On the election of Trump: don’t take sides in the struggle of capitalist factions!

Trump is a dangerous man. He has a hot temper, a penchant for lies, a disregard for the environment, and a willingness to scapegoat minorities. But that's not why he's dangerous. The real danger of Trump is the chance he gives the capitalist class to mend its tattered ideology. By sanctifying or vilifying Trump, capital's right and left turn all eyes towards the electoral charade, towards the oratorical sparring between the two big parties of capital, and away from deteriorating conditions of capitalist society as a whole.

First, though, what does Trump stand for?

As a candidate, Trump's differed from other politicians only in his "politically incorrect" rhetoric (and also his total incoherence). His stated plans, vague and contradictory as they were, matched those of the "elite" he attacked. Some plans were usual Republican mantras: lighter taxes (especially for the rich), fewer laws for business owners, and more laws for the poor and minorities. On foreign policy, he adopted the typical conservative enthusiasm for torture and indiscriminate bombing, but, in a welcome change, criticized recent presidents for their imperial adventures. (This led 50 Republican "national security experts" to denounce Trump.) And on other issues he deviates from Republican orthodoxy by adopting the tired banalities of the Democratic Party's left: ditch trade deals, limit Chinese imports, punish outsourcers, spend tons of money on infrastructure, and magically coax back manufacturing jobs. It's not without cause that Trump thought he could win over disenchanted Sanders voters.

What's more, after winning, Trump is back-tracking on some of the promises that made up the core of his campaign. Before the election he pledged to "lock her [Clinton] up." But as soon as he strolled out on stage to deliver his victory speech, he profusely thanked her for her "service" and said she's a great American. He has also backtracked on his promise to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate her. After a cordial meeting with Obama, he softened his position on the Affordable Care Act, promising to repeal it only when something better is in place. And his Florida campaign chairperson admits the great, beautiful, Mexico-financed wall along the border, the centerpiece of his campaign, "might not be [a] physical" wall at all. There has even been speculation that his "Muslim ban" promise will go by the wayside. He has also softened, apparently, on his climate change denialism and on the depth of his planned tax cuts. Even before all of this backpedaling far-right Trump backer Michael Savage lamented that "it looks like Jeb Bush won." And now Ann Coulter has attacked him for reneging on his promise to prosecute Clinton.

As one commenter remarked on election night, Trump was a Democrat for most of his life and has lived almost exclusively in liberal New York City. Indeed, the Republican "establishment" was very slow to rally around him, not because they abhorred his language and temper, but because his conservative credentials are suspect. Note that it was the right of the party, the National Review crowd, the Koch Brothers, and Glenn Beck, who steadfastly opposed him to the end. The other side of this is that Democrats' plan for their time in opposition is to "align with many proposals of President-elect Donald Trump that put him at odds with his own party".

While Trump's willingness to scapegoat minorities and women is legitimately frightening, Trump may represent a milder conservatism than we would've got from any other Republican.

Of course, it is an open question how much control Trump will exercise over his administration. The "establishment" may well eventually wrest power from the dimwitted and easily-distracted celebrity. He has appointed several "establishment" figures to his administration already. On the other hand, and as if to counter concerns that he is moving to the center, Trump has already appointed or looked to appoint several hard-right, racist figures. Some were officials in previous Republican administrations, others are vapid talking heads known for their TV and radio programs.

The final ideological composition Trump's administration is anyone's guess.

Only one thing is certain. Trump's policies will not be determined by his childish ideas, but by needs of the capitalist society the state and all political parties defend. Regardless of who was elected, and what their interests and intentions were, they would have to carry out policies which have a similar aim: grow the economy, hold wages to a "reasonable level," defend America's position as leader of the imperialist pack, etc. Whether Trump's populist swindle reflects his real intentions doesn't matter. The laws of competition tie his hands. Consider global warming as one example. Obama respected the science. Trump thought it was a Chinese hoax -- until he didn't. But it doesn't matter what's in politicians' heads or written down on paper as law. Environmental protections impact corporate profitability and employment. In this sick system, the entire planet is reduced to an abstract concern that is trumped by the need to accumulate scraps of paper. Trump, for once, said it best: "I think there is some connectivity [between human activity and global warming]. There is some, something. It depends on how much. It also depends on how much it's going to cost our companies.".

In the end, though, it doesn't matter whether Trump does or does not carry out his policies. Left and right can only improve or worsen conditions a little. A different set of targets for the military machine. A different level of health care for bodies wracked by exploitation, denatured food, and pollution. Slower or faster environmental destruction. Trade policies that favor capitalists who export or capitalists who import. These are the options offered up by capital's left and right.

The real danger of Trump, then, is not that he threatens the end of the world, or even the end of American democracy. The danger is that he offers a different appearance to the same old policies. His election offers the Democrats a chance to refresh their ideological image. From Obama Trump has inherited an unprecedented program of domestic surveillance, bloody military adventures around the world, and growing inequality. Democrats can now wash their hands of these things and pin them on Trump. The Democrats will also use this as an opportunity to mobilize -- with the sole aim the resumption of Democratic control over the state -- all those segments of society disgusted by Trump's rhetoric of racism, sexism, unmasked affinity for fellow billionaires, and disregard for human rights. Nevermind that all of these characteristics were present under past Democratic and Republican regimes, though more or less obscured by fine language and a diverse set of figureheads. Meanwhile, the Republicans can point to that same rhetoric as proof of a profound break with "politics as usual," of a victory for "little people" over "beltway elites."

Nothing will change, of course, save that the capitalists have breathed new life into the illusion that good or bad political change is possible through the ballot box. All of the energy of the discontented will be harnessed to support or oppose the contending political factions in the 2018 mid-term elections. If we follow this road the best we can hope for is a new leader who defends the same policies, but with does so with a more palatable personality. Meanwhile, capitalist society will continue to offer nothing but poverty, ecological disaster, imperialist war, and alienation.

Political change is possible, but not through the ballot box. Real political change means destroying the capitalist state and abolishing production for profit, which is the real root of our problem. This change might be unlikely, but it is not Utopian. "The real utopians are those people who imagine it is possible today to achieve a greater satisfaction of human needs through the reform of capitalism, and not its complete overthrow."

P.S. Several left communist(ish) groups have put out analyses or statements, including the ICT, the ICC, Internationalist Perspective, and Insurgent Notes. In terms of structure and content, Internationalist Perspective's statement is closest to what I was attempting to say here. They did a much better job, though.