The Context for the Trump Phenomenon (David Gilbert, 2/19/17)
The bizarre and dangerous rise of Donald Trump did not just pop up out of the thin air. The very foundation of the U.S. is white supremacy. This country is, at its core, imperialist, patriarchal and based in a range of ways human beings are delimited and demeaned. Nor are the specific and terribly virulent politics of racial scapegoating brand new. Always a part of U.S. culture, that approach became more central in mainstream politics, with various ups and downs in the rhetoric, since the end of the 1960s. A stable imperialism prefers to rule by keeping the population passive, with large sectors at home placated by relative prosperity. But when the system is in crisis, those running the economy often resort to diverting anger by scapegoating the racial “other.” The sectors of the population who buy into that get the “satisfaction” of stomping on their “inferiors,” which is a lot easier than confronting the mega-powerful ruling class.
The eruption of mass protest against Trump has been exciting, and so far it’s been sustained. People seem to have a feel for the critical need for ongoing education, organizing, and mobilization. The movement also has to be prepared, both psychologically and in terms of legal and support networks, for greater repression, both state and extralegal.
The Democrats in blaming “those damn Russkies” are deflecting attention away from the real reason they lost: they represented the prevailing global capitalism and all the associated frustrations stemming from the decline of U.S. manufacturing and the erosion of job security. Trump spoke to those anxieties – in a totally demagogic and dishonest way. For example, during the campaign he railed against Goldman Sachs as the prime example of how Wall Street banks screw the working man; then, as president he selected seven of his top economic appointments from the ranks of Goldman Sachs. The Democrats could not provide a compelling alternative to this racist scam artist because they too are fully based in the long bipartisan history of white supremacy, capitalism, and wars of aggression.
Regardless of these questionable charges, Russia can’t hold a candle to the U.S. when it comes to interfering in other countries’ elections, let alone more intrusive and violent means of regime change. The big push by the Democrats and allied sectors of the security apparatus for confronting Russia is not only unjustified but also runs the risk of leading to a horribly destructive war. As much as we’re scandalized, and rightly so, by Trump’s more blatant racism and misogyny, we need to look at the continuities as well as the departures.
President Obama, with his kinder and more inclusive rhetoric, provided trillions of dollars to bail out Wall Street at the expense of Main Street. He presided over seven wars (drone strikes have killed hundreds of civilians and are acts of war under international law). His administration deported a record number of immigrants. In his last year, Obama sought to burnish his legacy around climate change and mass incarceration. He issued a record number of clemencies, but earlier took legal action to keep far more in prison. After Congress passed a law somewhat reducing what had been draconian sentences for crack cocaine, the Justice Department went to court to prevent any retroactive application, and thus kept some 6,000 people behind bars. Similarly, Obama issued a number of executive orders, most of which can be readily reversed, to modestly rein in greenhouse gases. But earlier his administration played a key role in sabotaging the 2009 Copenhagen Conference of Parties, which was the best chance to get a binding international treaty with some teeth in it, at a time when Democrats held a majority in Congress.
Recalling these dire problems is a reminder of how much the most basic issue is the very nature of the system. Nonetheless, there is something new and particularly threatening about Trump’s election: the way he has enlarged, energized and emboldened an active and aggressive base for white supremacy. Immigrants, Muslims, Native American water protectors, Black Lives Matter activists, women who’ve faced sexual assault, LGBTQ folks, those who can’t afford health insurance, and more all feel under the gun. The prospect of an unbridled pouring of more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is terrifying.
We can’t forget that an imperialism in crisis will turn to racist mobilizations to supersede obstacles to continued domination and expansion. The U.S. hasn’t yet reached that dramatic turning point, but it has been teetering in and out of economic and political crises since 1971. And on top of that, we now are on the brink of environmental disasters that can’t be resolved under capitalism.
As of this writing (February 2017) major sectors of the ruling class are still wary of Trump as too much of a loose cannon. They are making an effort at least to rein him in if not bring him down, although leading with the very dangerous push toward greater confrontation with Russia. It remains to be seen if Trump’s amalgam of billionaire businessmen and ultra-Right white nationalists can provide a coherent program or even hold together. Whatever happens with his presidency, we likely are in for a burgeoning of white supremacist movements. If Trump’s economic policies appear to be successful (possible in the short run of a couple of years but, if so, with giant dislocations and problems in the longer run), he’s a hero to those embittered sectors of the white working and middle classes who voted for him. On the other hand, if his administration implodes, millions of his fervent supporters will see it as the “elites” bringing down their champion. In either case our job, our challenge, is to build a strong movement that can articulate the real issues and clearly present humane, international and sustainable alternatives.
There’s been an outpouring of Left analysis on who voted for Trump and why. Some of it is very helpful about race, class, and the economy. From what I’ve seen there’s been very little that puts all that in the global context, with the U.S. as the premier imperial power but in decline. Nor has there been enough that has rooted Trump’s rise in the developments of the past 45 years. This is the challenge for our ongoing project of analysis and action.
David Gilbert #83-A-6158
Wende Correctional Facility
3040 Wende Road
Alden, New York 14004-1187
Leave a Reply