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Establishment Liberalism: A Curse on Democracy

Clinton is defeated. The war-monger, bipartisan elite system may possibly have suffered a setback with Trump’s election. It’s too early to know, but if political-economic nationalism takes precedence over the belligerent, confrontational National Security State, then, despite Trump’s ethnocentric framework, we are better off, as is the world, than under a Clinton-Democratic victory. The latter is the true menace in international politics, which at this point signifies greater importance than the domestic side.

Clinton was on a collision course with Putin (and possibly Xi). On a structural level, she had America poised for continuing Obama’s foreign policy, from intervention, military alliances, and regime change to armed drone targeted assassination, a reprehensible chapter in American foreign relations. On a personal level, it might have been worse: her pathological aggression runs deep, a barely suppressed public effort to prove her mettle on all occasions of conflict. Behind the composed mask, one could sense her hostility toward Russia, her fear that America would appear weak unless maximum effort was applied to its containment and the ultimate removal of Putin, her profound insecurity when not engaged in the deployment of force.

This does not speak well for the Democratic party, once the champion of working-class rights and anti-fascism, but that was long ago and ended with the death of FDR and the aftermath of World War II. For two-thirds of a century, the party, marching step-by-step with Republicans, has been edging toward World War III. From think-tank policy wonks to hegemonic zealots, Clinton, her husband, and Obama, have stood out, with their sophisticated corporatism, even more than many Republicans, as purveyors of a globalization vision directly tied to the twin foundations of US business supremacy and unilateral military-ideological dominance.

A Clinton win would have been more of the same, with the continuance of Obama’s massive-surveillance program at home and the promotion of finance capital as the base of economic concentration and commercial penetration abroad. No wonder the turn to Trump, although I doubt that his supporters took the measure of her record, seeing instead mere elitism per se and political ambition for its own sake. But what can we expect from Trump? Surely not a complete reversal of policy, a renunciation of conflict, a sudden awakening to the essential dignity and entitlement to human rights of all people.

Economic nationalism is not a seedbed for respect of humanity. It can too easily turn into Fortress America, possessing a xenophobic core. Trump seems part-way there already, from his statements and the disclosure of those surrounding him. Yet I am heartened if still skeptical that he may disengage—yes, call it isolationism—from America’s seemingly permanent Cold-War posture, that which is the source of liberal fears, so closely identified with the National Security State, and, rather, adopt a peaceful attitude toward Russia as well as China. Cyrus Eaton, businessman from an earlier generation, thought such cooperation in world affairs could be achieved—and he was ridiculed much as Trump would be given America’s vested interest in global conflict.

Liberalism has demonstrated its moral bankruptcy; for that, we have Democrats, with rare exceptions, to thank since Truman and Kennedy. Liberalism equates with imperialism and antiradicalism; radicalism does not deal in drone assassination, massive defense spending, policies tailored to further the interests of Wall Street. If for no other reason, Trump’s election is welcome because, should he prove unworthy of respect, this would stand out clearly, and therefore could be opposed. With liberals, on the other hand, bread-and-circuses is a successful strategy thus far of obfuscation and creating the setting for false consciousness. Trump, preferable to Clinton, is clarity of social vision to be realized, and then radicalism, no longer suffocated, could come back into its own.

Racism divides the working class. Blacks can no longer find comfort in racial solidarity (uncritical support of Obama), just as gender—smashing glass ceilings—has also given Clinton a free pass. Both Obama and Clinton are the enemies of humankind, with their lust for war and faith in wealth. Somewhere, somehow, America must transcend its baser self, a task presently reserved for radicalism. Whether Trump proves to be just another class-enemy, or, through foreign policy reaches an accommodation with Russia and China, thus diminishing the paralysis of the Cold War, and thereby allowing for dissident thought and action to take hold, we will know the answer shortly.

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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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