Those who instigated and participated in the violent destruction of the US Capitol – which resulted in at least five deaths and dozens of injuries – must be brought to justice. Donald Trump faces impeachment and will be disgraced from office, even stripped of his megaphones on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. The prosecutors are pursuing the violent and destructive, dozens have already been charged. Accountability for Trump’s leak-spitting congressional acolytes will wait for the next election, though many of their corporate donors are already dropping out. The unanswered question is whether this reckoning will involve reshaping the ruinous establishment policies that have fueled the frustration and anger that have helped bring this country into this moment.
The practically all-white mob that ransacked the Capitol was a diverse gathering drawn from many corners of today’s Republican Party – including neo-Nazis, Confederate-flagged racists, proud boys, evangelical zealots, QAnon fantasists, angry white shopkeepers, and small businesses Owners – everyone was caught up in Trump’s relentless lie that the election was stolen and other fantasies.
But Trump and the mob are not the source of the suffering of this democracy. You are just his expression. When Trump is gone, anger and hatred remain. During the conservative era that began with Ronald Reagan, this country has seen the brutal displacement of a relatively safe, largely white working class. The leaders of both parties have constantly lied to them, claiming that they don’t care, even if nothing has changed. The mostly white elite have grown richer, despite the devastation of communities with factory closures and the loss of good jobs. For too long this government and this economy have not worked for most people. And our increasingly brazen policy with big money and rampant corruption make it clear who is holding the strings.
Trump rose to the presidency as a particularly harmful practitioner of Republican racial bait policy, from his toxic birth campaign against President Obama to his stance on the “invasion” of immigrants and Muslims. What set him apart in 2016, however, was his break with bipartisan market fundamentalism and vehement indictments against the elite. Trump attacked corporate globalization and failed because of trade policy, endless wars, Wall Street (especially Goldman Sachs) and the political establishment. This facility, he said in his Opening speech“Protected, but not the citizens of our country.” Politicians, he said, “thrived – but jobs went down and factories closed”. That was something “weird shit“Noted George W. Bush, but it hit millions across the country.
From Bill Clinton’s “New Democrats” to Barak Obama’s “Hope and Change”, Democratic leaders embraced the conservative consensus. They advocated the trade policies of corporations shipping jobs overseas, while liberal economists ridiculed those who warned of the consequences. They did little when the unions were crushed, wages stagnated, and the prices of necessities such as health care, education and housing rose. They stopped enforcing antitrust law and extolled the deregulation of Wall Street. And when the resulting financial wilderness finally ended with the 2008 financial meltdown, the Obama administration rescued the responsible banks while the millions of Americans who fell victim to them lost their homes and savings.
The Republicans used the policy of racial bait to cement their “strategy of the south” and make themselves the party of the white sanctuary. The democratic establishment combined ruinous neoliberal economics with identity politics – the cabinet that “looked like America” under Clinton, followed by the first black president, along with pledges to open “ladders of opportunity” as inequality worsened. This served to consolidate a majority coalition that linked the educated and wealthy with minorities. It also added salt to the wounds of the displaced white workers who flocked to the Republican Party. Racism not only fuels the hatred of the crowd; it divides the dispossessed, as always, and frustrates the creation of a mixed race majority of the working class that could drive ongoing change.
Despite his rhetoric, Trump mainly delivered traditional Republican policies – corporate tax cuts, deregulation, right-wing judicial appointments. Its populist promises have been broken or given up. The trade wars failed; the endless wars continued; Inequality became more extreme. Because of his delusional response to the pandemic, he had the worst employment record of any president since Herbert Hoover. But Trump, who declared himself an advocate for opening up the economy, despised masks and cheered the angry mobs who threatened governors and health officials.
Some in the Republican establishment believe the January 6 shame could allow them to lock Trump out while preserving the party’s influence over the white working class. The leadership of Democratic Congress is focused on punishing those who instigated, supported, or participated in the attack on Congress and democracy. Joe Biden is right here: These efforts must not detract from the dawn of a new era of bold reform. Banishing Trump and prosecuting those who terrorized the Capitol is imperative, but the survival of this democracy does not depend on whether Trump is indicted or shamed, but on whether it can actually work again for working people. If it doesn’t work – and change won’t be easy because it will require challenging the elites and the deeply entrenched interests of both parties – Trump will likely be viewed as just an amateur opening for the full horror show that is yet to come.