In the Time of the Orange Pig

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

I’ve been following and writing about United States politics and society for more than twenty years. I often find that things here are much worse than people want to let themselves think.

This is one of those times.  The situation is very dire, and we must face it head on.

Last Friday was another reminder that the White House is held by an aspiring fascist leader. The orange-tinted brute Donald Trump held another one of those ridiculous fake “press conferences” where he yells at reporters who fight to ask the Malignant One questions television viewers can’t hear over the roar of the emperor’s helicopter blades. Trump used this sorry gaggle to respond to Joe Biden’s campaign announcement video by offering a renewed defense of the openly fascist “blood and soil” Charlottesville Nazis, who chanted “Jews Will Not Replace” the night before one of them murdered Heather Heyer in August of 2017.

Trump said that the white supremacists and anti-Semites who gathered to defend the statute of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville two summers ago were just fans of military history. That is false, of course.  They were and are white nationalists who would like to see the Civil War replayed with a different outcome: Black chattel slavery successfully defended by the Confederacy, which took up arms against the United States to save the slave system.

The visibly overweight and dementia-plagued 71-year-old Trump actually said this over the inaudible yelps of the reporters: “I’m a young and vibrant man. I’m so young. I can’t believe it, I’m the youngest person.” Who says shit like that? The point of his creepily narcissistic boasts, of course, was that his fellow septuagenarians “Sleepy Joe” Biden and “Crazy Bernie” Sanders are too old to be president whereas Trump’s invigorating fast-food diet is a magical fountain of youth.

After whitewashing racist secessionism and Nazism and claiming to defy the aging process on the White House lawn, Trump flew off to Indianapolis to address the fascist National Rifle Association (NRA) – an automatic weapons and mass-killing lobby that produces videos telling liberal politicians, journalists, and “Hollywood celebrities” that “your time is up, the clock starts now.” Trump was in full bombast mode. He told the NRA that the Robert Mueller investigation was a radical “plot to overthrow the U.S. government.” His ridiculous charge elicited roars of approval from thousands of “homeland” NRA terrorists, agents of a national gun violence epidemic that killed 40,000 Americans in 2017 and 29,000 last year. Another NRA sponsored hate-crime and assault weapon-attack on a Jewish synagogue would take place within 24 hours.

But I digress. Where, assuming they are around, will historians begin in assessing the pernicious wickedness of Trump’s swinish presidency?

Trump is now brazenly defying the rule of law when Congressional committees subpoena witnesses, tax returns and more, as they are entitled to do as a supposedly co-equal branch of the federal government.  Hoping to tie up any further investigations into his multiple corruptions until after the 2020 elections, the royal orange brute is suing Congresspersons who seek to exercise Congressional oversight of the White House, as permitted under the U.S. Constitution.

Trump has gone around Congress to declare a fake national emergency to find taxpayer money to pay for a racist border Wall that is based on a bogus and nativist narrative about Mexican and Central American migrants.

Trump says over and again that he’s been “exonerated” by The Mueller Report.  This is an abject falsehood, as is clear from the final seventeen words of the document: “while this report does not conclude the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” The Mueller Report is essentially a referral for impeachment and shows Trump engaged in efforts to criminally obstruct Justice Department and Congressional investigations into his conduct.

Trump absurdly claims that he can “go to the Supreme Court” to block House efforts to impeach him. The Supreme Court can do no such thing under the U.S. Constitution.

Trump fills his administration with unqualified toadies whose main requirement for employment is the promise of obedience to Him, the Great Orange God. Meanwhile he quietly fills the federal bench with grateful hard-right hacks whose mission is to serve dominant hierarchies of race, class, gender/patriarchy, and religion.

Trump has suggested that any attempts to remove him from the White House will spark legitimate violence from “bikers,” cops, and soldiers.

He was only half-joking when he said that he’d like to be made President for Life like China’s Xi Jinping.

Trump has openly aligned himself with fascist and nationalist authoritarians like Viktor Orban, Vladimir Putin, Jair Bolsonaro, Rodrigo Duterte, and others. Trump has a thing for absolutists, thugs, and dictators – even for the North Korean dictator Kim jong-Un.

Trump has made it clear that he will not accept an Electoral College count that does not go his way in 2020. (His former longtime personal attorney and fixer Michael Cohen warned Congress that he doubts Trump will leave the White House peacefully).

Trump has shut down regular briefings of the press, calling reporters “evil” and “some of the worst people in the world.”

Trump has run cover for the Saudi Arabian regime’s savage forensic vivisection of a Washington Postjournalist

Trump lies and states falsehoods on an historically unprecedented scale, waging an open and relentless war on truth. Trump tells his backers “don’t believe what you see and hear” – believe Him instead. Believe Trump, a seemingly inexhaustible wellspring of soul-crushing nonsense: Puerto Rico had very few deaths because of Hurricane Maria; the California wildfires were a result of poor forest “floor” management (insufficient Finnish-style “floor-sweeping”) by the state’s liberal authorities; he deserved a “10” for its response to Maria; environmentalists “don’t know why” they oppose oil and gas pipelines and want to “take away your cows;” green energy will destroy jobs; Trump was cheated out of a popular vote victory by illegal immigrant voters in 2016; U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar “made anti-Semitic statements.” The inanities go on and on, never stopping.

Trump repeats the same falsehoods over and again, practicing the “permanent lie” that Hannah Arendt identified as a hallmark of totalitarianism. To mention one example among many, Trump has frequently claimed, against any and all evidence, that masses of Latino rapists and murders are trying to invade the U.S.

Trump calls Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez “sick and demented” and “crazy” for advocating decent, desperately needed policies (Single Payer health insurance, progressive taxation, Green jobs programs, an increased minimum wage, the restoration of union organizing rights and more) most Americans support.

Trump is a savage sexist who openly belittles female staffers, reporters, and media personalities.

Trump calls centrist corporate (neo)liberals “socialists” and “Radical Left,” a classic fascist conflation.

A vicious racist-classist and pure sadist, Trump wants to kick millions of poor and ordinary Americans off health insurance and to deny insurance to people with pre-existing medical conditions. Trump wants to resume merciless child family separations at the border.

Trump brazenly defies national international law on peoples’ right to asylum – to protection from persecution and oppression in other nations.

Trump slashes all but military repression assistance to Central American nations where violence, poverty, repression and climate misery (all reflections of U.S. policy’s long and devastating impact on the region) have made life intolerable for millions.

Trump is in bed with mass NRA-led gun slaughter. He flirts with appeals to gun violence when he speaks before the fascist gun lobby.

He advance-pardoned a fascist sheriff (Joe Arpaio) who set up concentration camps for Latinx inmates and other prisoners in Arizona.

Trump holds regular fascist-style rallies where he encourages vicious and racist white people to hate minorities and feminists and environmentalists and intellectuals and immigrants.

Trump would like to wag the dog with a war on Iran that could quite easily escalate into World War III – a war his frothing imperialist foreign policy chief Bolton (a war criminal on steroids) is dying to start. Keep on eye on that.

Trump is a grinning eco-exterminist deeply in bed with the fossil fuel industry. He recently issued an executive order taking away states’ rights to pass judgement on the building and operation of petroleum pipelines. That barely noticed move (Trump’s eco-cidal practices and police are disastrously under-reported) is just one of many ways in which Trump is doing everything he can to turn the planet into a giant Greenhouse Gas chamber – a crime that will make even (his unstated heroes) the Nazis look like small-time thugs.

I could go on. It’s extremely unpleasant but we must always start with reality. “In a time of universal deceit,” somebody smart (Antonio Gramsci, George Orwell, or some anonymous thinker) is supposed to have said or written, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

Here’s some harsh truth: with a malevolent fascist swine atop its titular apex, the pitiful wounded beast of a rotten, spiritually dead American Superpower is careening towards epic barbarism while pushing the species dangerously to the tipping points of extinction.

Where are the millions who ought/need to be in the streets every single day fighting this Orange Pig regime and the hideous racist, sexist, and eco-cidal class-rule profits system that hatched it? Shocked, frightened, demobilized, depressed, divided, distracted, overworked, over-extended, indentured, consumerized, traumatized, sick, inverted, browbeaten, jaundiced, propagandized, addicted, smart-phoned, Facebooked, Twitterized, suburbanized, ex-urbanized, sedentarized, immobilized, fatalized, fantasized, incarcerated, felony-marked, branded, stigmatized, shamed, frightened, and, last but not least, electoralized.

The notion that we can simply overcome this fascistic insanity by going into voting booths for two minutes on the appointed once-every-1460th day (the first Tuesdays of November in 2020, 2024, 2028, 2032, etc.) is a deadly tranquilizer. So is the notion that the Democrats will fix everything.  They won’t.  At all. Bad as the current Republican-fascist presidency is, its ascendancy and perpetuation and its possible winning of a second term cannot be properly understood without factoring in the abject center-right corporatism of the neoliberal-era Democratic Party. The ever more dangerously Republican Party of the last half-century has thrived in the lethal popular vacuum created by the Democrats’ despicable abandonment of workers, the poor, minorities, social justice, and livable ecology.

The self-described “party of the people” is no such thing. It’s a party of globalist capital that now exists primarily to serve corporate and elite financial clients, not to serve social justice or democracy – or even really to win elections. The corporate-Democratic establishment prefers losing to the white-nationalist Amerikaner right over losing to even the mildly social-democratic and environmentalist left in its own party – to the Sanders-AOC wing. Win or lose, establishment Democrats expect to keep getting paid and doing very well for themselves in the American oligarchy, wherein politicos make their real money by entering the private sector after doing far less remunerative stints in so-called public service.

Should Sanders be supported in the 2020 primaries? Yes, but not without separate efforts to build powerful grassroots social movements beneath and beyond the absurdly time-staggered big money candidate-centered quadrennial electoral extravaganzas that are poisonously sold to us as “politics” – the only politics that matters.  Noam Chomsky is correct in his judgment that a President Sanders in 2017 “couldn’t have done a thing” because he would have had “nobody [on his side] in Congress, no governors, no legislatures, none of the big economic powers, which have an enormous effect on policy.” A Sanders presidency would have been undermined — if it had tried to do anything seriously progressive — by several factors, including a significant downturn in capitalist investment (with an attendant rise in joblessness) and the relentless hostility of the corporate media oligopoly. Right-wing media, including Fox News, talk radio and Breitbart News (recipient of many millions of dollars from arch-reactionary plutocrat Robert Mercer) would have gone ballistic, driving its followers to scary new levels of deadly disruption. As Chomsky might have added, Sanders’ oligarchy-imposed “failures” would have been great fodder for the disparagement and smearing of progressive, left-leaning and majority-backed policy change. “See,” the reigning plutocratic media and politics culture would have said, “we tried all that and it was a disaster!”

On one hand, it is demented infantilism to completely withdraw from the major party election cycle in the face of something as horrific as Trump and his ugly Amerikaner base (itself absurdly over-empowered by the openly undemocratic structures of U.S.-Congressional apportionment and the Electoral College). On the other hand, electing a social-democratish Democrat like Sanders would be no guarantee of progressive change in the absence of a popular left social movement presence that is nowhere in evidence in the U.S. right now. It is irresponsible to focus only on the election cycle, imagining that genuine progressive change can be attained through elections alone. To paraphrase Howard Zinn, it’s not just or mainly about who’s sitting the White House, it’s really about who’s sitting in the streets.

Sanders will have to get past the Inauthentic Opposition Democrats, who are doing everything they can to rig the 2020 nomination game against him as in 2016.  If the Stop Sanders Democrats succeed, they will likely hand the tangerine-tinted totalitarian a terrifying second term by running the laughably inept right-wing hack like gropey Joe “the Anti-Populist” Biden or some transparently fake-progressive centrist and lethally bourgeois-identity-politicized Democrat like Kamala Harris or Beto O’Rourke. If Sanders fails (as seems likely) to get past the many obstacles the establishment Democrats and their media allies are setting up against him, millions of progressive Americans may be unable to finally resist the “radical Left” judgement that the not-so leftmost of the two major U.S. parties is dead as an agent of democratic change. Perhaps the Democrats will then become the latter-stage Whig Party of the early 21stcentury, giving way to an actual popular opposition (people’s) party that would draw in masses from all walks of life to engage with social movements in a long overdue existential struggle with concentrated wealth and power – a struggle between (A) eco-socialism, the common good, love, solidarity, democracy, equality, and life on one hand and (B)  barbarism, permanent war, racism, patriarchy, class rule, eco-exterminism, and Thanatos, on the other hand.  Choose life.

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