• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

CounterPunch needs you. piggybank-icon You need us. The cost of keeping the site alive and running is growing fast, as more and more readers visit. We want you to stick around, but it eats up bandwidth and costs us a bundle. Help us reach our modest goal (we are half way there!) so we can keep CounterPunch going. Donate today!
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Trump and Saving Capitalism

Capitalism, Thomas Piketty showed in his book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century has a built-in tendency to worsen income and wealth inequalities. One consequence of this tendency are periodic political explosions of mass, popular anger. People push back against those inequalities and the political corruption and social divisions they always aggravate. Politicians who grasp these moments often succeed in taking advantage of them and win. Politicians who fail to see, admit, or accommodate these moments lose. Such losers have usually served as administrators and cheerleaders for capitalism – its sequential “establishments.”  So busy (and well paid) celebrating the system, they are undone by their own defensive blindness to its failures and critical oppositions.

Now caught since 2008 in the swirling aftermath of global capitalism’s second worst breakdown, there are lessons for us in revisiting what happened in the aftermath of the worst breakdown, that of 1929. Then too the combination of rising inequality followed by collapse made many people impatient with and increasingly hostile to capitalism. The establishments then minimized the crash and its social effects; they tried to persuade themselves and others that the economy would soon be well again. Mussolini and Hitler took a different path. They stressed the economic crisis, inequalities, etc., sympathized openly with capitalism’s victims, and blamed the establishment political parties. They asked voters to empower them instead, as great leaders. They would then fix a broken, inadequate “rigged system serving others” by subordinating it to “the nation.” Their empowerment would make the system “once again” serve rather than abuse that nation. They wrapped themselves in their respective flags and all the other trappings of nationalism to underscore their game.

Capitalism was not, per se, the problem; it needed only to be repositioned to serve the nation. As has happened repeatedly in capitalism’s history, its crisis moments were overcome by deflecting popular anger into more or less hysterical nationalism.

This capitalist history Trump now repeats. The post 1970s deepening US inequalities of income and wealth culminated in the 2008 crash. Since then, the establishment’s Democratic wing endlessly affirms “recovery” even as capcrisismass suffering and disaffection deepens. Its Republican wing endlessly affirms the importance of cutting government taxes and regulations to liberate a capitalism that will then assuredly take us all into soaring prosperity. Huge portions of the population find neither of these “same old” establishment propositions adequate to the socio-economic decline they experience and feel. Bernie Sanders got that, as did Trump. The Democratic establishment succeeded in undermining Sanders. The Republican establishment failed to do the same to Trump.

Trump’s “America First” is not far removed from “Deutschland uber Alles.” Both slogans were and are also strategies. The debilitating social divisions wracking capitalist societies in the 1930s threatened the viability of capitalism then (especially in the shadow of the new Soviet system). Parallel divisions threaten again early in the 2000s. The strategic response both times is a surge of economic nationalism. Distract angry masses from internal conflicts over deepening inequalities, crashes, and “recoveries.” Refocus their anger and hopes onto a nationalist agenda that will return us to some “good old days” (another “Reich” for Germany, “Great Again” for the US) and punish abusive foreigners.

The nationalist program must include, as targets, “foreigners” inside the country: non-Aryans in Germany and recent, especially Hispanic immigrants in the US. Paint them as “foreigners who have misused our hospitality” and thereby account for our economic pains. The targets include also the “foreigners” abroad who have victimized us with bad treaties, bad behavior, bad “deals” that a new strong leader will cancel and replace. The parallels between Hitler’s strategy and Trump’s are too many and too close to ignore.

Perhaps the most important parallel neither of them dares to admit. They both aim to save capitalism from the critical hostilities the system brings on itself via its inequalities, crashes, and consequent mass economic decline. They both believe in capitalism as the necessary, natural organization of production in factories, offices, and stores. A small group of owners/executives must control and employ a mass of wage workers. Both believe absolutely in the employer-employee relationship as the necessary organization of production. They thus replicate the same absolute loyalty of earlier leaders to the alternative master/slave or lord/serf organizations of production. Both Hitler’s and Trump’s commitments to saving the capitalist employer/employee structure are all the more absolute because they are simply assumed, beyond question, barely conscious. No alternative organization of production is thinkable.

Yet there are, of course, also differences between Hitler and Trump. Hitler had to deal with a powerful, well-organized, deeply rooted, radical political opposition coming from German labor unions allied with strong socialist and communist parties. Thus massive internal repression eventually including mass murder was his way to achieve a top priority: removing criticism and opposition. Trump so far has faced nothing comparable. Hitler needed to identify “foreigners” inside Germany against whom his followers could vent their accumulated rage. Jews and other marginal groups served that purpose for Hitler. In contrast, Trump has what Hitler lacked: a sizable immigrant population. So far, it provides the inside group against which mass rage about capitalism can be concretely deflected. Trump has targeted immigrants but he may expand to the other traditional scapegoats if and as needed.

Another key difference is the extent and degree of globalized multi-national corporations whose investments and interests are far more internationally dispersed now than they were in the 1930s. Trump will encounter and have to either repress or accommodate their oppositions to his economic nationalism; either course may well prove his undoing.

Hitler had his own political party, a genuine mass national organization built explicitly against the major German parties of left and right. Trump has not (yet) done that and thus maintains an uneasy, contradiction laden relationship to the Republican Party. The latter may fold or be folded into a Trump party, but that will take time if it is even possible.

Trump has made large promises about recouped jobs, incomes, and security for millions. If he fails to deliver or if he simply improves one working class group’s situation at the expense of another, he will provoke massive hostility to himself and all he represents. Obama left office having disappointed millions about the hope and change he never delivered. That disappointment contributed significantly to Trump’s win. The same process could play out – and then likely more sharply – with Trump. His handlers either already know this or will soon figure it out.

More articles by:

Richard Wolff is the author of Capitalism Hits the Fan and Capitalism’s Crisis Deepens. He is founder of Democracy at Work.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

May 22, 2019
T.J. Coles
Vicious Cycle: The Pentagon Creates Tech Giants and Then Buys their Services
Thomas Knapp
A US War on Iran Would be Evil, Stupid, and Self-Damaging
Johnny Hazard
Down in Juárez
Mark Ashwill
Albright & Powell to Speak at Major International Education Conference: What Were They Thinking?
Binoy Kampmark
The Victory of Small Visions: Morrison Retains Power in Australia
Laura Flanders
Can It Happen Here?
Dean Baker
The Money in the Trump/Kushner Middle East Peace Plan
Manuel Perez-Rocha – Jen Moore
How Mining Companies Use Excessive Legal Powers to Gamble with Latin American Lives
George Ochenski
Playing Politics With Coal Plants
Ted Rall
Why Joe Biden is the Least Electable Democrat
May 21, 2019
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Locked in a Cold War Time Warp
Roger Harris
Venezuela: Amnesty International in Service of Empire
Patrick Cockburn
Trump is Making the Same Mistakes in the Middle East the US Always Makes
Robert Hunziker
Custer’s Last Stand Meets Global Warming
Lance Olsen
Renewable Energy: the Switch From Drill, Baby, Drill to Mine, Baby, Mine
Dean Baker
Ady Barkan, the Fed and the Liberal Funder Industry
Manuel E. Yepe
Maduro Gives Trump a Lesson in Ethics and Morality
Jan Oberg
Trump’s Iran Trap
David D’Amato
What is Anarchism?
Nicky Reid
Trump’s War In Venezuela Could Be Che’s Revenge
Elliot Sperber
Springtime in New York
May 20, 2019
Richard Greeman
The Yellow Vests of France: Six Months of Struggle
Manuel García, Jr.
Abortion: White Panic Over Demographic Dilution?
Robert Fisk
From the Middle East to Northern Ireland, Western States are All Too Happy to Avoid Culpability for War Crimes
Tom Clifford
From the Gulf of Tonkin to the Persian Gulf
Chandra Muzaffar
Targeting Iran
Valerie Reynoso
The Violent History of the Venezuelan Opposition
Howard Lisnoff
They’re Just About Ready to Destroy Roe v. Wade
Eileen Appelbaum
Private Equity is a Driving Force Behind Devious Surprise Billings
Binoy Kampmark
Bob Hawke: Misunderstood in Memoriam
J.P. Linstroth
End of an era for ETA?: May Basque Peace Continue
Weekend Edition
May 17, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Trump and the Middle East: a Long Record of Personal Failure
Joan Roelofs
“Get Your Endangered Species Off My Bombing Range!”
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Slouching Towards Tehran
Paul Street
It’s Even More Terrible Than You Thought
Rob Urie
Grabby Joe and the Problem of Environmental Decline
Ajamu Baraka
2020 Elections: It’s Militarism and the Military Budget Stupid!
Andrew Levine
Springtime for Biden and Democrats
Richard Moser
The Interlocking Crises: War and Climate Chaos
Ron Jacobs
Uncle Sam Needs Our Help Again?
Eric Draitser
Elizabeth Warren Was Smart to Tell FOX to Go to Hell
Peter Bolton
The Washington Post’s “Cartel of the Suns” Theory is the Latest Desperate Excuse for Why the Coup Attempt in Venezuela has Failed
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Analysis of Undecideds Suggests Biden’s Support May be Exaggerated
Peter Lackowski
Eyewitness in Venezuela: a 14-year Perspective
Karl Grossman
Can Jerry Nadler Take Down Trump?
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail