Lazy Liberals and “the Trump Effect”

Photo by Taymaz Valley | CC by 2.0

Liberals and other Democrats are getting dumber by the day. I keep running into them and hearing the same story over and over: things are bad because Trump is the president.

That’s it. It’s all you have to know. It’s the only thing that matters to these unstable dolts. It’s all about Trump. It’s Trump this, Trump that. All day long. Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, and Trump some more.

CNN and MSNBC et al. keep up the drumbeat.  Trump tweeted this.  Trump said that. Everything is trumped by Trump, Trump, Trump (with a strong overlay of Russia, Russia, Russia, of course).

Now we have the Michael Wolff book – an orgy of revelations on the madness and dysfunction of the Insane Clown President.

There’s no social and power structures that matter. There’s no underlying class rule or longstanding capitalist ecocide, no dominant oppressive institutions, no ideologies that matter….no history that matters.

Racism? It’s cuz of Trump.

Sexism?  Trump did it.

Threat of nuclear holocaust?  Blame Trump.

Inequality and plutocracy?  The handiwork of Boss Tweet, that bastard.

Climate change?  You know the answer: big stupid Trump. Damn him!

Look, I dislike the Stable Genius as much as does anyone left of Paul Ryan.  But this is crazy.  It’s every bit as dotard-like as the Donald his own mad self.  Liberals have fallen prey to what one of my Canadian correspondents, Gabriel Alan, calls “the Trump Effect of whitewashing and absolving this rightwing system.”  (The “Trump Effect,” Alan notes, is used “being applied by corporate [neo]liberals in other countries. For example, the Liberal government in Canada is casting corporate ‘free trade’ as a progressive feature of economic governance by virtue of the fact that Trump’s NAFTA negotiators are trying to change the accord to eliminate the corporate courts thru which governments can be sued for any law or action that hinder ‘future expected profits.’”)

“Their fixation on Trump,” Vivek Jain writes me from Virginia, “allows them to ignore the wickedness of capitalism and of the US government.”

“Trump is a great distraction,” Tom Wetzel writes me – a “cover for elite interests: ‘if only there wasn’t some obviously racist clown in the white house everything would be cool.’”

It’s a richly bipartisan wickedness. Droves of liberals and Democrats think that things were just great when the Neoliberal Drone King, Wall Street bailout champion, single-payer deep-sixer, Libya bomber, and offshore drilling and fracking fan Barack Obama was president. And that things would be just super if the Wall Street War Hawk and arch-elitist “Queen of Chaos” was back in the White House. You betchya!

The orange-tinted Awful One has helped turn of untold millions of liberals into sputtering morons every bit as idiotic as some FOX News “deplorable” who thinks that global warming is a Chinese conspiracy. It’s a just a different, blue brand of stupid.

Liberals have gone down a childish, presidentially and electorally obsessed black hole. It’s more extreme now because of the peculiar freakishness of the arch-narcissistic and Twitter-weaponized El Donito, but it’s nothing new, really. This went on with George W. Bush, too, to some degree. And Reagan.

The solution to everything wrong in the world for liberals is getting a corporate military Democrat in the White House. It’s all about rallying around some new shining star from the Inauthentic Opposition Party (the late Sheldon Wolin’s excellent for the dismal dollar-drenched Dems) into the Oval Office. Then it’ll be blue-zone liberals turn to feel good while red state Republicans stew.

Hey, maybe Oprah Winfrey. Or Michelle Obama, who said this to the new presidential hopeful Oprah on CBS five weeks after Trump was elected: “color, wealth, these things that don’t matter…It’s our values; it’s how we live our lives.” Leaving aside the fact that U.S. domestic oppression structures of class and race generate savagely unequal life chances for hundreds of millions of Americans, just what good and progressive “values” were suggested by the following key parts of the record of the Obama administration: bailing out the parasitic elites who crashed the national and global economy but not the working-class majority and the poor; taking the U.S. drone campaign to new levels of planetary hyper-terrorism; passing a health care reform that only the big insurance and drug companies could love; doing nothing to make it easier for workers to form unions; lecturing poor Black people on their own supposed personal responsibility for their own poverty;  serving as a shield and representative of the mostly white O.1%  that owns nearly more wealth than the bottom 90 percent; advancing the corporate school privatization agenda; going after whistleblowers more viciously than any other president; advancing an “all of the above” energy policy that helped keep carbon emissions and planetary warming on the rise after undermining efforts for binding global emission limits; bombing innocent villagers in Afghanistan; decimating Libya; installing a right-wing coup regime in Honduras and generally keeping the U.S. imperial machine set on kill, maim, spy, and torture.

All of this more helped set the nation and world up for the, yes, noxious and dangerous Donald Trump presidency. Three cheers to professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor for this recent reflection from her recent essay in the indispensable new Haymarket Press collection U.S. Politics in an Age of Uncertainty:

The horrors and challenges presented by the Trump administration should not obscure the very important discussion of how the administration came into power…This means locating that which connects the Trump administration to the past while allowing for what sets his administration apart.

…if we assign Trump and his band of rogues, racists, and reactionaries an exceptional or unprecedented place in American history, then we cannot make sense of the most recent past. Plainly stated, if things were so great before Trump, why did Ferguson, Missouri erupt in the summer of 2014?;  why did Baltimore explode eight months later?; why, indeed, did a movement called Black Lives Matter arise during a time of the greatest concentration of Black political power in American history?

You cannot, in fact, understand the emergence of Trump without taking account of this recent history and the failure of the liberal establishment to provide a real alternative to the reactionary populism…of Trump. As wholly opposite in demeanor, aptitude, and temperament as Barack Obama and Donald Trump are, we cannot actually understand the rise of Trump without taking account of the failure of Obama to deliver on his promises of hope and change (emphasis added).

Since their opposition is inauthentic, the neoliberal Dems hand the White House to the horrid GOP once every four or eight years. The White House swings between the dismal, dollar-drenched Dems (the 4Ds) and the radically regressive and reactionary Repugs (the 4Rs). Back and forth it goes, with both sides calling their electoral victories “change” in different but inseparably linked partisan and identity-politicized dialects – two sides of the same bourgeois-electoral coin and “two wings of the same bird of prey” (Upton Sinclair, 1904). Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs, Exxon, Citigroup, and Lockheed Martin always win, racist mass incarceration persists, inequality widens (as it did under Obama), wages stagnate, and the planet tips closer to terminal geocide.

“The greatest evil,” one correspondent writes me, “is the theory of the lesser-of-the-two evils.” Not for me. The top evil I’m trying to bring attention here is the obsession with (to paraphrase Howard Zinn) who’s sitting in the White House as opposed to the more urgent politics of who’s sitting in the streets, in the factories, in the offices, in the town halls, etc.  My concern with that evil is why I check the Des Moines Register statewide election poll to make sure the presidential race is already a done deal in Iowa before I cast my third party presidential votes in that state. If it looks like the state is in play, I’ll vote for the 4D party to block the 4R party (I haven’t felt compelled to do that since 2004, the first time I ever voted in a “contested state”).

I have a different reason than standard left “less evil-ism” for preferring Democrats in the White House.  . With a Republican in the White House, liberals and progressives fall into the standard trap of thinking that the only thing wrong with the country is that “those insane evil Republicans are in charge” and that the cure to the nation’s ills is to trek off to the polls for two minutes in a voting book once every four years and try to put a Democrat back in the White House. I’ve seen it again and again. It’s happening right now, with a vengeance

It’s pathetic and it’s what the brilliant Howard Zinn tried to warn people against in an essay on the “Election Madness” he saw “engulfing the entire society including the left” in the year of Obama’s ascendancy. An “election frenzy,” Zinn wrote, “seizes the country every four years because we have all been brought up to [falsely] believe that voting is crucial in determining our destiny, that the most important act a citizen can engage in is to go to the polls. …” Zinn acknowledged that he probably would support one major-party candidate over another “for two minutes—the amount of time it takes to pull the lever down in the voting booth.” But then, he wrote:

[O]ur time, our energy, should be spent in educating, agitating, organizing our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the schools. Our objective should be to build, painstakingly, patiently but energetically, a movement that, when it reaches a certain critical mass, would shake whoever is in the White House, in Congress, into changing national policy on matters of war and social justice. … We should not expect that a victory at the ballot box in November will even begin to budge the nation from its twin fundamental illnesses: capitalist greed and militarism. … Before [elections] … and after … we should be taking direct action against the obstacles to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. … Historically, government, whether in the hands of Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals, has failed its responsibilities, until forced to by direct action: sit-ins and Freedom Rides for the rights of black people, strikes and boycotts for the rights of workers, mutinies and desertions of soldiers in order to stop a war. Voting is easy and marginally useful, but it is a poor substitute for democracy, which requires direct action by concerned citizens.

This is why I resisted the temptation to be awestruck by the remarkable outpouring of U.S.-Americans who protested the inauguration of Donald Trump in January. Cable news talking heads marveled at the marches, calling them the “biggest social movement since the 1960s.” But what were those massive but polite, pink-hatted marches all about? While many of the chants and signs heard and seen at the historic marches indicated policy concerns, the clear and simple thing that had put millions in the streets was the awful man who is now sitting in the White House. It was about an election outcome. The new president hadn’t even made any policy yet. What he’s actually done as president has yet to generate protests remotely on the scale of the ones sparked by the Awful One’s entrance into the Oval Office.

Most of the millions who hit the streets to voice outrage against the election of Trump would have stayed home if it had been the dismal arch-corporatist and “lying neoliberal warmonger” Hillary Clinton being inaugurated. And that is very telling. As Chris Hedges noted in the summer of 2016:

The predatory financial institutions on Wall Street will trash the economy and loot the U.S. Treasury on the way to another economic collapse whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is president. Poor, unarmed people of color will be gunned down in the streets of our cities whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is president. The system of neo-slavery in our prisons, where we keep poor men and poor women of color in cages because we have taken from them the possibility of employment, education and dignity, will be maintained whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is president. Millions of undocumented people will be deported whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is president. Austerity programs will cut or abolish public services, further decay the infrastructure and curtail social programs whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is president. Money will replace the vote whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is president. And half the country, which now lives in poverty, will remain in misery whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton becomes president. This is not speculation. We know this because there has been total continuity on every issue, from trade agreements to war to mass deportations, between the Bush administration and the administration of Barack Obama. … The problem is not Donald Trump. The problem is capitalism. And this is the beast we are called to fight and slay. Until that is done, nothing of substance will change. … To reduce the political debate, as [Bernie] Sanders and others are doing, to political personalities is political infantilism. We have undergone a corporate coup. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will not reverse this coup. They, like Barack Obama, know where the centers of power lie. They serve these centers of power.

The atmosphere of the planet, Hedges might have added, would be continuing its disastrous, capitalogenic march towards 500 carbon parts per million by 2050 if not sooner (please see my latest report on Truthdig) with Hillary Clinton in the White House.

The dysfunctional over-focus on who’s sitting in the White House — yes, the horrific Boss Tweet right now, maybe Kirsten Gillibrand (or Oprah or Michelle or Andrew Cuomo or Kamala Harris) in 2021— is sustained between election spectacles by the cable news talking heads and the late-night comedians, for whom Trump is a gift that keeps on giving. It is fed by hopes for impeachment on grounds of collusion with Russia in the subversion of our supposed great democratic electoral process.

All the evils that Hedges mentions would survive the impeachment and removal of Trump. Nothing of substance would change. The removal of Richard Nixon from the U.S. presidency in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal was followed by a deepening descent into the long neoliberal era, which has culminated in the current New Gilded Age of shocking economic disparity and abject, richly bipartisan plutocracy.

Zinn and Hedges’ wise words belong in the front of the minds of all citizens and workers who want to see democracy break out and take hold at long last in the oligarchic United States. They help us keep our eyes on the real prize: changing policy in a progressive direction and radically restructuring society beneath and beyond the biennial and quadrennial big-money, major-media, candidate-centered “electoral extravaganzas” (Noam Chomsky) that are sold to us as politics, “the only politics that matters.”

Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).