Tuesday, February 07, 2017

The loneliness of Donald Trump

President Trump's first fortnight in power has taught us three lessons.

The first lesson is that Trump is an economic nationalist. He was serious when he talked, on the campaign trail, about scrapping free trade deals and keeping American companies from migrating to Mexico and Asia. He was serious about building new infrastructure, like roads and bridges and his notorious border wall, that will create jobs and stimulate the economy.

Last year Boris Kagarlitsky argued that Trump represented the declining manufacturing sector of the American capitalist class, and was opposed by the financial sector of the country's capitalist class, as well by new high tech industries. Trump's first fortnight in power suggests that Kagarlitsky was right.

Wall Street, which had hoped Trump's denunciations of neo-liberal capitalism were unserious, has begun to admit it was wrong. The financial sector and high tech sectors benefit from the relatively free movement of labour as well as capital; they have been unimpressed by Trump's talk of tariffs, and also by his attempts to ban the citizens of seven mainly Muslim nations from entering America. It is no coincidence that tech companies are joining forces to challenge Trump's ban.

Trump's economic nationalism makes him careless about alienating traditional allies like Australia, and reckless in his dealings with China.

The second lesson Trump has taught us is that he wants to conquer and reshape the American state.

Before Trump was elected, observers disagreed over whether or not he would be content to govern within the limits the American constitution traditionally gives to presidents, or whether he was interested in ending the separation of powers between congress, the courts, and the presidency and concentrating power in the White House. We can now see that Trump is keen to control the innermost parts of the American state, and contemptuous of the limits that have traditionally been placed on presidential power.

Trump has pushed members of his family and his political advisers into parts of the 'deep state', like the National Security Council, that have traditionally been off limits to political appointees. He has sacked an Attorney General who questioned the legality of his ban on visitors from seven Muslim majority nations, and has condemned a federal judge who considered the ban unconstitutional. He has attacked congressmen like John McCain, after they queried his authoritarian style.

Some critics of Trump's reach for power point at Stephen Bannon, the former boss of Breitbart News who has been making himself comfortable in the White House over the last fortnight. Bannon's politics have been characterised as fascist, but he isn't necessarily responsible for Trump's authoritarianism. America's new president has spent his life as a corporate dictator, sacking staff and buying and selling companies at will; it is perhaps not surprising that he is still acting like a dictator.
The third lesson Trump has taught us, albeit unwittingly, is that he is isolated, and unlikely, given the present balance of forces, to succeed in turning America towards economic nationalism and in conquering the state. Trump's chthonic nationalism and his contempt for the rule of law have convinced many observers that he is a fascist. But Trump lacks the support of the most powerful parts of America's capitalist class, and he lacks the organised and menacing street army that has traditionally helped fascists take and consolidate power.

In capitalist countries, the ruling class traditionally only turns to fascism when it sees its own power threatened by another class. The German capitalists turned to Hitler because they were traumatised by the Great Depression and terrified that the country's massive Communist Party would take power and seize their factories in the name of the working class.

America is not suffering a Great Depression, although isolated parts of the country, like the Trump-voting coal counties of Kentucky, are suffering an apparently endless economic decline, and no mass radical movement threatens the assets of its elite. A large majority of Republican lawmakers will baulk at Trump's economic nationalism, and will be unimpressed by his attempts to undermine the powers of congress and the courts.

Trump could try to overcome the opposition of the courts and of mainstream Republicans if he had a streetfighting army behind him. If he had such an army he might call on its members to intimidate judges who defy him, to flood airports and make sure that his ban on Muslims is maintained, and to blockade any state legislature that opposes him.

But although Trump won millions of devoted supporters during his election campaign, he has not tried to turn these supporters into brownshirts. He may fulminate against 'so-called judges' and other enemies in his tweets, and his followers may angrily retweet him, but indignation is no substitute for force. It is Trump's opponents who have created, in an extraordinarily brief time, a large and impressively mobile protest movement. Trump is, at present, a lonely figure: a general without an army.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

5 Comments:

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