On Tuesday, the U.S. right suffered three major defeats. Trump was indicted on 34 felony counts in Manhattan. Union-backed liberal Brandon Johnson came seemingly out of nowhere to narrowly win over Republican-in-Democratic-Party-Robes Paul Vallas (51% to 49%) in Chicago’s mayoral election. And liberal judge Janet Protasiewicz trounced Daniel Kelly by 11 percentage points ensuring a Democrat majority on Wisconsin’s Supreme Court.
The results are, of course, welcome news. But no one should be naive about their impact. First, Trump’s indictment and the far more serious charges expected in Georgia will not stop the rise of the right in this country. Its roots are far deeper than Trump; they are in the profound crises of global capitalism and deep discontent in a wing of the aggrieved middle class and small business owners.
So, even if Trump is convicted, and that is far from certain, the right will regenerate under new leadership, most obviously the other swamp monster from Florida, Ron DeSantis. For now, however, Trump has used the indictment to consolidate his hold on the GOP, expanding his lead over DeSantis by 26 percentage points, making it likely that he will secure the Republican nomination for the 2024 election.
While the charges and possible convictions may doom Trump to defeat in the general election, they will only enrage the right wing base of the GOP and make them even more opposed to bourgeois democracy, including its electoral and legal system. That is an ominous reality we will face in the coming years.
Second, while everyone should be overjoyed to see Vallas and his neoliberal, racist law and order program defeated in Chicago, we should be clear about the constraints and obstacles facing Johnson. To begin with half the electorate voted for Vallas. The city it totally polarized, and the right (led by the white supremacist Fraternal Order of Police), business class, and political establishment are firmly opposed to all of Johnson’s proposed reforms. They and the City Council, especially amidst a likely recession and city fiscal crisis, will try to block any liberal agenda from being implemented without massive struggle from below.
If that does not develop Johnson will adapt to the constraints and move to the center, betraying people’s hopes for reform. He already moved to the center in the runoff, throwing abolitionists and their support for defund under the bus and did the same with Palestinians. And, faced with all the law and order hysteria, he already promises to promote 200 more cops (detectives, that is, who are let’s be clear just as bad as cops).
Finally, Protasiewicz’s victory is also welcome, but not without its contradictions and just as deep limitations. She and the Democratic majority will likely repeal an 1849 law that now bans abortion and the GOP’s gerrymandering of electoral districts.
The overturning of the abortion ban will restore the status quo ante on reproductive rights–ensuring the right to abortion, but one not funded. Any expansion of those rights and especially funding can only be won by struggle. They will certainly not be granted by the GOP or by the Democrats who oppose state funding of abortion.
And the repeal of gerrymandering will strengthen the hand of the Democratic Party establishment in challenging the GOP in the state’s elections. But even if the Democrats win, they are, remember, a capitalist party, and faced with a sluggish economy, low profitability, looming recession, and consequent fiscal constraints they will turn to austerity to manage the crisis. Already the federal government is turning to austerity, chucking 15 million people off of Medicaid.
Of course, we on the left should celebrate the defeat of the right in each case, but we should have no illusions in liberals and their capacity to deliver the radical reforms we need to address the manifold problems working class people face from inflation to poorly paid jobs, police brutality, global heating, inter-imperialist rivalry, and an increasingly desperate and enraged, bigoted far right. At best, the liberals want to manage the system with a human face.
But the global slump in capitalism limits their ability to deliver even that. Already, in the midst of the sugar rush recovery after the pandemic shutdown, rampant inflation under Biden has led to decline in real wages for the vast majority of workers.
And that was the good times. As Nouriel Roubini ominously predicts, “In the face of high and persistent inflation, recession risks, and now a looming insolvency crisis in the financial sector, central banks like the US Federal Reserve are facing a trilemma. Unable to fight inflation and provide liquidity support simultaneously, the only solution is a severe recession – and thus a broader debt crisis.”
Already, corporations are laying off workers and federal, state, and city governments face fiscal challenges if not outright crises. In such conditions, elected officials, even liberals, will be boxed in and compelled to enact further austerity measures like we’re seeing done to Medicaid.
But such an outcome is not inevitable. The key to stop it will be for the left, unions, and social movements from Chicago to Wisconsin and nationally to maintain our independence from both parties and fight for our demands, no matter who is in office. We should follow the strategy of the school staff and teachers in Los Angeles, who went on strike under newly elected liberal Mayor Karen Bass, and scored a precedent setting victory, dramatically increasing wages for the poorest paid workers.
Waiting for change from the elected liberals, especially in today’s economic environment, is like expecting Godot to finally arrive. We will only get what we fight for. So, celebrate the Republican defeats, but grab your pickets, put your marching boots on, and organize, agitate, demonstrate, and strike for reforms on the road to political and social revolution.