In modern times, the wealthy and powerful need some level of consent from the majority for the system that protects and enhances their wealth. As long as individual citizens believe in the system consent can be engineered, “by an elite of experts and professional politicians.” This is an apt description for the current alliance between the mainstream media (mostly owned by five conglomerates) and the political/business/military elites. Between the mid-1940’s and mid-1970’s, enough ‘crumbs’ were allowed to trickle down to the non-rich, especially the white non-rich, to bind them to the system. With the onset of neoliberalism in the late 1970’s, the flow of crumbs stopped and vast amounts of the non-rich were left behind.
The reaction of the elites was to offer false hope while blaming anyone but themselves. Ronald Reagan brought his new “Morning In America” that would set Yankee ingenuity free once it had broken the shackles of pesky regulations, trade restrictions and taxes. Bill Clinton offered to feel the pain of the crumbling middle class, while carrying out an orgy of deregulation, free trade deals and social safety net destruction. Followed by eight years of the Bush Jr.’s war on terror (and regulations, taxes, and the middle class). Followed by the “hope and change” of Obama, the president that bailed out the rich from the consequences of their own crazy risk taking rather than help the shrinking middle class. Although there may be cultural differences between the Democrats and Republicans, on such things as gay and women’s rights, on the economic front neoliberalism is the joint orthodoxy. President Obama’s recent pushing of yet another free trade/corporate rights deal being a case in point. If in the old U.S.S.R. a person could only vote for anyone as long as they were official communists, in modern America a person is free to vote for any neoliberal they feel like. After more than forty years of being left behind, the game is wearing thin for the non-rich and non-affluent. A new face and messaging is required to redirect attention away from real change.
In the 1930’s, the U.S. answer to the disconnection of the majority from the system was the New Deal. The provision of enough economic crumbs to stop open revolt until World War 2 brought full employment and a focus on external enemies. These social democratic policies were the minimum that was required given the large-scale labour movements and social unrest that the rich faced. In Germany and Italy, where working class organizations were much weaker, the answer was right-wing populism and the scapegoating of minority groups to divide and conquer the majority. In today’s USA, the labour and other progressive movements have been mostly destroyed or thoroughly co-opted by the neoliberal Democratic Party. Not even a lukewarm social democrat such as Bernie Saunders is allowed to gain the Democratic Party’s nomination. With the left cowed and co-opted, the only alternative for those that have suffered from decades of falling behind is right wing populism.
Onto the stage steps the fake revolutionary Trump, a fully paid up member of the billionaire class. To assuage the majority he will throw some of those that serve the elites under the bus, such as political functionaries and journalists. Selected courtiers will be sacrificed to save the privileges of their masters, in a modern twisted media version of the sacrifices in the Roman Coliseum. In addition, he will scapegoat illegal immigrants, Muslims and others to redirect attention away from the rich. He will not deal with the employers who exploit foreign labour to reduce wage rates, just like he did. He will remove the corporate socialism of Obamacare but not provide the “single-payer” solution required to tame the rapaciously parasitic healthcare corporations. He will not break up the monopolistic banks, nor put their executives in jail for their repeated felonies. He will deliver tax cuts for the rich, deregulation, and lots of infrastructure spending to drive corporate profits. Reaganomics with a nastier face, perhaps with less of a penchant for meddling with other countries?
This is not to say that many of the elites find Trump truly distasteful from a cultural standpoint, but they will learn to hold their noses and accept that he is required to maintain the engineering of consent that allows them to govern while not providing even crumbs from their table for the majority. Rather a Trump than a Bernie, for now anyway. After four years of Trump who knows? Fascism or luke-warm social democracy? His greatest legacy is already known; yet more wasted years in the fight against climate change.