A comment on Trump’s Mount Rushmore speech
Donald Trump’s incendiary speech at Mount Rushmore on the eve of July 4th should be a wake up call, and a warning for the left and the labour movement throughout the world. Trump set his stall out very directly, with a full frontal attack on both 'Black Lives Matter' (BLM) and the left. He said: ‘our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values and indoctrinate our children…Angry mobs are unleashing a wave of violent crime in our cities… there is a new far-left fascism that demands absolute allegiance’. Trumpt reported that the FBI were arresting hundreds of protesters for pulling down racist statues. Last week he signed an executive order introducing a law mandating minimum jail sentences of 10 years for damage to monuments. And to make clear that his target is the BLM movement he added ‘we only kneel to almighty God’.
Trump’s rally was packed with thousands of supporters who revelled in ignoring the perils of the virus, declining to either socially distance or wear masks. Throughout his speech there were repeated chants of 'USA, USA, USA'. This has become the chant that mirrors the Nazi anthem of the 1930s ‘Germany Germany above everything’. Trump’s speech was aimed at firing up his base and was a call to arms, which no doubt many of his heavily armed supporters will take in a literal sense.
Some might say that we know all this already. Trump has been President for nearly 4 years now and he has made no secret of his racism, his reactionary politics and his contempt for democratic process. But what has changed is that prior to the emergence of the pandemic Trump was thought to be in a position to win a second term relatively easily, especially if the economy was strong and unemployment low and Biden his opponent. Although Biden is the same, everything else has been transformed. The pandemic with its enormous death toll in the States has derailed the US economy. Despite Trump’s attempts to ignore the virus and restart the economy, unemployment remains above 15 million.
And also what has changed is the mass movement that has been built around 'Black Lives Matter'. This has been the largest movement in US political history. At its peak on June 6 more than half a million took part in more than 550 separate protests. Although there have been bigger single day protests such as the 'Women’s Day' marches in 2017 there has never been a movement which has continued over such a sustained period of daily demonstrations and rallies. Polls estimate that more than 20 million people have participated in demonstrations over the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others in recent weeks.
The 'Black Lives Matter' movement has propelled Biden up the polls despite him having done no personal campaigning, and being an absolute liability in any debate. Biden now enjoys a significant lead over Trump in popular support. We are once again in the political territory occupied by Hillary Clinton in 2016. Like Biden she elicited no great warmth from working people in the States, and was a candidate of the centre-right as he is, and like him Clinton was well ahead in the polls. The supposedly key argument for voting Clinton was that she was not Trump. Expect much more of this as we head towards the election in November.
There is a polarisation in US politics. Those mobilised by the BLM movement want real change and the focus of that is on those repressive elements in the state, such as the police. The demand for defunding police has mass support, alongside the immediate demands to end the glorification of slavery and racism in the public sphere. Biden does not represent this movement but is completely reliant on its support to become president.
In this coming presidential election Trump hopes to build on the precedents from the past. There has always been mass voter suppression particularly of the black and Latino community in the US. They have been prevented from voting by various means and in some black areas there are very few polling stations. There is gerrymandering on an industrial scale. In 2016 these practices were supplemented by the appearance of armed white supremacist gangs at some polling stations. Expect much more of this in November.
Trump has not been idle in preparing the ground for this election. Even if Biden wins the popular vote - remember that Clinton won the popular vote by 3 million in 2016 - he may not win in the electoral college which is the method by which individual states are allocated votes. And even if Biden wins the electoral college as Al Gore did in the 2000 election it is not over. Gore’s victory, although he had clearly won Florida, was challenged in the courts. Gore like Clinton also won the popular vote.
It is difficult to see Trump admitting defeat and leaving the White House peacefully. In 2000 the election was stolen from Gore by a decision in the Florida courts. The courts stopped the recount and awarded Bush the Florida win. Gore said ‘for the sake of our unity as a people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession’. It is unlikely that there could be such a ‘gentlemanly’ outcome agreed in any difficult post-election scenario in 2020. Should Trump try and steal the election through mass voter suppression, fraud and legal manoeuvres he will be met by a fierce resistance. There is now a mobilised mass opposition to him in the streets.
Trump is urging his supporters to take to the streets not just for the coming election but to continue the battle whatever happens. The Mount Rushmore speech is the opening salvo in this new stage and the stakes both for the people in the US and throughout the world could not be higher. Trump represents the most reactionary forces in the world today. Four more years of his presidency will not only increase the possibility of military conflict with China but seal the fate of the climate.
The emergence of the black-led mass movement against racism and for social and economic justice is a development of huge importance for all our futures. We must expend all our political energies to support and defend this new movement. It is an international movement and we can solidify the links in order to strengthen the global opposition to this system.
There will new attempts to divide the left with false accusations. We are seeing talk of ‘far-left fascism’ from both Trump and politicians here. That must be fought, as well as the attempt now in many countries to portray the left as anti-semitic because of its support for the struggle of the Palestinian people. The key for us must be to unite our struggles. The call of Angela Davis and the BLM movement for solidarity between the struggle against racism and that of freedom for Palestine is an important step forward in building that unity.
Battle is engaged.
This article first appeared on the Public Reading Rooms Website. Reproduced with the author's permission.