Chaos Here and There

Oh, no, not again!

[This letter from the editors is a preliminary version of the statement for the forthcoming May-June 2024 issue of Against the Current.]

AFTER NON-SUPER TUESDAY, Nikki Hayley’s presidential campaign, and Colorado’s hail-Mary effort to bar Donald Trump from the ballot all came and went, more basic facts of the political landscape have come into sharper focus. The United States of America hurtles, or should we say stumbles, toward the November presidential choice that few people (outside the Trump cult) actually want. Popular weariness over that dismal choice competes with well-founded alarm over the really sickening prospect of a second Trump presidency.

We attempt to explore here how the dysfunction and looming chaos in U.S. bourgeois politics, and the existing and deepening global disorder, intersect and tend to magnify each other. Right here and now, two genocidal wars and invasions occupying center stage – in Gaza and Ukraine – are brutally impacting both the United States and the absurdly named “rules-based” international order.

At the outset of the U.S. election, for once it’s essentially not about “the economy, stupid” at least as conventionally argued. For all the uncertainty in the U.S. and world economic picture, overall statistics look decent enough in domestic GDP growth, consumer spending, government infrastructure investment, gradually easing inflation rates and the rest. The U.S. economy looks pretty good compared to most of Europe, and certainly crisis-ridden China.

If that’s not the daily lived reality for tens of millions of people, the cause isn’t the macro economy but rather brutal inequalities and social dysfunctions – structural racism, disastrous public health, poor access to affordable housing and education – leaving behind major sectors of the population among young people, racialized as well as rural communities, and contributing greatly to the opioid drug overdose catastrophe.

What’s driving much popular anger toward the Biden presidency are products of longtime bipartisan policies. A leading example is the massive migration and asylum crisis at the U.S. border and in our cities – first and foremost of course a life and death emergency for people undertaking those desperate journeys, a nightmare for migrants being held in detention centers in brutal conditions, and an enormous burden on U.S. communities at the breaking point attempting to shelter new arrivals.

Contrary to rightwing and MAGA hysteria, this disaster is nothing to do with imaginary “Biden’s open borders” or “catch and release. Indeed, it’s beyond imagination that the Biden administration has been deporting people to the destroyed country of Haiti. As we’ve discussed before, the migration disaster is the direct result of decades of “free trade” that destroyed Mexican and Central American agriculture, genocidal U.S.-backed dictatorships and counterrevolutionary wars, and the insane half-century “war on drugs” that predictably fostered a continental industry of drug gangs and cartels.

Another debacle, the precipitous U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, was equally the end result of four disastrous decades of interventions and invasions of that devastated country. A longer-term issue, the growth of U.S. debt, arises from the exploding rise in military spending and the absurd under-taxing of the affluent and corporate America.

With the two U.S. capitalist parties furiously blaming the other’s debacles while denying their own, the deepening cynicism of much of the electorate is not so hard to understand. Nor should we overlook the power of the fantasy-and-conspiracy-mongering media ecosystem funded by far-right billionaires, overlapping with the appeal of white-supremacist Christian nationalism to big chunks of Trump’s base.

Ukraine, Palestine and Beyond

To state the case bluntly: Ukraine, without the necessary weapons to defend itself from Russia’s invasion, would look like what Israel has done to Gaza. Every Ukrainian city would already resemble Gaza City and Khan Yunis. As for Gaza itself, without an immediate permanent ceasefire, what’s been called “the world’s largest open-air prison” is a mass death and starvation camp.

Incredible as it might seem to a sane observer, aid for Ukraine is bottled up by the pro-Putin Republican wing in Congress – and chained to billions more U.S. dollars supported by Democratic and Republican leadership alike, for Israel’s Gaza genocide, just when a wide majority of the U.S. public supports a ceasefire to stop the slaughter.

The moral depravity of “Genocide Joe” Biden’s embrace of Benjamin Netanyahu’s war to eliminate Palestine’s existence is unspeakable – to say nothing of the depth of the electoral hole he’s dug for himself and the Democrats among Arab, Muslim, young and progressive voters.

The powerful “Uncommitted” votes in Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Hawaii and several other Democratic primaries show the depth of rage against American enabling of this genocide. So did the beautiful coalition of Palestinian, Jewish and antiwar activists in the street between the White House and Capitol, delaying Biden’s motorcade to the State of the Union speech.

At this writing we wouldn’t try to predict the ultimate electoral consequences. Certainly Biden will not be forgiven, nor should he ever be, for the crime he has perpetrated on the people of Gaza. Possibly, especially if there’s actually a lasting ceasefire and – against all expectations – Biden imposes meaningful constraints on Israel, some of those “Uncommitted” might opt to vote for this morally bankrupt politician against the proto-fascist threat headed up by Trump, the openly genocidal advocate for Israel to “finish the job.”

In this and coming issues of Against the Current we continue to discuss the continuing catastrophe in Palestine and its spreading consequences. In the broader picture, it’s already clear who, on the world stage, eagerly awaits Trump’s return to the White House: Netanyahu, Vladimir Putin, Hungary’s Viktor Orban, and other authoritarians and aspiring autocrats.

Not only does Russia’s President-for-life Putin believe his annexationist ambitions in Ukraine can be fulfilled, his puppet prime minister Medvedev projects Russia’s goal of carving up a defeated Ukraine among Russia, Hungary and other neighboring states.

Is this extreme result likely? We don’t think so – even though this war looks to be protracted, exhausting and even bloodier than it would have been if Ukraine had been properly supported from the beginning.

Russia itself doesn’t have the manpower or capacity for a full takeover of Ukraine, let alone a further expanded conquest much as Putin might dream of it. Russia’s dependence on drones and artillery from Iran and North Korea attest to that. And Pope Francis to the contrary notwithstanding, “the white flag” of surrender and enslavement is not a real option for Ukraine.

Expanded Conflict Looming

At the present moment, and with deep future implications, there is one clear winner in the Ukraine war: NATO, with the accession of longtime officially-neutral countries Finland and Sweden. The consequences will long outlive the current crisis.

Much is made of the fact that without full U.S. buy-in, NATO’s other members can’t mount the production capacity to supply Ukraine against Moscow’s brutal advances. Further alarm In European capitals arises from Donald Trump blustering to his neo-isolationist base about walking out of NATO and inviting Russia “to do whatever the hell they want.”

In the short term these factors play to Putin’s advantage to be exploited militarily as well as politically in Europe, and in the U.S. elections. But NATO countries will begin to ramp up, not only for the support of Ukraine today but for the longer-term prospect of conflicts with Putin’s and perhaps post-Putin Russia. Over the coming years a strongly re-armed western Europe may create the appearance of military “balance,” while actually exacerbating longterm instability and war dangers.

The hopes for lasting peace following the end of the Cold War have been squandered in the twin triumphs of neoliberal and gangster-oligarch capitalist rule in the West and post-Soviet Russia respectively. As for a possible Trump presidency, the prospects certainly embolden the European far right – while also spurring NATO partners to escalate their military spending and readiness.

Whatever Trump’s verbal threats to the alliance’s future and whether or not he means them, breaking treaty obligations to NATO is not so easy, nor is the imperialist U.S. ruling class likely to tolerate it. Above all, imperial strategic thinking looks much further ahead to future confrontations with China, in which the United States would need to have its major alliances in Europe as well as Asia well in line.

All this helps frame how, as we suggested at the outset, elements of U.S. political and global chaos feed into each other. The literally burning issues include capitalism’s inability to confront – indeed, the ways it worsens – the spreading disasters of climate change, the displacement of close to 100 million people internationally, uncontrollable calamities in Sudan, Haiti and the Democratic Republic of Congo to name just three, and now the emerging threat of military confrontation in space up to and including satellite-based nuclear weapons.

As horrific as they are in and of themselves, the Gaza and Ukraine wars bring into the spotlight what the Global South has experienced for a long time, mainly hidden from the headlines. Potential and actual genocides are ever-present in the workings of that highly praised global order.

American Prospects

Returning to the prospective results and consequences of the coming U.S. election and the presidential contest that so few folks really want, it will resolve none of the fundamental conflicts in our society and its dysfunctional, unrepresentative and elite-driven political system.

Imagine – because we need to, not because we want to – a second Trump presidency with its assaults on women’s, workers’ and all non-privileged people’s rights, the destruction of all semblances of environmental and climate policy, the promised attempt to deport millions of people, wholesale crippling of small-d democratic and small-r republican norms and institutions, and potential unleashing of state repression as well as Proud Boys and Oath Keeper-type militias to terrorize dissident activity.

Predictably, by the time of the 2026 midterm and 2028 presidential election cycles there would be mass popular revulsion against Republican and Trump rule. This scenario is fully understood by the forces standing to benefit from the cult – the Heritage Foundation, Federalist Society, Americans for Plutocracy, etc.

That’s why they openly intend to rapidly implement savage social cuts, full-fledged judicial takeovers, federal as well as state-level abortion, DEI and trans rights bans among others, rightwing doctrinal transformations of K-12 and university education, voter suppression and more, hoping that their domination will be baked-in beyond democratic popular challenge.

Or against that nightmare for America and the world, envision the alternative possibility that the sclerotic, cynical and morally compromised Biden administration squeaks through to a second term, with at best tiny Congressional and Senate majorities – or more likely, minorities in one or both chambers.

In that case the right, far-right and extreme white-nationalist right forces will still be on the move, fuelled by almost-certain new and old election-denial and Great-Replacement mythologies. The threat they represent may be slowed down, if just barely, but certainly not defeated.

The questions for progressive voters in 2024 will require a lengthier discussion. Very briefly here: For those opting for a Biden vote, we would argue that it’s important not to do so in the proverbial “holding-your-nose” mode of lesser-evil voting, but with nose, eyes and mouth wide open – i.e. not to avoid the stench, but to say openly that the Trump cult and far-right threat is qualitative in this election, without illusions.

Whatever choice may be taken, the socialist and social-movement left forces in the United States certainly do not control the electoral outcome in 2024, and may at most have some marginal influence in closely contested “swing states” and perhaps more in some important local races. But either way our fundamental tasks revolve as they always have, on organizing the movements of resistance whether that’s for labor, for reproductive rights, for Palestine, for Ukraine – and for beginning the forging of long-needed, genuinely progressive independent politics.