The Contradictions of the Trump Phenomenon and the Desperation of the US War Machine

by Danny Haiphong

Many of the folks tearing their hair out over Donald Trump’s victory were far less alarmed at the Democrats’ role in the unending wars for global domination. For them, war is a sideshow to domestic politics, even when it kills millions. They claim to be anti-racist, but “imperialist war is the truest expression of white supremacy, whether it manifests in the police occupation of Black America or the military occupation of Africa through AFRICOM.”

The Contradictions of the Trump Phenomenon and the Desperation of the US War Machine

by Danny Haiphong

“At this moment, Trump is both a representative of the bourgeoisie as well as a product of the sharpened contradictions of a crisis that are set to explode at any given moment.”

Much of the left in the US fails to conceive the world in terms of contradictions. Contradictions make up the fabric of social organization. The unity and struggle between opposing forces is the primary determinant of the material world. In class society, this means that the struggle between opposing classes ultimately determines the social relations of society. The particular context and history of a given society marked by class rule gives rise to new contradictions and complex social relations that must be studied carefully. Without careful study, these contradictions can become confused and distorted by dominant class institutions seeking to preserve its rule.

The Trump phenomenon is the perfect example of a complex contradiction within US class society. US class society is a global imperialist system at this stage of development. Political tendencies of all stripes have attempted to understand the rise of Trump in a linear manner, isolated from the international sphere. Some political groupings on the left have focused entirely on one side of the Trump phenomenon, namely his overt white supremacy and sexism. Others have deemed Trump's Presidency illegitimate because he did not win the popular vote. Such groups have yet to acknowledge that the US electoral system is a selection process and Trump was not the top choice of the ruling class. 

“Trump, a racist billionaire, was able to take advantage of the crisis of capitalism and imperialism to speak to the class interests of a broad section of White America.”

The Electoral College took a gamble on Trump for reasons not yet analyzed by the left. The responsibility for the rise of Trump can be directed at the poverty of politics in the US and how this relates directly back to the crisis of global imperialism. Trump, a racist billionaire, was able to take advantage of the crisis of capitalism and imperialism to speak to the class interests of a broad section of White America. However, just as striking was the significant dip in support that the Democratic Party received from Black, Latino, and women voters. The 2016 elections were influenced by a mass rebellion against the two-party system. After two-terms of ruling class consensus on war, austerity, and police state repression, the two-party system has been exposed as the state force most responsible for the miserable conditions that exist in the US and globally.

What has been almost completely ignored by the left is how the US war machine is in a state of panic over Trump's victory. While it is true that Trump is considering war hawks such as John Bolton and Rudy Giuliani to take charge of US foreign policy, he has also nominated complex figures such as Michael Flynn to his Administration. Flynn was instrumental in the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq as US military commander. He has also taken rightwing positions on abortion and Islam. However, Flynn has in recent years plainly stated that the US needs to end its war on Russia and Syria and work with both countries to eradicate terrorism in the region.

“The 2016 elections were influenced by a mass rebellion against the two-party system.”

Such positions on the part of Trump and Flynn have angered the US war machine. Both the Democratic Party and Republican Party establishments have for decades instituted a policy of endless warfare to maintain hegemony in the face of a stagnating and flailing capitalist economy. The pages of the New York Times reflect the war machine’s fear of Trump, albeit in a rather scattered manner. Some reporters have expressed grave concern for Trump's decision to kill the Trans Pacific Partnership, a deal that would have given unlimited power to corporations over sovereign states. Others have warned that Trump's rule would bring an end to NATO, Bretton Woods, and European Union institutions and whether his appointment of retired generals would expand the military's role in US society. The war machine’s desperation is apparent in its inability to acknowledge that the institutions they speak of have only increased the misery of oppressed people all over the world and that it was the Democratic Party under Obama which gave the military the power to detain citizens without due process. What the US war machine is really scared of is the myriad of ways a Trump Presidency may get in the way of US imperialism's plan for full spectrum dominance.

When this fear is pointed out, the left responds in a knee-jerk reaction. The left has claimed that Trump is not genuinely for peace and will betray his promises to his base. While this remains conjecture, a Marxist analysis could reasonably conclude that the character of the capitalist state is incapable of meeting Trump's economic and foreign policy proposals but is fully capable of carrying out his white supremacist call to deport millions of immigrants and restore "law and order." However, such an analysis misses the full scope of the contradictions of the Trump moment. As Friedrich Engels writes in his text, The Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State, the capitalist state can take an independent character depending on the balance of forces of a given period. At this moment, Trump is both a representative of the bourgeoisie as well as a product of the sharpened contradictions of a crisis that are set to explode at any given moment.

“Anything less than full support for war throws the entire war machine into chaos.”

The fact that ruling class antipathy toward Trump has been driven by his positions on foreign policy and the economy cannot be ignored. War has been a staple of US imperialism's control over the political and economic destinies of nations all over the world, including those colonized within US borders. The global capitalist system upon which war rests is in crisis, and Trump's inability to be controlled by his ruling class brethren poses a problem for the system as a whole. Defense contractors and government bureaucrats within the US military state require war to keep profits flowing and geopolitical influence intact. Anything less than full support for war throws the entire war machine into chaos.

The time is now for a radical left movement to place pressure on the state to cease the wars that continue to murder and impoverish oppressed people at home and abroad. Trump's true intentions are not the principle contradiction of this moment. The war machine is currently experiencing a crisis of legitimacy, as millions of people in the US have grown sick of endless war. Democratic Party operatives will attempt to paint those who want to use the Trump moment to strengthen the anti-war position of the left as hirelings of white nationalism. But these same operatives will fail to mention that building a stronger anti-war movement has zero connection with Trump or white supremacy. Imperialist war is the truest expression of white supremacy, whether it manifests in the police occupation of Black America or the military occupation of Africa through AFRICOM. In fact, it was the Democratic Party and the Republican Party that brought the world to the precipice of World War III. The left must seize the Trump era, take advantage of the divisions within the ruling class, and fight racism by strengthening the power of the people.

Danny Haiphong is an Asian activist and political analyst in the Boston area. He can be reached at [email protected]