Trump’s firing of Comey: A breakdown of constitutional government

15 May 2017

The political crisis brought to a head by President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey is rapidly intensifying, with calls for Trump’s impeachment and threats by the White House to go even further in attacking democratic rights and constitutional norms.

Trump provoked further recriminations from within the political establishment with his tweeted threat Friday, warning that Comey should be careful what he says to the media and to Congress about his private discussions with the president, because tapes of their conversations might exist. This led to immediate responses from both Democrats and Republicans that any tapes could be subpoenaed as part of the ongoing investigations into the conduct of the 2016 elections.

There were unconfirmed press reports of an impending purge within the White House staff, with Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, chief strategist Stephen Bannon and press spokesman Sean Spicer all potential targets. As more than one media commentator noted, this would leave the White House staff under the direction of “Ivanka and Jared,” the president’s daughter and son-in-law, making even more extreme the personalist and quasi-dictatorial character of the Trump administration.

Trump fueled such speculation by suggesting that daily White House press briefings might be canceled, to be replaced by infrequent press conferences by the president himself. He refused to allow any White House spokespeople to appear on the Sunday television interview programs after the networks rejected demands that they refrain from asking questions about the Comey firing and its aftermath.

The Washington Post published an editorial Sunday warning that Trump’s conduct “threatened the independence of federal law enforcement and sullied key institutions of U.S. democracy,” adding that “The president injected himself into an investigation where he has absolutely no right to interfere.” While demanding that congressional and FBI investigations into alleged Russian interference in the US election be stepped up, the newspaper published an op-ed column by Harvard Professor Laurence Tribe calling for Trump’s impeachment.

Even more extraordinary were the remarks of retired Gen. James Clapper, the director of national intelligence under President Obama. Interviewed Sunday morning on the CNN program “State of the Union,” Clapper had the following exchange with host Jake Tapper after Tapper asked for his response to the firing of Comey:

Clapper: I think, in many ways, our institutions are under assault, both externally—and that’s the big news here, is the Russian interference in our election system. And I think as well our institutions are under assault internally.

Tapper: Internally from the president?

Clapper: Exactly.

Clapper is no friend of democracy or accountability. By rights, he should be serving a prison sentence for perjury, having denied under oath, during congressional testimony in 2013, that there was widespread US government spying on the communications of Americans. A few weeks later, the revelations of Edward Snowden exposed him as a liar.

If the retired general, who until January 20 stood at the head of 17 agencies with more than 100,000 spies, analysts and agents, now declares that Trump, the nominal commander-in-chief, is a threat to the institutions of the American state, that is a sign of a state machine at war with itself. This is only one step removed from advocating that the military-intelligence apparatus step in to “preserve order,” the pretext invariably given in country after country for coups and military takeovers.

No one should believe that “it can’t happen here.” Both sides in the conflict within the ruling elite are turning to the military as the final arbiter. Trump himself has filled his cabinet with former and currently serving generals in an effort to strengthen his ties with the military. He has repeatedly addressed military audiences while offering his top commanders free rein to order more aggressive battlefield tactics and troop buildups, and promising police similar leeway within the United States.

The Democratic Party is incapable of raising a single democratic principle in opposition to Trump. It has chosen to oppose the president on the basis of the completely reactionary and bogus claim that he owes his presidency to alleged Russian intervention into the 2016 campaign. Its media supporters have followed suit: two New York Times columnists (Nicholas Kristof and Tim Egan) yesterday suggested that Trump may be guilty of treason, while a third (Thomas Friedman) appealed openly to the military last month to carry out a palace coup.

The world is confronting a crisis of historic dimensions in the center of global capitalism. Decades of social and political reaction, unending war and the artificial suppression of class conflict are coming to a head. Wealth and power have been concentrated to an extraordinary degree in the hands of a narrow oligarchy, while the vast majority of the population is driven into increasingly desperate economic straits and deprived of any political influence.

The dysfunctionality of American society is everywhere in evidence. Crumbling roads, bridges, water and sewer systems, deepening poverty and social misery, collapsing schools, the slashing of social spending and private pensions are in their totality the consequence of the subordination of all rational consideration of the public interest to a manic drive for profit.

Social anger among working people—who see the government shutting them out from any access to decent health care, poisoning the water supply in cities such as Flint to enrich speculators and their bribed politicians—is reaching the boiling point. Both parties and all of the official institutions—Congress, the Supreme Court, the media—are discredited. What is unfolding is a breakdown of the entire framework of constitutional government.

If Trump is a rogue president who accepts no legal or constitutional limits on his actions, he only mirrors the conduct of the corporate CEOs, bankers and hedge fund moguls who crashed the world economy in 2008 with impunity, and now reap untold profits while working people suffer the consequences.

There is no way out of this crisis through the existing political framework. If Trump is replaced through the machinations of the Democrats or its allies in the military-intelligence apparatus, the result will be a further turn to the right, an acceleration of militarism and reaction, and potentially a US nuclear war with Russia. Trump himself can prevail only through the mobilization of ultra-right and fascistic elements, both within the military and outside it, with the most ominous consequences for the social interests and democratic rights of working people.

The only way to resolve the political crisis on a progressive and democratic basis is through the political mobilization of the working class. Only the working class, fighting on the basis of a socialist program, independently and in opposition to the two parties of big business and their stooges in the trade unions, can open a new road forward.

Patrick Martin

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/05/15/pers-m15.html

Let’s consider the evidence that Trump is a traitor

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None dare call it treason:

Has Trump’s entire team been compromised by Putin? If so, everyone who continues to support him is complicit 

On Monday evening, national security adviser Michael Flynn was forced to resign after supposedly losing the “trust” of President Donald Trump by failing to adequately and fully explain his phone conversations with Russian officials during the 2016 presidential election.

As The New York Times explained on Wednesday, FBI agents apparently concluded that Flynn had not been “entirely forthcoming” in describing a phone call he had with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States. That set in motion “a chain of events that cost Mr. Flynn his job and thrust Mr. Trump’s fledgling administration into a fresh crisis.”

As the Times report elaborated, Trump “took his time” deciding what to do about Flynn’s dishonesty and was none too eager to fire him.

But other aides [such as other than press secretary Sean Spicer] privately said that Mr. Trump, while annoyed at Mr. Flynn, might not have pushed him out had the situation not attracted such attention from the news media. Instead, according to three people close to Mr. Trump, the president made the decision to cast aside Mr. Flynn in a flash, the catalyst being a news alert of a coming article about the matter.

“Yeah, it’s time,” Mr. Trump told one of his advisers.

Flynn is not alone. Other Trump operatives are also under investigation by the FBI for potentially illegal contact with senior Russian intelligence operatives.

This information is not new. The New York Times and other American news media outlets were aware of reports about Russian tampering in the 2016 election as well as an ongoing federal investigation of Trump, his advisers and other representatives. Instead of sharing this information with the American people during the election campaign, the Times and other publications chose to exercise “restraint” and “caution.” Decades of bullying by the right-wing media and movement conservatives would pay great dividends.

Afraid of showing any so-called liberal bias, the corporate news media demonstrated little restraint in its obsessive reporting about the nonstory that was Hillary Clinton’s emails. This, in conjunction with other factors, almost certainly cost her the election.

In all, the Republican Party and its voters have abandoned their Cold War bona fides and their (somewhat exaggerated) reputation as die-hard enemies of Russia and the former Soviet Union. To borrow from the language of spy craft, it would seem that they have been “flipped” by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Despite mounting evidence suggesting that Trump’s administration has been compromised by Russia, his public continues to back him. The Republican Party and its leadership have largely chosen to support Trump in a type of political suicide mission because they see him as an opportunity to force their agenda on the American people and reverse or undo by the social progress made by the New Deal, the civil rights movement, feminism, the LGBT movement and other forces of progressive change.

In the midst of these not so new “revelations” about Michael Flynn and other members of Trump’s inner circle, the news media is now fixated on the Nixonian question: “What did the president know and when did he know it?” This question ought to not be treated like a mystery. The answer should be readily apparent because it is a direct reflection of Trump’s political and personal values.

Trump has repeatedly shown that he is a fascist authoritarian who admires political strongmen and autocrats such as Putin. In keeping with that leadership style, Trump has surrounded himself with family members and other advisers so as to insulate himself from criticism — and also to neuter any political rivals. In violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution, Trump is also using the office of the presidency to personally enrich himself, his family members and other members of his inner circle, such as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Donald Trump also has a longtime pattern of open admiration for gangsters and organized crime.

In sum, Trump’s presidency has many of the traits of a criminal enterprise and a financial shakedown operation, masquerading as a democratically elected government.

Flynn resigned because he got caught, not because of what he did. White House press secretary Sean Spicer confirmed this with his statement during Tuesday’s press briefing that Flynn did “nothing wrong or inappropriate.” In response to this most recent scandal, Trump and his surrogates are now trying to focus on “the leaks,” rather than the potential crimes that may have been committed. Like most political strongmen, Trump values secrecy and loyalty above all else. Those things must be maintained at all costs, even if that means that a given member of the ruling cabal might occasionally have to fall on his or her own sword.

Based on the increasing evidence of communication between his inner circle and Russian operatives, it appears plausible that Trump either actively knew about Flynn’s actions (and perhaps even directed them) or chose to look away while actively benefiting from them. Either choice should disqualify him from the presidency.

In an earlier essay for Salon, I argued that for a variety of reasons that Trump can be considered a traitor to the United States. By that standard, his voters and other supporters who do not denounce him are also traitors, and any Republican officials who continue to back Trump are traitors as well. Recent revelations about Flynn and the still unknown extent of contact between other Trump advisers and Russian agents serve to only reinforce the truth of my earlier claim.

Republicans and other conservatives behave as though they have a monopoly on patriotism and exclusive claims to being “real Americans.” Now is the time for them to test that commitment. Do Republicans and other conservatives love power more than their country? I fear I know the answer. I ask the question in the hope that I am wrong.

None dare call it treason: As the Flynn scandal widens, let’s consider the evidence that Trump is a traitor

Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a politics staff writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

“Saturday Night Live” reclaims its satirical mojo amid a national emergency

Thanks, Trump!

“SNL” has found a new satirical urgency in the age of Trump — partly because we know how much he hates it

Thanks, Trump! "Saturday Night Live" reclaims its satirical mojo amid a national emergency

Kyle Mooney and Alec Baldwin on “Saturday Night Live,” February 4th, 2017. (Credit: NBC/Will Heath)

For the better part of a decade, NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” seemed to be all about manufacturing viral videos for social media and pandering to an almost insufferable “both sides are equally evil” take on American politics. When “SNL” wasn’t churning out weird-for-weirdness-sake viral hits, it was carefully balancing its criticisms of the Republican Party — a longtime target of the legendary late-night sketch show — with obvious and self-conscious jabs at president Barack Obama and the left. Some of it was deserved, while, other times, “SNL’s” political satire felt soft-pedaled and awkward.

During that time, the impact of “SNL” on the American political scene was eclipsed by “The Colbert Report” and “The Daily Show,” as well as cult-classic films like “Idiocracy” and especially sketch shows like HBO’s “Mr. Show with Bob & David.” As the George W. Bush years wore on, much of the greatest political satire was found online, beginning with Flash cartoons during the dot-com boom and exploding into a media phenomenon via YouTube in 2006. Even a basic cable network like VH1 unexpectedly tested the political satire waters with a short-lived animated sketch show I created and produced, circa 2003 through 2005, called “VH1’s Illustrated,” where we ripped everything from Guantánamo Bay and drug legalization to Dick Cheney’s raping of national parks for oil.

To be clear, when I talk about political satire, I’m specifically referencing short or long-form comedy that focuses its weapons on nefarious social and political elites — targeting powerful villains where it hurts them the most and, more important, owning the message. No apologies. No quarter.

“SNL” used to do this. The cast that emerged in the mid-1980s, for example, created political sketches that both defined and ridiculed the rightward shift in politics during the Reagan era. With its classic sketch about Reagan’s dual personalities, one affable and one brutal and calculating; or Dana Carvey’s George H.W. Bush — complete with Dan Quayle played by a 12-year-old boy; and Phil Hartman’s outstanding Bill Clinton, gregariously illustrating the interdiction of U.N. relief supplies by Somali warlords using menu items from McDonald’s, this period represents  a high-water mark for “SNL” as a whole and for two of its most legendary political minds, Al Franken and Tom Davis.

Fast-forward to the modern era, and while political comedy had flourished on many other platforms, “SNL” somehow had lost its satirical edge — until this year, that is, and the ascendancy of Donald Trump. It’s difficult to fully encapsulate the importance of the re-emergence of “SNL” as a force for unrelenting political satire. For the first time in at least a dozen years, Lorne Michaels, along with head writers Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider and naturally this season’s cast, are producing political satire that’s both outrageously funny and totally merciless.

Clearly, Alec Baldwin’s Trump is the centerpiece of the season. And it’s what Baldwin and the crew do with Trump that makes these sketches so wonderful. Unlike in previous seasons, Baldwin’s Trump sketches aren’t simply about an amusingly accurate impersonation. On the contrary, this time around “SNL” is aiming these sketches directly at Trump’s fragile, delusional ego and the show is not pulling any punches. Everything is on the table, and no one in the White House is safe from the “SNL” juggernaut.

Whether the cast is hitting Trump’s erratic cluelessness or Kellyanne Conway’s frantic spin control, cleaning up her boss’s aforementioned erratic cluelessness with her intolerable knack for deflection, or whether it’s Steve Bannon as a Grim Reaper shadow president, there’s almost nothing about Trump’s circus sideshow that “SNL” won’t seize upon. Hell, even the small details make for big statements, like Baldwin’s wearing of a Russian-flag lapel pin during last weekend’s cold open.

What makes the Trump material on “SNL” so brilliant is that, perhaps for the first time, the cast and crew are more than aware that Trump is watching. Rather than being deferential, “SNL” is deliberately crawling up Trump’s ass, and the cast knows this is working, thanks to Twitter. With Trump as the target, there’s a heretofore nonexistent third dimension added to the comedy now. Namely, we know for a fact that Trump despises it and will absolutely obsess about it for days. We know it damages him.

Combined with the jokes and the impressions, this third dimension — call it the Trump effect — gives us a near-perfect illustration of what political satire ought to do: trolling the powerful and despotic, while knowing for certain that it’s having the desired impact. Again, we know he’s watching and it’s destroying him. I’d give just about anything to have surveillance footage of Trump watching one of Baldwin’s performances. He has to be seething, face redder than his ridiculous tie, screaming at the television until hoarse, while internally dying a little more every second.

Now we have Kate McKinnon’s unbelievably accurate impression of Trump’s beleaguered spinbot Kellyanne Conway and, as of last weekend, Melissa McCarthy, too. McCarthy’s unexpected Sean Spicer sketch was perhaps the only Trump-related bit to overshadow Baldwin’s ingenious cold open. Once again, we’re treated to an endlessly hilarious “press briefing” sketch that’s made even better with the inclusion of the Trump effect — the knowledge that it was so unapologetic and so ruthless, there’s perhaps a wishful possibility Trump could fire Spicer because of it.

No, the impact wasn’t solely because Spicer was played by a woman. It was that McCarthy’s impression of Spicer was definitive. There won’t be a better Spicer impression; it’s hers now. McCarthy’s Spicer reminded me of Dana Carvey’s process for celebrity impersonations, in which it’s more about nailing the vibe of a character than sounding like a recording of the person. It’s the difference between a Carvey impression and, say, a Darrell Hammond sound-alike.

It’s important to note that during the Felicity Jones episode a few weeks ago, there were three feminist-leaning sketches in a row during the first 40 minutes of the show, including one that featured McKinnon as the ghost of Susan B. Anthony. On the same night as McCarthy’s Spicer sketch and Baldwin’s Grim Reaper sketch, there was a filmed satire of the Trump administration’s Muslim ban in which an overworked bureaucrat is tasked with awkwardly editing Trump’s new anti-Muslim travel rules into a customs video for passengers on an international flight. This is what political satire is all about.

At the risk of being overly effusive, it’s difficult to underscore how valuable “SNL” has become in the era of Trump. Baldwin, McCarthy, McKinnon and the rest of the troupe are giving America what we so desperately need right now. They’re saying exactly what has to be said and doing so with a direct line to Trump’s addled brain. In some cases, the “SNL” cast might even be risking its own safety. Despite this, they’re rolling on and there’s no sign of their letting up. “Saturday Night Live” has the power, now more than ever, to undermine an administration that transparently seeks to suppress objective reality and oppress the people. And the show has more than risen to the occasion.

Choosing the finest era in the 40-year history of “SNL”  is impossible, but I’d suggest this era is perhaps its most important. I’m relieved and confident to report that truly subversive and smart political satire has triumphantly returned to Studio 8H. Please keep it coming.

IS DONALD TRUMP JUST A PAWN IN STEVE BANNON’S GAME?

With his man in the White House, the architect of Trumpism takes a victory lap around the media.

The first week of Donald Trump’s presidency has been head-spinning, even for already whiplashed journalists. Since taking the oath of office, Trump has bemoaned his media coverage before a flummoxed C.I.A., dispatched his press secretary to the White House briefing room to lie about the size of his inauguration crowd, and sent Kellyanne Conway out on the morning-show circuit to redefine those lies as “alternative facts.” Despite signing executive orders appeasing his base and fulfilling campaign promises, he remained fixated on the election he already won, relitigating his campaign strategy in meetings with Congress and reportedly telling lawmakers he believed 3 million to 5 million votes had been cast illegally for his opponent, costing him the popular vote. In an interview Wednesday with ABC’s David Muir, he doubled down again and again on each debunked detail—his crowd size, the alleged mass voter fraud, even the response to his C.I.A. speech, which multiple government officials suggested was poorly received. “I got a standing ovation,” he told Muir. “In fact, they said it was the biggest standing ovation since Peyton Manning had won the Super Bowl and they said it was equal.”

The constant stream of mistruths and misdirection has left the media unmoored, hemorrhaging trust with the American public even as it finds its footing holding Trump to account. Trump’s approval ratings are plummeting, too, with only 36 percent of voters approving of the way the president has handled his first week.

It is, in other words, the perfect toxic brew for Stephen Bannon, the Breitbart executive turned White House strategist who has fueled Trump’s firefight with the media, discrediting and undermining the mainstream voices opposed to his anti-immigrant, anti-trade agenda. “The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while,” he explained in an interview with *The New York Times’s * Michael Grynbaum, published Thursday, as he gloated about his newfound power and the media’s failure to see Trump coming. “I want you to quote this,” Bannon continued. “The media here is the opposition party. They don’t understand this country. They still do not understand why Donald Trump is the president of the United States.”

With Trump in the White House, Bannon has found himself emboldened in a way that he could only dream of several months ago, when he stepped away from his “alt-right” media empire to join the struggling Trump campaign as its chief executive. Since taking the oath of office, Trump has mostly stayed close to Bannon’s agenda—delivering an inaugural address written in part by Bannon himself that spoke gloomily of “American carnage” and shutting the nation off from the rest of the world in order to make it great again. He has signed executive orders, also written by Bannon, directing the federal government to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, shut out refugees, increase deportations, and begin the repeal of Obamacare.

TRUMP IS A “BLUNT INSTRUMENT FOR US,” BANNON TOLD VANITY FAIR LAST SUMMER. “I DON’T KNOW WHETHER HE REALLY GETS IT OR NOT.”

None of it would have been possible had Trump not made an enemy of the media, sowing mistrust in the army of journalists tut-tutting his apocalyptic diatribes, his excoriation of immigrants, his fiery denunciations of the consensus on free trade. “You’re the opposition party,” Bannon said repeatedly in his interview with the Times, which the paper said he requested to defend Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, who was upbraided by the media this week for lying to the press. “We think that’s a badge of honor. ‘Questioning [Spicer’s] integrity’—are you kidding me?”

It’s just one piece of Bannon’s ideological game of chess, rewiring the media landscape to clear the path for a radical reimagining of conservative politics in line with his own nationalist agenda. The president himself, Bannon has admitted in the past, is just one piece of the puzzle. Trump is a “blunt instrument for us,” Bannon told Ken Stern for Vanity Fair last summer. “I don’t know whether he really gets it or not.”

More than anyone else in his inner circle, Bannon has a good reason to use his boss. Sure, Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, now has an inconceivably large platform as a 36-year-old political novice. Conway, who has a longer history in politics, can probably parlay her White House gig into whatever gig she so chooses next, assuming the ship doesn’t go down in flames while she is still on board. But Bannon, who jokingly refers to himself as “Darth Vader,” is perhaps alone in viewing the Trump administration as a means to a specific philosophical end.

This strategy so far has worked for Bannon, either because Trump understands he needs him or hasn’t caught wind of the fact that he might be being played. The reason why Kushner rose to prominence so quickly, after all, is the fact that Trump knows where his loyalty lies, and that is squarely behind him. If Trump feels that Bannon’s own motives are setting him up to lose, then it’s anyone’s bet as to how topsy-turvy this West Wing could get.

http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/01/is-donald-trump-a-pawn-in-steve-bannons-game

Week one of the Trump administration: A government of war and social reaction

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28 January 2017

It is one week since the inauguration of Donald Trump as president of the United States, and the actions and orders of the new government make clear what the working class can expect from the next four years.

At the center of Trump’s “America First” agenda is a massive escalation of military violence. At a swearing-in ceremony at the Pentagon Friday for the new secretary of defense, retired general James Mattis, Trump signed an executive order to begin a major “rebuilding” of the military. The order directs Mattis to prepare a policy to upgrade the US nuclear arsenal and prepare for conflict with “near-peer competitors,” a term that traditionally refers to China and Russia.

The action follows Trump press secretary Sean Spicer’s reaffirmation of a statement by incoming Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil, that the US would seek to bar Chinese access to islets in the South China Sea, implying military actions that would amount to a declaration of war.

Trump has also pledged to establish “safe zones” in Syria, which will be coupled with a temporary ban on all immigration from a number of majority Muslim countries. While Democrats have denounced Trump for being “too soft” on Russia, during the elections the Clinton campaign called for the setting up of “safe” no-fly zones, policed by US military aircraft, as part of an effort to counter Russian backing of the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad. In a speech at CIA headquarters, Trump also said that the US should have “taken the oil” in Iraq, and pledged that the CIA would have another chance to do so.

On domestic policy, Trump signed a series of executive orders that freeze hiring on all federal workers, freeze all pending government regulations and remove all obstacles to the completion of the Keystone and Dakota Access oil pipelines. Early in the week, he held meetings with the CEOs of the largest US manufacturing companies and with US auto companies, promising to “cut regulations 75 percent” and shift the business climate from “truly inhospitable to extremely hospitable.”

On Wednesday, Trump announced that his administration would proceed with the construction of a wall along the US-Mexico border, while launching a crack-down targeting millions of immigrant workers for detention and deportation. The same day, he said that the White House would seek a “major investigation” into completely unfounded allegations that “voter fraud” by millions of people cost him the popular vote in November—a claim aimed at creating the conditions for a further assault on the right to vote.

As part of a policy of extreme economic nationalism, early in the week Trump signed an executive order blocking US entry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership and pledged to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Many of the policies of the incoming administration were outlined in Trump’s interview Wednesday night with ABC News anchor David Muir, during which Trump interspersed lying claims about his own popularity and the size of his inauguration with casual threats of war, torture and repression. The overall impression of Trump during the interview was that of a gangster in the Oval Office, the assumption of power by an underworld reflecting all that is corrupt and filthy in American capitalist society.

On torture, Trump proclaimed that if Mattis and incoming CIA Director Mike Pompeo “want to do [waterboarding], that’s fine. If they do wanna do, then I will work toward that end.” A draft memorandum is circulating in the White House that would reopen secret CIA prisons and torture centers overseas.

And this is only the first week. With the support of Democrats, Congress is moving rapidly to approve Trump’s cabinet of billionaires, former generals and corporate CEOs, and it has already approved Mattis, Pompeo and the head of the Department of Homeland Security, retired Marine Gen. John Kelly. Trump’s other cabinet picks are committed to a policy of destroying public education, eliminating basic social services and slashing Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

There is no doubt that the election of Trump marks a watershed in American politics. However, when future historians examine this period, they will inevitably direct attention to what preceded it, to the conditions and climate out of which the Trump presidency arose. Many factors could be pointed to—the extraordinary decay in the political culture of the United States, the domestic consequences of unending war and violence abroad, the extreme growth of social inequality and the rise of a parasitic financial oligarchy.

Rather than a complete break, the Trump presidency represents a transformation of quantity into quality. He is, in the final analysis, the product of the desperate crisis that afflicts American and world capitalism.

For four decades, the ruling class in the United States has been engaged in a campaign of social counter-revolution, systematically eliminating all the gains won by workers through bitter struggles in previous decades. The Obama administration accelerated these processes. Obama’s White House continued and expanded the bank bailouts initiated under the Bush administration and helped funnel trillions of dollars to Wall Street through the Federal Reserve’s “quantitative easing” programs, while working, as in the 2009 auto restructuring, to slash wages for the working class.

The results are expressed in the extraordinary growth of social inequality. According to a recent report by University of California Berkeley economists Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, between 1980 and 2014, the share of pre-tax national income going to the bottom 50 percent of the population fell from 20 percent to 12 percent, while the share going to the top 1 percent increased from 12 percent to 20 percent. The gains for the top .1 and .01 percent of the population are even more extreme.

The foreign policy of the Trump administration likewise does not arise out of nowhere. For a quarter century, the American ruling class has been engaged in a desperate project to reverse its economic decline through military force—in the Balkans, North Africa, the Middle East and central Asia. Fifteen years of the “war on terror” have metastasized into an ever more direct conflict with larger competitors. Trump’s focus on China is in fact in continuity with the Obama administration’s “pivot to Asia,” which has seen the deployment of US military resources throughout the South Pacific and East Asia.

What Trump adds to these processes is the distinct odor of fascism, of extreme nationalism and the threat of violent repression of opposition. His declaration in his inaugural address that the “bedrock of our politics will be total allegiance to the United States of America” is a threat to criminalize dissent, which will be associated with treason.

However, here too Trump is giving naked expression to the long-term decay of democratic forms of rule. It was, after all, Obama who will go down in history as the president who proclaimed the power to assassinate US citizens without due process. Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, drone assassination, NSA spying—this is the toxic mix out of which Trump’s particular contempt for constitutional norms emerges.

In July, as Trump was formally nominated as the candidate of the Republican Party at the Republican National Convention, the WSWS noted that “Trump’s particular fascistic personality was forged not in the beer halls of Munich and the trenches of World War I, but in the real estate market of New York City. With his casinos, his fictional universities and his endless stream of failed businesses, this personification of corporate fraud could hardly be a more fitting symbol for the state of American capitalism.”

There are sharp and bitter divisions within the American ruling class, but these divisions are over tactics, not basic class policy. It will not take much for Trump to bring on board many of his present critics within the political establishment and media, or, for that matter, more privileged sections of the upper middle class.

It is not from such forces that enduring opposition to the new administration will develop, but from the working class, in the United States and internationally. Trump’s absurd posturing as a defender of the “forgotten man” will, sooner rather than later, give rise to bitter class conflict as the impact of the new administration’s policy are felt. It is to the broad mass of the working class that socialists must now turn, and, through systematic organization and education, forge a political leadership to prepare for the struggles on the horizon.

Joseph Kishore

WSWS 

Trump delivers diatribe against press at CIA headquarters

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By Barry Grey
23 January 2017

One day after US President Donald Trump delivered an ultranationalist speech at his inaguration, and even as millions in the US and hundreds of thousands more around the world were protesting his inauguration, Trump went to the Langley, Virginia headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency to pledge his “love” and “1,000 percent” support.

The bulk of his rambling remarks, however, consisted of an attack on the media. Trump first accused the press of fabricating a feud between his transition team and the intelligence agencies and then charged it with deliberately underreporting the turnout for his inauguration the previous day. The new administration’s open feud with the corporate-controlled media underscores the degree of conflict and tension within the state as Trump takes office.

Trump’s anger is directed in the first instance against an utterly corrupt and subservient corporate-controlled press, which is rightly held in contempt by broad sections of the population because of its role as a purveyor of government lies and propaganda.

The new government, a direct instrument of the financial oligarchy, is nevertheless out to further muzzle the media in order to carry through a violent attack on the democratic rights and social conditions of the working class and prepare bigger and bloodier wars internationally.

“And the reason you’re my first stop,” Trump told the audience of some 400 CIA employees, “is that, as you know, I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings on earth… they sort of made it sound like I had a feud with the intelligence community.”

Just ten days before, Trump had used his first postelection press conference to accuse the CIA of leaking a report claiming that the Kremlin had a dossier of compromising information on him. He compared the CIA’s alleged leak to the tactics of Nazi Germany.

This was a high point in a months-long public conflict between Trump and the bulk of the intelligence establishment over official claims of Russian government intervention in the 2016 election, allegedly aimed at undermining Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and tipping the vote to Trump.

Spearheaded politically by the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign, and promoted by most of the corporate media, the McCarthyite-style campaign portrayed Trump as a stooge of Russian President Vladimir Putin because he talked of seeking improved relations with the Kremlin. This warmongering agitation, carried out without any factual substantiation of Russian meddling in the election, was initially aimed at attacking Trump from the right and creating the conditions for a Clinton administration to sharply escalate US military preparations against Russia. After Trump’s unexpected election victory, the campaign was revived in an attempt to block any rapprochement by the incoming government with Moscow.

Despite the complicity of the media in this reactionary campaign, Trump’s attempt to portray his feud with the CIA as a media invention is a patent lie. In Langley, he followed up this charge with a harangue against the press for allegedly underestimating the turnout for the inauguration in order to discredit his administration.

He estimated the attendance at “a million, a million and a half people,” an absurdly inflated figure refuted by aerial photographs showing a far smaller crowd than for Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration and by Washington Metro statistics pointing to a crowd of about 250,000.

Saying “we caught them in a beauty” of a lie, he declared ominously, “And I think they’re going to pay a big price.”

He then made much of an inaccurate report published Friday by Time magazine, and quickly retracted, that Trump had moved a bust of Martin Luther King, Jr. out of the Oval Office.

Several hours later, the new White House held an, if anything, even more bizarre event. Trump press secretary Sean Spicer called a news conference in the White House briefing room at which he angrily attacked the press corps for lying about the inauguration turnout and all but accused it of sedition. After lashing out for some ten minutes, spouting a series of falsehoods about the attendance at the previous day’s event, he turned on his heels and walked out, refusing to take questions from the stunned reporters.

At neither appearance was any acknowledgment made of the unprecedented character and massive scale of the anti-Trump demonstration taking place a few blocks away and the hundreds of others taking place across the country and internationally.

Declaring Friday’s turnout to be “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe,”—a complete fabrication—Spicer added, “These attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration are shameful and wrong.”

He then accused the media of “sowing division” with “deliberately false reporting” in an effort to undermine the new president, whose address was about “unifying the country.”

“There’s been a lot of talk in the media about the responsibility to hold Donald Trump accountable,” he warned, “and I’m here to tell you that it goes two ways. We are going to hold the press accountable as well.”

This was followed up by further threats against the press by Trump spokespeople who appeared on the Sunday morning news interview programs.

White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus told “Fox News Sunday” that “The media, from day one, has been talking about delegitimizing the election, talking about the Russians, talking about everything you can imagine, except the fact that we need to move this country forward.”

He continued: “I’m saying there’s an obsession by the media to delegitimize this president, and we are not going to sit around and let it happen. We’re going to fight back tooth and nail every day, and twice on Sunday.”

Top Trump aide Kellyanne Conway reinforced the attack in an appearance on NBC News’ “Meet the Press.” Speaking of Trump, she declared, “He has just absorbed an unprecedented…deluge of negative criticism and coverage that’s frankly unfair and a little bit dangerous to our democracy.”

In relation to press accounts of Spicer’s performance, she said, “It is completely irresponsible, if not worse, for members of the media to be calling our press secretary a liar or worse…” She called Spicer’s lies “alternative facts” and followed with a direct threat: “If we are going to keep referring to our press secretary in those type of terms, I think we are going to have to rethink our relationship here.”

Cowardly to its core and thoroughly bribed by the corporate elite, the establishment press is incapable of offering a principled defense of freedom of the press and speech.

Nor will the Democrats oppose Trump’s assault on democratic rights. This has already been demonstrated by the attempts of leading Democrats to attack Trump’s appearance at CIA headquarters from the right.

The New York Times, which functions as the unofficial house organ of the Democratic Party, managed to incorporate an attack on WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in its coverage of Trump’s appearance, writing: “He did not mention his apparent willingness to believe Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, who is widely detested at the CIA, over his own intelligence agencies.”

Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, and Charles Schumer, the Democratic Senate minority leader, both attacked Trump for showing insufficient deference to the CIA. Neither of them even raised the threat to press freedom and democratic rights posed by the administration’s broadsides.

Schiff said: “While standing in front of the stairs representing CIA personnel who lost their lives in the service of their country—hallowed ground—Trump gave little more than a perfunctory acknowledgment of their service and sacrifice.”

Schumer, appearing on ABC News’ “This Week” program, denounced Trump for raising the possibility of reducing sanctions against Russia. He touted legislation he is cosponsoring with Republican war hawks John McCain and Lindsey Graham to block the executive branch from easing the sanctions.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/01/23/lead-j23.html