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In the Age of Trump, We Are All Playthings of the Gods

The gods must have been as disgusted with the Clintons and the “ism” that bears there name as right-thinking mortals were.

Did they send Donald Trump among us to punish us for tolerating Clintonism and the Clintons for as long as we did?  Probably not.  Vindictiveness is more up the alley of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and of Trump himself.

Most likely, they were just playing with us sadistically, the way they usually do.

Or perhaps they set their mean-streak aside for a moment in order to teach us an edifying lesson — about the Democratic Party and the fecklessness of liberals.

Either way, their choice of Trump shows that they have a flair for the grotesque and uncanny.  Their instrument of their will is an ignoramus, an egotistical blowhard, and an even more blatant class warrior (on the wrong side) than Hillary or Bill.

And, as if the Donald isn’t bizarre enough, they sent the specter of Vladimir Putin to loom over his ocherous visage.

The specter, not the man.

The real life Putin is a crony capitalist politician –with an autocratic and illiberal streak, a fondness for oligarchs who offer him obeisance.  According to Western media, he also has precious few scruples in his dealings with subordinates and rivals whom he finds troublesome, and little respect for the rule of law.

But he is not particularly villainous compared to other world leaders.  Even our own “shining city on a hill,” as Ronald Reagan called it, is, and long has been, home to worse; the Gipper himself, for example.

Indeed, Putin is more respectful of international law than anyone the Obama administration has raised to prominence.  That would, of course, include Hillary Clinton.  He is a wiser and more humane geopolitical thinker than she as well.

Nevertheless, Putin’s specter is that of the Devil himself – or so liberal media, and John McCain, would have us believe.

This says a lot about them, and the political forces they represent.  It says very little about the man himself.

***

Before nine or ten o’clock Eastern time November 8, Election Day, only troglodytes and worrywarts gave any thought to what a Trump administration would look like.  It wasn’t going to happen, so why bother?

 

Trump doesn’t seem to have given it much thought either; witness the fact that he put New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in charge of “the transition.”  It was a costless way of rewarding one of the few Republican honchos who hadn’t dumped on him during the campaign.  This one even helped him gang up on “little Marco” (Rubio) in a pivotal “debate,” at a time when Rubio was his main competition.

Christie presence in the Donald’s entourage must have caused consternation in Trump family circles.  While a U.S. Attorney in New Jersey, Christie put son-in-law Jared’s old man, the Trump-like real estate mogul Charles Kushner, in prison for illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion, and witness tampering.  Jared is said to be old school when it comes to filial loyalty.  Being old school, he kept his silence until the moment was right.  It became right when, to everyone’s astonishment, the Don really did need a transition team.  Then Jared got his revenge – and it was bye bye Fat Boy.

Meanwhile, Trump’s antics kept the media focused on one meaningless distraction after another.  Since their job is to boost advertising revenues by boosting ratings, the talking heads got into each and every one; it made for great entertainment.  Going on about how the buffoon might govern if, by some miracle, he got the chance, would have just been a bore. Therefore, they didn’t talk about it; therefore most people didn’t think about it.

Since November 8, anybody who thinks about American politics at all thinks of nothing else.  Dread rules in the Home of the Brave; it is as if, all of a sudden, the world has become unhinged.  And, with each passing day, as ever more ludicrous tweets ooze forth out of Trump Tower, the nightmare gets worse.

For a plain majority of the American people, Trump has always been a joke – a tabloid cartoon, a reality TV star, a risible boaster.  That majority is beginning to grow, as more and more of the chumps who voted for the Donald five weeks ago are starting to panic as well; more than a few of them are experiencing the early stages of voters’ remorse.

Not, however, the Trump voters who crawled out from under the rocks that the Donald kicked over during the campaign.  They don’t much care whom he appoints.  But even if some of them are less than thrilled with the plutocrats and incompetents he wants to empower, they have Steve Bannon, the white supremacist’s friend, and a whole gaggle of certifiable Islamophobes.   They can take solace in that.

So what if Trump won’t be keeping some of his most odious campaign promises – that, for example, he won’t be getting Mexico to build a separation wall along the border or that won’t ban all Muslims from entering the country?   The “deplorables” will stand by their man as long as he makes life miserable for black and brown people, “politically correct” liberals and the communities they nominally defend, and, most of all, for American Muslims of all leanings and hues.

There is no reason to think that the Donald will let those lowlifes down – not so much out of conviction or for the sake of human decency, but because he needs their support.

The Trump voters who are starting to worry are the ones who believed, based on some of the less odious things Trump said during the campaign, that he would outflank Hillary from the left in ways that resonate with “populist” sensibilities.

Many of them knew full well that Trump is a vulgarian asshole with the gravitas of a professional wrestler, and that his understanding of domestic and world affairs is subpar even for a real estate tycoon.  They were hoping, though, that he would be their asshole; that he would somehow make life better for them.  When the scales fall from their eyes, it won’t be a pretty sight.

Meanwhile, they are trying to convince themselves and others that it is premature to fault the Trump presidency before it gets underway; that the President-elect should be given a chance.   They also say that if, in four years time, he hasn’t “made America great again,” whatever that means, that he can always be voted out of office; and that there is nothing to worry about in any case, because we have “checks and balances.”

If they would give the matter a bit more thought, they would realize that the checkers and balancers they are counting on are rightwing judges and Republican Congressmen and Senators empowered by Trump’s election.  But, then, thinking is not their thing; being taken in by con men is.

To be sure, it is not impossible that the Republican Party will “check and balance” the President-elect – for being soft on the demonized Putin, for interfering with the business decisions of some of their biggest corporate backers, and for using the government he will lead to advance his own business interests and those of his cronies.  “Crooked Hillary,” indeed; Trump is corrupt beyond her wildest imagination.

John McCain and Lindsey Graham are already showing signs of reverting back to pre-election levels of opposition.  It is not likely, though, that Republicans will do much to keep the leader of their party in line.  They need a President on their side to implement their own nefarious agendas; and they have no shame.

Neither do Congressional Democrats.  The problem with them is different, however.  For them to check and balance anything, they would first have to grow vertebrae.  The Trump phenomenon has caused all kinds of strange and unexpected happenings, but even if a few gods go rogue, that is not about to happen.

Ironically, the only plausible check and balance in the offing comes from deep within the bowels of our police state.  Trump may have the FBI on his side, but, by mouthing off ill advisedly, the CIA is now at his throat.  Could his Generals be pushing him to promote the Defense Intelligence Agency at the CIA’s expense?  Whatever the reason, it seems that he cannot antagonize the CIA enough.

Trump doesn’t read much, and is proud of it; and, having turned back the Clinton juggernaut over the objections of nearly the entirety of the American ruling class, he seems to be more than usually full of himself.  But even he should know that you don’t mess with the Dark Side; and that bad mouthing the CIA is tantamount to taunting the Devil Himself.

Where is Mike Pence when his President-elect so desperately needs his advice?  As a bona fide God-fearing reactionary, he should be reminding his Commander-in-Chief that, however he feels right now, he is neither omnipotent nor invincible, and that  “pride cometh before the fall.”

It is way too soon to know how events will play out.  Trump stands a good chance of doing himself in before the “intelligence community” gets around to dealing with him; the CIA is full of stumblebums, after all.

Within the general public, anti-Trump antipathy, always a significant factor, is on the rise and will soon be swelling to unmanageable proportions.  Also, Trump’s enemies in high places include more than just the plotters and schemers hidden away in the empire’s secret police.  If the poor bastard makes it through four years, it will only be because the mischievous divinities that got him elected won’t yet be done with him.

During the campaign, Trump boasted that if he would walk out onto Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, that it would only make him more popular with Republican voters.  He may have been right.

Recently, Robert Reich called Trump a pathological liar, and said that his supporters know it, and don’t care.  He is probably right too.

But that kind of support cannot last; before long, Reality is bound to kick in.

Because the President-elect is, first and foremost, a showman – and because, as such, he is gearing up for a spectacular First Hundred Days – the consequences of Trumpian rule will be apparent even to the densest observers very soon.

The most vulnerable among us will suffer the most and the soonest, but, in short order, even the most obtuse white, male, and long in the tooth Trump voters will realize that they have been snookered.

They voted for Trump because he was not Clinton, and because Clinton was Wall Street’s Girl Friday.  But Trump is turning economic policy over to Wall Street completely.  Clinton was bad news when it came to defending working people from the predations of banksters and high flying financiers; Trump will be many times worse.

They voted for Trump because they had tired of America’s post-9/11 wars, and were wary of Hillary’s neocon-liberal imperialist passion for regime change.  But Trump is handing military and foreign policy over to the Generals – not to the kind whose professionalism might sometimes restrain the bellicosity of civilian chicken hawks, but to the kind that revel in murder and mayhem.  This would include even John Mattis, supposedly the least maniacal of Trump’s Masters of War.

Unlike Hillary, the Generals included in the Donald’s entourage are Islamophobic to the core.  But Hillary’s geopolitical vision and theirs are not much different.

Neither she nor they have a problem with the Saudis, for example, or with the other Gulf monarchies.  Muslim governments that back jihadis ideologically and materially are fine with all of them too, so long as they buy American weapons, permit America to establish or maintain military bases on their territories, and get along with Israel – in deed, if not in word.

They all also have a problem with Iran, and with its allies in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.  The Generals go so far as to deem them “existential threats” to the United States.  In this respect, they are even more Clintonian than the Clintonite Queen.  Her professed hostility towards Iran and its allies appears to reflect nothing more than servile obedience to the dictates of the Israel lobby; the Generals’ antipathies seem more heartfelt.

On Iran, as on most everything else, Trump is a blank slate who agrees with whomever he spoke to last.  But between Jared the son-in-law, the Israeli Right’s not-so-secret weapon, Senators like Lindsey Graham and John McCain – of “bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” fame — and those Generals, even sane Russian diplomacy is unlikely to keep the Donald from towing the Israeli line.  Is this what the well-meaning chumps Trump snookered into voting for him had in mind?  Hardly.

Neither did they vote for a cabinet full of absurdly incompetent millionaire and billionaire reactionaries hell bent on destroying what remains of the labor movement and on dismantling not only the last remnants of New Deal-Great Society liberalism – that was the Clintons’ bailiwick – but also on privatizing everything they can, from K12 education to Indian reservations to national monuments.

With populists like that, who needs robber barons?

So far, most of the folks who bought the snake oil Trump sold them do not realize how thoroughly they have been had.  Before long, though, they will.  When that happens, not all the gilding in all the over-the-top eyesores that bear Trump’s name will be enough to keep the billionaire bastard from ruing the day that it occurred to him that running for President would be a good way to promote his brand.

***

Were the Democratic Party of any use, Congress might eventually be capable of restoring the political scene to a less nightmarish condition, as it did after Watergate.

But the Democratic Party is a lost cause.  It has been that way at least since the eighties, when “moderate” Democrats like the Clintons succeeded in marginalizing the Party’s small, timid, and never particularly radical left wing.

To hear mainstream pundits tell it, the Democrats are a center-left party – like the Labor Party in Britain or the Social Democrats in Germany and the Socialists in France used to be and, to some extent, still are.

Arguably, the Party did fit that description, more or less, when Walter Mondale lost to Ronald Reagan in 1984 and even when George Bush the Elder defeated Michael Dukakis in 1988.

But there is nothing center-left about the Democratic Party today.  Except on matters involving racial and gender equality, “political correctness” in the Trumpian lexicon, even Eisenhower Republicans were less rightwing than Democrats at the national level now are.

There have been several attempts at rectifying this situation as the overall rightward drift of the Party proceeded on course: in the eighties there was Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition; there was the Dennis Kucinich campaign a decade ago; and there was the Bernie Sanders insurgency this year.

Jackson’s campaign was multi-racial, multi-cultural, and anti-racist; and not even a Donald Trump could claim that the Reverend Jackson is a secret Muslim or that he was not born in the United States.

However, Jackson was too authentically black for the electorate of the time (and perhaps still), and too radical for Wall Street and corporate donors. There was also that harmless “New York is Hymietown” incident that mainstream Democrats couldn’t stop dwelling on.

Nevertheless, he won several primaries and caucuses both times he ran.  He never really had a chance of becoming President, however.

Had he wanted to, he probably could have transformed the Rainbow Coalition into a full-fledged political party or, at the very least, a quasi-permanent faction that the leaders of the Democratic Party would have to deal with.  He chose instead to meld it back into the Democratic fold.  Ever since, the Party has treated him respectfully, while denying him even a bare semblance of real power.

Kucinich never managed to overcome the impression that he was a flyweight, and a tad kooky to boot.   After the 2010 elections, his Congressional district in Ohio was gerrymandered out of existence, and Democratic Party leaders saw to it that there would be no place elsewhere for him to run.

As for Sanders, suffice it to say that, like Jackson, he could have severely damaged, and perhaps mortally wounded, the disabling duopoly party system that has for so long made a mockery of democracy in America.  He chose instead to become a player in the higher reaches of the Democratic Party.  He achieved great things running against Hillary, but, in the end, he went over to her side.  History will judge his choice.

Had the Party he now embraces not rigged the nomination process against him, he would very likely have defeated Clinton, and gone on to defeat Trump.  The struggle against Clintonism – neoliberalism, liberal imperialism, dependence on the military-industrial complex – would remain urgent, of course, but Clintonism’s stranglehold over the Democratic Party would have been diminished, and the basis for struggling on would have been improved.

Would a President Sanders have been even more hamstrung by Republican obstructionists than Obama has been?  Very likely, yes.  He would have had not only House and Senate Republicans to contend with but also, to an extent Obama never did, the titans of American commerce, industry and finance.  Obama was their man in the White House; a President Sanders would be a thorn in their side.

Could he have used the bully pulpit to get anything worthwhile done even so?   It is not impossible, but thanks to Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Donna Brazile and the leadership of Team Hillary, we will never know.

Must we therefore conclude with absolute certainty that the Democratic Party cannot be improved from within?  Of course, not; others could follow in the footsteps of Jackson, Kucinich and Sanders, and perhaps even succeed.  If Trump can happen, anything can happen.

Don’t count on it, though.  Even the gods that inflicted Trump upon us might find changing the Democratic Party fundamentally for the better beyond their powers and abilities.

In any case, getting the Democratic Party to be part of the solution, not the problem, would take years of protracted struggle — while, in just a few weeks time, the Trump presidency will be transformed from a nightmarish idea into a stark reality.

If in the weeks and months ahead, the Democrats don’t do all in their power to block every foul move Trump attempts – every nativist, Islamophobic, socially regressive thing – that will be proof positive that the (purportedly) Lesser Evil Party is not worth trying to salvage.

If only it were!  A truly oppositional party could do a great deal of good; think of all the bad that the Republicans accomplished in the two years following Obama’s 2008 victory, when Democrats controlled both the House and Senate.  If Democrats are serious about stopping Trump, the least they could do is study and learn from the Republican example.  Nobody obstructs better.

Nineteenth century aestheticians used the word “sublime” to designate the aesthetic pleasure that comes from the contemplation of that which elicits feelings of awe in virtue of its immensity and grandeur.  The Republican Party’s obstinacy rises to the level of the sublime.

Democratic pusillanimity does not even come close.  Democrats are merely ridiculous.

And, as if that weren’t bad enough, they and their liberal allies, following down the road Hillary established as she botched her all but certain electoral victory, are now, unwittingly but assuredly, going out of their way to make Trump look good.

The Reds have been gone from Russia for decades, but redbaiting and Russophobia live on in foreign policy establishment circles.  The neocons and “humanitarian” imperialists that Hillary Clinton would have installed in positions of power had she been elected – people like Michèle Flournoy, Samantha Power, Anne-Marie Slaughter, and Susan Rice – are among the very worst.

There are Republicans who think like them too, of course; before and during the Bush-Cheney era, neoconservatism was a Republican thing.  But, for the most part, the current wave of Putin demonization has been a Democratic project, spurred on by the Clinton campaign and its media allies.

They are working that line now more than ever.  Their retainers in the Fourth Estate, especially but not only at The Washington Post, The New York Times, and NPR, have lately been doing yeoman service for the cause.  On the Republican side, McCain and Graham, and now also “little Marco” Rubio – are hard at it too.   But the Democrats are worse.

With Trump’s choices for cabinet and other high level positions now mostly known, it has become harder than it used to be to say that, vile as his nativist, racist, sexist, and Islamophobic positions may be, he at least outflanks Hillary and other Democrats from the Left on any number of key issues.

That number is now reduced to one, relations with Russia.  As Trump has moved from idle chatter and disingenuous speechifying to putting personnel in place, his positions on everything else have gotten even worse than Hillary’s.

And the Democrats have gotten worse on Russia.  Perhaps they are just look for excuses for Hillary’s defeat.  Or, more to their credit, perhaps they want to delegitimize Trump’s presidency.   Whatever the reason, they are doing more now than during the campaign to scare people with the specter of the Devil Incarnate, the consummately evil Vladimir.

Moreover, as if that weren’t bad enough, they are falling all over themselves praising the CIA and the rest of the intelligence community, and questioning the sanity of anyone who might think that the keystone cops at Langley might actually cook evidence for political convenience.

The very mention of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction by anyone questioning the CIA’s (unproven) evidence of Russian hackers’ efforts to elect Trump is enough to make even liberal columnists like E.J. Dionne livid.  He is shocked, shocked that anyone this side of Donald Trump would even think of mentioning that ancient family squabble.

The utter hypocrisy of it all is at least as mind boggling as anything the Donald has been up to lately.

Has there been an election anywhere in the world since at least the end of the Second World War that the U.S. government thought might go badly for the empire that the CIA did not interfere with?

Have there been any coups d’états that the United States didn’t aid or engineer?  Maybe a few are homegrown, but not many.

And yet leading Democrats and their media flacks love the CIA.   Center-left indeed!

It gets even worse than that!  If they want to oppose Trump’s choice for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, hurray for them!  But what they object to is his determination, and Trump’s, to “reset” relations with Russia.

How about opposing him because all he lives for is the fossil fuel industry, and fossil fuels are bringing on an ecological catastrophe for the entire planet?  Making Tillerson Secretary of State is like making a tobacco company CEO the Surgeon General.

Do Democrats want to talk about that?  Hardly.  Not with Putin’s specter hovering over the Donald’s orange colored skull.

***

The moral of the story is: don’t count on Democrats – not for anything.

The time to have built non-marginalzized alternatives to the rotting hulk that the Democratic Party has become was years ago.  But since we cannot travel back in time, it is urgent that we take up that cause now.

However, in light of what Trump has been up to since he won – or, rather, since Hillary lost – the election, stopping him is now a more immediate and urgent priority.

How can he be stopped?   Massive, non-violent resistance, as much of it as possible, is indispensable.  But it will be difficult, if not impossible, to sustain significant mobilizations of anti-Trump activists for four long and dreadful years.  Trump’s vileness will help keep the spirit of resistance alive, especially if it escalates, but, no matter how awful he gets, the passage of time will ware people down.

This is why now is the time to start thinking about how to hurt Trump in what he cares about most – his bottom line.

Boycotting everything that bears his name is an obvious place to start.   Boycotts require little organization, they are non-violent, and they are something that everybody can help with.  In this case, all people need due is not buy things they are better off without.  What could be easier?

Shaming everyone who does buy the crap he and his children sell, and who frequent the stores in his building and his over-the-top resorts and pleasure domes – can also help.  The goal must be to make the Trump brand, and the Trump name, anathema to persons of good taste and moral decency everywhere.

The same holds for the miscreants that the Donald has brought into his administration – the billionaires and millionaires, the Generals, the rank incompetents.  Make them regret the moment they decided to answer Trump’s casting call.

Also, pressure should be put on officials in New York City to force Trump to pay for the costs and inconvenience incurred by his decision to remain as much as possible in his gilded Manhattan tower, causing grief to businesses, drivers and pedestrians in the premier tourist and retail area of the nation’s largest city.  If Trump doesn’t want to go slumming at the White House, but prefers instead to keep his trophy bride and their brat kid in his three-story penthouse on Fifth Avenue, let him, not taxpayers, foot the bill.

The suggestion is now percolating up – to the point that even a Washington Post columnist, Catherine Rampell could propose it, not entirely tongue-in-cheek — that the city should go Trumpian on Trump, using the laws of eminent domain to seize Trump Tower on the grounds that it has become a nuisance to the surrounding neighborhood.  Rightwing jurisprudence, the kind Trump favors, arguably supports this suggestion inasmuch as the harm Trump Tower with Trumps in it does to surrounding businesses and therefore to real estate values in the area constitutes a “taking.”

Why not!  Desperate times call for desperate measures, and for creative forms of resistance.  And whatever is bad for Trump, whatever hurts him financially and whatever knocks him down a notch or two, is good for the country and the world.

Needless to say, this side of a genuinely anti-capitalist revolution, we can never really put the freedom from fear and freedom from want that the Trumps, and others like them, enjoy in serious jeopardy — the way that the gods, by inflicting Trump and his minions upon us, are now doing to black, brown, and white workers, and indeed to almost everyone else who is not obscenely rich.

But simple decency requires that we try, and do what little we can.

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ANDREW LEVINE is the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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