Trump and the Contradictions of Capitalism

One of the most prominent election advertisements of Donald Trump’s campaign called on voters to “join the revolution”. Of course, in the context of American political rhetoric, anything passes as a “revolution”. However, many of Trump’s appeals indeed sounded extremely radical and resembled more the demands of the left than the usual agenda of Republican politicians in the United States. This radical rhetoric included calls to fight the Washington establishment, protect industrial production, increase the incomes of workers and put an end to the neo-liberal policies of the free trade that led to the destruction of millions well-paid jobs and loss of a significant portion of social gains of the democratic West. This rhetoric mobilized the working class voters, the provincial middle class and small businesses, and enabled Trump to enter the White House.

A year later, one can say that these promises have not been fulfilled, and the expectations of the majority of Trump voters are betrayed. In fact, Trump’s government turned out to be quite an ordinary republican administration, only less competent and less stable than the previous ones. It is significant that as the ineffectiveness of the new president becomes more apparent, the scandal around him subsides. The worse job the White House does the weaker and less frequent calls for impeachment become. There are no more mass demonstrations aiming to overthrow the president who have used politically incorrect expressions. The degree of Trump hatred have subsided in the liberal press. He now rather evokes laughter than anger. The liberal establishment has achieved its goal without resorting to radical means. Those who would like to preserve the political system the way it is do not need its destabilization. Rather, it could be the last argument of the oligarchy if it was losing its positions. However, there is no need for such argument; the power of the oligarchy has not been challenged. The tax reform carried out by the republican congress became a kind of a final line drawn under the debate. Candidate Trump did not say anything definitive about the issue of taxes, but the reform is fully in line with the traditional agenda of the conservative wing of the Republican Party. Trump supported it, and now it is associated with his name. In other words, the Republican Party coup did not take place; there will be no return to the times of Abraham Lincoln.

Trump did not start a conflict with the Congress, and now works constructively with the Republican majority – the one that fought him during the 2016 primaries. He reneged on his promises, including the scandalous promise of wall construction on the border with Mexico. A year has passed, but the wall is not there. The reform program is curtailed, while the president plays golf. Nothing has radically changed in the foreign policy as well, except for a few extravagant tricks like recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel (plunging the Israelis into confusion). Even US withdrawal from the Paris protocol on cutting CO2 emissions can hardly be called a radical gesture – republican administrations have never been enthusiastic about the EU’s environmental programs. The expectations of workers who pinned their hopes of social change on Trump, and the apocalyptic forecasts of the liberals were never fulfilled. Business as usual rules in Washington.

It is easy to explain away this failure by the personality of the forty-fifth US president, an emotionally unstable person, a leader without strategy who exhibits confused and conflicting views, lacks his own team and political experience. However, would it be complete and satisfactory explanation?

The failure of Trump’s substantive agenda can be fully explained only through the prism of class contradictions within his electoral coalition. The ideology of the right-wing populism bears in itself an unsolvable contradiction between the promise of social change in favor of the working people and the intention to preserve the economic foundations of the system. According to this ideology, the structure of the dominant interests within the society cannot be radically changed. It calls for mere changes in policies, for the removal of the “bad elite” from power, while leaving the position of the ruling class unchallenged. Such approach reflects the contradictions and conflicts within the ruling class itself, but the trouble is that the conflict cannot be resolved within this system, within this class, without major changes that require participation of completely different social and political players.

Financial capital and the Washington establishment can triumph: an incompetent president plays golf; the hindrance on the right is eliminated. However, the problems that exist both in the American society and in the world economy have not disappeared. They remain just as serious. The social crisis continues to exacerbate. If Trump does not manage to solve the problems, then someone else will have to take up this task. The defeat of the right-wing populism, which became a fact in the United States in 2017, opens the prospect for a new upsurge of the leftist movement. It is no accident that despite his defeat in the presidential race, indecisiveness and inconsistency, Bernie Sanders has become the most popular politician in America.

The question remains whether the American and Western left wants to learn from the events of the past two years, and whether it will be able to develop a political platform based not on liberal rhetoric and politically correct discourse but on the class interests of working families. Even more pressing question is whether the leftists are ready to struggle for power or they still prefer to enjoy their pleasant and comfortable position within the framework of radical subculture.

More articles by:

Boris Kagarlitsky PhD is a historian and sociologist who lives in Moscow. He is a prolific author of books on the history and current politics of the Soviet Union and Russia and of books on the rise of globalized capitalism. Fourteen of his books have been translated into English. The most recent book in English is ‘From Empires to Imperialism: The State and the Rise of Bourgeois Civilisation’ (Routledge, 2014). Kagarlitsky is chief editor of the Russian-language online journal Rabkor.ru (The Worker). He is the director of the Institute for Globalization and Social Movements, located in Moscow.

September 19, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
When Bernie Sold Out His Hero, Anti-Authoritarians Paid
Lawrence Davidson
Political Fragmentation on the Homefront
George Ochenski
How’s That “Chinese Hoax” Treating You, Mr. President?
Cesar Chelala
The Afghan Morass
Chris Wright
Three Cheers for the Decline of the Middle Class
Howard Lisnoff
The Beat Goes On Against Protest in Saudi Arabia
Nomi Prins 
The Donald in Wonderland: Down the Financial Rabbit Hole With Trump
Jack Rasmus
On the 10th Anniversary of Lehman Brothers 2008: Can ‘IT’ Happen Again?
Richard Schuberth
Make Them Suffer Too
Geoff Beckman
Kavanaugh in Extremis
Jonathan Engel
Rather Than Mining in Irreplaceable Wilderness, Why Can’t We Mine Landfills?
Binoy Kampmark
Needled Strawberries: Food Terrorism Down Under
Michael McCaffrey
A Curious Case of Mysterious Attacks, Microwave Weapons and Media Manipulation
Elliot Sperber
Eating the Constitution
September 18, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Britain: the Anti-Semitism Debate
Tamara Pearson
Why Mexico’s Next President is No Friend of Migrants
Richard Moser
Both the Commune and Revolution
Nick Pemberton
Serena 15, Tennis Love
Binoy Kampmark
Inconvenient Realities: Climate Change and the South Pacific
Martin Billheimer
La Grand’Route: Waiting for the Bus
John Kendall Hawkins
Seymour Hersh: a Life of Adversarial Democracy at Work
Faisal Khan
Is Israel a Democracy?
John Feffer
The GOP Wants Trumpism…Without Trump
Kim Ives
The Roots of Haiti’s Movement for PetroCaribe Transparency
Dave Lindorff
We Already Have a Fake Billionaire President; Why Would We want a Real One Running in 2020?
Gerry Brown
Is China Springing Debt Traps or Throwing a Lifeline to Countries in Distress?
Pete Tucker
The Washington Post Really Wants to Stop Ben Jealous
Dean Baker
Getting It Wrong Again: Consumer Spending and the Great Recession
September 17, 2018
Melvin Goodman
What is to be Done?
Rob Urie
American Fascism
Patrick Cockburn
The Adults in the White House Trying to Save the US From Trump Are Just as Dangerous as He Is
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The Long Fall of Bob Woodward: From Nixon’s Nemesis to Cheney’s Savior
Mairead Maguire
Demonization of Russia in a New Cold War Era
Dean Baker
The Bank Bailout of 2008 was Unnecessary
Wim Laven
Hurricane Trump, Season 2
Yves Engler
Smearing Dimitri Lascaris
Ron Jacobs
From ROTC to Revolution and Beyond
Clark T. Scott
The Cannibals of Horsepower
Binoy Kampmark
A Traditional Right: Jimmie Åkesson and the Sweden Democrats
Laura Flanders
History Markers
Weekend Edition
September 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Carl Boggs
Obama’s Imperial Presidency
Joshua Frank
From CO2 to Methane, Trump’s Hurricane of Destruction
Jeffrey St. Clair
Maria’s Missing Dead
Andrew Levine
A Bulwark Against the Idiocy of Conservatives Like Brett Kavanaugh
T.J. Coles
Neil deGrasse Tyson: A Celebrity Salesman for the Military-Industrial-Complex