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The Filth of Lucre: Trump’s Presidency

The American people should rise in condemnation, scorn, ridicule, at what has happened to its government and leadership. Super-wealth has become a political factor in guiding and planning policy, carrying a vision of destruction to the pillars of a democratic society in fulfillment of class interests and selfish contempt for the needs of others. America has never witnessed barbarism of such proportions before, a single-minded obsession with riches, which has been translated into power in a self-enclosed process of capital accumulation via the nymphomaniacal pursuit of opportunity, profit, possessiveness.

Webster’s Ninth Collegiate defines filth as, among other things, moral corruption or defilement, and lucre, as monetary gain, a far better moral indictment of Trump’s transmogrification of the commonweal than anything offered thus far by the Democrats and the millions of Americans who elected and still praise him. Godliness and riches form an organic bond. Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said it best: “I think one of the really interesting things that people are going to see today—and I think it is something that should be celebrated—is that the president has brought a lot of people into this administration, and this White House in particular, who have been very blessed and very successful.” It is blessed (Webster’s, to hallow or consecrate by religious rite or word; to invoke divine care for) to be successful, conversely, successful to be blessed—a Trumpian self-righteous bowdlerization of humanistic ethics, not to say that of religious values and social teachings.

There is no mathematical algorithm (unfortunately) for judging wealth excessive and injurious to society under a rampant capitalist order (one reason socialism and democratization still tug at the heartstrings of many people in the world), but surely America has set an example of pure evil, much of which had remained undetected until the advent of Trump’s presidency, for the individuals involved well after the head-start made. Trump had himself, family, associates, even those known only by reputation, ready-to-hand, to assemble a billionaire’s circle to run the government and society. Plutocracy doesn’t do it, not strong enough a term: government by the wealthy, a controlling class of the wealthy. We enter, instead, the realm of ECONOMIC FASCISM. Worse still is the ignorance and smugness, generically and literally, the desire to get away with murder, convinced they will never be prosecuted or suffer humiliation.

Economic fascism requires political fascism for its implementation, a structural negation of what governments are expected to do, preserve the transparency of government, ensure the fairness of the legal order, respect the principle of equality in all matters affecting the public—the foregoing merely a bare minimum of the bourgeois state and society, and not even raising the standard of socialism. In fact, long-antedating Trump, and as practiced by both major parties, proto-fascistic tendencies have been long in the making, internationally, evidenced by war, intervention, efforts at regime change, confrontation with Russia, China, and Third World socialism, and contemptuous treatment of climate-change dangers, and domestically, a long list in desecration and denigration of all things placing the needs of the public before and above the needs of capitalism. I include here violations of the right of privacy, a more-than-adequate system of medical care, the safeguarding of the environment, and the allocation of the nation’s resources and wealth to improvement of people’s well-being, rather than to a military machine insatiable in its demands and, not happenstance, soaking up the social surplus so as to prevent its being plowed back into the needs of society, especially that of the poor, the unemployed, the growing number of homeless.

That is fascism enough, or its excellent starting place, and now, Trump’s systemic escalation adds fuel to the fire of suffering while establishing the basis—itself also long in the making—of economic fascism, a floodgate of vested interests both on their own and taking command of government, appointees who are specialists in tearing down the regulations provided by the agencies and departments they administer: carte blanche for still greater capital accumulation and the spoliation of what they despise, as in the case of the coal industry and climate change. Economic fascism speaks here not simply to the organization of industrial and other fronts, as under Nazism, but, antitrust a dead letter in any case, particularly the financial sector, but the active dismantlement of government itself in its regulatory capacity. The State and Capitalism become one for purposes of mutual support and fending off opposition, a business polity or commonwealth all else of secondary concern. And now, the billionaires are coming out of the woodwork.

The New York Times (April 1), based on material released the night before, self-reported wealth of officeholders (the president apparently exempted) which I surmise has been consistently under-reported, and had the care and scrutiny of teams of topflight lawyers and accountants, reveals a picture disturbing enough as it stands. The reporters, Jesse Drucker, Eric Lipton, and Maggie Haberman, writing, “Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner [Trump’s daughter and son-in-law, both now officially part of the administration] Still Benefiting From Business Empire, Filings Show,” begin by observing, the couple “will remain the beneficiaries of a sprawling real estate and investment business still worth as much as $740 million, despite their new government responsibilities,” and this fails to include Ivanka Trump’s other holdings, well in the millions, a stake in a hotel in Washington near the White House, fashion lines, etc. Divesture for them and the some 180 senior officials in the administration whose assets were reported (already in sheer numbers presumptive evidence of a plutocracy), is problematic and often shrouded in mystery.

Gary Cohn, former president of Goldman Sachs, and now head of the National Economic Council, has “assets valued between $253 million and $611 million [the enormous spread here is illustrative of the examples cited, which argues that self-reporting of assets is not to be trusted, being even greater than cited], and income last year as high as $77 million.” Kellyanne Conway, the pollster and counsel to Trump, “earned at least $842, 614 last year, and perhaps slightly more, the filings show. Her assets are valued at between $11 million and at least $44.2 million.” (Again, the obvious spread.) Her husband has taken an appointment with the administration. And then there is Stephen Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, who has more going for him financially in right-wing circles especially than I can enumerate, including support from Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah, for his holdings in Breitbart News Network, Cambridge Analytica, and the Government Accountability Institute, all paying Bannon handsomely in salaries and consulting fees. His Bannon Strategic Advisers Inc. “was valued at between $5 million and $25 million.”

As one goes further, one sees a similar picture, names unknown to the general public, for example, “Reed Cordish, who heads up technology initiatives, accumulated assets as a Maryland developer valued as high as $424 million,” or Christopher Liddell, presidential assistant and director of strategic initiatives, who “had been the chief financial officer of companies including Microsoft, International Paper and General Motors before taking his White House job.” Liddell owned stock in GM, “among more than 750 other companies.” Thus, the dramatis personae of the Trump administration: it is not my purpose to incite to class riots, but surely this is a picture offensive to everything America claims to stand for, a society beneficent, habitable to ordinary people, a land of freedom and social justice. How explain the grossest maldistribution of wealth in American history, and, to my way of thinking, acquiescence to this on the part of large numbers of Americans and a Leader in command of the nuclear arsenal while conducting worldwide exercises in counterrevolution?

I am no longer young, or for that matter, well, but our fights a half-century and more ago for civil rights, peace, disarmament, international understanding, took place in a very different America, where protest, demonstrations, opposition, was expressed and openly honored by many, even in the political community, and where one felt causes were worth fighting for, joined by like-minded individuals. I cannot say as much today, an electorate that brought Trump into office, that watches as the most innocuous reforms, like Meals on Wheels, are being scrapped, a nation too satiated with false consciousness to be shocked any longer by what is happening. Perhaps Vietnam previewed the decline of the American spirit, yet the mindset has grown far worse since then, epitomized by a Trump, his loyal followers, an indifferent America, none appreciating what that mindset is leading to, or silently applauding because democracy is too difficult a strain to live up to or bear, a fascistization of structure, politics, culture, leaving little room for rebirth as a society dedicated to human freedom for all its people.

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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 pollackn@msu.edu.

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