Donald Goes to Washington

Were it not for the likely, and likely necessary, political confrontations to follow the spectacle of national Democrats meeting the electoral fate they so spectacularly deserve would be one of the great joys of life. The self-serving drivel emanating from these grifter-class functionaries and their newly-displaced apologists recalls nothing so much as the chatter from the servants’ quarters in the final days of the Ancien Regime about the ‘death of light’ that befell the French monarchy. Fortunately for these new-found mirror-dwellers, Donald Trump and his minions are just as clueless as they are.

This isn’t necessarily to impugn Mr. Trump’s capacity to govern. Citizen governance is at least as plausible as technocratic governance. The problem is that the minor electoral rebellion that Mr. Trump led did little to shake off the political atrophy-inducing preponderance of corporate-state institutions. The national Democrat’s embrace of said institutions— the Pentagon, Wall Street and a global corporate technocracy, resulted from their ensconcement as well-paid chairwarmers-of-empire. The ‘bench’ from which Donald Trump will draw his associates in governance will either come from similar warm chairs or an outsiders’ fate will befall him.

By analogy, Barack Obama’s most loyal supporters have argued for seven plus years that he was prevented from enacting his ‘real’ agenda by recalcitrant Congressional Republicans. Well, yes and no. Mr. Obama was able to enact one of the most ambitious and audacious agendas in modern political history. He devoted the near entirety of Western state resources to reviving the fortunes and bank accounts of a corrupt and wholly self-serving corporate class while tossing the preponderance of the U.S. population to the economic wolves. Aspirational history to the side, this is approximately Bill Clinton’s legacy as well.

The oft-heard complaint that little of substance was addressed in the run-up to the election alludes to the irresolvable tension between political economy intended to produce corporate profits and that built to serve human needs. The functional difference between the two major Parties is implicit (Democrats) versus explicit (Republican) adherence to this imperative of profits. Put differently, political economy based on / in military conquest, environmental devastation, social exclusion and mass immiseration is a hard sell on its merits. In the late imperial tradition, a ‘new’ experiment, same as the old experiment, is called for.

Part of what is so offensive in the weep-fest that followed the Democrats’ well-earned electoral drubbing is continued conflation of the popular interest with the factual mis-governance that got them fired. As Wikileaks’ release of Clinton campaign Chair John Podesta’s emails made clear, through ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ views Mrs. Clinton saw her role as selling corporate interests as those of ‘the people.’ Donald Trump will face the same dilemma when his version of capitalist revival produces more explicit policies to motivate largely the same results. A central outcome of the recent election will be fewer places to hide going forward.

The quasi-rational fears of a Trump Presidency being expressed by socially vulnerable peoples would be wholly rational were it not for the embedded class bias that they proceed from. Race has been used to divide class interests for at least several centuries now. In the 1980s Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke concluded, correctly in my view, that the most effective way to promote a racist, reactionary worldview was to put on a business suit and dress his program in the language of market ‘choice.’ Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher both sought to erase Western history through the false promise that capitalism was a social equalizer.

Fears of a White working class insurgency conflate intent with capacity. The ‘flaw’ of representative democracy made evident in the recent election, no doubt soon to be even more effectively reduced than it already has been, is that it occasionally gives abstract voice to the powerless. Donald Trump was very few people’s choice for any role outside of an electoral process designed to preclude broader and more meaningful political possibilities. His racist chatter derives its threat from existing power and finds its tactical mirror in the same divide and conquer political calculation as Hillary Clinton’s condemnation of ‘deplorables.’

Barack Obama never spoke ill of immigrants, even as he imprisoned and deported more than any other President in U.S. history. The Clintons used ‘law and order’ and ‘personal responsibility’ as coded language to affect radically racist and classist policies. The effect of both was creation of human misery on a truly monumental scale. These policies were hardly less savage in their effect because they were courteously put forward. The Democrats’ strategy ‘works’ in the sense that racist chatter (and policies) dressed in the garb of bourgeois respectability effectively conveys bourgeois respectability to their intended audience.

This isn’t to suggest that fears of social savagery from a Trump administration are necessarily misplaced. But it is to argue that it is unlikley that the rich and their administrators in the professional classes will feel the brunt of it making it a class issue. More to the point, the repeated claim from Democrat loyalists that all was well with the world and therefore that only dysfunctional thinking (that happens to be concentrated amongst those economically displaced) is left to explain political disaffection is (1) a form of social violence in that categorical social failures are  blamed on personal weaknesses and (2) fundamentally totalitarian through the use of closed logic.

Framed differently, the national Democrats’ ‘skill,’ their value to the corporate-state establishment, is their ability to ‘manage’ the working class as they work to destroy it. Donald Trump’s politically effective trope, scapegoating if you will, of immigrants is that they ‘stole American jobs.’ NAFTA, passed by Bill Clinton, factually closed factories in the U.S. to reopen them in low-wage (and environmental regulation) environs outside the U.S. Mr. Trump was being opportunistically divisive by blaming immigrants for economic outcomes they had no part in bringing about. But it was Democrat Bill Clinton who facilitated the facts of this division.

Lest this remain implausible to committed Democrats, through NAFTA the Clintons divided ‘internal’ and ‘external’ working classes to faux compete to lower each others’ wages and working conditions. By flooding Mexico with industrial American corn NAFTA ‘freed’ several million Mexican peasants from subsistence farming to work in maquiladoras (U.S. factories), immigrate to the U.S. or starve. Likewise the Clintons ‘freed’ the socially vulnerable in the U.S. by ‘ending welfare as we know it’ to labor for whatever wages they could find. In the parlance, both practices increased labor supply thereby driving down wages.

One could in theory consign the whole capitalist revival program of the last forty years to forgotten history, implausible logic and wishful thinking were course correction that replaced discredited theory with programs to fulfill human needs under consideration. Donald Trump correctly identified some of the failures of capitalism, particularly failed trade policies and plutocrat-enriching faux-Keynesian monetary economics. But by calling them process failures— poorly negotiated trade deals and misapplied monetary policies, the premises that support them are left intact.

‘Free-trade’ has historically been an advertising slogan used to misrepresent integrated political and economic relations under the precepts of the individual choices of capitalism and democracy as they exist in theory. Donald Trump appears to understand the institutional framework of trade in theory and, liberal-technocratic conniptions to the contrary, he could restore the mercantilist roots of ‘national interests’ to international trade. But doing so requires overlooking the factual consequences of imperial history in catastrophic global wars, environmental devastation, genocide of indigenous peoples and related human misery.

As Mr. Trump unveils his undoubtedly retrograde program for ‘national renewal’ solace can be found that his economic ideas are no less plausible than those of the Clinton’s neoliberal globalists. The most feared economic disruptions to follow will be from redirecting the tightly engineered interrelationships of the global economy that weren’t working for most people anyway. In other words, it was the bourgeois technocrats advising Democrats  who produced the unstable stability that left them blindsided when the half of the population they threw in the economic garbage heap some decades ago used its power to interrupt the global order.

As is true of most to do with the metaphorical loaded gun that is the heavily militarized, plutocrat-led, corporate-state of the U.S., fear of the unknown has basis in both capacity and tortured history. The Republican ‘talent’ pool from which Donald Trump will draw to fill his Cabinet is every bit as beholden to the military-financial-pharma-technology scam-ocracy as national Democrats. And belligerence on behalf of power is fundamentally different from belligerence opposed to power. As a congenital insider who appeared to relish the role, Mr. Trump is far more likely to use his belligerence on behalf of power than against it once ensconced in office.

As-of-now Donald Trump appears to be despised in all of the right places. But the corporate-state is a means to an end, not an immovable object. Its functionaries will find their way to the Trump administration as surely as they have to past administrations. This  suggests that, whatever his populist blather to the contrary, concentration of the spoils of empire will continue to accrue almost entirely to connected insiders. Instead of relying on bourgeois functionary assertions that the displaced White working class is busy planning Klan revival meetings, now is the time to build an integrated working class movement to replace the duopoly political establishment and the institutions that support it.


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Rob Urie is an artist and political economist. His book Zen Economics is published by CounterPunch Books.

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