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Pro-Trump supporters storm the U.S. Capitol following a rally with President Donald Trump on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. Trump supporters gathered in the nation's capital today to protest the ratification of President-elect Joe Biden's Electoral College victory over President Trump in the 2020 election. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

Pro-Trump supporters storm the U.S. Capitol following a rally with President Donald Trump on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. Trump supporters gathered in the nation's capital today to protest the ratification of President-elect Joe Biden's Electoral College victory over President Trump in the 2020 election. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

The Bipartisan Neoliberal Regime Is No Alternative to Trumpism and the Far-Right

The first reason for this crisis is that the US political system is not a "democracy" at all, but rather an oligarchy run by the unchecked power of corporate bribery.

Jonathan Rich

On January 6th, as congressional representatives gathered in Washington to certify the Electoral College vote, a mob of thousands of far-right protestors descended upon the US Capitol in a desperate campaign to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. The Trump loyalists stormed the Capitol building as panicked congressional representatives fled, wreaking havoc and chaos for several hours until they were dispersed by the National Guard. In the aftermath, five people were dead and countless more injured.

The rally appears to have been made-up of a coterie of some of the most reactionary elements of Trump's far-right social base, including groups such as QAnon, Proud Boys, neo-Confederates, and even some disaffected members of the working-class. The participants at the riot were united in their contention that the November 2020 election was "stolen" from Trump due to massive voter fraud.

However, the aftermath has not been very favorable to Trump or his reactionary supporters.

The attempt to stop the certification of the Electoral College vote failed miserably, with Congress reconvening on January 7th to officially confirm Joe Biden's victory. As a result, Trump was forced to acknowledge, for the first time, that he would transfer power to the Biden administration.

The storming of the US Capitol elicited widespread condemnation across the political spectrum. A Reuters poll found that 79% of all respondents—including two thirds of Trump voters—described the rioters as "criminal." Several high-ranking Trump administration officials, such as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, resigned in protest over his actions.

The reaction from Democrats was even more severe. Congressional Democrats discussed various procedures to remove Trump from office, describing him as an "imminent threat." Several House Democrats moved to invoke the 25th Amendment to replace Trump with Vice President Pence, while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi moved towards impeachment.

The corporate sector weighed in as well, with the National Association of Manufacturers—a business lobby representing several powerful companies such as ExxonMobil, General Motors, and Raytheon—accusing Trump of "sedition" and demanding his resignation.

The rioters also faced a swift backlash. Major media outlets soon began posting photographs of the participants, calling on readers to find information that could lead to their identification and arrest. Several leading politicians—including Joe Biden—described them as "white supremacist domestic terrorists" and began advocating for an expansion of new anti-terrorism measures.

The backlash reached a crescendo when Twitter took the unprecedented move of permanently banning Trump from their social media platform. This was based on concerns over Trump's use of the platform to "incite violence."

Indeed, the specter of far-right political violence, instability, and authoritarianism weighed heavily on the public's conscience.

Trump is not the root cause of the problem. He is a symptom of a much larger crisis of legitimacy that US political system is experiencing after four decades of neoliberal policies of austerity, deregulation, and privatization that have hollowed out our state institutions.

This led several political figures to use war metaphors to describe the storming of the Capitol. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer likened the events to Pearl Harbor, while Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez described it as an "attack on our country." Several commentators referred to the riot as an "insurrection," an act of "sedition," and a "coup attempt."

The threat of far-right political violence is real and steps must be taken to combat it. However, framing the unrest at the Capitol as a coup runs the risk of both misdiagnosing the problem and pointing us towards misguided solutions that will only make the problem worse.

The latest polls show that the majority of the country places blame squarely on the shoulders of Donald Trump for the riot at the Capitol. And while Trump deserves to be held responsible, isolating the blame exclusively on him misses the much larger picture of what's happening.

Trump is not the root cause of the problem. He is a symptom of a much larger crisis of legitimacy that US political system is experiencing after four decades of neoliberal policies of austerity, deregulation, and privatization that have hollowed out our state institutions. This bipartisan neoliberal consensus was carried out through the policies of Reagan, Clinton, Bush, and Obama and has generated a growing "anti-establishment" mood among the public, leading to a lack of confidence in the legitimacy of major institutions.

As a classic demagogue, Trump plays to the very real grievances felt among the voters and channels their grievances towards false scapegoats. In response, Democrats attack Trump's demagoguery while leaving the underlying grievances unaddressed.

The battle over the 2020 presidential election results must be understood in this context.

The left has portrayed Trump's attempt to undermine the election as an aberration from the norms of American democracy. His claims of mail-in voter fraud have been widely debunked as false. Taken in isolation, Trump's actions seem to be a deranged conspiracy designed to undermine the will of the people. However, Trump's actions did not occur in a vacuum. Rather, they are a symptom of a deeper crisis in electoral politics that has been growing for several years.

The first reason for this crisis is that the US political system is not a "democracy" at all, but rather an oligarchy run by the unchecked power of corporate bribery. A 2014 Princeton study, for example, found that ordinary working people have virtually no say in government decisions.

A second reason for the political crisis is the Electoral College, which violates the basic democratic principle of "one person, one vote," and is deeply unpopular. In the past 20 years alone, the Electoral College resulted in two presidential candidates being elected despite losing the popular vote.

Trump's attempts to overturn the election, then, cannot be divorced from the broader crisis of the US political system and the Democratic establishment's subtle (but more successful!) efforts at undermining democracy.

But perhaps the most salient reason for the crisis is the electoral fraud committed by the Democratic Party establishment in recent primary campaigns. 

In 2016, the Clinton campaign relied on "Super Delegates" and other undemocratic maneuvers to rig the election against her opponent: Bernie Sanders. Then, the Democrats further undermined the general election by peddling the conspiracy that Trump was "installed" into power by Russia. The dirty tricks continued in the 2020 primaries, where the establishment candidates orchestrated a coup on Super Tuesday to secure the nomination for Biden. This was followed by the removal of Green Party candidates from the ballots in several key states.

Trump's attempts to overturn the election, then, cannot be divorced from the broader crisis of the US political system and the Democratic establishment's subtle (but more successful!) efforts at undermining democracy.

Democrats can remove Trump from office. Big Tech can ban him from their platforms. And Trump's supporters can be arrested on domestic terrorism charges. But these actions only address the symptoms and leave the underlying disease unchecked.

As long as the bipartisan neoliberal consensus remains in place, far-right political violence and instability will continue to fester.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Jonathan Rich

Jonathan Rich is a PhD student in Sociology at University of California, Riverside. He teaches at Grossmont Community College in San Diego, and he is a member of the American Federation of Teachers local 1931.

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