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Capitalism Versus Militarism: The Presidency

There are no purist societal categories in the real world; everything turns on interrelatedness, particularly here, with capitalism and militarism, mutual states of national conduct and spirit, each reinforcing the other, and both exemplified in the narrow boundaries within which the American presidential campaign is being conducted.

Trump (capitalism), Clinton (militarism), constitute the perfect harmonization of interests defining the modern Fascist State, one up on Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and Corporatist Italy, because disguising such primal units of historically demonstrated fascism (1920s-40s) as hegemonic aspirations of global leadership, the structural interpenetration of business and government, an ideological commitment to systemic hierarchy, international and domestic, with the soothing appeal of liberalism and democracy, rhetorical gestures America’s predecessors did not waste time with, in proceeding to the serious business of domination.

Pure typologies are for textbooks. In America, capitalism and militarism blended well, indeed became synchronized from at least the post-Civil War period onward, neither capitalism nor militarism capable of going it alone even as individually each grew to major proportions. There had to be overlap, with few periods of historical exception, perhaps only the New Deal, where the repair of capitalism, putting it on its feet again, consumed the energies of policy making until the Second World War became unavoidable. Then, in what still remained, by necessity, an anti-fascist crusade, nonetheless, under the umbrella of patriotism, capitalism and militarism were brought together into an uneasy coalescence.

With the Cold War, this changed, and the respective emphases in national policies were becoming inseparable, with, in America, market penetration and intervention singly and, more generally, in combination, characterizing America’s pattern of development. By the 1960s, especially under Kennedy, there was very little squiggle room left between these supposedly polar types or goal posts. America’s structural-political-ideological choices had narrowed successively and gradually so that, unsurprisingly, Trump and Clinton have now emerged, if not as Siamese twins joined at the hip of the highest stage of capitalism known thus far, then close to that state, where confrontation, in all areas, from military power to trade and finance, makes for an irresistible force in international politics, Russia and China, the preeminent opponents and/or targets of America’s somehow-manufactured wrath.

These two exemplifications in their respective areas, Trump, capitalism, Clinton, militarism, represent mere tipping points, where, for Trump, capitalism works through, and cannot survive without, militarism, and where, for Clinton, militarism is the frosting on the cake, the ultimate good—and goal—of capitalism in protecting, chiefly for America, unilateral supremacy in world affairs. The record is there. Trump embodies capitalism better than any in our time, going back to the attitudinal complex and framework of rewards of the Robber Barons of the late 19th century, completely unapologetic in manipulating the System to his own advancement: wreck, build, it doesn’t matter, even both, simultaneously, because profit is to be made, or losses stemmed, through always plunging forward, through waste, corruption, exploitation, all honorable—and honored—tools in the pursuit of wealth.

Clinton is his mirror image in the fusion of capitalism with national power, not a bone of scrupulosity in her body as she navigates the corridors of power to the top. Here Wall Street becomes the open door or avenue of systemic advancement to achieve the integrated stage of the militarization of capitalism. Not an original thinker (nor is Trump) she merely assumes, it turns out correctly, that capitalism and militarism require each other to experience growth and fruition. We see this in her prideful assertion of belting ‘em down with top military brass as one of the boys, equally symbolic of underlying substance, her calling for the Afghan surge, intervention in Libya, bellicose view of Russia and China, approval of military appropriations in general (in sum, hardly out of the ordinary from her Democratic colleagues and the bipartisan consensus on American-defined globalization in all spheres of state activity, from Keystone XL to regime change in Latin America to military alliance systems worldwide).

What does this portend for the future, the Clinton-Trump race to the bottom, the ash heap of history? Nuclear war? Widening divisions at home, on race, power, income, status? Incremental worsening, wherein ethnocentrism and xenophobia find their domestic counterparts, the radical becoming the stranger, the Enemy, of America’s culture and time? Whatever the outcome, and I am certainly not recommending fatalism or passivity, the future cannot be thought bright. Perhaps, with Dr. King’s blessing, we can go back to the political equivalence of Du Bois’s Talented Tenth, in this case, the regnant tenth who, in declaring No to both capitalism (as presently practiced) and militarism, stand witness to the degradation of democracy and refuse complicity in its emasculation and destruction.

Social protest is not dead. Not all of America is fascist-inclined. But the negation of existing practice, the disavowal of previous history (as though these features of capitalism and militarism were deterministic, rather than the result of the institutional exercise of power on behalf of wealth and the wealthy, or the morbidly assertive in generic ways of conquest), must not be given the last word. Even one-tenth of the populace are capable of raising a collective voice of protest that will be heard, if not fully in America, then still around the world. Our modern Robber Barons cum Warriors, reflected in the presidential contest, cannot be stopped, possibly even diverted, but as everyday life grows worse, as adventurism grows more obvious and unbearable to the world at charge, perhaps, just perhaps, a turnaround is possible—the futility of self-destruction finally awakening a heretofore narcotized public.

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Norman Pollack Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

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