President de-elect and wannabe but failed soft coup plotter Donald Trump suffered under the delusion that he ran the country, that he could effectively rescue it from the “Washington, D.C. swamp dweller-insiders” who he repeatedly dubbed the “dark state.” Trump never defined this enterprise but repeatedly argued that it was responsible for dastardly deeds, like rigging elections, offshoring jobs, coddling Muslims (“Islamic terrorists”) and Latin American “rapist immigrants“, or even engaging in foreign wars to line the pockets of the military-industrial complex. Trump’s rightwing populist appeals were laced with racism, sexism and strident tirades against alleged Democratic Party socialism. For a few votes, he was capable of endless inanities – “I am the best president for Black people since, Abraham Lincoln,” or “I aced the intelligence test” periodically administered to presidents to check for Alzheimers.
He posed himself as a physically and intellectually superior individual, near invulnerable to COVID-19, an anti-science reactionary advocate of the survival of the fittest “herd immunity” hoax, a global warming denier and an endearing personality with the capacity to circumvent traditional diplomatic channels to make personal “deals” with controversial world leaders that had eluded his predecessors for decades. He lent backhanded support to tiny neo-fascist hate groups as if to hold them in reserve for future encounters with alleged violent anti-police Black protestors, while viewing the Pentagon establishment and its military as under his absolute control. In the name of defending U.S. jobs he presumed to bypass established international trade organizations set up by the ruling rich to moderate conflicts to the advantage of the dominant powers. He similarly abandoned some leading U.S. corporations to impose stringent tariffs on allegedly offending competitor nations. In short, on some critical issues, not all to be sure, this egomaniac narcissist presumed to stand above the U.S. ruling class as a power unto himself.
When $trillions were at stake, as with the usual bipartisan corporate bailouts, tax cuts and “stimulus” legislation aimed at shoring up the corporate elite, he was an initially tolerated team player. When he became an embarrassment to big capital he had to be dumped – in due time. A resisting Trump thought otherwise.
Accident of history
Trump came to the U.S. presidency as an accident of history – from out of nowhere with regard to previous establishment political credentials. He was a “reality television” host on “The Apprentice” series that presumed to judge the business acumen of competing would-be entrepreneurs. He was a failed gambling casino entrepreneur, a wannabe real estate mogul manipulator, tax dodger, womanizer and rich man personality who, over the years became part of the social set of wealthy and famous hangers on who partied together and were ever visible at endless philanthropic do-gooder affairs and political fundraisers.
His stayed Republican Party primary opponents, including important figures like former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Florida Senator Marco Rubio and similar Republican leading lights were pilloried by Trump as colorless, weak and indecisive old guard bureaucrats. He did the same with Hillary Clinton and her Democratic Party primary contenders. They were no match for Trump’s anti-establishment flamboyance and braggadocio. Losing the popular vote, Trump nevertheless succeeded in the anti-democratic Electoral College and won the presidency. Riding a wave of broad populist discontent, he defied the polls and won the White House.
Trump was not the first “outsider” to win major public office when a new face emerged on the scene who appeared to counter the previous business-as-usual politics that were increasingly resented by disillusioned millions who had lost their jobs and their “middle class” standard of living to the economic exigencies of a declining U.S. capitalism that offshored or closed industrial plants en masse or replaced them with robot driven factories while offering Walmart wage employment, if any, in their place.
Californians had previously elected to top posts Grade B movie stars (Ronald Reagan), world class body-builders (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and in Minnesota, professional wrestler, Jessie Ventura. But there was one critical difference between Trump and these personalities. Trump believed that he could run the country on his own, or better, with a core group of subservient sycophants placed in key positions of “power.” Appointees who challenged his dictates were time and again banished.
In sharp contrast the aforementioned outsiders understood from day one of their reign that the fundamentals of ruling class decision-making would not and could not be altered, regardless of which politician held the top office. Governors Schwarzenegger, Reagan and “socially progressive/fiscally conservative” Governor “moonbeam” Jerry Brown had no intention of pretending to run California, the fifth richest nation on earth measured by GDP. They fully understood that there would be zero challenges to the monopoly giants of California agribusiness, where state-of-the-art technology and vast fertile lands monopolized much of the nation’s food production, or to its weapons factories that churned out much of the nation’s war machinery, or to its insurance, real estate and manufacturing monopolies that had ruled the state for decades. No matter the party that dominated the the statehouse big capital ruled. Today, it’s the “liberal” Democrats administering the “Golden State,” ever imposing social cutbacks, privatizing public education; California ranks first in COVID-19 infections and deaths.
Trump’s failed coup
Trump believed he could defy the ruling elite by force of will. He was dead wrong. As we shall see, his recent openly threatened and seriously contemplated electoral maneuvers all came to naught. On Sept. 24, some two weeks before the election, when polls increasingly showed that Trump would lose, he sounded the alarm in responding to a reporter’s unexpected inquiry; “Win, lose, or draw, will you commit here today for a peaceful transfer of power after the election?” Trump responded, “We’re going to have to see what happens… We want to get rid of the [mail-in] ballots, and we’ll have a very peaceful — there won’t be a transfer, frankly. There’ll be a continuation.” Trump subsequently repeated his threat to declare himself president on Election Day, basing himself on the presumption that his loyal Republican governors, state judges and majority Republican state legislatures, and eventually the U.S. Supreme Court, would affirm his rejection of counting mail-in ballots. Anticipating likely massive, if not out-of-control mobilizations against him should he move to void the election results, Trump looked to the 1807 Insurrection Act as a vehicle to enforce his will, that is, to deploy the U.S. military and federalized National Guard troops to brutally repress those who would resist his all but announced coup threats. Such were Trump’s stated intentions months earlier in June during the mass protests in 2000-plus U.S. cities and towns where some 20 million mobilized to protest the police murder of George Floyd and marched in solidarity with the historic Black Lives Matter anti-racist outpourings. At that time Trump called on his top general, Joint Chiefs of Staff chair Mark Milley, along with his then Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and an entourage of government officials to personally accompany him on a walk across Lafayette Square, adjacent to the White House, to St. Peters Episcopal Church for a one-minute photo op, bible in hand. A few blocks away his National Guard troops viciously gassed and brutalized thousands of peaceful protestors, including several media reporters. Milley and Esper soon after disassociated themselves from having accompanied Trump and from his intended implication that he had placed them in charge, via Insurrection Act provisions, of deploying noxious gas and police violence against peaceful protestors.
Months later, on Dec. 22, Trump found himself isolated and sequestered in unofficial White House meetings where participants were reported to be contemplating, according to the Dec. 21 NYT, invoking marshal law to force reluctant officials in four states to turn over election machines for the inspection of a yet-to-be appointed independent counsel. Again, there were no takers! Trump then turned to consideration of deploying ICE (Immigration Customs and Enforcement) forces for the same purpose, again, with zero support. Conspiracy theorist Sidney Powell, one of Trump’s former personal attorneys, was said to be in consideration for the post of independent counsel to investigate Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud. Powell’s “kraken” conspiracy theory incredibly postulates a sprawling, nationwide election fraud network, replete with pedophiles, no less, organized to deny Trump the presidency. Dominion Corporation Voting Machines used in key states, according to kraken “theory” nuts, were alleged to have been hacked by supporters of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez! Powell’s legal team, including Trump’s personal attorney Rudolf Giuliani, filed some fifty lawsuits alleging this anti-Trump voter conspiracy. All were rejected, along with a Supreme Court lawsuit filed by Texas’s governor, backed by amicus briefs signed by Republican officials from a dozen states and a majority (126) of the Republican members of the House of Representatives. The latter apparently added their names out of fear of being “primaried” out of office by a vengeful Trump in 2022. No Republican U.S. senator signed on.
Trump supporters break ranks
It is in this context – wherein Trump’s Attorney General William P. Barr announced his resignation, defying Trump’s pressures to declare the elections rigged and Barr’s rejection of appointing an independent counsel to investigate, wherein Trump’s Defense Secretary Esper has been fired for similar reasons, wherein Trump’s quasi-spokesperson/religious zealot/mis-named constitutional expert Sidney Powell, has all but called for the resignations of the non-compliant directors of the CIA and FBI for their similar refusal to join in abetting Trump’s coup efforts – that we will examine just who does rule America.
No oath to king, queen, tyrant or dictator
Trump’s Joint Chiefs of Staff chair General Mark Milley, bluntly began to answer this question when he publicly stated shortly after Election Day, in the face of Trump’s rejection of the results, “We do not take an oath to a king or a queen, a tyrant or a dictator. We do not take an oath to an individual.” In the same vein, former Attorney General Barr, after months of echoing Trump’s mail-in ballot election fraud fantasies, and stating that if Trump were not re-elected, “the country would be irrevocably committed to the socialist path,” similarly abandoned Trump’s sinking ship.
Who rules America?
Who then does rule? What is the U.S. ruling class? What powers does it have? Countless volumes have been written on the subject. Most recently, Peter Phillips’ Giant: The Global Capitalist Elite, Seven Stories Press, 2018, provides some critical insights. Phillips demonstrates in great detail that this U.S. ruling class and its now globalized components, do essentially rule the world. In capitalist America, until Trump, all presidents have understood this simple fact. The Trump accident aside, this U.S. ruling elite began its relations with Trump based on the assumption that their good and private counsel would in time be welcomed and that this would suffice to “civilize” the intemperate blustering fool, that it would “temporize” his internationally embarrassing rants against traditional U.S. allies, and that in time, Trump would bend to their collective will. They were mistaken. Early on, and today with lightning speed, Trump’s administration has been marked by unprecedented firings and/or departures of top officials who dared to dissent, highlighted most graphically by the resignation a few years ago of his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, former CEO of one of the greatest U.S. corporations, ExxonMobile. An exasperated Tillerson called Trump, according to a NYT reporter, a “f******g moron.”
Phillips’ near 400-page exposition graphically reveals the power of the riling class. He documents that “seventeen giants of this global elite,” mostly U.S.-based, but operating worldwide, “collectively manage concentrations of more than $41.1 trillion in assets.” Largely U.S. banks and related financial institutions with interpenetrating investments and shared board members, they operate in nearly every country on earth. They, along with “lesser” $multi-billion corporations, are the central institutions of world monopoly finance capitalism that power the global economic system and its related infrastructure. Western governments, international financial institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, international policy bodies like the Council on Foreign Relations, U.S.-dominated military blocs like NATO, and the highly monopolized military-industrial complex are in their near exclusive domain. The $41.1 trillion that constitutes the combined asserts of these 17 alone exceeds the entire GDP of the U.S. ($22.3 trillion), the world’s largest economy.
The leading 17 include eleven U.S. corporate behemoths that each preside over $multi-trillions in assets. These include the leading giant, Blackrock, with $5.4 trillion is assets as of 2017, followed by the Vanguard Group, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, State Street Global Advisers, Fidelity Investments, Bank of New York Mellon, Capital Group, Goldman Sachs Group, Prudential Financial, and Morgan Stanley. Today, three years later, Blackrock publicly lists its assets at $7 trillion an amount that exceeds the entire 2020 U.S. budget ($4.79 trillion)! The remaining six non-U.S. economic powerhouses, some of which operate in tandem with the U.S. behemoths, are headquartered in Germany, France, Great Britain and Switzerland. The 17 CEOs, their board members and designees are the real decision makers in U.S. society, not the likes of petty gambling casino owner/Apprentice TV host/real estate crook and hustler Donald Trump.
Around the ruling class table
A tiny incident attendant to the 2008 financial crisis is instructive. Imagine the CEOs of the leading financial institutions in the country, including most of those listed above, sitting around a Washington, D.C. hotel’s super long mahogany table deliberating over what to do when the nation’s banking institutions, invested in unprecedented $billions in failed mortgages, faced imminent disaster. Modesty aside, this was the scene that I speculated to be the reality at that time, only to have The New York Times confirm it with a photo of this ruling class assemblage itself, including the CEOs of the nation’s leading bankers. The “Power Elite” were in the room. The Times did not confirm whether the table was made of mahogany! Present also were the heads of the U.S. Treasury Department and the U.S. Federal Reserve, then Henry Paulson and Benjamin Bernanke respectively. Immediately following their deliberations the two were off to the U.S. Congress to present their proposal for an unprecedented and instant $800 billion bailout. Their text was but a few pages. The Times reported that they first stopped by the office of then U.S. President, George W. Bush, to inform him that if their proposal was not adopted the U.S. financial system faced imminent collapse. Bush’s response was instructive. “Why didn’t anyone tell me?” Minutes later, the proposal was submitted to Congress. An additional $200 billion in pork was included a few days later by those few who had not been fully consulted. The deed was done – $1 trillion was gifted to the ruling class in a near instant. This was followed by a multi-year, $multi billion monthly corporate bailout scheme called quantitative easing, wherein the Obama administration, in the name of “stimulating” the economy via alleged government investments in vitally needed infrastructure projects, instead gifted monthly multiply $billions in near interest free loans to the corporate elite, who in turn “invested” this free money into the increasingly casino-like stock market and related speculative ventures. The super rich became richer than ever in the same manner as with the Trump era bi-partisan corporate bailouts, “tax reforms” and CARES Act “stimulus” bills. All operated to drive stock market indexes to all time highs. As with Trump, Obama’s program was bi-partisan all the way. No self-respecting capitalist is in the business of complaining that the $trillions, supposedly earmarked for jobs and loans for those millions who lost their homes and savings in the attendant massive mortgage foreclosure crisis went to the uberrich instead.
Billions to Soothe the Richest
The same holds true today. A front-page article in the Dec. 23 NYT entitled “Buried in Pandemic Aid Bill: Billions to Soothe the Richest,” the article begins, “Tucked away in the 5,593-page spending bill that Congress rushed through, [pending Trump’s signature] on Monday night is a provision that some experts call a $200 billion giveaway to the rich.” This single provision in the $900 billion package includes loan forgiveness and tax exemptions, according to The Times, that are earmarked mostly for “the richest 1 percent.” But The Times delved deeper, listing a myriad of additional pork provisions including $billions in racetrack allocations for Mitch McConnell’s Kentucky, $5 billion for the Pentagon, $2.5 billion for race car tracks and $6.3 billion in write-offs for business meals. Previously legislated temporary lower tax rates levied on distillers, brewers and vintners, were made permanent. Funds for Trump’s wall were similarly included.
AOC blows the whistle
Most revealing, however, was Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s tweet that, “Members of Congress have not read this bill. It’s over 5000 pages, arrived at 2pm today, and we are told to expect a vote on it in 2 hours… This isn’t governance. It’s hostage-taking.” Rightwing Texas Senator Ted Cruz affirmed AOC truth, publicly exposing what is the norm regarding literally every mega billion dollar giveaway legislated by the U.S. Congress, “It’s absurd to have a $2.5 trillion (Cruz’s estimate of the total involved) spending bill negotiated in secret and then—hours later—demand an up-or-down vote on a bill nobody has had time to read.” Cruz’s “nobody” among the 435 congresspersons and 100 U.S. senators, is slightly off the mark. The handful of “experts” who traditionally draft this legislation are the direct representatives of the ruling class who run the country. As we go to press, they have been thrown into a bit of a Christmas break tizzy when President Trump intervened on the way to Mar-a-Lago to ridicule both party’s pathetic $600 individual COVID-19 allocation. The ever-posturing opportunist, populist Trump, with an eye to maintaining his “people’s image, insisted that the $600 figure be upped to $2000 per person. No doubt, another round of secret deliberations among and between the elite few who oversee these matters, will add (to the ruling class balance sheet) and subtract (from the working class via hidden devious insertion) amounts necessary to satiate the outgoing and disintegrating Trump machine. Who knows what evil means lurk ahead? But today, the petty crook “dealmaker” Trump is on the way out, largely deserted by the establishment institutions and their kept media. All understood that they were not elected or appointed to ratify a moron’s coup plans. Trump had been abandoned by the corporate elite more generally; their top echelons poured unprecedented $billions into Biden’s campaign. The same with the military tops and the leading figures in the national security state; they signed on to publicly identify with Biden and not Trump.
Biden vs. Trump
The difference between Trump and Biden is that the latter understands and agrees to abide by the rules of the capitalist order. Trump, an egomaniac schemer, with delusions of grandeur to boot – again an accidental president to be sure – believed and acted on the premise that he could game the system and defy the real powers that oversee the workings of capitalist/imperialist America. A Dec. 11 NYT Editorial Board statement on Trump’s electoral coup effort is instructive. In presenting their view, The Times took the unusual measure of introducing their statement as follows: “The editorial board is a group of opinion journalists whose views are informed by expertise, research, debate and certain longstanding values. It is separate from the newsroom.” The Times neglected to mention that their statement reflected the views of their Democratic Party-aligned corporate employers in the business of “Manufacturing Consent” for ruling class objectives.
Under the headline “The ‘Trump Won’ Farce Isn’t Funny Anymore,” The Times, quoting General Milley’s above remark that “We do not take an oath to a king or a queen, a tyrant or a dictator,” felt the need to assert that, “The military has also made clear where it stands.” [Emphasis added.] That the “newspaper of record” in capitalist America felt compelled to inform its worldwide audience that the U.S. military had also rejected a Trump-threatened coup, informs us that more than a few among the ruling elite took Trump’s threats seriously. Today, with regard to the ruling elite, the Trump threat resides more in his preparations for a possible 2024 re-run than it does in a resort of one or another end game maneuver that Trump may press on his frightened and intimidated Republican House toadies, for whom a career seat rubber stamping periodic $trillions in ruling class engineered bills is sufficient, provided only that they are rewarded in turn with a few $millions for their own pockets.
Finally, now, we have president-elect posturing King Biden to account for, the man of few surprises. Biden’s cabinet appointees are in the direct line of succession of his Bill Clinton and Barack Obama predecessors, that is, experienced in ruling class political subservience that without exception aims to implementing the dictates of monopoly finance capital. We have previously detailed their histories. (See: Ruling class politics or socialist revolution? by this writer, socialistaction.org.)
Here we will conclude with a revealing trifle obtained by The Intercept. Last week Biden addressed a private Zoom meeting with seven “civil rights leaders.” Black Agenda Report editor Glenn Ford describes them as the “Black mis-leadership class,” none of whom played any role in the organization of the unprecedented Black Lives Matter summer protests that in great measure blew up the myth of justice and racial equality in capitalist/racist America. These summer mobilizations, the largest in U.S. history, exposed the systemic racism that permeates every U.S. institution. Biden, with multiple decades of service in the House, Senate and as Obama’s VP, took on the assignment of incorporating the interests of the former lynch mob segregationist southern elite into the affairs of government that is, in their classic Democratic Party alliance usually headed by “Northern liberals.” More recently, Biden played a key role in crafting the more modern version that facilitated the racist school-to-prison, mass incarceration scenario that sends millions of the most oppressed to prison labor for Fortune 500 corporations at slave labor wages averaging fifty cents per hour.
Yet, as if a posturing monarch, Biden cautioned this inquiring subordinate corporate funded array of ruling class-acceptable respected hangers on that he would steer clear of issuing their suggested presidential executive orders that might bypass “constitutional” restrictions. Biden also warned that pressure on his administration around police reform could lessen the party’s chances in the upcoming Georgia Senate runoffs. Republicans’ defining Democrats as favoring defunding the police, Biden argued, “is how they beat the living hell out of us across the country.”
Said the strident, lecturing and condescending Biden, subordinate in all respects to the whims and wishes of ruling class America, but superior in demeanor and all respects to his assembled Democratic Party-trained, funded and puppet mastered underlings:
“Okay let me respond. I gotta go. There’s a lot to respond to here. Let’s get something straight. You shouldn’t be disappointed. What I’ve done so far is more than anybody else has done this far. Okay, number one…
“Number two: I mean what I say when I say it. I mean what I say when I say it. I’m the only person who has ever run on three platforms that I was told could not possibly win the election. And I never ceased from it. One was on restoring the soul of this country because of what I saw happen in Charlottesville, That was it. No one else was talking about it. No one else. I did. The words of a president matter. What the president says matters… In the middle of the debate I called him [Trump] a racist. I took on the white supremacist. I’m the guy that took this on every single time somebody was threatened in this country – the only white boy you know who did it. Period!”
Such was the “program” and perspective that the self-proclaimed “white boy” privately offered to his underlings, as if to imply that he was better than what they might expect from other white boys.
This sordid Biden-Trump episode in ruling class politics informs us once again that working people have no stake in the now $14.3 billion every four-year spectacle regarding which figure shall reside in the White House and appear to be decisive on critical matters. With regard to capitalism’s periodic and increasingly deep and deadly inherent economic crises, its systemic racism, sexism and LGBTQI prejudice and persecution, its imperialist wars across the planet, its climate and environmental catastrophes, and the present and oncoming murderous pandemics, the ruling rich have zero solutions. These lie solely in the domain of working class fightback – in the coming to the fore of new, independent, mass action-oriented united front formations inclusive of all of capitalism’s victims in decisive struggles to bring the entire system down. This is the work of a today’s emerging generation of youthful fighters. They will find their way into the ranks of mass revolutionary socialist parties tested in struggle.
Jeff Mackler is the national secretary of Socialist Action. He is also Socialist Action’s candidate for U.S. President in the 2020 elections and he was the Socialist Action candidate for President in 2016. Mackler founded Northern California Climate Mobilization, is a longtime teacher and union activist with the American Federation of Teachers in Hayward, California and is director of the Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal.