Rage Against the Machine: A War vs. Consensus

The wittiest line in the latest installment of an increasingly banal Star Wars franchise comes from codebreaker DJ, who Finn, reformed storm-trooper turned rebel, and his companion Rosie encounter in a prison in a wealthy Las Vegas type resort town whose inhabitants we are told got wealthy exploiting workers of mining colonies then using the mined materials to sell weapons to the dreaded First Order. Observing the despair emerging in Finn upon finding evidence that some of the town’s largess also comes from selling space-fighters to the rebels with whom Finn has cast his lot, DJ advises Finn ‘It’s all a machine partner. Live free, don’t join.’

It can be comical to observe the lengths that much of the American public, particularly its Liberal end, go to avoid facing this observation. On December 26th the Washington Post featured a story titled ‘Democrats build a case against tax bill but don’t call for repeal.’  The article featured Bernie Sanders’ answer to CNN ‘s Jake Tapper’s question regarding the Tax Policy Center estimate that next year 91 percent of middle-income Americans will receive some tax break. Sanders response: ‘Yes it is a very good thing. That’s why we should have made the tax breaks for the middle class permanent.’ Senator Joe Manchim (D-WV) explained his opposition to the saying ‘I was for lowering the corporate taxes from 35 to 25.’ The rates referenced to there apparently are meant distinguish from the 21 percent rate that ended up in the bill, and the 28 percent that Obama called for as president (Obama wanted 25 percent for manufacturers); Defensible perhaps but a far cry from the Armageddon rhetoric of Nancy Pelosi and others in the preceding weeks. Left out of any current Democratic dissent is the question of whether tax cuts were needed at all, nor any reference to the fact that most large corporations were paying nowhere near the prior 35 percent and most likely won’t be paying even the new 21 percent.

This is hardly limited to taxes. Step back from the incessant tweeting about the NFL and other harebrained shenanigans and policy-wise the Trump administration has been standard Republican-fare. Foreign policy-wise it could be simply called American. For generations American policy in the Middle East has centered on three pillars: The Israeli government, the House of Saud, and the Egyptian military. Recall the idiotic notion embraced by neocons and ‘liberal interventionists’ that the invasion of Iraq would establish another, friendlier source of oil and diplomacy in the region thereby liberating the U.S. from its relationship with the House of Saud. George W. Bush certainly didn’t move a millimeter in such a direction. Much as made of the slight halt in arms transfers to Saudi Arabia by the Obama administration in December 2016 in response to civilian casualties. However Obama was already long supporting the Saudis in Yemen, including intelligence and refueling of bombers, and was still sending the majority of scheduled arms shipments while vetoing legislation that allowed 9/11 victim’s families to sue the Saudi government (Congress overrode the veto). Back in 2002 Obama referred to the House of Saud as a ‘so-called ally’. As president his administration sold the Saudi government $112 billion worth of weapons over its eight years. Trump blabbered similar tidings in his campaign. Apparently all it took was a bit of pomp and circumstance on a visit to the kingdom for him to flip and approve a $110 billion arms sale, many of the details of which were established under Obama.

Trump may have taken a plunge of sorts by declaring the American embassy will be moving to Jerusalem. However this has long been obvious American intent.  For the first speech of his 2008 campaign Obama went before AIPAC and declared ‘Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel and it must remain undivided.’ During Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign way back in 1992 he attacked Bush senior for having ‘repeatedly challenged Israel’s sovereignty over a united Jerusalem.’ In 1995 the Jerusalem Embassy Act passed both houses of Congress by wide margins. Years later George W. Bush would attack Clinton for failing to announce the move.

The high point of Obama’s foreign policy was his removal of support for Hosni Mubarak as the Arab Spring of 2010-2011 was unfolding. Egypt’s military government has long been the second largest recipient of American aid. Yet within a few years hope for democracy was crushed and aid was restored to a military government after a brief pause. The Trump administration announced over the summer it was withholding a small amount of aid over human rights concerns but the majority of the aid is still flowing while Trump has spoken glowingly about the current military man Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Looking beyond the Middle East there’s the always curious case of Russia. Mitt Romney’s 2012 declaration of Russia as America’s greatest geopolitical adversary drew mockery from Obama and liberals about reliving the Cold War. The present day has seen liberal hysteria about $100,000 worth of Russian Facebook ads that allegedly had a hand in swinging the last election to Trump. Much more attention has been paid to that $100,000 than the hundreds of millions dished out overall as if it could possibly have been decisive. Liberals are searching every nook for treason. Meanwhile many a hawkish conservative has softened their approach to Russia (Victor Davis Hanson); others have always had a soft-spot for Putin (Rudy Giuliani, Pat Buchanan).

In 2009 the Obama administration worked to legitimize the coup government in Honduras after the overthrow of a democratically elected president. Today in Honduras the Trump administration recognizes the results of an obviously rigged election in favor of a reactionary incumbent who only stood for reelection due to a corrupt Supreme Court changing the Constitution to allow it- exactly the official and false justification for 2009 coup.

It was Bill Clinton and a Republican Congress that deregulated the finance industry. Clinton signed NAFTA. George W. Bush signed CAFTA-DR. A Republican controlled Senate voted to give Obama fast-track trade authority in 2015 to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Bipartisanship was all over the bank bailouts extending from the end of the Bush years to the beginning of Obama’s term.

It is the system that counts, the system and its power brokers, insiders, corporate and military interests, and intellectual underpinnings, much more than whatever politicians are its public face at a given moment. During Obama’s first term the one percent captured over 90 percent of economic growth. Certainly Obama was never hesitant to take Wall Street money, an attitude he has carried to his post-presidential life. However there is no real reason to think he carries any special affinity for the masters of the universe. He simply inherited and presided over an economy based on financialization, rent-seeking, and low wages, the roots of which long preceded his presidency.

Look at it from the other direction: Richard Nixon was as slimy a reptilian as ever to grace the Oval Office. Yet in between bombing Cambodia, orchestrating Allende’s assassination, and spewing foul mouthed anti-Semitism for posterity, Nixon signed an amendment to the Fair Labor Standard Act that raised wages, created the EPA, indexed Social Security for inflation, and imposed price controls. No less a figure than Noam Chomsky calls Nixon the last liberal president.  Should all this chocked up to virtue? By no means, the country was simply more liberal in many ways during the Nixon years. What it proves is that supportable policy can spring from the foulest waters if the right environment exists.

Imagine if all the energy spent on outrage at Trump’s latest buffoonery was put into taking on Big Pharma or establishing public banks to weaken the power of the financial industry. Or pushing the government to Fair trade policies or real full employment. While this latest tax bill is largely another giveaway to the elite it does provide an interesting seed worth exploring. In order to limit the deficit increase resulting from the tax cut Republicans attacked real estate in Blue States, limiting the mortgage deduction for new mortgages to $750,000, down from $1 million. The Left could argue it should be lowered much further, cut in half at least, perhaps even outright eliminated. The real estate industry has long been the largest recipient of government subsidy and probably the most powerful lobby. The mortgage deduction itself has cost about $100 billion a year, much of which has subsidized McMansions and second homes. It’s a pillar of the ‘homeowners’ society’ and suburban sprawl that by design has been a bedrock of conservativism.  Reforming housing policy and a hard push for public transportation infrastructure could accelerate the long process of making the suburbs greener and more urban, i.e. more progressive. With capital these days flowing to gentrified cities many suburbs have become poorer making the fight even nobler.

As it stands now, even if the unlikely liberal wet dream of a Trump impeachment actually comes to pass, the theocratic Mike Pence will simply assume office. No doubt cities like New York and Boston will initially erupt in celebration. But should it really be that long before the realization dawns that the real work remained ongoing?

Joseph Grosso is a librarian and writer in New York City. He is the author of Emerald City: How Capital Transformed New York (Zer0 Books).