The bourgeois press is deeply flawed by ideological and related empirical limits on what it can and can’t report and opine. But of course: it belongs to and works for the capitalist-imperialist ruling class.
It should nonetheless be consulted by radicals who know how to “read between the lines,” as Lenin said. It has unmatched resources for gathering and relaying information on current events – information vital to those who rightly want to overthrow the capitalist-system, which is cancelling prospects for a decent human future at an ever-escalating pace. Its top outlets like (in the United States) The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and The New York Review of Books are assigned with the task of conveying a reasonable measure of reality-based news and analysis to elites who need to know enough of what’s really going on in the world to properly manage and advance the capitalist-imperialist system. It can’t deal only in fantasy and lies.
At the same time, capitalist media is itself both a big player in the shaping of history and a great window on the world view(s) of the ruling class and its servants.
Take The Atlantic’s new special January-February 2024 issue titled “If Trump Wins.” It contains 24 essays from Atlantic staff writers warning about the horrors the nation and world face if Donald “Take Down the Metal Detectors so the Oath Keepers Can Take AR-15s to the US Capitol” Trump returns to the White House on January 20, 2025.
The special issue is fundamentally flawed in numerous and related ways that reflect the bourgeois world view of its glib, high-profile editor Jeffrey Goldberg, who wants readers to know that he and his staff are “not part of the resistance.”
The special issue can barely bring itself to mention the fascist nature of Donald “Immigrants Poison Our Blood” Trump and Trumpism and then does so only on the preposterous grounds that Trump only crossed into fascist space last November – a problem I addressed at length in my last Paul Street Report.
The special issue naturally has nothing to say about the underlying capitalist-imperialist taproots of Trumpism-fascism and the ruling class divisions that both reflect and advance the extreme sociopolitical polarization that has produced the Trump era.
Reflecting its clear but unstated alignment with the party of Joe Biden, it says nothing about the critical Weimar-like role of the Democratic Party in the creation of the Trumpist-fascist menace. It offers no criticism of the unpopular incumbent US president, a decrepit and eco-cidal warmonger who is running well behind Donald “Clear Out the Marxist Vermin” Trump, the malignant putschist who tried to overthrow the republic and who is facing 91 felony charges.
The special issue fails to acknowledge that the whole Republican Party has crossed over into fascist face. Goldberg’s introduction to the 24 essays labors under the childish illusion that the Republican Party retains a meaningful cohort of decent “conservatives” hoping to be released from captivity to the indecent Trump cult:
“Our concern with Trump is not that he is a Republican, or that he embraces – when convenient – certain conservative ideas. We believe that a democracy needs, among other things, a strong liberal party and a strong conservative party in order to flourish. Our concern is that the Republican Party has mortgaged itself to an antidemocratic demagogue, one who is completely devoid of decency.”
Please. It’s been the “radical Republicans” – radically reactionary and revanchist – for many years now. At Refuse Fascism we call them the Republi-fascist Party.
The special issue is brazenly imperial, criticizing Trump for undermining US power in the world, as if the United States hasn’t been the world’s top mass-murderous, criminal, and aggressor state for the last eight decades.
Except for some suggestive comments from David Frum in the first essay, the special issue says nothing about the archaic US constitutional governance structure that favors Trumpism-fascism by functioning as a right-tilted form of Minority Rule (something I have been writing about in great detail for many years now).
The special issue shows no sense of the horrors that await America and the world with a second Biden administration. It says nothing about the lethal absurdity and moral emptiness of a political order that has the gall to call the binary contest between either the noxious 77-year-old Hitler fan Trump or the pathetic 81-year-old capitalist-imperialist warmonger and climate killer “Genocide Joe” a “democratic choice.”
The special issue offers no serious solutions to the Trumpist menace. It advances nothing more than the wan hope that we can keep it at bay by participating for two minutes next November in the democracy-flunking US Electoral College, which reduces presidential outcomes to winner-take-all Elector slate contests in just seven states and requires the Democratic presidential candidate to win the national popular vote by 4 to 5 percentage points.
The special issue imagines no anti-fascist politics beyond the quadrennial big money-corporate mediated-major party-candidate-centered electoral extravaganza. It is of course unthinkable that The Atlantic would advance anything like what is really required within and beyond the United States – a socialist revolution beyond a capitalist system that is literally ruining life on Earth and that has hatched a new fascist politics meant to crush all opposition to that system.
Why should a Marxist or left anarchist radical read the special issue at all, then? Because once you understand these limits and control for them, it’s a relevant guide to some of the policy and political fractures that now threaten to tear the world’s most powerful country apart, opening the door perhaps for revolutionaries to challenge the whole damn system. Goldberg and his writers do a decent job of detailing numerous ways in which “Trump and Trumpism represent an existential threat” (Goldberg, “A Warning,” p.11) to what’s left of previously normative bourgeois electoral, parliamentary, and rule of law democracy – to what Goldberg calls “America and the ideas that animate it” (p 11).
David Frum’s opening reflection (pp. 18-20) is very well done. Frum notes that a second Trump White House will be a virulent “revenge presidency” lethally devoid of the establishment Republican checks that limited the considerable damage inflicted by the first one. Enabled by “servile” staff, a Republican Party that has now fully embraced “Trump-style authoritarianism” (Amerikaner fascism, that is), and a “minority rule” “electoral system” that “has privileged a strategically located minority over the democratic majority,” a second “law-breaking” Trump presidency will in Frum’s view end “the possibility of progress” and “the constitutional democratic structure of the United States…It would mark the turn to a dark path, one of those rips between ‘before’ and ‘after’ that a society can never reverse” (emphasis added).
No shit: it would mark the American Empire’s shift from bourgeois democracy to fascism atop its domestic political superstructure.
I was struck by Frum’s reflections on the sheer legal-constitutional absurdity of the notion that a president can pardon himself for a federal crime and suspend ongoing federal prosecutions of him, two things Trump will certainly try if he returns to power:
“then he could write his pardon in advance and shoot visitors to the White House. For that matter, the vice president could murder the president in the Oval Office and then immediately pardon himself. If a president can order the attorney general to stop a federal a case against him – as Trump would surely do – then obstruction of justice becomes a normal prerogative of the presidency.”
After the special issue went to print, one of Trump’s attorneys told a DC Circuit Court of Appeals justice that (in The Hill’s accurate paraphrase) “even a president directing SEAL Team Six to kill a political opponent would be an action barred from prosecution given a former executive’s broad immunity to criminal prosecution” – unless, the full argument runs, that president had already been impeached by the US House and convicted by the US Senate for this crime!
McKay Coppins (pp. 22-24) notes that a second Trump term will “prioritize obedience over credentials,” producing an administration staffed by “loyalists, lapdogs, and cronies” from top Cabinet posts down through the executive branch’s rank and file bureaucracy.
Caitlin Dickinson (pp. 24-26) projects that Trump will bring back the aggressive and sadistic separation of immigrant families at the southern US border as part of a sweeping immigration crackdown that will “shut off access to asylum,” attack birthright citizenship, and “expand the use of military-style concentration camps.”
Barton Gellman (pp. 26-29) sees Trump47 using the US Department of Justice to escape prosecution and conviction, make his political enemies’ lives miserable, and “obtain legal blessing” for terrible actions like deploying the US Army against domestic protesters, seizing voting machines, and cancelling future elections.
Sophie Gilbert (pp. 29-30) warns that a second Trump term will embolden virulent misogyny and rape culture.
Zoe Schlanger (pp. 30-31) shows that a militantly climate denialist Trump 47 White House will further decimate the United States’ already weak commitment to ameliorating the US-led global climate catastrophe.
George Packer (pp. 32-34) worries that a Trump return will further journalism’s ongoing descent into profitable sensationalism and public interest irrelevance.
Sarah Zang (pp. 34-35) tells us that a re-elected Trump will reduce science to a “slogan” and “attack any science that stands in the way of his agenda.”
Frankling Foer warns that a second Trump term will involve “unbound corruption,” turning the US into a “Mafia state” where “corruption [is] a purely instrumentalist concept – useful for besmirching rival Democrats but never applicable to member of the [Republi-fascist] party.”
Two of Goldberg’s writers – Joyce Applebaum (“America Will Abandon NATO,” pp, 20-21) and Michael Schuman (“China Will Get Stronger,” pp. 37-38) – fret that the US global power will weaken under a second Trump term.
Adam Serwer (pp. 39-42) sees Trump expanding the scale and virulence of the blatantly Trumpist/Christian fascist “MAGA judiciary” Trump began to create in his first term. An expanded number of “Republican-appointed judges” like the anti-abortion zealot Matthew Kacsmaryk will be “unlikely to resist just about any of Trump’s effort to concentrate power in himself. They will…invoke ‘history and tradition’ to justify this project but their eyes are on a future utopia where conservative [try radical and fascist, P.S.] political power cannot be meaningfully challenged at the ballot box or in court.”
Elaine Godfrey (pp. 43-44) sees a second Trump administration possibly ordering its Justice Department to invoke the Comstock Act to outlaw abortion in all fifty states.
Megan Garber (p. 45) sees fact-based truth rendered yet more irrelevant and subordinated to angry “gut” and hateful emotion under a second Trump administration.
Clint Smith (pp. 48-49) sees a second Trump administration building on its reactionary 2020 “1776 Commission” to promote the right-wing whitewashing of American history – a rewrite of the past that drains the US national experience of any complexities that challenge blind white-supremacist, imperialist, and patriarchal patriotism. “To Trump and his allies,” Smith notes, “a professor stating [the obviously true fact, P.S.] that the Confederacy seceded from the Union because of slavery and racism is a member of the ‘woke mob,’…”
An especially incisive essay by Ronald Brownstein (pp. 50-51) notes that Trump 47 will build on his authoritarian response to the George Floyd Rebellion to “further escalate his war on blue [that is, metropolitan] America” by: withholding federal funds from urban schools accused of teaching “critical race theory” and “gender ideology;” investigating liberal urban prosecutors (“whom he calls ‘Marxist local District Attorneys’”), making cities undertake fascistic police methods (e.g., stop and frisk) “as a condition for receiving federal grants;” “launch militarized law-enforcement campaigns inside blue cities,” essentially “create[ing] an occupying federal force in the nation’s largest cities” while undertaking “an invasive door-to-door offensive against undocumented immigrants.”
David Graham (pp. 51-52) warns that “Trump isn’t bluffing” when he promises violent political retribution and repression in a second term. Graham thinks that “Trump…has changed – the old Trump seemed to be running for office partly for fun and partly in service to his signature views. Today’s Trump is different. His fury over the election defeat, the legal cases against hm, and a desire for revenge against political opponents have come to eclipse everything else.”
Graham warns against normalization, worrying that a constant barrage of previously unthinkable rhetoric can “acclimate the nation to authoritarianism” in ways that will lead masses of people to “wring their hands” and then “shrug and wonder why he didn’t do it sooner” when Trump “directs the Justice Department to lock up Democratic politicians or generals or reporters or activists on flimsy or no grounds at all.”
Van R. Newkirk II (pp. 52-54) warns that a second Trump presidency will complete the undoing of the great anti-racist Civil Rights victories of the 1960s by eliminating the venerable “disparate impact” standard used by the Justice Department to prohibit discriminatory practices even in cases where no explicit racial prejudice is found.
Spencer Kornhaber (pp. 54-55) notes that a second Trump administration “will stoke a gender panic,” taking aim at transpeople and LGBT rights and signing off on “open queer-bashing.
Tom Nichols (pp. 55-58) warns that a new Trump White House will make a potentially successful effort to bring the US military under its “authoritarian control.” A retired professor at the US Naval War College, Nichols reports that there is considerable support for Trump and hatred for liberal presidents among “senior officers” and that that US military office and base televisions are locked on FOX News. Nichols notes that the military’s “default instincts” are to “default to the orders of their chain of command…to obey, not resist, the orders of the civilian commander in chief.” Nichols observes that Trump and his advisors are acutely aware that his first administration failed to garner a second term in part because it “left the military outside their political control.” They are determined to “not make the same mistake twice.”
Jennifer Senior (pp. 60-61) warns about “the psychic toll” of a second Trump term. She thinks a Trump return will “intoxicate” and embolden the Trump base while inflicting on the rest of the country a level of chronic stress that shuts down bodies, hearts, and minds, fracturing attention spans while spreading mass helplessness, despair, “anxiety and moral cynicism.”
Juliette Kayyem (pp. 42-43) warns that a second Trump victory will “embolden…right wing extremists,” many of whom will be pardoned by the orange beast.
Mark Leibovich (“This is Who We Are,” pp. 62-63) concludes the special issue not with a warning but by questioning the standard Democratic refrain that Trump and Trumpism are “not who we are….Here we remain,” Leibovich writes:
“ready to do this all again….Trump might be the ultimate con man but his essential nature has never been a mystery. Yet he appears to be gliding to his third straight Republican nomination and is running strong in a likely rematch with an unpopular incumbent. A durable coalition seems fully comfortable entrusting the White House to the guy who left behind a Capitol encircled with razor-wire fence and 25,000 National Guard troops protecting the federal government from his own supporters…If Trump wins in 2024, his detractors will have to reckon once again with the voters who got us here – to reconcile what it means to share a country with so many citizens who keep watching Trump spiral deeper into his moral void and still conclude, ‘Yes, that’s our guy.’”
While I am more than a little sympathetic to Leibovich’s critique of the comforting liberal and American exceptionalist notion that Trump and Trumpism are “aberrations” (as Biden says) outside the noble, democratic norms of American history and character (I dedicated an entire chapter of my latest book to a detailed critique of that naïve belief), Leibovich really ought not say that “this is who we are.” The Trump voters he fears are a minority of the country. We “have to reckon” not just with them but also and more fundamentally with: an archaic “minority rule” political and governance order that (as David Frum suggests in his opening commentary) vastly overrepresents the nation’s most reactionary people, regions, and states; a dismal, dollar-drenched and neoliberal, Weimar-like Democratic Party that opens the door to fascist power and then appeases it; a capitalist-imperialist system that undercuts and de-legitimizes democracy and positive government action at the same time that it creates multiple crises that require big government intervention.
At the risk of beating a dead horse, there’s a serious and more than merely pejorative name for Trump and his fans’ “moral void”: f a s c i s m. Leibovich should use the word.
Leibovich seems to have missed an essential point of the special “If Trump Wins” issue: that a Trump return will be worse than “doing this all again” since a second Trump administration will be more horrific than the first one.
Leibovich and other special issue contributors might have added that we “have to reckon with” millions and millions of decent Americans who have still not woken up enough to look honestly and seriously at the depth and degree of the fascist horror that has been let loose in Amerika – a horror that is now coming to a great showdown this and next year. We are living in a time when, as young Karl Marx and Frederick Engels wrote in their beautiful and brilliant 1848 critique of capitalism, “all that is solid melts into air.” Good portions of both the US populace and the US ruling class are ready, willing, and quite possibly able to sweep previously normative US bourgeois electoral and rule of law democracy (such as they are) into Marx’s proverbial “dustbin of history.” Sadly, as Yeats wrote, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” That needs to change.
This essay originally appeared on The Paul Street Report.
+1. In a November 2023 Atlantic commentary, Tom Nichols (also a contributor to the special issue) argued that Trump had finally crossed into “recognizable fascism” with his dreadful 2023 claims that immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our country” and his reference to leftists as “vermin.” Goldberg’s introduction to the special issue approvingly quotes from Nichols’ absurdly belated recognition (Goldberg, “A Warning,” The Atlantic, January-February 2024, pp.10-11). As I pointed out in my January 19, 2024 Paul Street Report (“The Erudite Idiocy of the Liberal Centrist Intelligentsia”) and showed in my most recent book This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America, Trump exposed himself as a “recognizable fascist” in 2015 and 2016 and all through his first presidency.