“There are among us today, as there always have been, those who act against the scheme of things that degrades them, and in the process of action everything we have accepted out of fear or insensitivity or ignorance is shaken before us and examined… More important, from this total questioning of what has previously been unquestioned, we learn. And such a process is not beyond the common man.”
— Arthur Miller
Mass media would like to print neat-and-tidy articles about Donald Trump’s ascendancy, tracing the roots of his meteoric popularity to former Arizona Governor Jan Brewer. This paltry offering to the public debate on ‘the causality of Trump’ is amnesic at best, and at worst, it is distracting. Nevertheless, the media pretends to have done the spadework for us when it comes to the genesis of Trump, citing “Republican voters” who were only yesterday drawn to Brewer, a xenophobic authoritarian toadstool. This explanation is little more than a Trojan horse, or a whitewashing of history, and the media has not spun its slick web just to mark the trajectory of some social phenomenon rooted the anti-immigrant myopia and national security madness of late. Whether a cover story, propaganda, or plain ol’ disinformation, it amounts to little more than the art of the deal.
Rewind it back: Brewer signed-off on the despicable Senate Bill 1070 during her 2009-2015 reign, and in so doing, she qualified many of the racist sentiments that have bedeviled the Mexican-US border for centuries. She put a finger in Obama’s face, raised taxes and declared her support for the poor, all the while holding fast to opportunism despite her signature tough talk and Republican credentials. Ultimately, to whatever extent Donald Trump seems to be the 2.0 version of Jan Brewer, such is not the case, and he is far more significant than the daily rags let on.
The rise of Donald Trump has made it abundantly clear that Marxism has an important role in public life. For Marxists and their political allies, one of the most salient features of Trump’s candidacy happens also to be something that the ruling elites invariably loathe. Consider an issue like race and its significance to American society today. Now, consider the fact that, despite all neoliberal efforts and wars, a cohesive, multiracial, multiethnic and multigender revolution remains possible in 21st century America. This is more than enough to give the 1% night terrors.
Looking to our television sets, radios, social media feeds, or lunch truck palavering, we see what plays out everyday and in plain sight: the public unpacking of the oppression that ideologically, racially and materially divides workers. Nor does the public’s “unpacking” need to be conscious for it to take place; it is absolutely real. And of course the oppression in question can be ramified along color lines as well as class ones! But without cheapening critical observations on class and race, or the just fruits that ramifying the two might yield for us given their respective merits, it is possible to admit (thanks to pesky ogres like Trump) that the ruling elites, employers, bureaucrats – and bosses and plutocrats and oligarchs and so on – comprise the few who benefit the most from our division as it stands. Hence, Marxism, capitalist divisiveness and Trump have all come together!
Marxists do not pretend to deny that economic disparities often go hand-in-hand with racial inequities, or for that matter, inequities pertaining to gender, sexuality, age, creed, ability, etc. Disadvantaging some in perpetuity while simultaneously hierarchizing the productive forces of society should, in the imagination of any human being today, provide enough discomfort to elicit goose bumps, or worse. This should be true for anyone who has felt a drop of acid rain or breathed a breath of polluted air whose point-source is half-way around the world, actively poisoning workers whose children starve while Trump promises to “make American great again” by offering us more of the same.
Trump’s climb is today a clear reminder that divisive oppression pervades the lives of workers in our capitalist society, pressing into service all social problems imaginable, including but not limited to the racially charged, bigoted and xenophobic nationalism that Trump is hocking around the country. When this happens, a “Trump” of any stripe will appeal to the everyman’s corrupted commonsense, and such a figure will likely curry favor with millions of Americans whose lives the capitalist system so miserably controls.
The commonsensical nature of our current Trump problem takes many forms, but in the sense that it is part and parcel to a long vein in American history (a history of profits over people), we recognize that the taproot is entirely assailable. It has been thus for some time; radical philosophy has armed us with the tools necessary to engender a deeper, systematic analysis that explains the social divisions on which Trump and his class prey and depend for dominance. Moreover, this all signals Frederick Engels’ “false consciousness,” which is worth recalling lest we forget for one second that the ruling class’ ideology has many times before attempted to etch away at the realities whereby white workers, for example, assume their supremacy in manifold ways and further the capitalist project, or the very thing that seeks to exploit them in the same way it subordinates all slaves under the capitalist system, irrespective of race or anything else.
Like the goose bumps mentioned above, capitalist exploitation ought to give any thinking and feeling person reason to recoil, if not, rebel. No matter the upside that comes from accepting supremacy along racial lines, submitting to such a world (and its concomitant false consciousness) is precisely what sabotages national and international cooperation against the capitalist disease. Needless to say, a false consciousness makes the international socialist project difficult to effect and sustain. Never mind contradictions like the 40-plus percent of homeless persons in America who are white, or the 45 percent of homeless persons in America who are below the age of 30. Never mind all of this because, as Trump has espoused (just like the Nazis long before him), “Work sets you free.” And by work, what Trump and his artless deal mean is endless slavery under capitalism.
For the unthinking, skim-milk conservatism in the US, the poster child for racially charged populism happens to be Trump this election cycle, who also happens to be the likely Republican presidential candidate. What he shares in common with his party members like Brewer is certainly more than just a line of racist, capitalist succession of governance. But what they all share in his ultra-nationalist rhetoric that panders to groups whose oppression they have propagated for years, and to whose false consciousness Trump now pays lip service.