Anyone who thought Donald Trump was going to live up to his populist-sounding rhetoric and stand up for the “forgotten working people of America” against the evil-doers on Wall Street has been served notice that his campaign oratory was a deceptive public relations act meant to get a selfish billionaire and a team of parasitic super-capitalists installed in the White House.
Working Class Heroes
A longstanding Washington maxim holds that personnel is policy. Look at Trump’s appointments. They include Steve Mnuchin, a filthy rich former Goldman Sachs partner and hedge-fund capitalist as Secretary of the Treasurer. Another and wealthier hedge fund vulture, Wilbur Ross, is Trump’s choice as Commerce Secretary. Both Mnuchin and Ross have feathered their uber-opulent nests by buying distressed properties and selling them for a profit – turning others’ losses into personal gain. Mnuchin co-founded a bank (OneWest) that foreclosed on thousands of homeowners during the 2008 financial crisis. He made millions after that. At one point, his bank foreclosed on a 90-year old woman after she made a 27-cent payment error.
The Donald’s choice for Education Secretary is Betsy DeVos, a billionaire “neo-Calvinist” advocate of Big Business-run charter schools. She is a fierce and dedicated enemy of teachers’ unions and public education.
Trump’s Labor Department pick is Andrew Puzder, a fast-food CEO who opposes unions, worker protections, and an increase in the federal minimum wage. Curiously enough considering candidate Trump’s nativist immigrant-bashing, Puzder is a fan of cheap migrant labor.
Candidate Trump inveighed against a “financial elite” that bribes politicians in a “broken” system that leaves “millions of our workers with nothing but poverty and heartache.” So what? His top economic adviser will be Gary Cohn, the CEO of Goldman Sachs. Every month, CNN reports, President Trump will consult with a group of top U.S. business executives convened by Steven Schwartzman, CEO of the infamous “alternative investment” firm the Blackstone Group. The group includes a “who’s who” of current and former Fortune 25 CEOs, featuring (so far) GM’s Mary Barra, JP Morgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon, GE’s former CEO Jack Welch, Disney’s Bob Iger, and Walmart’s Doug McMillon. Quite a gathering of working class heroes!
Trump’s top White House political advisor and strategist, Steve Bannon, is a fascist at worst and a vicious white nationalist at best. He is also a Goldman Sachs veteran – a former investment banker in that firm’s Merger and Acquisitions Department.
Trump himself will be the richest U.S. president ever. He owes no small part of his fortune to the systematic long-term cheating of workers and consumers.
One way to think of the coming Trump team is as a ruling class domestic and global War Cabinet. Mnuchin, Ross, Cohn, Puzder, and other leading Trump economic appointments (including multi-millionaire Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts as Under-Secretary of Commerce) represent top down class war on the American middle, working, and lower classes. DeVos stands for a related business class war on public education and teachers.
It isn’t just about class, of course. Trump’s coming majority-tipping Supreme Court appointment will wage war on women by attacking their right to control their own bodies and reproductive health.
Trump’s picks for Attorney General (former right-wing Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions), Housing and Urban Development (the hapless Black neocon Dr. Ben Carson), and Homeland Security (retired U.S. Marines General John Kelly) complement top- down class war with related white-supremacist war on civil rights and liberties, Black Lives Matter, “illegal immigrants,” Latinos (naturalized and not), “radical” (and other) Muslims, and the Native American-led pipeline- and fossil fuel-fighters in North Dakota.
Look for BLM and the Standing Rock heroes to be designated as domestic “terrorists” by Trump’s Justice and Homeland Security Departments. Expect neo-McCarthyite harassment and persecution of Left dissidents to be encouraged by the new right-wing federal government.
The white-supremacist “Blues Lives Matter” gendarme class in and atop the nation’s ever-expanding militarized police state is eagerly anticipating the Inauguration of a new “law and order” champion in the White House. They and their private corporate security comrades can look forward among other things to being deployed in the enforcement of Trumpian schemes to privatize oil and gas-rich Native American reservations.
Expect a terrible onslaught of reactionary federal court appointments to deepen the war on basic civil rights and liberties. Defense attorneys have reason to dread Trump’s coming judicial picks.
Trump’s “national security” and “defense” appointments – Marines General Jim “Mad Dog” Mattis as Secretary of Defense and former military intelligence General Michael Flynn – are all about waging war on the Islamic world, especially Iran. They also have China in their imperial crosshairs. Yes, the likelihood of war with Russia has faded for now. But Trump can be expected to fan the flames of aggressive, hyper-masculinist militarism like no U.S. president in recent memory. He has made insanely reckless statements about nuclear weapons and promises a significant military build-up – this as the U.S. already accounts for nearly half of all global military spending.
We are still waiting to see what place the blood-soaked neo-con warmonger and Muslim hater John Bolton will occupy in Herr Trump’s foreign policy team. Bolton’s name has been floated for Under-Secretary of State. The arch war-criminal Bolton has as much business serving in a diplomatic agency as George Zimmerman has serving in a high school racial diversity and healing program.
Eco-Cidal Death Knell
And then there’s the business class war on the natural environment. Trump’s most alarming appointment may be the selection of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, an open climate change-denier and enemy of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to head…well, the EPA. This is an open declaration of war on livable ecology. It is a green light to the full-bore Greenhouse Gassing-to death of life on Earth – a transgression that will make the Nazis look like amateur criminals. It could well be “a death knell for the species” (Noam Chomsky).
Even more eco-cidally insane, perhaps, is Trump’s appointment (just announced) of ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as U.S. Secretary of State. Tillerson is one of the greatest War-on-Livable Ecology Criminals alive today. He was a leading force behind Exxon’s disastrous campaign against climate science, including the dire findings and warnings of his own company’s top research scientists in the late 1970s and 1980s.
Like most of Trump’s top cabinet appointees. Tillerson has never headed a government agency. “T-Rex” (as the not-so Adorable Deplorable Sarah Palin once nicknamed Tillerson) atop the State Department is global petro-capitalist insanity on steroids. It likely means that Trump will be bringing back the Keystone XL Pipeline (beyond his promise to “move forward” with the Dakota Access Pipeline of Standing Rock shame). And that the Trump means to put the control of foreign oil at the heart of its coming imperial adventures. (Remember one of Trump’s key criticisms of George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq: “he didn’t even get the oil.”)
“What good is it to save the planet,” Tillerson asked ExxonMobil shareholders three and a half years ago, “if humanity suffers?” By human suffering, Tillerson meant reduced profits and employment in the fossil fuels sector.
And now we have just learned that the openly moronic climate changer denier and fossil fuels super-fan Rick Perry – the former Republican Governor of oil-drenched Texas – is Trump’s pick for Energy Secretary. “During a televised debate in 2011, when he was seeking the Republican nomination,” the New York Times reports,” Mr. Perry intended to list the Department of Energy among agencies he wanted to eliminate, but he could not remember its name.”
Don’t Fear the F-Word
It’s not uncommon to hear progressives and leftists using the f-word – fascism – to describe the Trump phenomenon and presidency. The designation is technically inaccurate in a strict historical sense. We are not about to see the overthrow of the rule of bourgeois law and parliamentarianism by iron dictatorship. We will not be contending with government and paramilitary armies beating leftists, liberals, racial and ethnic minorities, gay and transgendered people in streets, schools, and other public places. Liberal and left intellectuals and activists are not about to be hauled off to detention camps. The New Dear Leader is not going to enlist millions of glassy-eyed, goose-stepping young Amerikanners in the invasion of Canada or Mexico. This is not Weimar Germany. Trump is not an ideologue. He appears to possess no particular world view beyond a vicious faith in unbridled, arch-plutocratic selfishness.
Still, Trump has a notoriously thin-skinned arch-authoritarian personality. Much of the right-wing white-nationalist and militantly anti-intellectual and anti-democratic energy Trump is channeling and encouraging overlaps considerably with the fascist project past and present. Trump’s authoritarian, racist, nationalist, hyper-masculinist, and violence- and ignorance-oozing rallies have been like nothing we’ve seen in this country since the 1930s. It’s all very not okay. And a Trump presidency will be just one big U.S.-provoked Islamist terror attack away from truly draconian federal attacks on basic civil liberties – and not only those of Muslims.
Historical nomenclature aside, moreover, there are four good political reasons not to be overly squeamish about running with the term fascism in connection with Trump and his war cabinet-in-formation. First, it highlights the gravity of our situation. It emphasizes the extreme and escalated wickedness of the coming administration (and that’s saying a lot given the incredible authoritarian malevolence of the Clinton42, Bush43, and Obama44 administrations) while challenging the insipid banalization of evil seen in statements like “give Trump a chance” and “he just had to say all that nasty stuff to get elected,” etc. It works against the efforts of the new media to normalize the incoming administration, to pretend that everything is alright. It isn’t.
Second, it underlines the present futility and inadequacy of electoral politics. You don’t fight fascism and top-down class-race-gender-nationalist-and eco-cidal war with another biennial or quadrennial electoral campaign (and by the way U.S. elections now appear to be largely fraudulent), you fight it with a Resistance Movement
Third, it highlights the “fierce urgency of now” (Martin Luther King, Jr.) when it comes to forming a Resistance: you don’t fight fascism in a couple or four years, you fight it as soon as possible
Fourth, it highlights the proper role for a Left, which is to lead a Resistance that privileged liberals will never lead and to do so on a day-to-day basis through dedicated activism and disciplined organization-building.
“Not All of Politics”
Under the reigning U.S. definition, Noam Chomsky noted last fall, “Citizenship means every four years you put a mark somewhere and you go home and let other guys run the world. It’s a very destructive ideology … a way of making people passive, submissive objects. … We ought to teach kids that elections take place, but that’s not [all of] politics.” There’s also the movement politics of who’s sitting in the streets, the lunch counters, the state capitols, the workplaces, and the pipeline construction sites, not just the electoral politics of who’s sitting in the White House and the Governor’s Mansion.
One irony here is that Trump is going to get more serious opposition from the “hard” Lefties who couldn’t take Chomsky’s advice and mark even a contested state ballot for the “lying neoliberal warmonger” (LNW) Hillary Clinton (Adolph Reed, Jr.) than Trump is going to face from the progressives and liberals who backed Hillary in the name of “lesser evil voting” (LEV). That’s because “radical” Lefties are considerably less attached than liberals to U.S. electoral politics and the nation’s endless quadrennial major party electoral extravaganzas (and 2016 has proven the most endless election yet). Lefties are more attached to that other (movement) politics, the greatest current model of which has been demonstrated across the latest election cycle by the pipeline-fighters in Standing Rock.
From Blaming Green Party Voters to Blaming Russia
Is the ascendancy of a deadly fascist-lite presidency the fault of Lefties who failed to hold their nose to vote to block a vulgar white nationalist (Trump) with a LNW (Mrs. Clinton) and opted instead for Green Party candidate Jill Stein? The numbers for that argument are weak and based on the false assumption that every ballot Stein got (not very many – she didn’t top 1%) was taken from a potential Clinton voter. The bigger problem is that the Democrats ran a highly unpopular, wooden, and corruption-tainted right-wing LNW who epitomized the nation’s failed and widely loathed neoliberal and imperial establishment. There were as usual serious problems with voter suppression and perhaps with vote tabulation in Republican-run contested states. And the historic last-minute intervention of FBI Director James Comey may have been a significant favor. In the face of all that and more (see my recent Truthdig essay “How the Republican Party Rules a Nation That Hates It”), left LEV advocates really should give the blame Nader and Stein game a rest.
If we really want to get into this quadrennial intra-leftist debate, moreover, then we should consider the likelihood that a bigger contributing factor to Republican victory was the tired and habitual counsel of portside leaders who tell lefties every four years to hold their noses and vote for the hopelessly corporate, corrupt and imperial Democrats as the least awful of the two major parties. It’s hard to expect the Dismal Dollar Dems to be less disastrously conservative and demobilizing and uninspiring when those atop that vapid party know that top progressive luminaries will always have their electoral back (despite the usual muttering) at the end of the day. And it’s silly to expect such a party not to face grave difficulties getting the kind of popular support required to consistently win national, Congressional, and state elections. The LEV counsel comes on nauseating once-every-four-year schedule no matter how consistently Democratic Party’s honchos are shown to hold their party’s progressive wing in elitist contempt. WikiLeaks has revealed quite a bit about that contempt in the current election cycle.
Speaking of WikiLeaks, the current preferred method for Democrats to avoid confronting their own responsibility for Trump is to blame mysterious Russian hackers for working with Julian Assange’s organization to defame Hillary. They are currently trying to do to Trump with a vague and shady CIA report what Comey did to Hillary with a vague and shady FBI letter. But it’s too late. The election is over and they are not about to hold another one or launch a coup, so what is the motivation here? A primary goal is for top Democrats to absolve themselves of fault for the terrible election outcome. Russia now serves as a convenient, CIA-certified version of “my dog ate my homework” for them in that regard: “It’s not that we suck. It’s the Kremlin’s interference.”
A second goal is to keep the NATO-expansionist heat on Russia. Just because they’re out of power doesn’t mean that Democratic Party-affiliated LNWs can’t work with anti-Russian allies like John McCain to keep fanning the flames of the New Cold War with Bad Vlad the dastardly Kremlin.
Bernie Sanders might well have stood a better chance against Trump than Hillary did. But the “sheep dog” candidate didn’t get angry enough at Hillary to try to win the nomination until it was too late. And the primary campaign was fixed from the top down. The Democratic Party establishment and the Clinton machine served their corporate and financial sponsors well by rigging the media, delegate, and caucusing and voting games against Bernie – something that makes it hypocritical to hear them whining now about FBI and Kremlin rigging on Trump’s behalf. It’s not Russia’s or WikiLeaks’ fault that the Democratic National Committee insisted on running the least viable and most horrific of its party’s two presidential finalists against Trump. And it’s of course by no means at all certain that Sanders would have defeated Trump.
Are there “silver linings” in Trump’s dreadful victory for the Left and its interrelated projects of social justice, democracy, and environmental sustainability? There could be. I’ve never been a backlash theorist who wants the right wing in power on the theory that it will provoke revolution. That said, the abject, mind-blowing absurdity of the coming nakedly racist, class-ist, sexist, authoritarian, nativist, nationalist, eco-cidal, and militarist Trump presidency could help delegitimize social and political hierarchies and U.S. imperial power and influence at home and abroad. Democrats have a way of giving the nation’s unelected and interrelated dictatorships of class, race, gender, empire, and eco-cide deceptive, fake-progressive clothing. With Trump in the top job, the empire is going to be much more transparently exposed and unclothed – not a pretty sight.
The presence of a nakedly brutish and ugly white male Republican in the White House could encourage a lot more Americans to battle the system than would have been the case if Hillary had won. It is depressing that many U.S. citizens can’t seem to get it together to fight back when the White House is held by a smooth-talking teleprompter-ized Democrat like Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, or Hillary Clinton. But it’s a fact. We need to work with the opportunity afforded by the new public enemy number one – the atrocious Trump administration – to build a new popular resistance movement that cannot be hijacked by movement-killing Democratic Party electoralists and opportunists.
There could be movement opportunities in all this – and in the discrediting of a dismal dollar-drenched Democratic Party that proved itself too corrupt, unimaginative, corporatized, dull and conservative to prevent the widely hated and noxious, eco-cidal monster Trump from becoming president.
But none of these and other potential “silver linings” in the life- and future-threatening disaster that is the ascendancy of the fascist-lite Trump (still more Berlusconi than Mussolini) are going to show themselves in real history without dedicated day-to-day rank and file activism. Many of us on the left – this writer included – are going to have to take a long and critical look at our own accommodations with ecology-wrecking Business rule-as-usual over the long neoliberal era. Intellectual work always matters on the Left and will continue to do so but it is now more imperative than ever that such work be regularly attached to popular activists movements required to sustain chances for a decent and democratic future – a world worth seizing and “inheriting” from the world’s unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money, class, empire, patriarchy, nationalism, racism, and eco-cide. We’ve got nothing to lose anymore – nothing, that is, but inhabitable planet.
Paul Street will speak in Chicago at the Open University of the Left on Saturday December 17th (Lincoln Park Public Library, 1150 West Fullerton, 2:30 pm) on “The Resistance: Why Trump Won and What We Must Now Do.” Street will examine the sources of Donald Trump’s remarkable victory in the U.S. presidential election, the dangers posed by Trump/Trumpism, the resistance that is now required, and the special role of the Left in leading that resistance. Street will examine the sources of Donald Trump’s victory, the dangers posed by Trump/Trumpism, the resistance that is now required, and the special role of the Left in leading that resistance.