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Players, potentials, positions

Only one thing is certain about the US election: There will be turbulence

Von Daniel Gutiérrez

Who will move into the White House after the election on November 3 is still unknown, but it is certain that political turmoil is on the way. Foto: kelly bell photography/ Flickr , CC BY 2.0

Between now and November 3rd when Americans take to the polls to determine the presidency of the United States, it is impossible to say what will happen. The ball, so to speak, is still in play and the count-down to the game’s end is hardly up. It gives a great amount of time for the broad variety of forces to position themselves (and the ball) accordingly. Though given the ticking of the clock, the possibilities are dwindling and becoming fixed into position, making possible only a small variety of outcomes. 

To come to possible scenarios, we must first examine the players and their potentials, the positions they’ve achieved, and the state of play. After which, a set of possible futures are proposed.

The Capitalist Class and Their Political Representatives

The capitalist class as a whole has broken down politically. Typically, its class fractions are represented by either the Republican or Democratic parties in the United States and these compete in a general consensus over the rules of the game. Today, no such consensus – or sign thereof – exists around how to handle the crisis which regards the economy, the pandemic, the legitimacy of political institutions, or the society (seen best in the “culture wars” and the struggle around BLM).

Nonetheless, capitalist support for Trump seems to be fracturing. He has lost majority support of finance and tech capital. In 2016 he received nearly $21 million from finance and techcapital but has only recorded $10.6 million this round. Biden on the other hand has received $51 million in 2020.

The Jacobin media ecology has done a very fine job highlighting how Democratic leadership fails to understand the stakes and rules of the game. That is, the Republican Party, taken over by Trumpist politics, has flipped the board game and set fire to the house. The Democrats, in a state of bourgeois shock, are demanding that they return to play the game according to the rules from inside the burning house. 

From the death of Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia to the death of Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the Republicans seize every opportunity to wield operational control of power apparatuses. The Democrats call foul, but the only people that hear or care is their choir, which is just as insulated as the choir of the Republican party. And while capitalist support of Trump has continued to fracture (as seen with the Lincoln Project), Republican politicians continue to toe the president’s line.

The Repressive State Apparatus

The state apparatus itself is deeply divided, especially it’s “iron core” of the repressive state apparatus. From the people I’ve talked to in the Navy, there are deep divisions within the rank-and-file of the military. The officer class generally opposes Trump and is quite concerned about what will happen, but remains wedded to the constitution and refuses to speak out against their commander-in-chief. The lower ranks appear to be split, with broad numbers deeply supporting the president, while others (mostly of color) appear to have become unanchored from their support by the recent BLM protests and the president’s reactions. Recent polls confirm slipping support for Trump in the armed forces.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), however, continue to support the president, and local police forces and their unions fall mostly in the camp of Donald Trump.

The Broad Left

The broad working-class on the other hand, remains deeply fragmented and in a state of political recomposition. Organized labor is divided between the old neoliberal guard of the Democratic Party and new progressive forces around Justice Democrats and the Sanders campaign – themselves a very small minority within the Democratic Party but with close connections to the left-wing of labor. And while polls indicate that Biden enjoys the majority support of Latinx, Asian, and Black voters turned out for him in the primaries of the South, he is making no ground on voters of color that voted Trump last time around. He is also failing to enthuse young voters of color. And of course, large sections of the white working-class are wooed by the racism they’ve been fed on and that Trump reiterates. 

In preparation for the election, the Democratic Socialists of America, the biggest socialist organization in the US, home to some 70 thousand members, is preparing for a new membership wave following election day. While being the most mass and coherent left force, the DSA nonetheless has proven ineffective in the latest cycle of BLM protests. What’s more, it does not enjoy any specific control over productive or reproductive functions. Which can also be said of BLM protests.

BLM has reached a considerable ability to mobilize and has changed a lot of things. But beyond broader and simpler forms of refusal, BLM is not capable of actually directing the direction of change. This second cycle of protest proves that. They were momentarily able to halt a lot of political machinery, but not dictate what machinery be abolished or transformed. Those were enemies in the machinery of the state that tried to figure out how to lower the tide outside their window – not allies of BLM. The social forces beind BLM sofar didn’t get to *dictate* in specific ways how that change happens.

The Fascist Right

What is evident is that the BLM protests have a visible numerical superiority, it is their political incoherence and political organizational shortcomings that gives Trumpist forces a clear advantage. 

Trumpist forces enjoy a distinct political machinery. Trump functions as the articulator of what was before a loose array of local fascist relays. Now, we are talking about a very formidable political system that has nodes across the country and across the political apparatuses. 

And while Trump lacks a classical political apparatus like the NSDAP, it’s quite clear that today a party is not needed for coordinated collective and aggregate action. Instead, he connects a decentralized ecology of YouTube channels, internet forums, podcasts, gun clubs, church communities, evangelical networks, men’s clubs and men’s rights associations, militias, troop garrisons, police unions, etc. It is a broad and deep molecular network, and Trump has become the conduit through which nodes have articulated into a more coherent political force.

And what they’ve all articulated against is a “black-hole anti-communism” through which “everything that is perceived as threatening can be compressed into a single, treasonous, diabolical enemy: just different tentacles of the same communist kraken.” In theorizing this enemy as Freud’s dreamwork, “wherein a single dream image comes to stand for thoughts that cannot otherwise be acknowledged,” Richard Seymour confirms observations recently documented by Chiara Migliori who discovered in rural Ohio entire communities in dreadful fear of a communist conspiracy.

However, what makes this machinery so dangerous is precisely that it has successfully delegitimized the state apparatus while simultaneously legitimizing the use of extra-parliamentary violence. It simply does not matter if the New York Times reveals tax evasion: the New York Times is corrupt. CNN is corrupt. The Democrats are corrupt. They are all part of a shadowy communist cabal that wants to enslave America.

In developing this black-hole, dreamwork enemy, Trump has successfully delegitimized every single obstacle that bourgeois democracy has erected against him: the media, the post-office, the Democrats, the protestors, and the vote itself. 

Having accomplished this unprecedented feat, Trump has made it obviously clear is that he will not respect the vote unless it ushers a victory. Having done so, why would he step down?

The Coming Violence

In all scenarios then, we must expect a period of significant political turbulence, already underway, but crystallizing on election day. 

To secure victory, Republicans are in the process of recruiting 50,000 “poll watchers” composed of police and, in all likelihood, fascist militias. Trump has already said he would deploy these in Democrat-voting neighborhoods. A violent encounter is thus already in the making, especially considering Trump told his Proud Boys stormtroopers to “stand back and stand by” at the first debate. It is quite imaginable street violence breaks out in “Antifa” controlled cities like Portland or Seattle. Trump could attempt to use this to call off the elections altogether.

If it’s canceled or if Trump loses the election, we are heading into uncharted political terrain in the American tradition. As Barton Gellam of The Atlantic writes, the American political system has “no precedent or procedure to end this election if Biden seems to carry the Electoral college but Trump refuses to concede. We will have to invent one.” 

Expect more of the same from Democratic leadership: theatrics but no maneuvers of relevant political substance. To this end, parliamentary procedure is not only lacking legally, but lacking politically. Some, like Biden, expect that if Trump loses and refuses to leave, someone (constitutionally unclear who) will simply remove him. Perhaps. If that doesn’t happen, the stage is set for a struggle of extra-parliamentary force.

In this case, two cards remain unplayed and in the deck to force Trump out of office. One is the real possibility of a general strike to try to force Trump’s hand. That is, the recent NBA wildcat strikes made very clear and very visible the power of refusing labor. And this would be the second time a political strike is called under Trump. In January 2019 Sarah Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants union called for a general strike to end the federal budget crisis and was behind the strike at New York airports.

It is imaginable between November and January (when the president must transfer power to his successor) that, if lacking other interventions, Sarah Nelson – a close ally of Bernie Sanders, the DSA, and Justice Democrats – along with popular and influential sports players call together a general strike, provoking the jump from mass social action to mass economic action. We however  must expect shootings, perhaps even pogroms, by fascist militias throughout this process. This violence will provoke a deepening of the social and political crisis. 

To avoid this popular extra-parliamentary action and to maintain confidence in the American market,  it is alternatively imaginable that the military simply steps in and removes Donald Trump from office. This would certainly demoralize his base, which holds the military in high esteem. Just as significantly, it would restore confidence in the financial markets. What’s more, I could imagine Republican politicians backing this maneuver, which would allow them a respectable distance from Trump and projecting the image of having always been on the right side of history. From the perspective of capitalists, this would be the smartest route.

All scenarios of Trump’s electoral defeat, however, will require that Biden commits to a political strategy similar to Reconstruction and Denazification that disarms the fascist lifeworld and disciplines right-wing capitalists – something that he is woefully ill prepared for.

And if Trump wins the vote, it is hard to not imagine some degree of capital flight, as the United States would be ushered into four more years of turbulence that much of the bourgeoisie is against. If so, we can prepare for the end of American hegemony and the desperate maneuvering of a dying empire (such as a war with China), setting the stage for a scenario that looks very much like revolution or civil war. 

Daniel Gutiérrez

is a member of DIE LINKE and CounterPower/ContraPoder, as well as cofounder of Werkstatt für Bewegungsbildung. A doctoral candidate at Freie Universität Berlin, his research focuses on worker organization, power and strategy.