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.

The Iraq genocide

Barry Lando, at one time an investigative producer for 60 Minutes, made a succinct yet indirect case for identifying America’s efforts in Iraq as a genocide. About the United States’ post-9.11 war Lando wrote the following: “The military onslaught and the American rule that immediately followed, destroyed not just the people and infrastructure of Iraq, but the very fiber of the nation.”

Why genocide? When one couples the invasion and occupation with American long-term support for Saddam Hussein, with George H.W. Bush‘s inciting a rebellion in Iraq which he later would not support, with America’s attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure during and after the Gulf War, with the murderous sanctions regime of the 1990s, the United States has directly or indirectly killed or displaced millions of Iraqis. It has also provoked the peoples of Iraq to take up arms and use them in the struggle for power and advantage in their country. The United States destroyed a nation. This, indeed, is a genocide.

George W. Bush inconvenienced

Dubya in jail

The problem for the ex-Decider, current fine arts painter is legal in nature:

Will George W. Bush set foot in Europe again in his lifetime?

A planned trip by Bush to speak at the Switzerland-based United Israel Appeal later this week has been canceled after several human rights groups called for Swiss authorities to arrest Bush and investigate him for authorizing torture. Bush has traveled widely since leaving office, but not to Europe, where there is a strong tradition of international prosecutions.

The Swiss group and Bush’s spokesman claim that it was threats of protest, not of legal action, that prompted the cancellation. But facing protests is nothing new for Bush. What was different about this trip was that groups including Amnesty International and the Center for Constitutional Rights argued that Switzerland, as a party to the UN Convention against Torture, is obligated to investigate Bush for potential prosecution.

Is it unsurprising that a Bush spokesman has a truth-telling problem? No, of course not. The word “Bush” could become a synonym for “liar.” Nor is it surprising that George W. Bush wants to avoid the legal problems generated by his criminal actions. There is nothing here which is at all surprising because he has evaded responsibility for his worst acts his whole life.

It just pleases me greatly that The Decider must avoid traveling to and around Europe lest he risk finding himself in prison for the rest of his life for the decisions he made while president! It would please me even more if he were to spend the rest of his life in prison for his crimes.

Quote of the day

Rob Urie, echoing Daniel Goldhagen, wrote:

Ten years after the invasion, occupation and widespread destruction of Iraq was set into motion the revisionist apologetics are flying fast and furious. These include the denial of culpability for crimes committed, the systematic undercounting of the innocents slaughtered and displaced and the conveniently forgotten hubris of empire in the high theater of technocratic carnage. They also wanly posit the historical epic is behind ‘us,’ the 75% of the populace reported in poll results to have supported the war before news began leaking that its murder and mayhem weren’t achieving their hypothesized results. So to this 75%, a/k/a the American people, is the problem that we murdered too many or not enough? Put another way, what number of murdered Iraqis would be too many if today there were a Starbucks on every corner in Baghdad and Payday Lenders to bridge the cash flow shortfalls of the citizenry that remains?

Those murdered cannot speak up in order to be counted as such. Nor can they retaliate, demand justice or ask for a do-over. They died in order to affirm the vanity of America’s Chicken-Hawks and to meet the national-security needs of Israel’s morally unhinged elite. There may be only outcome which could make their deaths meaningful as grand Historical facts — common American standing up to their ‘leaders’ and forcing them to make good on the demand, “Never Again.”

Recommended: Massive Surge of Republican Money in Last Ditch Effort to Sink Obama

Thomas Ferguson and his collaborators have warned us about an endgame surge by the Romney campaign, a possible leap in his popularity that might eventually bury the Obama presidency. In this respect the Romney campaign may mimic the Bush campaign of 2000. Both have been fueled by massive spending and guided by lying. These, to be sure, are core competencies of the Republican Party. It is because of this late cycle spending that G.W. Bush leapt over Gore in the last days of the electoral season, although his election victory was helped by a corrupted electoral mechanism and a most dubious Supreme Court decision. Additional political disasters followed the constitutional coup d’état of December, 2000.

This is the post-Citizen’s United age in American politics, and money collection and spending along with elite ‘generosity and civic mindedness’ are the true stories of the current electoral season. This fact does not distinguish the 2012 elections from its recent predecessors. The defining mark this year issues from the quantities of money spent during the campaign. The Romney campaign, according to Ferguson, et. al., lately seems to be spending large sums of this money in the battleground states to win a victory next week. This effort favors Romney, of course.

A Romney victory fueled by big donor cash would certainly prompt outrage by Democratic Party partisans, although their rage would obscure the massive amounts of money raised and spent by the 2012 and 2008 Obama campaigns. The Democratic Party lacks clean hands in this matter. It, like the Republican Party, serves as a tool of Wall Street, the security-surveillance apparatus and, in a word, the empire. Thus the cries of the partisans ought to be considered mere hypocrisy rendered into obscure sounds, wholly without intrinsic importance. The somewhat obscure significance of this kind and degree of campaign spending lies elsewhere. Ferguson and company rightly locate and identify the effect produced by this money:

Big Money’s most significant impact on politics is certainly not to deliver elections to the highest bidders. Instead it is to cement parties, candidates, and campaigns into the narrow range of issues that are acceptable to big donors. The basis of the “Golden Rule” in politics derives from the simple fact that running for major office in the U.S. is fabulously expensive. In the absence of large scale social movements, only political positions that can be financed can be presented to voters. On issues on which all major investors agree (think of the now famous 1 percent), no party competition at all takes place, even if everyone knows that heavy majorities of voters want something else.

The quoted passage neatly expresses the gist of Sheldon Wolin’s inverted totalitarian thesis, namely, “Antidemocracy, executive predominance, and elite rule are basic elements of inverted totalitarianism” (2008, 239). Or, to make the point in different terms, those who have the gold make the rules, as Ferguson suggested in his classic book. The United States remains a democracy, albeit a highly qualified democracy. Elections occur, and candidates circulate in and out of office. But the demos at large cannot control or even hold its governors accountable for what they do or fail to do. Fractions of the demos that sit beyond the pale cannot expect to win the next election, as electoral losers can expect in a functioning representative democracy. They will remain a nullity. As a consequence, American citizens are principals without agents. The principals that count in American politics are the gold holders. The participation of the “lesser people” (Alan Simpson) in the creation of collective political power mimics that of a compliant and nearly mute Greek chorus. They may select only from all but indistinguishable options. The demos at large can therefore only replace one faceless face (or set of faceless faces) with another without, however, altering economic and security policy in a significant way. These policy choices belong to the gold bearing elite and oligarchs. The democratic mechanism in the United States thus makes adverse selection an unavoidable fate for most voters. Only massive and mutually supportive social movements have the potential power needed to break the cash-government connection. As Wolin once put the matter: In the United States…it is the streets where democracy is most alive…”, a “fugitive democracy” much like the early demos (2008, 227), but a democracy nevertheless.


Related articles

Quote of the day

The latest one originated from the late Alexander Cockburn‘s typewriter back in the late 1980s:

I came to the United States in, June of 1972, the month Nixon’s burglars broke into the Watergate, and I am writing these lines fifteen years later while Colonel North lectures Congress about the role of executive power in the Iran-Contra scandal. Looking at North’s cocksure, edgy ingratiating profile I am reminded of his avatar: the ‘can do’ guy in Nixon’s White House, Gordon Liddy. The contrast is a good measure of the political and social distance the country has traveled between the two scandals.

Liddy, endlessly testing his ‘will’ and firing himself up with Nietzschean vitamins, had the beleaguered paranoia of a sworn foe of the sixties counter-culture. Bad fellow though Liddy was, there was always an element of Inspector Clouseau about him. He held his hand over a candle to prove his fortitude against pain, and when the time came, he stood by the can do’ guys code of omerta and served his time in Danbury federal penitentiary without a whimper.

Back in the Watergate hearings you could look at the burglars, at their sponsors in the White House, at Nixon himself and see that despite noises of defiance and protestations of innocence they knew they had been caught on the wrong side of the law and, though they would do their utmost to keep clear of the slammer, it would not come as a shock to them if the slammer was where they finally ended up.

North is as true a memento of the Reagan era as Liddy was of that earlier time. North has Reagan’s own capacity for the vibrant lie, uttered with such conviction that it is evident how formidable psychic mechanisms of self-validation, in the very instant of the lie’s utterance, convince the liar — Reagan, North — that what he is saying is true. But if Liddy embodied the spirit of fascism at the level of grand guignol, North has the aroma of the real thing, eighties all-American style: absolute moral assurance that his lawlessness was lawful; that though he was there to ‘get things done’, he was following orders; that all impediments in his path, legal or moral, were, obstructions erected by a hostile conspiracy.

From Liddy to North to whom? This obvious question lacks an obvious answer. One might consider George W. Bush to be the provider of that image. We need only recall his searching for WMD around his office and under his speaking lectern while the Washington press corps and other beltway insiders snickered, humorless and thoughtless shtick which amused these well-connected Washingtonians. Rahm Emanuel provides another worthy candidate. Surely his “fucking retarded” outburst when characterizing a few liberal groups that wanted to attack those Blue Dog Democrats who were unwilling to support Obama’s corporate-friendly health care bill stands out for what passes as noblesse oblige in contemporary Washington. Yet I believe that the compelling symbol today is not a member of the political elite justifying his or her actions to Congress or a court or the public. Rather today these men and women mostly need not justify their crimes for these crimes are largely ignored by the much of the press, the public in general and most politicians. In the United States today, the rule of law applies to the many whereas a few enjoy the rule by law. The image of lawlessness has thus shifted from key members of an amoral elite confronting their crimes in public to the well-known and not-so-well-known victims of those crimes — to the Mannings and Padillias, the Assanges and Stewarts, as well as every black site prisoner who exists as homo sacer, civilly dead beings wholly lacking political rights; to the individuals sprayed, cuffed and beaten by police forces which have come to use barely restrained power on America’s rights bearing citizens; to those made bankrupt by a predatory banking system, by job loss, by massive and unavoidable debt and by a government committed to austerity and war. This is America today:

Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever (Orwell, 1984).

Reactionary politics and the deficit

Chad Stone, the chief economist for The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, informs us that “…the Bush-era tax cuts and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — including their associated interest costs — account for almost half of the projected public debt in 2019 (measured as a share of the economy) if we continue current policies.”

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

This debt projection is instructive, although, as Kathy Ruffing and James R. Horney, also members of The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, point out, “Some lawmakers, pundits, and others continue to say that President George W. Bush’s policies did not drive the projected federal deficits of the coming decade — that, instead, it was the policies of President Obama and Congress in 2009 and 2010. But, the fact remains: the economic downturn, President Bush’s tax cuts and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq explain virtually the entire deficit over the next ten years ….” The debt projection may be instructive, but only those willing to evaluate the facts of the matter and then soundly draw conclusions from their evaluations will learn something pertinent about America’s economic predicament.

I guess the Washington elite along with their finance capital paymasters are not among those individuals capable of learning anything about the economy they regulate.