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.

Know thine enemies

A part of Corey Robin’s reaction to the first Presidential debate:

What seems pretty clear, coming away from that debate, is that both parties are ideologically exhausted. Trump is replaying a script from the 1970s, and Clinton’s only answer is herself, that she clearly looks and acts more presidential. This could have been an election, and a debate, that covered new ground. It looks like, for better or for worse, we’ll be re-treading the same old, same old.

It is true that both parties have exhausted their respective ideologies. But their exhaustion appeared as such with the advent of neoliberalism, which dates to Jimmy Carter’s time in office. After all, the neoliberal ideology was and was meant to be a dead end solution to the human predicament. There would be no alternative to capitalist democracy, as per Margaret Thatcher and Francis Fukuyama. There could be only regressions and detours.

Unfortunately, or not, the proud ship of Whig history has sunk on a shoal complex composed of environmental degradation, resource depletion, an ossified capitalist world system and widespread spinelessness among the global political elite. Put differently, the ancestors of our dead enders began to destroy the world long before they took complete hold of it. The dead enders merely are the heirs of an embedded and remorseless Calvinism. But they were thoroughly unhinged by ‘their’ triumph over the residue of Stalinism in Eastern Europe and Russia. They believed their own propaganda had been confirmed! America’s duopoly system merely encapsulates the abyss which awaits us. Clinton and Trump — they are mere signs of our collective destruction. They reflect the stupidity and arrogance of the powerful. They reveal the consequences of our incapacity to learn.

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.

Ariel Sharon — dead

I’d say this inevitable event came much too soon. Sharon would have lived another 1,000 years if the universe were a justice machine. But it isn’t.

He no longer suffers. His friends and admirers ought to rejoice.

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.

The shutdown: Day two

Norman Pollack’s recent description of the impasse rings true:

The “shutdown issue,” presently mired in the political-ideological battle between the Far Right and the Less-Far Right (House Republicans and Administration Democrats), has little to do with the social welfare of the American people, and instead reveals discernible differences only on the degrees of sophistication informing the programs of each in their determined assistance to corporate capitalism. Republicans in this tableau (a staged presentation going back decades in the roles assumed by each side) are the visceral fascists, striking out at government without realizing how much it helps, assists, and protects business and banking, while Democrats actively, yet with becoming liberal rhetoric to hide from themselves their delusions and treachery, take help, assistance, and protection to a higher level of systemic interpenetration between business and government by means of a regulatory framework written by the affected interests.

Pollack considers the shutdown to be an opportunity:

Shutdown, ideally, equals wake-up, an exposure of widespread impoverishment on one hand, widespread waste, corruption of democratic institutions, and military aggression pure-and-simple on the other. If nothing more, scaring the folks at Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs until the legislative conflict is papered over, is worth the candle, considering that nothing will be done for the poor in any case.

But it should prove to be an opportunity missed by those who need to act to bring Superpower to heel:

Sequestration will ensure the lifeblood of the current American polity and economy, militarism attached to the continuing program of global hegemony, so that neither Republicans nor Democrats find urgency in resolving the present stalemate—and in fact, holding the bottom one-fourth of the people hostage to the utter good will of the political system and the consolidated wealth standing behind it, as the source for a solution, is a good lesson in proper obedience, deportment, citizenship. Dangle just enough social- welfare anticipated goodies before the people to ensure quiescence while simultaneously magnifying ideological differences that hardly exist, and one has the perfect formula keeping the masses distracted from the main show—not shutdowns or debt ceilings, but a foreign policy of global capitalist expansion geared to US-defined financial, monetary, and trade advantages, coupled with necessary regime change for their realization, all wrapped in a framework of massive surveillance at home and the quickening paces for demanding patriotism and conformity.

Today, political accountability originates in the streets. Democracy also. Both originate in the streets because America’s electoral mechanism, its judicial practices and its Congress have proved themselves incapable of protecting the citizenry from the government and, of course, the world from America’s empire. But public action of this kind is now risky and even mortally dangerous. Nevertheless the appearance of anti-system social movements and public protest motivated by a system-critical political culture appear to be necessary conditions for the country if it is to move beyond the current situation.

Capitalism and US Oil Geo-Politics » CounterPunch

Rob Urie has provided us with a concisely written essay which identifies the predicaments generated by the capitalist democracies in the West as well as by the global empire governed by power elites located in Washington, DC and Wall Street. Reading Urie’s essay is worth the effort.