Vladimir Lenin observed in State and Revolution (1917) that “all previous revolutions perfected the state machine, whereas it must be broken, smashed.” He meant, as Marx had written in The Civil War in France (1871), that “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes.” Power, simply put, must be used transformatively—it is not enough to merely perpetuate the status quo of the regime with different masters.
Middle Americans could use a little Leninism, or at least aspire to a similar grandeur of vision. The willingness to exercise power remains a weakness of the right, and this was never clearer than in the lead-up to and during the 2020 election.
So confident was President Trump’s administration in the certainty of victory that it took no precautions to protect itself from electoral fraud. The White House, for example, sidelined at least two election integrity proposals in 2019 and 2020. Whatever Democrats could throw at them, so it was thought, the “Trump Train” would mightily smash through all obstacles. There was no plan except for trusting that an assured landslide would see the campaign through to reelection. Whether the Deep State was actively undermining Trump or not, it may not have needed to—the nonchalance of Trump’s trusted advisors did the undermining for them.
If there was an electoral avalanche for Trump that was negated through fraud, Democrats successfully neutralized it with their political machines across the country. They “stole” the election “fair and square”—since some level of electoral fraud is inevitable in democracy—by stretching and blurring the boundaries of legality, changing voting laws whenever and wherever they could to tip the scales in their favor. Democrats simply wanted to win more than Trump cared to avoid losing.
As Lenin once asked, “What is to be done?” is the question Middle Americans should be pondering now. For many, the answer is a second Trump run at the White House. This amounts to waiting passively to be saved.
Setting aside the myriad difficulties that the lightning rod of a third Trump campaign would attract, who would Trump turn to for personnel to staff his second administration? The America First Policy Institute, the official “MAGA” think tank, is led by, and consists of, some of the worst members of the former Trump White House, who helped to undermine his presidency the first time around. These are the people who are either in the pocket of the Koch brothers, hostile to social conservatism, supportive of soft-on-crime policies, or in favor of amnesty for illegal aliens. They, and those like them inside the Beltway, would either end up in a second administration or influence personnel.
The result would likely be another four years of missed opportunities, while voters are pacified with Republican economic policies that obfuscate long-term troubles: Trump’s tax cuts fueled the growth of the national debt, and he ultimately oversaw the third-biggest deficit increase of any president.
Part of the problem with Trump was that there was no coherent ideological infrastructure behind his original campaign or underlying his administration. That is why the White House ended up filled with Bushies, Kochies, and woke staffers like Ja’Ron Smith.
Smith is a former top Trump aide who recently admonished those who want tougher law enforcement amid the national crime wave. “Politicians wringing their hands over what to do about violent crime,” Smith wrote in an op-ed, “need only look to former President Trump’s most celebrated bipartisan achievement to see the path forward.” Smith points to the First Step Act, signed by Trump in 2018, which released an army of dangerous criminals. The solution to the rising tide of crime, then, is apparently to release more criminals. Smith currently serves as chairman of the Center for Second Chances at the America First Policy Institute.
“The Right lacks a pathology to explain the power of its opponents,” Jerry Woodruff accurately observed, “and shows no interest in finding one.” The right, nationalists, Middle Americans—whatever this movement calls itself—is perennially put on the back foot because it has yet to develop a consistent vision of what it wants and a willingness to see it through to realization. It has political machines, but they are not geared toward much more than petty self-dealing and preserving political fiefdoms.
The right must, on the one hand, recognize that its worst enemies are often standing beside and behind it within the Republican Party’s “Big Tent.” On the other hand, it must find or raise armies of local bureaucrats, capture the offices that administer law and order, and shame and expose the weak members of the GOP within legislatures. It must pry its eyes away from Washington and Trump Tower and, with the same willfulness as the opposition, focus on seizing control of precincts and influencing how elections are run.
All this so that, if and when the next revolutionary moment comes, there will be infrastructure for collective decision making and action and an ideology behind it capable of navigating the pitfalls we have hitherto been unable to avoid. Only that kind of machinery could go beyond merely treading water through electoral victories to transformative governance and changing the country’s trajectory.
above: Vladimir Lenin, 1920 (photo by Pavel Semyonovich Zhukov/public domain)