The media is beside itself. Even Fox News is ripping Trump. That’s because their backers – mainstream US big business – has partially lost control over their president. This is unprecedented in US, and therefor in world history. How did this happen? What does it mean for the future? To start, let’s take a look at the facts related to the whole “Russia” scandal. The facts reveal, once again, the fact of the most corrupt president in US history. Here are the main characters in this plot:
Carter Page was formerly a top foreign policy advisor for Trump when he ran for president. An ex-Marine (another one!), Page was an investment banker for Merrill Lynch. then he founded his own investment fund, Global Energy Capital, which partnered with former (Russian state gas company) Gazprom executive Sergei Yatsenko. Page has long expressed support for Putin. “Business Insider” reported (1/27/17) that Page was offered the brokerage fee for sale of a 19% stake of Rosneft (the Russian state oil company) back last July when he was in Moscow giving a speech if he could convince Trump to lift sanctions on Russia. That 19% stake was sold to a Qatar fund in December (i.e., after Trump was elected). The deal was financed by Gazprombank (the bank for Gazprom), of which Page was a member of the board of directors. Page was in Russia one day after the sale was finalized.
He has consistently criticized the US sanctions against Russia, a position parroted by Trump. He had to abruptly resign from the Trump campaign when his visits to Russia were revealed.
Paul Manafort was brought onto the Trump electoral campaign as an insider expert to corral delegate votes. A long time lobbyist, he has represented such savory characters as Jonas Savimbi (who represented apartheid South Africa in Angola), Ferdinand Marcos, and Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire. In the 1990s, he represented the Pakistani equivalent of the CIA, which has long been considered to be linked with right-wing Islamic terrorism. More recently, he represented the Putin-backed Victor Yanukovich in Ukraine. As such, he was in effect representing the Putin regime. On the side, he also was involved with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska and Ukrainian investor Dmytro Firtash. He, too, resigned in a hurry from Trump’s campaign after it was revealed that he’d received millions from Yanukovich’s party.
Mike Flynn (with hand to ear) appearing at the RT gala in Moscow with Putin. (At lower right is Green Party’s Jill Stein
The hit of the party, of course, is Michael Flynn. This anti-Muslim bigot and loose cannon was criticized before for his links with Putin’s state TV channel “RT”, including a paid appearance at an RT gala in 2015. In December, before Trump even took office – but right around the time that the Rozneft 19% sale was finalized – Flynn had a series of phone calls with Russian ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak. Initially, he denied he’d discussed the US sanctions, but then it was proven that he had. Meanwhile, Vice President Pence went on TV to also deny that Flynn had discussed that issue. Did Flynn lie to Pence about that (as they both claim), or is he taking one for the team? We’ll probably never know.
100 years ago, Russia’s simpleton Tsar Nicholas represented the complete degeneration of the Russian aristocracy. He was guided by a crazed mystic named Rasputin. Today, Trump has his Rasputin: Stephen Bannon. Whereas many others are simply guided by personal financial self-interest, Bannon actually has a vision – the return of “Western Judeo-Christian civilization.” He sees Putin’s regime as a useful although temporary ally in dealing with the supposed main enemy, which is an expanding Islamic caliphate. (See, for example, his comments at the 2014 Vatican conference.)
But all of this leads us back to one man:
The New York Times (2/14/2017) reports that Trump was informed of Flynn’s conversations back at the end of January. However, he did nothing. What has been his connection with Russian capitalism?
He does not have direct investments in Russia (no “Trump Towers” there), but he’s got very close links in another way: Russian capitalists are major investors in his company in the US. “President-elect Donald Trump’s controversial soft spot for Russia is based on decades of courting wealthy Russians to buy condos in his luxury high-rises and invest in his other real estate ventures…. After several bankruptcies made it hard to raise money in the United States for his high-end hotel and condominium projects since the 1990s, Trump, and later his children, traveled to Moscow to talk deals and attract buyers” (USA today, 12/15/2016)
This same article cites 65 units in Trump World Tower in NY that have been bought by Russian investors, for example. It also explains that other Russian investors have paid Trump royalties for properties in Florida for use of the Trump brand name. In fact, according to this same article, this became a great business model for Trump: License his brand name to Russian (and other investors), have them do all the investing, and harvest a royalty, risk free. “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets; say in Dubai, and certainly with our project in SoHo and anywhere in New York,” Trump Jr. said at the time (2008). “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia. There’s indeed a lot of money coming for new-builds and resale reflecting a trend in the Russian economy and, of course, the weak dollar versus the ruble,” says that same USAtoday article.
Then there is the comment of Aras Agalarov, who partnered with Trump to hold the Miss Universe contest in Russia in 2013: “He (Trump) says that if he becomes president of the United States he will certainly keep in mind that he has friends in Russia.” (USA today, 12/15/2016)
Russian Stock Market & Trump’s Taxes
After Trump won the election, the Russian stock market started to take off. As the Financial Times reported on Jan. 4: “In January, the Micex index of Russian stocks hit an all-time high. Colin Croft, manager of the Jupiter Emerging European Opportunities fund, who increased his allocation to Russia to 58 per cent, up from 45 per cent 18 months ago, says: There is a strong investment case for Russia. Donald Trump is the most pro-Russian US president in a long time, raising the chances sanctions [imposed in 2014] will be lifted, a great boost for sentiment.”
While Trump has no direct investments in Russia, we have to wonder whether he owns Russian stocks. If he were to reveal his tax returns, we would know.
In other words, while the mainstream of the US capitalist class sees Russian capitalism as its rival, Trump sees them as a business opportunity. (This coincides with the view of his Rasputin – Bannon – who has his own agenda as we explained.)
Under normal circumstances, the tops of the US capitalist class would have means of bringing a president into line. When they determined that Nixon must go, for example, they mobilized their media against him and drove his approval ratings down to 25%. While low by historical standards, Trump’s approval ratings still stand at about 40%, and most of that is strongly felt. That’s because, when he attacks the media as he did in his press conference of Feb. 16 (“The public doesn’t believe you people anymore”) he strikes a chord with millions of people.
Then there is congress. On the one hand, the fact that so many congress members are purely looking out for their own personal interests has a huge impact, given that most of them are Republicans, and they largely depend on their president for favors. On the other hand, whatever ability to control the president through congress is limited by the fact that they, too, have extremely low approval ratings. Realclearpolitics puts their approval rating at about 20%!
These poll numbers reflect the crisis of capitalism, the fact that it cannot develop society any longer. It is destroying the lives of millions all around the planet and destroying the planet itself, while it threatens a new world war. The capitalists themselves hardly believe in their own system anymore, which is why they are increasingly just looking out for themselves at the expense of the system as a whole – a trend that Trump reflects to the nth degree.
Some celebrate the fact that Trump is partly out of control, and certainly the fact that the enemies of the working class are fighting among themselves is positive. But this is also an extremely dangerous moment, especially because the US working class hardly exists as a coherent political force. Maybe Trump will be brought into line (although there is no indication so far that he will). Maybe Corporate America will drive him out of office, in which case Trump’s supporters will be infuriated and driven to even greater extremes. But overall, the summation of the situation that Leon Trotsky gave almost 100 years ago fits today perfectly. He wrote: “History says to the working class, ‘you must know that unless you cast down the bourgeoisie (the capitalist class) you will be crushed in the ruins of the capitalist civilization. Try. Solve this task!’”