The chaos

Some assert that Donald Trump is a fascist. Although his personal inclinations as revealed to the public show a person with the personality a fascist leader would have, and his identity and class biases affirm this description, it is an obvious fact that Donald Trump was too lazy to have built the movement, party and related institutional forms needed to be considered an actual fascist leader. What, then, is Donald Trump? I believe he is a vile opportunist who found himself the executive of the world’s Superpower while tenuously leading the mostly disorganized far right public in the United States. For them, Trump is their latest celebrity-hero, an accidental Robespierre of the counter-revolution they desire. As such, he provides a frame through which they can locate their aspirations and interpret their political opportunities. He is a Reagan who no long speaks in code, a Buchanan to whom they can relate. That said, it is also a fact that the Trump administration lacks democratic legitimacy. He lacks democratic legitimacy because the demos did not vote him into office. The demos chose Hillary Clinton. The Constitution gave us Trump. Donald Trump, despite his democratic legitimacy deficit, possesses the powers specific to his office. He will hold these powers until he leaves office. But it is because Trump lacks democratic legitimacy that he also lacks the authority (power amplified because it is recognized as legitimate) always found in a leader who enjoys the broad and deep consent of those he would govern.

Briefly put, Trump is dangerously powerful because he is the President of the United States, holder of an office that controls an immense arsenal of violent tools. But he is politically weak because he lacks the authority a democratic consensus provides to an office holder and because he cannot let a day pass without creating new and powerful enemies at home and abroad. At best, he can impose his will on the society and state he leads with his executive orders (decrees). But even his rule by decree founders on his incapacities. The events of his first week in office made this point obvious.

If, then, Trump is a fascist, he is largely hated and politically weak. This combination does not auger well for his political future.

Others assert that Trump oftensometimes furthers the policies, programs and goals of his recent predecessors. This claim is frequently true. It is made because the claim and its truth are meant to diminish Trump’s predecessors while normalizing Trump’s barbarism. There is irony in this gambit, for the normal and barbaric can merge into one disturbing image.

First, for instance, we know Trump wants to ban prospective immigrants and deport actual immigrants, even legally protected immigrants. Yet, we also know that Barack Obama did restrict immigration and deport some of those who made it into the United States. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush also advanced border control policies. Their support for these policies are not too surprising given the fact that setting and consolidating borders is an elemental competency of any modern state. It is also unsurprising because globalization (American-led imperial expansion) produces migration problems as a matter of course. We should expect migration problems because successful imperial aggression results in accumulation by dispossession, as David Harvey (2003, 145-182) notes. Of course, placeless people need somewhere to go. Nevertheless, a freely flowing movement of migrants from one state to another reveals the presence of an incapacitated or failed state. Accordingly, no state or political leader promotes or long-tolerates an un- or under-restricted movement of groups or individuals across its borders. This claim does not absolve Trump, though. What distinguishes Trump’s immigration rhetoric from that of his recent predecessors and what makes it objectionable per se is the overt hatred he consistently expresses through his proclamations and policies. His recent immigration ban only exposes his barbarism for what it is. Trump seemingly feels justified in making his decrees and imposing his bans because he considers some actual and potential immigrants to be monsters or sub-human criminals. He uses these outliers to define whole population categories, massive groups that must be dealt with as collective entities, as others. This is inhumane and unrealistic. It is because of Trump’s hatreds that I believe his policies are not akin to border control policies as practiced by states not enthralled to atavistic impulses. It reflects another, related project: Identity construction. Trump seeks to promote a cramped and corrupt unity among his followers in the United States and even abroad. It is a reactionary identity politics. It is cramped and corrupt because the United States is already a multi-ethnic and -religious society. (Muslim, Hispanics, Gays, Oh My!) Its many and diverse peoples cannot be forced into a system of categorical domination led by one distinct identity category without the use of an appalling degree of violence. It cannot because the United States is slowly moving towards instituting an ethos of tolerance and mutual recognition that will make White America obsolete. Seen in this light, Trump’s hatreds reveal the existential anxiety of a social category that is watching its moment pass before its eyes, namely, the augmented WASPish America that appeared as an ideological sign after the Second World War. These anxieties, along with Trump’s immigration politics, have nothing to do with a credible and morally defensible immigration program. They reflect instead the death of the White American dream.

Second, Trump wants to prosecute what remains of the Great War on Terror by destroying ISIS and, perhaps, Iran. In this he follows the repetitive and reckless program set by George W. Bush, Barack Obama, the Clintons and much of the Washington establishment since 9.11. This path extends back further to the Gulf War of 1990-1 as well as to the genocidal sanctions regime promoted by Third-Way ‘leftists’ like Bill Clinton and Tony Blair once Operation Desert Shield turned modern Iraq into a non-modern wasteland. Although the details of this compulsive war-making may differ between the various administrations, the Islamophobia and disrespect for human life, the imperial arrogance and militarism which marked the original invasion remain intact. These vices also reflected in the relations the United States has with Brazil, Russia, India and China as well as the lesser members of the world economy. From these relations, we know that the United States does not provide humanitarian goods to the world as expressions of its essential goodness. It takes wealth when it can, promotes its clients and extends its sphere of influence. It fights wars and spreads its war-making capacity around the world in order to achieve its imperial goals. In this regard, Trump now occupies a place and furthers a project that already existed, one created by the costly and fruitless imperial programs of the past, by a political culture that believes America is exceptional, an Empire of Liberty. Trump’s America First and Make America Great Again slogans reflect his imperial mindset. They are not novel interventions into American public discourse. Likewise, destroying or attempting to destroy ISIS or Iran provide just two additional data points in the American Presidents are fools slot. The slogans and war-making are all-to-typical of the country.

Third, Trump also looks well on his way to implementing an austere pro-corporate economic agenda. Once again, Trump’s inclinations in this matter do not mark him as different from the Bushes and Clintons, from Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan and even Jimmy Carter. Despite his populist campaign rhetoric, which promised job creation, living wages and cost controls, goals that an economically beleaguered population would gladly support, Trump and his cabinet picks seem prepared to promote a capital- and oligarchy-friendly agenda. This is unsurprising given the role played by the Heritage Foundation in the formation of that agenda. (“Free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense — these are the values that we fight for every single day.“) It is also unsurprising given that the Empire of Liberty exists to further the ends of capital, not the demos. The business of America is business, as the pithy slogan puts it. Neoliberal dogma, the current expression of this economic impulse, provides the air Washington, New York, Chicago, London, Brussels, etc. breath. It is the American ideology writ large, to which alternatives are neither conceivable nor tolerable.

If Newton saw more than others because he stood on the shoulder of giants, we may expect Trump to make the colossal messes he will make because he will merely disturb or extend the social and political wasteland created by his mediocre and compromised predecessors. This amounts to saying that the disorder of the moment is not specific to Trump, his program and administration. The risk and uncertainty many Americans experience every day expresses the creeping institutional decay of the current American system, the system disintegration specific to post-Golden Age democratic capitalism. The 2008 crisis merely exacerbated these problems. In the United States, this decay takes the form of a permanently stagnating economy; the prevalence of debt bondage within the lower classes; the use of finance capital by America’s oligarchy to confiscate the wealth of the many; the consolidation of the predatory state; the intractable insignificance of the democratic mechanism in the effort to generate solutions to common and pressing problems; the present and future dangers of a bloated security-surveillance apparatus only able to consume scarce resources, commit crimes and produce chaos with notable effectiveness; and the slow decay of those institutions meant to realize a common good, an inclusive form of solidarity, replacing them with militarized police forces, prisons and internment camps. Trump has nothing relevant to say about these matters, and Americans will wait in vain if they expect him to correct them just like they waited for Obama to deliver change they can believe in.

I believe that very little a reasonable person would consider desirable can come from these oppressive and exploitative conditions. Altering them to make them significantly better would require a reform program the likes of which the world has yet to see. A program of this sort would necessarily be a radical reform program. If it were successful in achieving its ends, one might consider it another instance of a velvet revolution. The Green New Deal would be one good place to look for the makings of this radical reform program. Or, it would be if it were not for the fact that implementing a radical reform program with this character would require achieving contestable secondary goals. It would require dismantling America’s really existing Empire of Liberty and replacing the Federal Reserve and Wall Street. In their place, we would see a Department of State devoted to achieving world peace and a financial system dedicated to promoting human flourishing. A rational political economy would devote trillions of dollars to clean energy, to green transportation and commodity production. A radical reform program would promote the rehabilitation of democracy in America. It would rescue it from the severe constraints imposed by money, class and history. This is a utopia, and we would expect America’s oligarchy, its capitalist class in general, its political elite, members of the security-surveillance apparatus and even many of its citizens to oppose any effort to implement this program. Radical change is inconvenient as it is risky. The benefits it produces might not appear for years or even generations in the future. They may even appear impossible at any given moment. Both the powerful and weak can find reasons to opt out. Nevertheless, a program this radical stands as the historic demand of the moment. We know this because the world will not always endure the scourges of neoliberalism, American militarism and remorseless carbon consumption. Climate chaos changes everything, as Naomi Kline put it. It demands of humanity that it put its house in order. This demand is most compelling in the United States.

Donald Trump, crypto- or accidental-fascist as he may be, stands as an impediment to any radical reform program. He is an impediment because he is a bundle of dirt, lies and crime, but also because he has many violent institutions in his back pocket. He may lack democratic legitimacy, but he does not lack popular support. He is, as it were, a Son of America. On the other hand, the Trump regime provides us with an opportunity, namely, the chance to gain clarity about and insight into the predicaments of the day and to struggle to rectify the damage that has already be done. From chaos we can create form.

It’s the end of the world as we know it

Apart from excited Trump supporters, there are few in the United States and elsewhere anticipating his inauguration with hope for the future and gratitude over his success. The fact is, if the United States had had a functioning and rational democratic polity and if the rule of law had been an organic quality of its institutions, then Donald Trump would not be poised to become president of the United States. He would be contemplating a jail term instead. Moreover, at this moment, he is slated to violate the emolument clause of the Constitution (Article 1, Section 9, Clause 8), and willingly so. His willfulness is unsurprising because sleaze defined his business career, vice his personal life. More importantly, we can be certain that a rational democratic polity, namely, a political system in which a well-informed demos could significantly influence the institutions and decisions of the state, would not produce a Hilary Clinton or a Donald Trump as the only feasible candidates for president. This certainty reflects the fact that these candidates were so bad that reasonable individuals would not choose either for president. They would choose instead someone worthy of the office, picking from a candidate pool that offered defensible but different solutions to the problems at hand. How do we know they would make a better choice? We know because we identify someone as reasonable because they consistently act reasonably.

Consider Trump’s adversary. Just like Hillary Clinton’s preferred opponent, crime and corruption, incompetence and hypocrisy stain her persona, and presumably her soul. Her Foundation functioned as a bagman for the influence she peddled. As the First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State, she produced a record composed of imperial war-making and genocide, of rapacious attacks on the subordinate classes and groups, of the transformation of the welfare state into the carceral state and of the waste of capital by Wall Street. Today, Hillary and Bill Clinton, along with Barack Obama, stand before the world as the faces of a country suffering an irreversible decline, and of a state much more dangerous to its citizens and others than any state known to us. It is exceptional only in the dangers it makes real.

Amazing as it may seem, given the power vested in the office they sought, Americans despised both candidates. This hatred included some of their partisan ‘allies.’ At times, candidate Trump appeared as though he wanted to ruin the Republican Party. He attacked his opponents as well as party regulars. Naturally, his party reciprocated. It now appears obvious that a large fraction of America’s security-surveillance apparatus want to destroy him. Likewise, the FBI, or a fraction thereof, attempted to wreck Hillary Clinton late in the campaign. She clearly harmed her party through her tainted primary victory and her decisive loss to a buffoon like Donald Trump. Along the way she alienated the leftwing of her party with her arrogant march to defeat, treatment that continues with the post-election faction battles occurring across the country. And she, along with the party elite, seemed to have learned nothing from their defeat. They blame others (Russia and Putin!) for their failings. They believe they were stabbed in the back by the FBI, Sander’s supporters and Green Party members. They fail to realize that their grafting of neoliberalism and identity politics works well only when the country enjoys a bubble inflating. They have only indifference, patronizing gestures and a mailed fist whenever the bubble deflates. Neoliberalism does not play in hard times. Only a simpleton would believe otherwise. Enriching the already rich, empowering the already powerful — neoliberal nostrums require heavy doses of ideological foolishness, narcolepsy and nativist bluster to swallow, when making ends meet becomes a difficult problem. Even ideology and identity fail when capitalism torments the electorate, who vote with their pocketbook even when they choose to follow this or that charismatic leader. Like any candidate, the neoliberals need voters once they spend their billions on a campaign. They need to offer something to the electorate. They need democratic legitimacy. Even running against a Donald Trump could not put Hillary Clinton in office, she the charmless Princess of negative charisma. As a system politician, she offered nothing but more of the same.

Despite his triumph, most Americans do not care for Donald Trump. Because of this his electoral victory amounts to a personal defeat. He did not win the popular vote, and he lacks democratic legitimacy because of it. He is a populist lacking popular support. His inauguration might become a social disaster. Few wish to attend, applaud and cheer. Musicians break agreements to abandon him. Hollywood ridicules him. His cabinet nominees disgrace themselves when they appear before Congress. The CIA and MI6 collude to spoil his already damaged reputation. He may quit the job, Congress may impeach him or an assassin kill him. The bar is set low.

I suspect that we may be living through a decisive moment in American history. By decisive I mean it is a time pregnant with the promise of radical change. I am not alone in this regard. The duopoly party system that emerged after Watergate, a regime that expressed the neoliberal turn in the nation’s political economy, is all but spent. It never had a defensible moral compass. The needle of its political compass always pointed to Hell. To my mind the Obama administration provided the farcical endgame for this regime. He was a system politician, and for most Americans, that system came to be a source of worry and debt, of a better future that would never come. I also suspect that many Americans believed Obama would deliver a politics that realized the hopes he elicited from them on the campaign trail. He would not be another phony leader. He would follow the path set by Martin Luther King, whose name Obama invoked. His reforms would make their lives better. But Obama was a phony. For Obama, King provided a symbol he cynically appropriated, not a model for a political ethos. He thus gave America another failed presidency, reckless war-making, surveillance and a rawer form of capitalism. Out of his failures and their hopeless some Americans looked towards a Trump, some towards a Sanders. I leave it to my readers to judge whether the sociopath or the fellow traveler would make successful presidents under present circumstances, when radical change confronts us.

Quote of the day

John Kerry, a crude opportunist by trade and need, recently dismissed Edward Snowden’s manhood — his virtù, to use the sense of the word given to it by Niccolò Machiavelli. David Lindorff rightly took issue with Kerry’s denunciation of Snowden. He concluded thusly:

Kerry has no right to question anyone’s “manhood.”

Having John Kerry tell someone like Snowden to “man up” is the moral equivalent of Richard Nixon telling someone to follow his conscience or Bernie Madoff telling a homeless beggar to get an honest job.

Snowden would have to be crazy or a masochist to come back to the US and submit his fate to the “American justice system” touted by Secretary Kerry.

Without a doubt, Edward Snowden in his person and actions more concisely expresses the sense Machiavelli gave to this term than Kerry ever had, even if we include the Kerry who opposed the Vietnam War. Machiavelli would have praised Snowden’s ferocity and bravery, his tactical and strategic senses and even his patriotism. He would have appreciated Snowden’s audacious project, one which originated in his stated hope to help put an end to America’s emerging tyranny. He would have considered Snowden a fellow republican. On the other hand, Machiavelli would have judged Kerry to be a faithless mercenary, and a source of corruption.

Robert Polin on minimum wage increases

Lost jobs because of modest — and thus inadequate — minimum wage increases? Not according to Robert Polin:

Austerity kills

It is always worth making the effort to recognize that an unnecessary but not pointless austerity politics creates adverse and, sometimes, existential problems for those individuals without the means or power to solve their personal problems. These individuals can only suffer what they cannot avoid. Scot Rosenzweig of Allentown, PA confronted Pennsylvania Governor Corbett with this issue, forcing him to defend his support for his Healthy Pennsylvania project, derided by its critics as CorbettCare. Corbett notoriously refused to accept the greater Medicaid monies authorized by the Affordable Care Act. Corbett eventually proposed a plan that would limit the scope and efficacy of the health care provided by the state of Pennsylvania to its poorest citizens. Currently, thanks to Corbett’s ideologically motivated scheming, Pennsylvania has neither an expanded Medicaid program nor even the lesser CorbettCare. At least one death can be attributed to this lack:

Her death did not faze Corbett, however.

Glenn Greenwald and Peter King respond to Obama’s NSA ‘Reforms’

First Black President© to open Plantations!

A White House press release announced the good news:

For decades before the economic crisis, local communities were transformed as jobs were sent overseas and middle class Americans worked harder and harder but found it more difficult to get ahead.  Announced in last year’s State of the Union Address, the Promise Zone Initiative is part of the President’s plan to create a better bargain for the middle-class by partnering with local communities and businesses to create jobs, increase economic security, expand educational opportunities, increase access to quality, affordable housing and improve public safety.  Today, the President announced the next step in those efforts by naming the first five “Promise Zones”.

The first five Zones, located in San Antonio, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Southeastern Kentucky, and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, have each put forward a plan on how they will partner with local business and community leaders to make investments that reward hard work and expand opportunity.  In exchange, these designees will receive the resources and flexibility they need to achieve their goals.

Each of these designees knows and has demonstrated that it takes a collaborative effort – between private business and federal, state, tribal and local officials; faith-based and non-profit organizations; children and parents – to ensure that hard work leads to a decent living for every American, in every community.

Good jobs for everyone? Well, no. The program is limited in scope (it does not include everyone in need) and lacks a living wage requirement (wages and benefits will reflect the labor market for unskilled labor). Is this welfare for the common man and woman? Again, no. The program will be formed around tax breaks, regulation suspensions and similar corporate welfare programs. The tacit goal is to create a government sponsored low-wage, low-regulation labor market in areas which suffer from a labor market surplus. The program is, in fact, a rehash of what were once called Urban Enterprise Zones. The Promise Zones are, plainly put, plantations, as Mike Whitney pointed out:

Plantations were a familiar feature of the antebellum South, but were abandoned following the Civil War. Now a new generation of corporate kleptocrats want to revive the tradition. They think that weakening consumer demand and persistent stagnation can only be overcome by skirting vital labor protections and shifting more of the cost of production onto workers. Obama’s promise zones provide a way for big business to slip the chains of “onerous” regulations and restore, what many CEO’s believe to be, the Natural Order, that is, a Darwinian, dog-eat-dog world where only the strongest and most cunning survive.

I wonder if Foxconnthe “we drive our employees to commit suicide” people — will open an Arbeitslager in the United States? They surely are the kind of company Obama wants to attract.

The PRC — A worker’s paradise