The Dems Doing Their Duty of Keeping the People Off the Streets

Judith Zeng

Image by Teemu Paananen.

Part 1: The Continuing Passive Resistance to January 6th

+ “Part 2: The Continuing Passive Resistance to the Evisceration of Abortion Rights” will be published next week

“The Scale of the Crimes” and “The Meagerness of the Reaction”

A question regarding the Democratic Party: at what point does its failure to resist authoritarian Trumpist white nationalism in the streets and public squares get properly understood as complicity and collaboration with fascism?

It’s nice to expose terrible crimes after they occur, but it’s better to act to stop those crimes before and during commission, when you have the power to do so. It’s essential to seriously punish the crimes after the fact.

Take the attempted fascist insurrection of January 6, 2021. The current US House hearings on that day’s events reveal some very harsh realities about the fragile and vulnerable state of US bourgeois democracy and rule of law. They show beyond reasonable doubt that, as the Socialist Equality Party’s David Walsh writes on the World Socialist Web Site (WSWS):

“Donald Trump and his allies led a serious, determined effort to overthrow the constitutional system and establish a fascistic presidential dictatorship, that this conspiracy embraced a substantial portion of the Republican Party, the judiciary and no doubt elements within the military, that it came within minutes (or perhaps seconds) and inches of succeeding and that its failure was not the result of any organized resistance whatsoever but rather happenstance, logistics, inexperience and so on.”

And yet there is little sign that the hearings will generate serious legal action against Trump and his top circle. As Walsh comments, “the contrast between the scale of the crimes revealed and the meagerness of the reaction is staggering… Had the Democrats planned to act against Trump and the fascist coup makers, they would have done so by now. They will do nothing…”

Indeed, it has been well understood since long before the House January 6th Committee belatedly convened that Trump committed numerous federal felonies in connection with the 2020 election and the January 6th Capitol Riot:

+ obstructing the work of Congress

+ conspiring to defraud the United States

+ willful destruction of government records

+ conspiracy against rights

+ depriving state residents of a fair and impartial election process

+ obstruction of an official proceeding

+ conspiracy to prevent an officer from discharging duties

+ seditious conspiracy

+ coercion of political activity

+ interference in an election by employees of federal or state governments.

No criminal referral from the House Committee has ever been required for the Department of Justice to move on obvious evidence that Trump committed any and all of these crimes.

Joe “Nothing Would Fundamentally Change” Biden stills calls the Republi-fascists who tried to carry out a coup his “friends.” Even in the case of a 21st Century version of Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch in the world’s most powerful state, he and his milquetoast Attorney General, aptly named after an inert decorative object, have little stomach for breaking the ruling class gentlemen’s agreement against prosecuting presidents and former presidents. While the Iowa Catholic Worker Jessica Reznicek sits in federal prison on an absurd eight-year sentence for heroically trying to stop the construction of the planet-cooking/water-poisoning/life-ending Dakota Access Pipeline (making her one of many political prisoners in the world’s leading mass incarceration state), the orange fascist thug Trump and his white nationalist minions will remain free to terrorize the nation and world. Without serious punishment of its top culprits, January 6th will be like many other failed coup attempts: a useful training exercise.

Smelling the blood of total impunity in the water, Trump will soon declare his 2024 presidential candidacy partly to keep his Stay Out of Jail transit card loaded up. He reckons that officially throwing his hat in the ring will make it easier for him to smear any attempted charges against him as “politically motivated.” This strategy could well work given the passivity and fear of the dismal Dems, as Vanity Fair’s Bess Levin reported three days ago:

“Democrats are concerned that Attorney General Merrick Garland’s fear of looking political may result in the DOJ getting cold feet when it comes to prosecuting. ‘I’m just not seeing the urgency from the attorney general,’ Democratic congressman Ruben Gallego told CNN last month. ‘He’s thinking more about protecting the institution of the Department of Justice. And I appreciate that, but he has to be thinking about protecting the institution of democracy.’ While acknowledging that no one is above the law, former senator Doug Jones told Politico, ‘there are so many more dynamics that I think come into play when trying to indict a former president of the United States for activities that took place in office.’ If Trump were to run for a second term, it would, The Guardian writes, “complicate any decision to criminally charge him.”

The dismal Dems will rationalize non-prosecution of Trump, Bannon, Eastman, Meadows, Flynn, Giuliani, Brooks, and Perry et al with the claim that following the letter of the law on the painfully obvious charges against these fascist pigs – incitement to riot, interference with an official proceeding, sedition, etc. – would put the country at the risk of civil unrest. In reality, however, not putting these revanchist reptiles behind bars guarantees more and harsher political violence, possibly even civil war. It will be a green light for white nationalists to wreak yet more havoc going forward.

The Coup Attempt was “Inevitable”

The Dems and their affiliates’ pathetic lack of forceful resistance to the coup was evident well before its occurrence despite abundant advance warning of its coming occurrence. According to Walsh:

“Neither before nor during the coup was there any attempt to forestall or obstruct it in any way…Why did this fascistic coup come so close to succeeding? Its preparation was no secret; it was organized in plain sight to a large degree. Trump spelled out his plans again and again in the weeks and months leading up to the 2020 election. The World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) at the time pointed repeatedly to the ongoing threat. In September 2020, for example, we commented that ‘Trump is an out-and-out fascist who is conspiring to erect a presidential dictatorship… If the [presidential] debate made one thing clear, it is that he will not accept the outcome of the election.’ In October, we argued that ‘Trump has a strategy to steal the election, the Democrats have no strategy to oppose it…No faction or individual in the political establishment attempted to prevent Trump’s criminal operation ahead of time. No one alerted the population to the immense risks it confronted in January 2021. The democratic rights of the American people were left entirely vulnerable for the fascist rabble to trample on.”

This is not entirely accurate. Refuse Fascism, the Revolutionary Communist Party, and numerous unaffiliated Left thinkers with whom I was in contact rang coup alarm bells throughout the constantly authoritarian Trump presidency. The radical anti-fascist left aside, warnings came from many quarters, including Trump’s former “fixer” Michael Cohen, former administration official Miles Taylor (writing as “Anonymous”), and Republican intellectual Norman Ornstein in 2019.

As early as April of 2017, it was clear to historian Timothy Snyder that Trump wanted a second if not a third term and that he had no interest in getting it the “conventional way”: by trying “to be popular or to be legitimate in this country [by having] some policies, to grow your popularity ratings and to win some elections.” Look at the title of Chancy de Vega’s May 1, 2017 Salon column: “Historian Timothy Snyder: ‘It’s Pretty Much Inevitable’ That Trump Will Try to Stage a Coup and Overthrow Democracy.”

In May of 2016, the New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik identified Trump as an agent and proponent of a fascist “program of national revenge” that was “led by a strongman” and characterized by “a contempt for parliamentary government and procedures” along with determination not to be “restrained by normal constitutional limits.” Trump had Reichstag Fire written all over him from day one.

After the 2020 election, which Trump lost thanks to his pandemicist response to Covid-19 and his insane effort to make the George Floyd Rebellion his burning Reichstag, it should have become crystal and screamingly clear that Trump was going to do whatever he thought was necessary to stay in power. The madcap “legal” and “constitutional” strategies – absurd court challenges, endless false charges of voter fraud, conspiracy claims, attempts to get state legislators to send alternative Elector slates and the like – were in the works from day one. So was the tool of violent coercion: the paramiliary-led and Trump-instigated January 6 “insurrection” was preceded by two major post-election Trump-fascist rampages in Washington DC, replete with openly armed Proud Boys beating up liberals and leftists and sporting t-shirts proclaiming, “6 Million [Jews killed during the Nazi Holocaust] Wasn’t Enough” and “Pinochet Did Nothing Wrong.” Trump did a thumbs-up ok drive by for one of these rampages and a flyover for the other one. We are still learning how much coordination existed between the inner coup circle and the paramilitary leaders, whose on-the-ground troops Donald “Take Down the Metal Detectors” Trump wanted cleared for armed assault on the Capitol on January 6th, 2021.

“Democracy Requires a Little Patience”

And what did the Dems do to stop the clearly coming physical attack on the certification of the 2020 election? What did they do as it occurred and right after? Incredibly little, consistent with their longtime conduct as the party of hollow resistance and bipartisan complicity in the creeping fascitization of the USA. By Walsh’s properly acerbic account:

“On January 6 itself, there was no effort to put down the coup d’état while it was in progress. Trump’s extreme right supporters came close to murdering leading officials in the US government. Biden issued no statement for hours. Nor did Nancy Pelosi or Charles Schumer. The military and the police-intelligence agencies bided their time, waiting to see who would come out on top…The coup attempt was not halted, it merely petered out…Had the coup succeeded, it would have been accepted by the Democrats and the political-media establishment. Their preoccupation would have been to block, demobilize and demoralize popular opposition. Just as the Democrats accepted the theft of the 2000 election, they would have accepted the suppression of what remained of American democracy” (emphasis added).

Agreed. And it was all too pathetically consistent with Biden’s historically clueless statement of advance surrender to the American people on the Thursday after Election Day. “Democracy’s sometimes messy,” Biden said, in words that could easily (and may well) have been written by the ridiculous neoliberal master of passive resistance and bipartisan surrender Barack “More Perfect Union” Obama or one of Barack “Look Forward Not Backwards” Obama’s speechwriters. “It sometimes requires a little patience as well. But that patience has been rewarded now for more than 240 years with a system of governance that’s been the envy of the world.” (NYT, November 6, 2020, A1).

Surrendering to Doomsday

Still, the real story is of Dem appeasement and passivity is a bit more complicated and no less damning, indeed more damning and grotesque, than Walsh seems to know. Eighteen days after the Trump Hall Putsch attempt, the bourgeois New York Times published a long report (“updated” last October) titled “How Democrats Planned for Doomsday.” Times reporter Alexander Burns described what he called “a long season of planning and coordination by progressives, aimed largely at a challenge with no American precedent: defending the outcome of a free election from a president bent on overturning it. By the time rioters ransacked the Capitol, the machinery of the left was ready: prepared by months spent sketching out doomsday scenarios and mapping out responses, by countless hours of training exercises and reams of opinion research.”

What, beyond the Democrats, did Burns mean by “the left”? The “machinery” he described in his report was an “organized left” consisting of “progressives” led by people like AFL-CIO strategist Michael Podhoezer and “prominent organizer” (an interesting title) Ai-jen Poo. As best one could tell from Burns’ reporting, the labor bureaucrat Poedhoezer, Poo, and other and unnamed “activists” from vaguely liberal Beltway organizations that few people outside elite Washington circles have ever heard of – the “Fight Back Table,” the “Social and Economic Justice Leaders Group” (wow), and the nonpartisan group “Protect [bourgeois] Democracy” –pulled together “progressive” forces to counter the coming Trump coup attempt in April 2020. They built the “Democracy Defense Coalition,” which was coordinated by former Planned Parenthood (more on that organization below) strategist Deirdre Schifeling and reached out to unnamed “liberal organizations” across the country to enlist 200 groups in protecting the 2020 election (I’m pretty sure I was in pre-election Zoom calls with both Iowa and Chicago arms of this coalition).

Burns was deeply impressed by the supposed heroism of this grand coalition. He wrote breathlessly about how it responded to the January 6th Capitol Riot by holding a video call, joined by 900 people: “a coalition of union officials and racial justice organizers, civil rights lawyers and campaign strategists, pulled together in a matter of hours after the Jan. 6 attack on Capitol Hill. They convened,” Burns wrote, “to craft a plan for answering the onslaught on American democracy, and they soon reached a few key decisions.”

And what was that plan, exactly? To “stay off the streets for the moment and hold back from mass demonstrations that could be exposed to an armed mob goaded on by President Donald J. Trump” and to “use careful language. In a presentation, Anat Shenker-Osorio, a liberal messaging guru, urged against calling the attack a ‘coup,’ warning that the word could make Mr. Trump sound far stronger than he was — or even imply that a pro-Trump militia had seized power.” And, get this, to “demand stern punishment for Mr. Trump and his party” (emphasis added).

Burns wrote that that this surrender summit (not Burns’ words, of course) was “no lucky feat of emergency organizing, nor was the highly disciplined and united front that emerged from it. Instead, it was a climactic event in a long season of planning and coordination by progressives, aimed largely at a challenge with no American precedent: defending the outcome of a free election from a president bent on overturning it” (emphasis added with no small irony).

By Burns’ reporting, based on hours of interviews with dozens of the “progressive democracy defenders,” this was courageously consistent with the coalition’s initial response to Trump’s denial of the election outcome and with its behavior since the Capitol Riot, which reflected a determination to shut down leftish language as well as action in the streets:

“[the] progressive groups reckoned with their own vulnerabilities: The impulses toward fiery rhetoric and divisive demands — which generated polarizing slogans like ‘Abolish ICE’ and ‘Defund the police’ — were supplanted by a more studied vocabulary, developed through nightly opinion research and message testing…Worried that Mr. Trump might use any unruly demonstrations as pretext for a federal crackdown of the kind seen last summer in Portland, Ore., progressives organized mass gatherings only sparingly and in highly choreographed ways after Nov. 3. In a year of surging political energy across the left and of record-breaking voter turnout, one side has stifled itself to an extraordinary degree during the precarious post-election period…Since the violence of Jan. 6, progressive leaders have not deployed large-scale public protests at all” (more ironic emphasis added).

Ain’t that some shit? The great “progressive” strategy throughout the whole post-election period was to cower: to shut up, not call the fascist coup attempt a fascist (or any other kind of) coup attempt, squelch lingering righteous calls for dismantling racist and nativist institutions, and to stay off the streets and out of the public squares. Damn, how was that for noble “left” self-sacrifice! It takes discipline and daring to engage in a militant united front of radical spinelessness!

But this was nothing new. After some early impressive airport protests and a giant Women’s March that was about letting off steam and the election cycle and not any actual social movement and popular resistance to the new white nationalist and arch-patriarchal president, the Dems and Alexander Burns’ “left” spent the fascist Trump presidency[1] pretty much in hiding. Their supine quiescence and invisibility were aided and abetted by a host of centrist, liberal, and even “left” intellectuals and commentators who openly mocked and resisted proper identification of the Trump administration, Trumpism, and the Trump base as 21st century US-Amerikaner fascism[2]. The vast majority of the so-called left (something of a joke at this point) failed to understand what Refuse Fascism (RF), the Revolutionary Communist Party, and the SEP/WSWS and a small group of unaffiliated left and liberal intellectuals properly grasped. Along with this came an abject refusal to heed RF’s relentless and proper, from-the-start call for Trump-Pence Out Now: for the fascist Trump-Pence regime to be driven from office through sustained mass protests that would have set radical new terms for subsequent occupiers of capitalist-imperialist power while dramatically raising the profile and power of the masses of everyday people.

When people took to the streets and public squares in the beautiful anti-racist George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Justin Blake Uprising, the instigation came from Covid-19 and racist pig cops and not from any Democrats, who fear the mob – organized and militant citizens taking to the streets – far more than they worry about authoritarian neofascist power. The dismal Dems did everything they could to tone down the uprisings’ militancy and rhetoric and to channel popular anger into support for major party electoral politics and the presidential candidacy of Joe “You Ain’t Black” Biden, a neoliberal imperialist who had an ongoing terrible record on racial justice and promised wealth Wall Street donors that “nothing would fundamentally change” if he became president.

“The Actual Vote May Matter Little”

Maybe masses need to take to the streets now to demand Trump’s immediate prosecution and incarceration. Last January, David Gumpert, a former Wall Street Journal reporter and a historian of the Nazi Holocaust, wrote an essay on “the uncanny resemblance” between Adolf Hitler’s 1923 Beer Hall Putsch and Trump’s Capitol Riot. Until and unless Trump is prosecuted and convicted for charges related to “leading the first known coup attempt in nearly 250 years of American history,” Gumpert opined, “Trump seems on a smooth path to reclaim the presidency, and mold it to his autocratic preferences.” Gumpert was impressed by how much easier Trump’s path to power in 2025 compared to what Hitler faced after his failed coup attempt. Trump, Gumpert noted, has “inherited a 150-plus-year-old major political party that still holds the legitimacy conferred to it by the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan,” has “maintained a sizable political following, and “appears to be ahead Hitler and the Nazis on intimidating opponents and sabotaging democratic institutions.” Gumpert ended on an ominous note:

“We don’t know exactly how Trump will fare in another run for president, but the actual vote may matter little. In the recent book Hitler’s First Hundred Days, historian Peter Fritzsche writes that the power brokers who handed over dictatorial power to Hitler in January 1933, absent majority support, were focused on ending the ever-worsening polarization, inconclusive elections, and political gridlock, ‘because the divisions in the country had created political paralysis.… Better ‘an end with horror’ than ‘horror without end,’ asserted one Nazi leader.’ [The great Third Reich historian William] Shirer quotes a speech from November 9, 1936, celebrating the 13th anniversary of the Beer Hall Putsch, in which Hitler reflected on his elevation to chancellor: ‘In 1933 it was no longer a question of overthrowing a state by an act of violence; meanwhile the new State had been built up, and all that there remained to do was to destroy the last remnants of the old State—and that took but a few hours.’ As Republicans undermine America’s election system, it’s not difficult—absent a successful legal prosecution—to imagine Trump reflecting in a few years about just how easy his takeover of the United States turned out to be.”

Gumpert wrote this six months before the Trump Court just agreed to hear a case (Moore v. Harper) in which Republifascists will argue (in the name of the insane “independent legislature theory”) for letting state legislatures defy their jurisdiction’s voters, governors, and courts in sending Electoral College slates to the Congress for certification in the 2024 president election. Nobody who has followed the Trump Supremes should be surprised when they make a fascist constitutional ruling on that matter. We might want to get seriously and radically organized.

Part 2, next Monday, will extent this critique of the demobilizing Dems to the abortion rights issue.

Notes

+1. See my latest book, This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2021) for an exhaustive discussion of how and why it is appropriate to understand Trump, the Trump presidency, and Trumpism as objectively fascist.

+2. See Chapter 4 of This Happened Here, titled “The Anatomy of Fascism Denial,” for an exhaustive and occasionally comedic critique of the remarkable and stupid lengths to which many commentators and activists, including a number of self-described radical leftists, went to deny the fascist essence of Trump, the Trump presidency, and Trumpism. Among the idiotic narratives skewered are the moronic claim that leftists became friends of the corporate and imperialist Democrats by (properly) identifying Trump, the Trump presidency, and Trumpism as fascist. This false charge (myself and others in Refuse Fascism consistently considered Democrats to be complicit with the Republicans’ fascist politics) reminds me of later anti-vaxxer claims that one is a friend of Big Pharma if one accepts medical and public health science on Covid-19. Dysfunctional revisionist workerism intimately related to a fundamental misunderstanding of the Trump base as proletarian, is a consistent theme in much of the lethal fascism-denial still advanced by certain dogged left-deniers I know.

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