Corporatism: Hemorrhaging of the Body Politic

Photo by SPACES Gallery | CC BY 2.0

Photo by SPACES Gallery | CC BY 2.0

Corporatism, a polite term for fascism, is specifically in my usage (not unlike what occurred in Germany, Italy, and Japan, 1925-38, before fully structuralized) the business system conjoined to the political order: a capitalist polity organized around the principle of hierarchy and a strong leadership ethos and form. Welcome to America 2017, historically a little behind the time, for strict comparative purposes, but an antecedent preparation and buildup fully up, via business-government interpenetration (with more recently a militaristic component), to the definition. As I’ve written before in these pages this is not the single-minded “achievement” of Trump, but summarizes ideological and systemic trends in America since the late 1800s, chiefly, borne out in the concentration of wealth and power, rapidly accelerating, on a bipartisan basis since 1945.

We are there now. Analytically, sometimes the microscopic level best helps to understand the macroscopic, in this case, Trump’s meeting at the White House last Friday (2-3) with CEOs of various major corporations, the purpose, to assure them that regulations will be significantly reduced (already a step, when realized, far on the way to satisfying the meaning of fascism). The emphasis was on regulations affecting the financial system, itself a prioritization fraught with meaning about the nature and complexity of US capitalist development, a chosen pathway to the control of the world economy without force-feeding industrialism in gaining entrance to global markets. Fortress America behind high protective walls is an attractive paradigm for a campaign of imperialism, market penetration, the manipulation of commercial and monetary transactions efficiently and painlessly.

But here, finance, is also a convenience, for precedent created in one area, e.g., manufacturing, can be carried over into another, political economies interrelated on such matters when it comes to essentials. Capitalism is a system, not a congeries of loosely related emphases and/or entities and forces. We can expect, then, organic ties between the micro- and macro-levels, and in the White House Conference, Trump does not disappoint. One rock-bottom goal has been to deny (and therefore destroy) the fiduciary relationship (Webster’s, founded on faith or trust) between advisor and client, fund and investor, system at large and the people, a free-range capitalism predicated on anything goes, restraints, both legal and ethical, taken off the table. (Among those chosen to attend, as in the auto industry, a deep sigh of relief could be seen, as Trump made his way around the conference table, shaking hands, slapping backs—a camaraderie among actual or soon-to-be realized billionaires and their associates.)

Rescinding much of Dodd-Frank goes to the point here, legislation not exactly drawn up by John Reed or Rosa Luxemburg, yet sufficiently feared, damned, and despised by Trump’s cohort that its destruction was deemed mandatory to their support and his administration’s record. This includes, as the implementation of drastically weakening Dodd-Frank, doing the same, with equal glee, to dismantling much if not all of the Consumers Financial Protection Board—Elizabeth Warren one of very few standing up to Trump’s harsh tactics and bulldozing. If one wanted to put a name to a face, as executor (aka henchman), to this particular area of rollback it would be Gary Cohn, formerly of Goldman, Sachs, indicative of administration recruitment.

Trump has brought monopoly capital to mainstream America. Systemic political-economic hemorrhaging (Webster’s, heavy or uncontrollable bleeding) concerns corporate deregulation, but also an aggressive foreign policy, despite Trump’s protestations of informed isolationism, a stripped-down America, the welfare sector cut to the bone, freeing up resources for allocation directly to defense, yielding, it now appears from his Twitters, the regimentation of dissent as an end for its own sake as well, because of his ingrained authoritarianism and because an ideal setting for rolling back the social-welfare legislation of the past. FDR is stood on his head; the capitalist polity, more broadly, is meant to arrest history.

History in the popular mind ordinarily signifies progress, further, progressive democratization of institutions of privilege, wealth, and status. No longer. America feels itself surrounded, closed in (survivalist billionaires, with their remote bunkers, pillboxes, and mountain retreats, a sign of the times), tightly coiled, and ready to strike out, paranoia as part of national character, and not only confined to Trump fanatics. War is more thinkable, once bullying ceases to have effect, in the generality of society, lest capitalist ground rules are not universally adopted, a peculiarly American mission since at least the Open Door and increasingly difficult of achievement as mixed and third-world economies come on board. The world is less suited to America today than it was in 1950 or 1970 (and even up to 2000), as unilateralism is challenged, patently, by Russia and China, yet also by a host of historical actors seeking to overthrow the influence of neocolonialism and imperialism.

Trump is the ideal candidate for resistance to these forces, which is to say, ruthless, pigheaded, inept, provocatively loaded for battle in a contest that America, sure to lose, can bring the rest of the world down with it. To come full circle, does not extreme business-financial deregulation signify a nihilism, well beyond amoral cynicism, which throws fellow citizens under the bus of capitalism? Not a blush, not a tear; it had to be done if the system was or is to realize its full potential as a wealth-producing machine for the very rich. This is naked accumulation far exceeding the needs of a trickle-down theory or framework. It is more blunt: Get out of my way. That is why war is more thinkable today, if not inevitable.

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