Watershed Ahead

Photo by kellybdc | CC BY 2.0

It has looked for a while as if hardcore Trump supporters would, like the poor, always be with us  (Matthew 26:11) – some because they remain bamboozled by the huckster’s spiel and bluster, some because they think (not too unreasonably) that even Trump is better than a Clintonite Democrat (as if there is any other kind), and some because they still think (not unreasonably at all) that there is some percentage in it for them.

The latter group is comprised of members in good standing of “the donor class.” Trump’s donors are among the most venal in creation.

The Donald cares about the bamboozled ones and the ones who hate Hillary above all because they feed his vanity, but only the rich ones really matter.

Because rational deliberation and debate have come to count for almost nothing in the real world of American politics, it is their money that talks, and therefore their support that he cares about.

When they finally realize that the man they have been backing is more trouble than he is worth, Trump will be toast.  It was their money, more than his own, that put Trump in the White House; and it is their money now that keeps hardcore Trump supporters on board and that helps sustain support for the GOP, the party Trump nominally leads.

This is not to say that, when they start defecting in substantial numbers that Trump’s days in office will be over.  Because our electoral system is “exceptionally” undemocratic, even by the standards of other liberal democracies, it is extremely difficult to remove a president from office.  An utterly hobbled Donald Trump could still hang on by the skin of his teeth.

Neither is it to say that the Trump nightmare is likely soon to become less horrifying.    A more hobbled Trump could well constitute a clearer and more present danger than a less hobbled one.

My point is that if and when the donors go, the Age of Trump will enter a new phase – one that would have momentous consequences for the future, if any, of the Republican Party, and for the Democratic Party as well.  The effects on the GOP will be more dramatic and immediate, but, if all goes well, the consequences for Democrats could turn out to be at least as momentous.

Notwithstanding the cheerier impression its corporate media propagandists convey, the Democratic Party, and the duopolistic party system it helps to sustain, has long been an obstacle in the way not only of progressive social change, but also of efforts to maintain advances achieved under its aegis before the Clintons and others like them set the party on its present course.

Thanks to Trump, there is an opportunity now to begin to change that – by transforming the party beyond recognition or, better still, by abandoning it altogether.

Our semi-established duopoly party system gives the idea of abandoning it altogether a utopian flavor.  But times are changing.   In theory, though probably not in practice, the Greens could play a significant role welcoming progressive refugees fleeing the Democratic Party.  More likely, a real resistance, arising both from within and outside Democratic Party circles, could spawn new political departures.

Most likely, though, the best we can hope for, in the foreseeable future, are a few changes for the better from the base up.  Much more is desperately needed, but even small steps in a better direction are not to be despised.

Now is a time to double down on that — because December is shaping up to be a watershed month.

All the talk these days is about the Senate race in Alabama.  It is easy to see why.  If Roy Moore, the theocratic child molester, pedophile and all-around reactionary running on the GOP line, loses to Democrat Doug Jones December 12, flipping a seemingly impregnable Republican seat, it would be a major blow to the Republican Party and to Donald Trump.

But there are more momentous happenings afoot.  Unless the leaders of the Democratic and Republican Parties in the House and Senate cut a deal by December 8, when money to run the federal government runs out, the government will shut down.  This will make Trump and the party he leads look bad.

With unified control of both the House and the Senate, the GOP surely ought to be able at least to keep the government running.  If it cannot, how pathetic is that!

Or if, after harping on about it for so long, Republicans cannot even get a tax cut for the rich through Congress, then what self-respecting donor would turn over a cent of ill-gotten gains to them?

To be sure, Year One of the Age of Trump has not left them completely high and dry.

Trump and his minions have been doing all kinds of harm to the judiciary.  Ironically, for that, they have mainstream Republicans, especially Mitch McConnell, a man Trump’s hardcore supporters despise almost as much as they loathe Hillary Clinton, to thank.

And, by appointing retrogrades to lead government agencies that benighted capitalists want gone, they have been severely damaging the material wellbeing of all but the stinking rich.

This is not nothing, but will it be enough to satisfy Republican donors?

The short answer is: probably not.  The reason is not just that that their greed exceeds anything that Trump can deliver.   A more important factor is that, even as he tries to give them what they want, Trump is exacerbating an intraparty civil war that has been raging for some time — and that slipped into full throttle mode the moment that he emerged as a serious candidate.

It is a war that pits benighted evangelicals and traditional reactions against that bizarre amalgam of white supremacists, nativists, and far right nihilists that we nowadays call “the altright.”

Trump himself is, and is perceived to be, on the altright side, unlike most of the donors.  But even if he were not, a Republican Party divided against itself is the last thing the donors want.

After all, the GOP was their “thing,” their Cosa Nostra.  Damaging, and perhaps even destroying it, would be a stiff price to pay for lowering taxes that most of them don’t pay anyway.

Some of them may also cavil at the harm Trump is doing to many of the socially useful things the government does – supporting higher education, for example, and keeping national parks and monuments more or less unspoiled.  Even with their limited insight and self-interested points of view, some of them must surely realize, at some level, that giving in to the capitalist impulse to privatize everything can sometimes be a bad idea.

Those wretched donors may care as little about the wellbeing of the public as they do about justice or equality, but when the demise of public goods diminishes their wellbeing along with everyone else’s, they become concerned.

The conventional wisdom has it that Trump needs at least one major legislative success to show for his first year in office.  Congressional Republicans seem on board with that.  But this is only because they don’t have the sense they were born with.   If they did, even if all they care about is themselves and their donors, they would realize that what they manage to legislate successfully matters more than the mere fact of having legislated something successfully.

And if they weren’t, “fucking morons” like Trump (according to his Secretary of State), they would also realize that tax reforms that are idiotic on their face, that will exacerbate poverty and inequality, harm workers and others in the so-called “middle class,” and that will damage the public sphere while leaving only the rich better off, are not likely to put them in good stead with the voting public.

But then, House and Senate Republicans are not, as they say this time of year, the brightest bulbs on the tree.


Hegel got it right: to make sense of the past, we need to assess it from suitable vantage points that become accessible only when the events in question are over, when the past truly is past. “The owl of Minerva takes flight only with the setting of the sun.”

Events in process can never be entirely clear; the situation is even murkier with events that seem likely but that have not happened yet.

Global warming is sure to wreak havoc in countless ways between now and the end of the Trump era — or the Trump-Pence era, if we somehow manage to rid ourselves of the Donald before Inauguration Day 2021.  But it is extremely unlikely that anything will happen by then that humankind will be unable to survive or that will throw the owl of Minerva seriously off course.

Therefore, if Trump does not unleash or stumble into a nuclear holocaust, it should be possible to look back upon his presidency in ways that make more sense of it than is possible while the nightmare is still unfolding.

It is impossible now to foresee what future, if any, the GOP will have.  It is very likely to remain the more odious of our two neoliberal parties, but it is impossible to say just how Republican odiousness will manifest itself in the years ahead.

What will happen to the Democratic Party is also unclear, though it is already plain that unless they break free from their Clintonite past – from servility to Wall Street the military-industrial-national security state complex, and the liberal imperialist cum neoconservative view of world affairs to which Democrats are wedded – their odiousness will continue to give the Republicans’ stiff competition.

Perhaps some day, unreconstructed Bernie Sanders supporters, and others involved with the so-called “resistance,” will succeed in setting in motion a process for rebuilding the party from the bottom up.  However, at best, that will be a protracted process, lasting well beyond the Trump or Trump-Pence era.

Mainstream Democrats cannot now even bring themselves to call unabashedly for a twenty-first century version of mid-twentieth century liberalism, the way that Bernie Sanders did.  They are even less disposed to break free from their party’s imperialist and war-mongering traditions – in order to deal in a constructive way with an empire in decline and a military that has grown far too big for its britches.

Unlike Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, Sanders never even broached those concerns, and there are no prominent voices in the Democratic Party broaching them now.

The actually existing Democratic Party is feckless.  It is also inept.  In 2016, Clinton had the entire “power structure” on her side, corporate media especially; and she and her party had more willing and able “donors” than they knew what to do with.  Nevertheless, she managed to lose.  That took some doing.

Now Hillary is gone – let’s hope that she and Bill stay that way! – and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the hapless chair of the Democratic National Committee is out of the picture too.  Their spirit lives on however – in “the Chuck (Schumer) and Nancy (Pelosi) show” and in the hearts and minds of nearly every nationally prominent mainstream Democrat.

Could the Democrats therefore lose a sure thing again?  It is not impossible; they are that bad.

It is unlikely, however.  For one thing, Trump’s manifest unsuitability for the office he holds is more widely appreciated than it was a year ago.  It has become hard to remember a time when each new day’s batch of tweets didn’t make it harder for anyone who is neither certifiably deluded nor utterly loathsome to be fooled by Trump or to remain in denial about how awful he is.

For another, because some measure of Democratic support is necessary for getting a spending bill that would avert a government shutdown through, Trump needs to make deals with Chuck and Nancy.

The beauty is that unless those two blunder spectacularly, spurred on by their own ineptitude or by rightwing Democrats and shillyshallying liberals, Trump loses whether he makes a deal or not.

At least for now, many Democrats  — with Schumer and Pelosi in tow – seem to be holding out for three pieces of “bipartisan” legislation in exchange for cooperation in avoiding a government shutdown.  They are demanding a bill to “fix” Obamacare, a bill to restore the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program, and a bill to extend the now expired health care program for children, SCHIP (State Children’s Health Insurance Program).

Public opinion and common decency are on their side, but there are Republicans in the House and Senate – and in the nether regions of the Trump base — who could care less about such niceties.  If Trump concedes anything to the Democrats, they will see to it that he will have a rebellion on his hands.  Therefore, deal or not, Trump loses.

He lost last May too; the deal he struck with Schumer and Pelosi then to fund the government, arguably the most important piece of legislation passed during Trump’s first year, included no funding for his border wall and enough “discretionary spending” to rattle a lot of Republican cages.

By any measure, that deal amounted to a defeat for Trump, one that he could hardly deny.  It set in motion a series of angry, mindless tweets that boiled down to the claim that a government shutdown might be just what the doctor ordered.  Even Trump could hardly believe that; and neither could he fail to notice that the stakes this time are even higher than they were back then.

If the Republican tax bill dies or is delayed, as it may well be, Trump will be under extreme pressure to strike a deal with his Democratic foes.

Of course, he wants to keep his base on board.  But, even more, he wants to avoid completing his first year in office with a reckoning that would warrant a grade of F for House and Senate Republicans, and F- for himself.  Even he understands that, no matter what he promises his class brothers and sisters, neither he nor his indispensable allies in Congress can raise money with grades like those.

To get his stalwarts to defect, all Chuck and Nancy have to do is stick to their guns.   Unlike liberals who are disposed to remain affixed to the Democratic Party come what may, Trump supporters are not shy about taking their own sides in arguments.  There is woefully little about them that is admirable, but credit where credit is due: their obduracy is sublime.

Nevertheless, Chuck and Nancy don’t need to play chess to win this one.  Lucky for them; that would probably be more than they could handle, even with Republicans for opponents.  But, for this, minimal competency in checkers should more than suffice.

And once Republican donors start deserting Trump’s sinking ship like the rats they are, the Age of Trump will enter its terminal stage.

How long that stage will last, and what will come of it, remains to be seen.

If December does indeed turn out to be the watershed moment it is shaping up to be, we will know better soon enough.

It will be a while before when the owl of Minerva is able to make sense of the Trump era as such.  But the sun is already setting on the most recent of its stages.

Anti-Trump resisters worthy of the name will therefore have plenty to deal with in the weeks and months ahead, as Democrats and Republicans, the duopoly’s lesser and greater evils, struggle to remain afloat in the Trumpian maelstrom.

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).