Former President Donald J. Trump was indicted by a Manhattan grand jury March 31. The unexpected news was celebrated by many oppressed people, class-conscious workers and many on the left.
In addition to being the 45th occupant of the White House, Trump is known for being a bigoted billionaire, who emboldened the violent far right over the last several years and led a vicious Islamophobic, racist, misogynist, anti-migrant and anti-worker presidential campaign and administration. Good people believe he deserves to be punished.
Trump was indicted, however, because of an allegation that he used “hush money” to silence a popular sex worker. These charges hardly distinguish him from many former U.S. presidents.
Many of us can agree that Trump is a criminal and deserves time in prison. But we suggest that his greatest crimes are absent from his indictment. And that the Democratic administration currently in office is also guilty of major crimes.
Before his political career started, Trump is remembered for encouraging the execution of Black youth, now known as the Central Park 5, who were wrongfully accused of rape in 1989, even after sufficient evidence revealed their innocence. They were eventually exonerated.
His 2016 campaign and election victory popularized and energized the most chauvinistic fringes of the far right. In August of 2017, many of his “alt right” supporters converged for a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Trump said there were “very fine people on both sides,” even though that same white-supremacist gathering resulted in the vicious murder of Heather Heyer, an anti-racist protester. Trump’s response sent a clear message that under his reign, pro-Confederate, white supremacist and anti-Semitic sympathies were welcome.
Despite all of his “populist” rhetoric about “bringing back jobs” during his 2016 campaign, Trump welcomed a lot of corporate investors and profiteers into his administration but no union leaders. He was also a strong proponent of federal “right-to-work” legislation, which legally weakens workers’ rights, wages and living conditions.
Trump made three appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court, which led to reactionary decisions in two extremely important cases: Janus v. AFSCME, which weakened public sector unions, and the reversal of Roe v. Wade, which overturned legalization of abortion.
Upon hearing about his possible charges, Trump posted a picture of himself swinging a baseball bat in one cutout image next to another featuring the image of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg — who is African American. The bigoted post provoked death threats against Bragg and his family.
One of Trump’s last actions before leaving office was his attack on diversity training and continuing education programs. These courses had encouraged progressive gains and educational understanding in the workplace about the special struggles and challenges faced by people of color, individuals with disabilities and LGBTQ+ people. His attack helped instigate the reactionary backlash against social justice curriculum in education and against LGBTQ+ youth, especially those who are trans.
Unfortunately, he was indicted for none of this.
All U.S. presidents deserve indictments
In an attempt to lash out against Trump, many of his critics have incorrectly attacked people in the sex-worker profession, as well.
U.S. presidents, as well as other politicians, have exploited the use of sex work for their own personal gain and greed for centuries. The use of bribery is also common in the U.S. political arena. It is no secret that lawyers and other paid staff have used money to cover up “scandalous” affairs, involving some of the most high-profile political figures.
Every U.S. president has been complicit with the colonial foundation of theft, genocide and slavery. Every political representative who has stepped in front of the White House podium has historically sided with private and financial capital against the material interests of the working class and oppressed peoples. Despite all of this, Trump is the first and only U.S. president to be indicted.
Ruling-class skepticism of Trump
Although Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has not officially announced any type of presidential run and Trump has, many “establishment” Republicans have officially announced their endorsement for DeSantis.
DeSantis has gained recent media attention for encouraging “anti-woke” state and local legislation that has resulted in the assault on Black, Jewish and LGBTQ+ studies, including the banning of books about Rosa Parks, Roberto Clemente and the Holocaust. DeSantis’ policies have led to the terrorization of trans and gender-oppressed people. In some ways, DeSantis appears to be presenting himself as a more stable ultra reactionary alternative to Trump in the upcoming elections.
At the same time, Trump is considered a wild card by many in the U.S. ruling class. Trump’s meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in 2019 is an example of that.
Some who are celebrating Trump’s indictment are omitting the crimes being committed by the current Washington regime. The Biden administration has done little to reverse the reactionary policies implemented by its predecessor and has extended the reactionary policies regarding migrants.
Biden, Bush also criminals
Much of the excitement around Trump’s indictment inadvertently lets the current and previous U.S. presidents off the hook for their war crimes. The Biden administration has been funneling billions of dollars into the proxy war against Russia and has used Ukraine as a battlefield, forcing Ukrainian civilians to be used as cannon fodder and human shields. Most of the world is on edge about the risk of World War III, yet there are no charges being brought up against Biden.
Nor are there any prosecutions being leveled against former U.S. President George W. Bush for his administration’s criminal invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2002.
It is clear that a segment of the U.S. ruling class sees Trump as an ineffective imperialist leader. At the same time, there is another faction of the bourgeoisie, especially bosses in the resource-extraction industries like fracking, who do support him. The profit-based capitalist system as a whole is responsible for accepting Trump as a legitimate presidential candidate and for allowing him to be their “commander-in-chief.” The same can be said about other former U.S. presidents.
Communists and revolutionaries can celebrate the indictment of Trump as an opening to expose crimes of the ruling class. But in no way can we expect this to hand a decisive defeat to billionaire bigots and the fascist gangs that followed Trump.
The pursuit of justice regarding the class enemy has to go much further and can only be carried out by a mass movement, separate from and opposed to the capitalist state. Trump, and most politicians and capitalists, are symptoms of the capitalist system. It is the capitalist system itself, as a whole, that should ultimately be placed on trial.
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