatening to launch a war with North Korea that could unleash a nuclear catastrophe.

On Saturday afternoon, the US president tweeted that past administrations “have been talking to North Korea for 25 years.” This “hasn’t worked,” he wrote, adding: “Sorry, but only one thing will work!” Asked later to elaborate on what he meant, Trump replied, “You’ll figure that out pretty soon.”

These threats came three weeks after Trump’s tirade at the United Nations General Assembly September 19, when he declared that the US was “ready, willing, and able” to “totally destroy” North Korea, a country of 25 million people. Four days later, Trump threatened to assassinate the North Korean leader. If the North Korean foreign minister’s speech at the UN “echoes thoughts of Little Rocket Man [Kim Jong-Un],” Trump wrote, “they won’t be around much longer!”

On Thursday, Trump organized a White House dinner with US military leaders, which had all the hallmarks of a meeting of a war cabinet. During a photo op before the dinner, Trump, surrounded by generals in military uniform, likened the moment to “the calm before the storm.” Asked what storm he was talking about, Trump would only say, “You’ll find out soon.”

To the extent that Trump’s words are interpreted as a genuine expression of the policy and plans of the United States government, the inescapable conclusion is that the world stands on the brink of the most devastating military conflict since the outbreak of World War II. Were language and reality in correct political alignment, the present situation would be described officially as an “Imminent danger of war.”

Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, embroiled in a political conflict with Trump, warned that the president’s reckless threats were leading the United States “on the path to World War III.” But despite Corker’s statement on Sunday, there is, within the ruling elite and its media, a staggering disconnect between consciousness and reality. The public declarations emanating from the White House are being reported by the media as if they will have no consequences. The thinking seems to be that Trump doesn’t mean what he says. The consequences of a war would prove to be so catastrophic that Trump is simply bluffing.

But what if he isn’t? What if the North Korean government takes the threats of the American president, as it must, seriously? With Trump having publicly declared that he will destroy North Korea and that the doomsday hour is fast approaching, how will the Pyongyang government interpret American military actions near the borders of its country? With only minutes to make a decision, will the regime view the approach of a US bomber toward North Korean airspace as the beginning of a full-scale attack? Will it conclude that it has no choice but to assume the worst and initiate a military strike against South Korea? Will it fire missiles, as it has threatened, in the direction of Japan, Guam, Australia, or even the United States?

From a purely legal standpoint, North Korea can claim, in light of Trump’s threats, that such action on its part would be an act of self-defense, a legitimate response to an imminent military threat.

Aside from the calculations of Pyongyang, one must assume that the regimes in Beijing and Moscow are also looking at the unfolding developments with increasing alarm. While the American media, as is its wont, responds complacently and thoughtlessly to Trump’s threats, the Chinese regime cannot avoid viewing them with deadly seriousness. Trump is, after all, the commander in chief of the American military. He has the power—which Congress has shown no interest in challenging—to order military actions.

A US attack on North Korea would pose an overwhelming threat to China. As in 1950, a war against North Korea would—even if it did not rapidly escalate into a nuclear exchange—lead inexorably to an American incursion across the 38th Parallel. The last time the US military crossed the border into North Korea, the Chinese responded with a massive military counterattack. There is no reason to believe that the present-day regime in Beijing would remain passive in the face of a new US invasion of North Korea. It would view an American invasion as an unacceptable violation of a geopolitical arrangement on the Korean peninsula that has been in existence for nearly 65 years.

Beijing’s reaction would be influenced by the already tense conditions that exist in the Asia-Pacific region. For years, the US has been systematically building up its military forces in the South China Sea under the “Pivot to Asia” initiated by the Obama administration. The purpose has been to militarily encircle China, which dominant sections of the ruling class consider the major competitor to US interests. Over the weekend, China’s main regional competitor, Japan, declared that it fully backed Trump’s threats against North Korea.

Thus, the outbreak of war between North Korea and the United States would inevitably involve China, which, in turn, would draw all of Asia, as well as Australia, into the bloody maelstrom. Nor would it be possible for Europe and Latin America, which have their own interests in Asia, to stand aside.

Little has appeared in the American media about the consequences of war with North Korea. An article in Newsweek in April concluded that a war would leave one million people dead, assuming that it did not involve the use of nuclear weapons or any other outside powers. In a comment in the Los Angeles Timeslast month, retired Air Force Brigadier General Rob Givens calculated that 20,000 South Koreans would die every day in a war on the peninsula, even without the use of nuclear weapons.

If the war were to develop into a nuclear exchange—as the Trump administration has threatened—the consequences would be catastrophic. In addition to the millions or tens of millions killed outright, climate experts warned in August that even a regional nuclear war would cool the planet by up to 10 degrees Celsius, potentially sparking a global nuclear winter that would wipe out agricultural production.

Despite all the evidence that war could break out at any time, the American media persists in its refusal to take the events seriously.

The New York Times epitomized this media effort at chloroforming the population in its October 6 article on Trump’s remarks before the generals, which stated that Trump has a “penchant for provocative statements” and takes “an obvious delight in keeping people guessing.” Writing as if what was involved was merely a matter of White House gossip and intrigue, the Timesstated that the “timing” of the “calm before the storm” statement was “particularly tantalizing.”

“But it is equally plausible,” the article concluded, “that Mr. Trump was merely being theatrical, using the backdrop of military officers to stir up some drama.”

The efforts of the media to downplay the danger are contradicted by signs of serious divisions within the Trump administration. There are rumors that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will be forced out or could resign, following statements from Trump last month directly undermining Tillerson’s moves to resume negotiations with the North Korean government. Thursday’s meeting of top advisers in the White House, decked out in their uniforms, may have been an effort by Trump to ensure that he has the military on his side in advance of war.

These divisions, however, are tactical in character. In the final analysis, Trump speaks not simply for himself, but for the US ruling class. The dominant factions of the ruling oligarchy are united on the basic strategy of using its military force to maintain its hegemonic position abroad.

Trump uses exceptionally crude and brutal language to justify American foreign policy. But he is not the author of Washington’s hegemonic strategy. The United States has been at war almost continuously for more than 25 years. This weekend marked the sixteenth anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan. The Pentagon is conducting military actions all over the world, usually without the American people being informed of the deployment of military personnel. The death in combat this past week of four American soldiers in the African country of Niger came as a total surprise to the public.

A war with Korea could break out at any time. This is the reality of the situation. Rather than speculating idly over whether Trump is merely bluffing, the critical task is the building of a powerful movement, based on the working class, against the drive to war. The very fact that the American president smirks and laughs as he threatens millions with annihilation is itself sufficient proof that the US political system is terminally sick and capable of any crime.

Joseph Kishore