The Extraordinary Array of Those Questioning Trump’s Legitimacy (and Their Various Reasons)

Photo by Ninian Reid | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Ninian Reid | CC BY 2.0

It is an extraordinary situation. The ruling class seems by and large quite shocked by the election result. Donald Trump is surely a representative of the class—in that he’s a billionaire for god sake—but, for the majority of the richest and most powerful, not their preferred choice as chief executive of the USA. This is apparent by Trump’s treatment at the hands of the corporate media (that he continues to insult), by the foreign policy establishment, by the intelligence agencies (which he sometimes disparages), by Congressional leaders of both parties who generally regret that he won. The Deep State seems to have its knives drawn for him.

Wall Street would have been comfortable—equally comfortable—with Jeb Bush or Hillary Clinton as president. The RNC and DNC—the Central Committees of the official Two Parties—are huge concentrations of bourgeois power. Reince Priebus and Debbie Schulz Wasserman as their chairs were creatures of the status quo. The pundits favored Bush to win the Republican nomination, or maybe Cruz (despite his unpopularity among his peers), or maybe Rubio; Trump was an amusing long shot. And of course they assumed that Clinton would be the Democratic shoo-in. What could go wrong?

Things started to go wrong when the Trump campaign, treated to limitless free media exposure, spiraled out of control. The more outrageous Trump became, the more he attracted, first the Neanderthals, and then the more thoughtful types who thought, “Hm, looks like he could win. He’s awful, but at least he’s better than her.” And there are always plenty of opportunists like Giuliani, Christie and Carson willing to jump on a bandwagon that looks headed to possible victory.

In alarm, prominent Republicans including Mitt Romney expressed open disdain. In August 50 GOP former intelligence officers signed a statement opposing Trump, including CIA and National Security Agency Director Michael Hayden, former Director of National Intelligence and Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, former Dick Cheney security adviser Eric Edelman, former Homeland Security secretaries Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff, and former deputy secretary of state Robert Zoellick. In October 55 retired flag military officers signed a statement declaring Trump “utterly unworthy of being commander-in-chief and president.” House Speaker Paul Ryan, the most powerful figure at the time in the Republican Party, who only endorsed Trump in June, was by one count obliged to distance himself from the candidate eight times by August and declined to campaign for him.

Alas, despite all this confusion and alarm within the ruling class, the Trump genie had been let out of the bottle.

And what of Clinton’s smooth path to power, to be paved by such experienced political operatives as campaign director John Podesta and Wasserman Schulz? Something started going very wrong when Bernie Sanders kept getting massive youthful crowds who were anything but turned off by an elderly Jewish socialist talking about college debt relief. They were so confidant of the pervasiveness of their own tired Cold War thinking among the masses that they assumed no self-avowed socialist could gather any momentum. The fools!

And then there were those Wikileaks emails (allegedly hacked by Russians) showing how the DNC chair had assured her colleagues that they needn’t be “silly,” because Sanders “won’t be president”; how one staffer had raised the prospect of labeling Sanders an atheist in largely evangelical districts; how Podesta had recommended using press contacts to promote Trump as one of the more easily defeatable of the Republican candidates.

This plus the (separate) issue of Hillary’s use of a home server for emails, and alleged violations of security policy and accountability, and Comey’s sudden reopening of the investigation so soon before the election. There was no enthusiasm for Clinton, and especially among the youth, a lot of simmering resentment that the primary process had been rigged. If the Clinton camp smugly expected the Sanders supporters (having been “brought into the political process”) would channel their much-praised “enthusiasm” into a Clinton vs. Trump race, they were optimistic. Many enraged Sanders supporters would never defile themselves with a Clinton vote.

And so, a corrupt process produced a uniquely unpopular president-elect. And now you have a unique convergence of forces all questioning Trump’s legitimacy to rule, but for different reasons.

Rep. John Lewis says he can’t accept Trump because Russia helped him get elected; his vow to boycott the inauguration ceremony has been embraced (so far) by over 40 other members of Congress. Similarly, the Deep State can’t accept him because he wants rapprochement with Russia. Suddenly all the liberal shills on TV are expressing reverence for Lewis’s civil rights legacy and associations with Martin Luther King alongside moral outrage at the charges leveled against Moscow by the Deep State. How strange to see Rachel Maddow and John Brennan in bed together.

There will be tens of thousands of protesters on the cold streets of DC on Friday chanting “He’s not my president!” mostly for the reasons touted endlessly by the DNC: he’s a racist, misogynist, bigot, who lost the popular vote. Some will add to the charges “He’s a Putin puppet,” thus making common cause with the worst war mongers who remain firmly lodged in the power structure and (despite his promises of good relations with Russia) around Trump himself.

The Revolutionary Communist Party on the other hand says we can’t accept Trump because he’s a fascist. Their manifesto calling for mass protests to “reach a crescendo January 20” declares:

“By any definition, Trump is a fascist… [Fascism] is a very serious thing. It has direction and momentum and must be stopped before it becomes too late. Fascism foments and relies on xenophobic nationalism, racism, misogyny, and the aggressive re-institution of oppressive ‘traditional values.’ Fascism feeds on and encourages the threat and use of violence to build a movement and come to power. Fascism, once in power, essentially eliminates traditional democratic rights. Fascism attacks, jails, even executes its opponents, and launches violent mob attacks on ‘minorities.’ In Nazi Germany in the 1930s and ’40s, fascism did all these things. This is where this can go.”

No mention of any supposed Putin-Trump “bromance.” Not that there should be. But the radical left—preoccupied with opposing more imperialist wars in the Middle East—is not much given to analysis of the U.S.-Russian relationship, or reflection on the very real possibility of nuclear war triggered by events in Ukraine, Syria or even the Estonia.

The U.S. possesses 7,100 nuclear warheads, Russia 7,300. (France is thought to have 300, China 260, the UK 215, Pakistan 140, India 110, Israel 80, North Korea 8.) A U.S.-Russian war could destroy civilization, not by blowing up monuments and orchestrating acts of exemplary horror, raping, crucifying and beheading children, but by obliterating whole cities the way the U.S. obliterated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. No, worse, much, much worse next time than Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

That Trump’s few vague words about friendship with (as opposed to belligerency towards) Russia should set him up for this “Putin’s puppet” charge quietly intimated on the one hand by voices within the Deep State hoping to shame Trump into towing the new Cold war line, and on the other hand by John Lewis-type liberals eager to hop on the Cold War bandwagon to justify their rejection of the president-elect, should disturb any thinking person. It is the patriotic union of all who can be united over the traditional, knee-jerk Russophobia.

How can the progressive anti-Trump movement move forward, if it either embraces this narrative of Russian “interference in the U.S. election” (which is based, after all, on the premise that whoever leaked the damning DNC and Podesta messages showing how the DNC worked to promote Trump’s candidacy, and to curtail Sanders’ support, thereby influenced public opinion against Clinton whereas public opinion should have been mercifully spared the information), or fails to target it as misinformation and war mongering?

If the goal is to so isolate Trump that he is somehow driven from power, one would like the antiwar masses to smash the corrupt system, build a new society and avoid war. One would not like to make common cause with those who hate Trump, not for his fascistic tendencies, but for his challenge to the warmongering neocon/liberal interventionist status quo that wants to maintain a posture of unremitting hostility towards Russia.

Without analyzing these dialectics, how can those who long for revolution—as I do—navigate the post-election political situation, and exploit the crisis to serve the people’s ends?

Gary Leupp is Emeritus Professor of History at Tufts University, and is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900 and coeditor of The Tokugawa World (Routledge, 2021). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: