The Post-Modern President
- Jeremy Agar
The only predictable thing about Donald Trump is his unpredictability. Things change literally day by day, hour by hour. So, it’s worth bearing in mind that this is up to date as of early March. Ed.
In the many commentaries on Donald Trump, journalists have ventured into the decaying industrial zones of the US Mid West and, almost invariably, they report that Trump’s supporters, the voters who gave him his win, see him as an opponent of political correctness, a phrase with an inbuilt sneer. No-one thought to be “politically correct” would have employed the expression themselves. Its very currency was an unheeded warning of Trump’s eventual success.
Consider in this context the assessment of Richard Rorty, a philosopher. Writing at the end of the 20th Century, a time when mainstream policy makers were concentrating on social issues while offering no objections to unrestrained neo-liberalism, Rorty predicted a reaction along the lines of what we’re looking at in America now:
“Members of labour unions, and unorganised and unskilled workers, will sooner or later realise that their Government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realise that suburban white collar workers — themselves desperately afraid of being downsized — are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else”.
“At that point, something will crack. The non-suburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for — someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and post-modernist professors will no longer be calling the shots… Once the strongman takes office, no one can predict what will happen” (Stephen Metcalf, New Yorker, 10/1/17, “Richard Rorty’s Philosophical Argument For National Pride”, http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/richard-rortys-philosophical-argument-for-national-pride, from Richard Rorty, “Achieving Our Country”, 1998).
This was prescient. Note, though, that Rorty suggested only that State bureaucracies were not “trying to prevent” job losses and reduced opportunity. Actually, the US and the UK, most influentially, and New Zealand, most enthusiastically, had designed policy in order to drive down wages and increase profits, an argument that’s been made in the pages of Watchdog as early and as often as in any publication in the English-speaking world.
Had the Anglo-Saxon states resisted the onslaught on workers and the unemployed, their languishing citizens might have tuned out the dog whistling of Rightwing politicians who liked to add the quote marks. Diatribes against “political correctness” have been a most successful tactic in encouraging voters to continue neglecting core issues, which are often economic in nature. Meanwhile on what is still called “the Left”, talking up social and cultural issues has also been diversionary, the most obvious example being the 1984-90 Lange/Palmer/Moore government. That Labour government didn’t ignore neo-liberalism; they enacted it.
Revolt Against Neo-Liberal Elites
The revolt, as Rorty picked, is against the neo-liberal elites who tore down barriers as fast as they could, in their quest for a world without walls. This was the title of a book by a former Prime Minister of New Zealand, a man who gave us as doctrinaire prescription of the ideology as any (“A World Without Walls”, by Mike Moore, which I reviewed in Watchdog 103, August 2003, http://www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/03/09.htm. For a few brief weeks in 1990 Moore briefly succeeded David Lange and Geoffrey Palmer as the fourth Labour government flailed unsuccessfully to avoid electoral defeat).
Neither could Rorty have predicted that the new world disorder despised democracy. The alienation felt by coal miners in West Virginia and west Yorkshire was not an unfortunate by-product of needed change. It wasn’t collateral damage. It was deliberate.
Moore’s book was one long manual for the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers and overpaid bond salesmen to rule without having to appease the sweaty masses, the voters of New Zealand, some of whom were to be found in his own electorate of Waimakariri. When Moore saw such deplorables he saw men who, in his words, tucked their shirts into their underpants. The sophistication of the economists, the smartest guys in the rooms of NZ, was way beyond the poorly dressed. Moore made his point by quoting approvingly an academic:
“How is the democratic State to function if the mass of the citizens is dependent on the expert knowledge available only to a tiny elite, an elite that in its formation and direct economic interest comes to represent only a narrow sector of society?”
Moore went on to become Director-General of the World Trade Organisation, the outfit dedicated to tear down all barriers to the free movement of big money. Mike saw himself as a prophet without honour in his country of men with shirts tucked into their underpants, writing without irony that “the best thing I did for NZ was to leave it” and impose a dictatorship of corporate power from Geneva.
The deplorables back home were too dumb or too selfish to see the need for the walls to come tumbling down and they voted out Mike and his co-conspirator, Roger Douglas, the Finance Minister. Mike’s take on that was that “it’s a mistake to be right too soon”. He has not been troubled by false modesty.
The conventions on democracy demand that after every election the losing side tries to look gracious. In 1990, Mike couldn’t quite manage it: “The people are always right even when they’re wrong”. Following his crony Douglas, who also gave advice as to how to betray an electoral mandate, Moore was happy to advise his readers – whom he seems to assume will not include any of the deplorables with their shirts tucked into their underpants: “Don’t signal your punches”.
We Know Too Well What Followed
Namely, a series of knockout blows: privatisation, union bashing, a shrinking civil society, a culture of individualism and narcissism, all culminating in the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) negotiations which mandated that no-one, not even Members of Parliament, be allowed to know how they were being sold out.
Moore was sure that “we need…to support both customers and owners to ensure that liberal democratic ideas prevail”. Hullo? Liberal democratic ideas? Only for “customers and owners” like those in the Association of Consumers and Taxpayers, as ACT was then known? When democracy is precisely what he wanted to abolish? That’s why the new disorder is known as neo-liberalism. It’s “free trade” for Big Business. For Moore, liberalism equals corporate freedom equals democracy. As he saw it, it’ll get us a world where “freely operating markets, good governance and transparent standards of integrity get better results”.
Possibly no Pennsylvania steel worker has heard of post-modernism, let alone read any po-mo professor’s unintelligible jargon. It’s more likely that he knows the type. The po-mo professor is a skilled manipulator – which he is - and regards manual labourers with contempt – which he does. The professor is a member of “the chattering classes”, urban liberals whom the Mike Moores of the world liked to dismiss as “chardonnay socialists”.
Building walls is a motif in the emerging neo-fascist world, where the extreme Right is exploiting the havoc that followed all the tumbling. In France, Marine Le Pen, whose extremist National Front party is surging, is primarily interested in hating Muslims and people who aren’t white, but she also wants to leave the European Union and the euro currency. Le Pen paid a visit to Trump Tower in the first days of Trump’s Presidency.
During the “President-Elect” phase, Nigel Farage paid his respects, appearing before the cameras to offer himself as a good pick to be the UK’s Ambassador to the US. Farage led UKIP’s successful 2016 Brexit campaign, his win attributable to an extent to the scare-mongering lies he concocted. Britain is not the sort of place where explicit fascism is likely to succeed, but if it were Farage would be in the running to be its Fuhrer.
Similar pathologies are evident in other European countries. It’s usually called “nationalism”, a revolt against “cosmopolitan” values and “plutocrats” (to be literally accurate it needs to be admitted that these latter expressions were favourites of Adolf Hitler, whose language is still unable to be expressed in public).
During the last 30 years, as neo-liberalism became a hegemonic force throughout the so-called Anglo-Saxon world, distortion of language became a key weapon. The two great potential challengers to the new orthodoxy were marginalised either because they tucked their shirts into their underpants or because they were educated and socially liberal, fretting about tree-hugging and job-destroying irrelevancies like human rights and the environment. The socially liberal were also a lot better paid than the residents of Struggle Street. These qualities proved that the chardonnay socialists were elitist nimbies and phonies.
The shirt tuckers, known by their so-called champions in the US as Johnny Lunchbuckets, voted overwhelmingly for Trump; the chattering classes voted less enthusiastically for Clinton (in America, socialism is unimagined. There the most grievous label is “liberal”, an insult bestowed on centrist opinion by the neo-liberal leaders of the world’s foremost liberal democracy. The continual misuse and misunderstanding of basic labels is one of the many causes of current confusions).
No Redeeming Qualities
Much has been written about the personality of the new President. He seems to have no redeeming qualities. He’s a spoiled child who has never had to answer to anyone or anything, using his wealth and his creepy family to surround himself with sycophants. Apart from his grotesque fondness for Vladimir Putin, a fellow narcissist, he has attacked anyone with a different view and any rivals who might shade a bit of the spotlight, reserving some of his most felt venom for Republican leaders. Remember that an American President doubles as the ceremonial head of State. Imagine what Britons would think if Queen Elizabeth spent her days in front of the TV, tweeting insults about Charles and William.
An earlier glimpse of Trumpery, to give a hint as to what to expect from this “non-politician”, can be seen through his career as a promoter of himself through golf.
The Donald likes to be photographed at Turnberry, a golf course in Scotland which he bought in 2014 for $US290 million, the high price being the attraction to bring in the photographers. He’s not so keen to strut around another Scottish golf course on dunes near Aberdeen. This was to be yet another awesome triumph of Trump branding. There was an obstacle though, the dunes being a protected Site of Special Scientific Interest. Conservationists were appalled, but Trump flattered and lied to enough local politicians to get approval.
His neighbours hated the idea and wouldn’t sell. Next to one of them Trump built a three metre berm, blocking his view. Six metres from another neighbour's windows evergreens appeared. A third neighbour found that the local government had been pressured into enacting what the Americans call “eminent domain”. Comparable to NZ’s Public Works Act, this empowers the State to overrule private property rights.
Having upended Scotland’s environmental law and his neighbours’ personal environments, Trump appealed to the local government to remove some wind turbines which were just visible from a few points on the course. They were spoiling the view. In the end, it didn’t work out. Trump couldn’t clinch the deal. The promise had been to create 6,000 jobs, 2,000 holiday homes and a 450-room hotel. What resulted in 2009 were 150 jobs and a clubhouse with 19 rooms to rent.
When he’s on his golf courses Trump likes to talk up a Scottish heritage, an excuse to bring in the news cameras. They swarmed around as he boarded a helicopter for a visit to an alleged ancestral home. He stayed there two minutes.
As well as his ludicrous Mexican wall, Trump wants to build an Irish wall on a course he owns there as a way to combat erosion. Despite his publicly stated view that climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese to disadvantage America, the application for consent gave climate change as the cause of the problem (and despite wind turbines having been an eyesore at his Scottish links, Trump invests in them elsewhere).
Trump’s golfing adventures are relevant in the present context in as much as they were one of several ways in which his name became widely known in those innocent days before he aspired to be President. Some other Trumpist views include beliefs that there is “clean coal”, that vaccines cause autism, and that environmentally friendly light bulbs cause cancer. Trump’s ostentatious hypocrisy, tastelessness, dishonesty, selfishness, and his poor business skills and pure wackiness were such that his candidacy was initially regarded as a joke. That was then.
Cabinet Choices Instructive
What might we expect over the next four years? In the American system, the President picks his Cabinet. His choices are instructive. The Secretary of State (equivalent to NZ’s Minister of Foreign Affairs) is a key role. You might remember that for some weeks after the election we heard of how Trump was hosting Mitt Romney, a previous Republican Presidential candidate, for a series of meetings and it was put about that Romney, a fellow billionaire, was being considered. Trump had previously insulted Romney as the epitome of weak Establishment men, and it’s likely that he never intended to appoint him, wanting the power to tease, wanting to humiliate.
Rex Tillerson, his real choice, comes to the job from being Chief Executive Officer of ExxonMobil, the giant oil corporation, and is, of course, another billionaire. In a TV interview at the time he was being considered by the Senate Tillerson was asked about his take on global affairs: “The President-Elect and I have not had the opportunity to discuss this specific issue or this specific area”.
As the interview continued Tillerson was happy to report that he and Trump had not discussed any country or any policy. At a time when Trump was daily telling the world of his love for Vladimir Putin, they talked about Russia? No, they hadn’t. This upset even some fellow Republicans, who have never been Russophile, in that as head of ExxonMobil Tillerson had developed cosy relations with the Kremlin.
Republicans did not question Tillerson over his company’s awful record as a denier of climate change. Rick Perry, Energy Secretary, was once a front running Presidential candidate but became a laughing stock when he wanted to eliminate the Department of Energy but did not know its name. Now he’s running it. That’ll be because he too knows that talk of climate change is “one contrived phony mess”.
Climate Change Denier
When he was Attorney-General of Oklahoma, an oil state, Scott Pruitt, who now heads the Environment Protection Agency (EPA), had sued the EPA for trying to impose emission caps. At the confirmation hearing Senator Bernie Sanders pressed him. Did he think climate change was a fact? Pruitt wouldn’t answer because his view was “immaterial”.
Trump has made it known that while he favours torture – of course he does – his Central Intelligence Agency boss and Defense Secretaries do not. They possibly do really but, unlike their boss, don’t want to publicly say they will break the laws of the land they’re entrusted to defend. The new Deputy Director of the CIA, Gina Haspel, ran a “black site” prison in Thailand where they tortured al Qaeda suspects.
Then there was Michael Flynn, for three weeks National Security Adviser, who couldn’t wait to tell US news channels that he and Trump were putting Iran “on notice”, whatever that might mean. He was there because he wanted to get serious with ISIS, having earlier expressed the view that “without a proper sense of urgency, we will eventually be defeated and very likely destroyed. They are dead set on taking us over and drinking our blood”. A few thousand fanatics from the Syrian desert are about to march into Washington and eat President Trump.
Flynn was fired for his murky lies about Russia, but there’s no need to change the preceding paragraphs, written while he was still part of the Government. The topic is Flynn only in as much as he sheds light on Trumpery. As we go to publication much dirty water is yet to flow under the bridge. We do know that Flynn had an obsessive hatred of Hillary, shouting to frenzied rallies that she had to go to jail, and we do know that he used to put out fake news. The truth won’t be pretty.
Soon after Flynn’s departure the nominee for Secretary of Labor withdrew when it became known that he would lose the Senate vote. Even some Republicans would turn him down. Two of Trump’s chief obsessions have been a stated desire to do well for Johnny Lunchbucket and of course to kick out illegals. Andrew Puzder, the nominee, is against raising the minimum wage, against overtime pay rates, against sick leave provisions.
Trump liked this mendacity and hypocrisy. Like Trump, Puzder has complained about “globalist companies” and “big corporate interests” and the boss knew that in office Puzder would do all he could to help “globalist companies” and “big corporate interests”.
The Republican Senators wouldn’t have minded these follies either. They would have rejected Puzder for having got into trouble for hiring an undocumented immigrant. Or it might have been because he was charged with beating up his wife. These things risk upsetting Mrs Lunchbucket. Jeff Sessions, a Senator from Alabama, started his political career as an opponent of the civil rights movement. He’s been confirmed as Attorney-General.
So overt is the extremism of Betsy DeVos, the new Education Secretary, that even two Republicans rejected her, forcing Mike Pence, who chairs the Senate in his capacity as Vice-President, to cast a deciding vote. In its obsession with privatising every possible function of the State, the DeVos family, yet more billionaires, has given $US200,000,000 to pro-corporate think tanks and anti-union lobbyists.
DeVos wants to favour charter schools, not only as the means to get rid of the public system and its teachers, but also so that America’s children can be inculcated with her family’s fundamentalist Christian beliefs. Almost all US charter schools are fundamentalist. As DeVos sees matters, this would save the next generation from the “compulsory indoctrination in Government schools” that is secular public education. This is advocated as the way to allow “choice”.
Trump has said he wants to divert $US20 billion from Government to charter schools. A previous DeVos attempt to impose charter schools in their home state of Michigan had been thrashed by the electorate. DeVos family values have a history. In 1982 Betsy’s father-in-law, Richard, was convicted of systematically defrauding the Canadian government and in 2009 her husband, Dick, was fined for violating Ohio’s campaign finance laws.
One outfit benefitting from DeVos largesse is the fundamentalist Catholic Acton Institute. They’re into child labour: “’Let us not just teach our children to play hard and study well, shuffling them through a long line of hobbies and electives and educational activities’, said the post’s author, Joseph Sunde. ‘A long day’s work and a load of sweat have plenty to teach as well’” (Huffington Post, 24/11/16, “Group Funded By Trump’s Education Secretary Pick: ‘Bring Back Child Labour’”, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/betsy-devos-child-labor-acton_us_5836eb7fe4b000af95edf12e).
Ben Carson, another fundamentalist, was a contender for the Presidential nomination – the one who never stopped grinning maniacally to show how relaxed he was. Carson switched to support Trump early enough to be rewarded as Secretary for Housing. At his hearing, he kept to the vaguest of conservative platitudes without once mentioning housing, about which he possibly knows as little as his boss. In his constant attempts to come across as at once a rigid Republican doctrinaire and a nice guy he did offer the marvellous observation that “it will not be my intention to do anything to benefit any American”.
Bid To Destroy Public Services
Notice the common factor. Apart from the agencies which control the deployment of soldiers and cops, none of the Cabinet picks has had any connections to the activities which they are appointed to administer. They all either know nothing about or oppose the mandate of their departments or want to abolish them. This was only to be expected from the “non-politician” (fake) reality TV showman. He needs yes men to ensure no independent thinking will try to check his bid to destroy public services.
If the first common reaction to Trump’s candidacy was amusement, then astonishment, we were assured that the almost daily tantrums that followed would sink his chances. As with Adolf Hitler in 1933, the conventional wisdom knew the bubble would burst. Even those who said they liked the man were heard to opine that he had never intended to be serious about the Presidency, that he was trying to sabotage his own chances. Too late it was apparent that his base, as the howling mobs at his rallies came to be called, loved it. Trump had started his campaign with the observation that if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue, his people wouldn’t care. He knew what few others knew.
There were other factors. Despite Trump’s mad rage at “the media”, mention of which brought the loudest of all reactions, he was always helped by the constant publicity. We all have attention deficit disorder these days, and each Trump lie on a Monday was overlooked because there was a new one on Tuesday. While Clinton was harassed for years by her e-mails, charges about which could never be resolved, Trump’s follies were so numerous that nothing specific stayed still long enough to define him in the mind of public opinion the way Clinton was defined.
So frequent have been the rhetorical excesses that, despite constant media coverage, some have been overlooked. Between the election and the inauguration Trump announced, first, that the US needed more nuclear weapons, and, later, that he and Putin agreed the US and Russia wanted to reduce their stockpiles. By February 2017 he had returned to the more plausibly honest expression of what he “thought”, saying that the US had “fallen behind”, an absurdly massive lie, and needed to be “top of the pack”. Expect a new nuclear arms race with his macho mate Vladimir, a speeding up of North Korea’s attempts to get nukes, and...
The man says whatever he needs to say to get through the day or to appease his immediate audience. We might never know what he actually knows or thinks – if anything. Perhaps his aides won’t be sure either. We know from the history of Big Tobacco and Big Oil that corporations pretend to believe what’s expedient to believe (we all do that to some extent). Trump, though, also believes some crazy things which are not connected to his financial needs. He seems to come to really believe what he wants to believe. He invents a reality for himself. He’s delusional.
If so, it’s not a deliberate tactic. Trump has shown that he can’t concentrate on anything except his need for attention and approval. But those around him might have more disciplined minds. They might know how to mould the President’s faults into virtues.
He’s proudest of his deals, effortlessly overlooking his series of bankruptcies. It seems that his method of negotiation has been to encourage opposing views so that the underlings have to compete for his favour, a technique which has sparked the chaotic battle of egos within the White House. In business, he apparently starts big so that opponents might come to accept something less later. It’s a standard tactic and one of the few reasons to hope that it won’t be quite as bad as it looks now. About the only conventional politician in his inner circle, picked possibly to at least act out such a role, is Vice President Mike Pence, a country club Republican from central casting.
At the Press Secretary’s White House briefing on what he called Day One, Trump’s front man spoke about the economy, remarking that he wouldn’t be talking statistics. This could have been that he wanted an out if future data wasn’t encouraging, but it was also because he knew that the base hated statistics, the epitome of the old order and its insistence on evidence and rationality. The best guess – sorry, it’s a statistic, but civilisation has devised few better ways of conveying information that is accurate and exact – is that 68% of Americans distrust federal data on the economy.
On the same day, we got to hear from another adviser about “alternative facts”. In the post-truth society, a phrase that entered public discourse concurrently with Trump’s political life, distortions, inventions and bald lies are routine. You’ve heard all about them.
He Has To Be Taken Literally & Seriously
There are various theories as to how Western society got to this absurd place. Among the guilty is the postmodern professor, the one who said (it was true that) there was no true thing, the one who knew (it was a fact that) there are no facts. Everything is relative. Nothing can be “privileged” over anything else. Unfortunately, he was saying this at the same time as his colleague in the economics department was telling his students an equally arrogant and opposite prejudice: that there was only one true thing. He knew for a fact that neo-liberalism and classical economics was right and any other way of looking at the world’s societies must be wrong. But, really, he wanted to privilege Big Business.
The popular early quote when commentators began to realise that Trump wasn’t going away was to the effect that liberals “took Trump literally but not seriously; his people took him seriously but not literally”. His supporters, this was meaning, did not expect him to build a wall; they were supporting the intent, the emphasis. This flatters his base. If Trump does not seem to deliver exactly what he is promising, philosophic reflection that their man was employing metaphor should not be expected. And after the inauguration, when Trump repeated that, yes, he was going to build the wall, the conventional wisdom changed again.
The man had to be taken literally and seriously. That’s the combination which is proving difficult (what fury and chaos will ensue when Trump fails to deliver, as is the inevitable long game? That’s what is presently unknowable. One broken promise is inevitable. Trump has repeatedly vowed to abolish Obama’s Affordable Care Act so that he can bring cheaper health coverage to all citizens, but that policy is the reason Republicans oppose Obamacare).
Liberal intellectuals have been falling over themselves to admit their guilt and apologise for neglecting the “fly-over states”, these being Trumpland, the inland continent between the coastal cities where the “elites” live. This latter-day repentance can be overdone. In the US, as in most of the world, which certainly includes NZ, governments have always tended to bend to the will of ignorant mobs.
Liberal opinion is readily marginalised, most often through insulting those who seek an end to displays of bigotry and inequality. There are some silly things that earn the rebuke of “political-correctness-gone-mad”, but the Trumpian rage against “PC” is really a tactic to discredit progressive legislation, just as its anti-intellectualism is a tactic to discredit rational thought.
It is by no means a new phenomenon. An influential 1960s analysis was titled “The Paranoid Style In US Politics”. In the post-war era, when the foundations of the dominating US economy were being laid, Senator Joe McCarthy panicked the Government into labelling progressive impulses which were challenging inherited privilege as Communist and thus reprehensible. McCarthyism sought a Trumpian conformity that cowers before power. In the ensuing Eisenhower period, there was derisive talk of thinking people as “eggheads”, to be followed by Tricky Dick Nixon’s dreadful running mate, Spiro Agnew, complaining about critics (or his speech writer did) as “nattering nabobs of negativism”.
Shoving aside ideas and people who threaten the advantages enjoyed by the rich has been a permanent feature. Trump is in the tradition of the 1890s when there was a party that called itself the Know Nothings. Its founding principle was to be ignorant. Better to stick to emotion and prejudice.
Bolsheviks Of The Right
If Trump, with his penchant for assessing US interests on the basis of whether Putin “is nice to me”, comes across as a needy twelve-year-old, his key adviser, the individual thought to be his main conspirator, echoes those young men who erupt into the news when they go on a shooting spree in a church or a mosque. Giving his first interview after being appointed, Steve Bannon threw in the observation that “[d]arkness is good. Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power”. That’s the splutterings of a fascist.
You will have heard of two of this trio but might need reminding that Cheney was Vice President under the challenged George W Bush, leading the effort to resist action against climate change. Bannon will be a latter-day Cheney, directing policy for a boss whose mind is on the job only intermittently. Lou Panetta, Defense Secretary in the Democrats’ Administration, commented that Trump and Bannon were “shooting from the hip”.
But that’s the plan. Keep moving, be a shifting target. Bannon has observed that he models his tactics on Lenin, another who wanted to smash the State and start again. It’s an extreme version of the approach of that other “Bolshevik of the Right”, Roger Douglas - otherwise a very different revolutionary. And don’t forget his mate Mike Moore’s excitement over this shock and awe style. Bannon holds “the elite liberal media” in contempt. “It only helps when [they] get it wrong. They’re blind to who we are and what we’re doing”. The elite liberal media exist in a “metrosexual bubble”. They’re “just a circle of people talking to themselves who have no fucking idea what’s going on”.
He’s right, they didn’t, and in those key Rust Belt states Bannon’s claim that he was out to help the “American working class” was accepted. “I’m an economic nationalist”, says Bannon, putting America First. When politicians combine words like “workers” and “nationalist” we’re reminded again of the German National Socialist Workers Party. Bannon has frequently been described as a “white nationalist”, a hate monger who described a political opponent as a “renegade Jew”.
Be outrageous. Get attention. Cults of irrationality and fascism have always been linked. Another marker is a claim to be prophets of the future. The Italian fascists were into what they called futurism. The Nazis dreamed of a future Berlin filled with vulgarian Hitler Towers. Trumpists are post-modernists.
And you can count on the extreme Right to hold mad views about people who aren’t like themselves. One statement that appeared on Bannon’s “alt news” propaganda outlet was to the effect that birth control makes women ugly.
Bannon used to be a Goldman Sachs banker, one of lots in the new Cabinet from the depths of the swamp. He and Trump talk up workers to get them onside against the “elites” but they will transfer power to an autocratic State run by and for billionaires and their corporations. That’s always the fascist end game.
There was a very justifiable alarm in Washington when Trump added Bannon to his National Security Advisers’ team. They’re supposed to be apolitical experts. They’ll be offering what’s meant to be the best advice about how to react to crises in, say, North Korea or Ukraine. It’s a typical Trumpian blurring of the lines to fuse the powers that are designed to be based on “checks and balances”.
People like Flynn and Bannon were picked to entrench Trumpian values, to give effect to the boss man’s statement that the US should have taken Iraq’s oil when its military was over there (although he’s still repeating the contradictory lie that he opposed the Bush-Blair war). “To the victor belong the spoils”, is Trump’s stated view. Not since Hitler has a European leader advanced such naked strategy.
What Can Be Done?
Michael Moore, the American film maker (not our Mike), has pointed out that in 2009, the first Obama Administration came into office along with a Democratic majority in Congress, an apparently strong position comparable to the double Republican majority that pertains now. Within a year, the Tea Party appeared and any progressive legislation was blocked. Moore says that Trumpist extremism could generate a Tea Party of the Left as the Democrats move beyond Clintonism.
Johnny Lunchbucket might come to regret his vote and recognise that Hillary was more like Mike Moore than Michael Moore. He might by then no longer think about the time he came home from work after the HR man said the plant was closing down and his daughter, who was in that self-righteous trendy Lefty post-modern professor’s class, told him that he and his mates needed to be more inclusive. They needed to embrace diversity. No, I need a job. We’ll see. Trumpism’s crudity is at least there for all to see, lacking the evasions and ambiguities of the Clinton and Obama styles. The threat Trump poses is painfully obvious.
Left unity is certainly as likely now as it’s been in living memory. Consider the various strands of progressive impulses in New Zealand, where the Left’s themes – peace, anti-nuclear, anti-racism, anti-sexism, the environment, anti-TPPA - have not always assimilated each other. Trump offends mightily against all civilised values and affords the opportunity for a united fightback.
Yes, he’s cancelled the TPPA, but only in order to strike a series of bilateral deals to put “America First”. There’s little chance he’ll get around to little NZ any time soon and, if he did, even Bill English says the US will be hoping to advantage itself even more than the TPPA threatened to do.
In early February 2017 Trump met with some of the same mega big bankers whom he’d bashed in his campaign. They were talking deregulation, going back to the unrestrained greed that brought us to the brink in 2008. His appointee as Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, another Goldman Sachs executive and hedge fund manager, will push for the repeal of Dodd-Frank, the legislation which has somewhat curbed Wall Street. If he’s successful in his likely bid to create again a Mike Moore-style world without walls, it’ll be the grossest and most explicit betrayal of all. Trump has called Dodd-Frank a “disaster” and his chief economic adviser, yet another from Goldman Sachs, has vowed to “attack all aspects of Dodd-Frank”.
All through his interminable campaign Trump boasted that he was the only candidate to use only his own money, so he was not dependent on lobbyists, whom he would curb. Besides coming from the biggest and most influential lobbies (Exxon, for instance, funded extremist libertarian and Tea Party outfits) six – and counting - of his billionaires’ Cabinet gave him lots of cash.
The likely outcome of Trump’s centrepiece claim, a curbing of the corruption of special interests, can be anticipated in a guest column his pious Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, contributed to the in-house Capitol Hill newsletter in 1996. As her family was pushing successfully to remove any limits to the amount of “soft money” that corporations could slosh to bribe politicians, DeVos admitted that:
“I know a little something about soft money, as my family is the largest single contributor of soft money to the national Republican Party. I have decided, however, to stop taking offence at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect some things in return. We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American values. We expect a return on our investment…. Furthermore, we expect the Republican Party to use the money to promote these policies, and, yes, to win elections”. Draining the swamp? More like moving to the Everglades.
Make America Grate Again
Repeal of Dodd-Frank would probably make it through Congress, but any confident prediction as to what will happen and when would be unwise. We have little idea. Will we even agree that we see the same reality? As the recent phrase has it, Trump is presiding over the divided States of America, forcing ever more solipsistic alienation. Do people who differ from us merit our interest? Is Hillary Clinton a champion of equal rights or is she the raper and murderer of children? Is civilised and rational discourse still possible?
And so, we veer between indifference and passion, and between ignorance and blind certainty. Our response to matters beyond the self is either a shrug or a shriek. As common values crumble and social cohesion loosens, we lose perspective. Is the news today fake or alt? A world war has broken out. Kim Kardashian has a new outfit. Which story leads? That’s matter of opinion. It’s a free country, isn’t it?
Trump is the first post-modern president. Is he in Washington to enrich his children? To make deals with Russian oligarchs? To kill Muslims? Who’s to say? Is he a politician or a celebrity? Can he distinguish between the real and the fake?
The important thing is that he isn’t into democracy or the rule of law or bourgeois manners. They’re modernist lies, regulations that Crooked Hillary and the Kenyan usurper, Barack Hussein Obama, used to rig the system. It’s time to make America grate again.