Death by a Thousand Trumps: The Logical End Point of Capitalism
“The fundamental problem of political philosophy is still precisely the one that Spinoza saw so clearly (and that Wilhelm Reich rediscovered): Why do men fight for their servitude as stubbornly as though it were their salvation?”
-Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Ant-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia
There is a fairly typical and recurrent notion among many Americans that Donald Trump and his administration is some sort of aberration. As if his brutal, venal, racist, and bullying nature is something new, or different from previous leaders. For those not inclined to look at the historical record; one only has to look beyond our borders to view the authoritarian personality type that Trump represents in power all over the world: Modi, Orban, Erdogan, Jinping, Duterte, and Bolsonaro being the most obvious comparisons.
Our president is not an exception but the logical culmination of a nation built on genocide, slavery, empire, and capitalism. His virulent nationalism, his racist and sexist attitudes, and unbelievably fragile ego are all undisputable proof that millions of people enjoy, tolerate, or acquiesce to his behavior. Liberal pieties and paeans towards restoring normalcy don’t move the needle for most center-left voters either, as it is at least tacitly/subconsciously understood that after Trump and Brexit there is no going back towards “liberal democratic” rule. A threshold has been crossed.
Trump and his billionaire cronies are simply doing what capitalists do best: doling out more death and destruction, which many US citizens are all too comfortable eliding; except for the understandable shock and anger over the most outrageous travesties, such as the burning of the Amazon or children in concentration camps on our southern border. Even then, there is no programmatic analysis of what caused the problem (capitalism and empire) and very little visionary leadership with any social power or pop-cultural relevancy to propose realistic solutions.
It’s crucial to look outside the borders of the US to see how capital really operates. Western multinationals pay foreign governments to murder, ethnically cleanse, pillage, rape, and despoil entire nations and natural habitats. US transnational corporations as well as federal funding for various authoritarian regimes (notably Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, etc.) pay for their militaries, private security forces, death squads, proxy terrorists and spies, as well as corporate espionage.
For these reasons and many more it cannot be considered hyperbole to call the USA a fascist state. For those unconvinced, I suggest reading Umberto Eco’s 1995 essay “Ur-Fascism” to understand why. Henry Giroux uses the term “neoliberal fascism” and his recent book American Nightmare, which I reviewed for New York Journal of Books, spells out in detail the deepening spirals of violence and ignorance American society is succumbing to.
The near total focus on purely domestic policies in mainstream media and by our politicians is excruciating, maddening, and cringe-inducing. The constant domestic policy myopia contradicts any statements that liberals and conservatives actually understand, or have genuine interest or empathy for foreign causes or solidarity with those in need around the globe.
One only has to find old news programs, for example, from the fifties through the eighties to remember that news media for all its flaws then was much more informed and nuanced about international relations compared to today. Dissidents, counterculture figures, communists, and radicals appeared regularly on TV talk shows and were generally encouraged or at least tolerated by liberal establishment journalists, whereas today there is a huge zero. Foreign wars and overseas events were covered more extensively.
There’s no doubt many liberals earnestly want Trump gone for his racist border policy and global warming denialism, among other issues. Yet, of course much of the outrage revolves around the pseudo-moralizing, a way of saying: “He doesn’t represent us, the good-hearted progressive people in the USA.”
A petty, corrupt, racist, chauvinistic, violent grifter is exactly the type of person to represent the United States. It needs to be said, and repeated, over and over.
There are tens of millions of mini-Trumps all over the nation, exploiting, killing, jailing, and materially and mentally impoverishing working people. Here’s something to ponder. How many US citizens would support kicking out all undocumented immigrants in our country? Almost certainly the number is in the millions, if not tens of millions of people.
Where do US citizens think this is all leading towards? Have we not been locked in a death spiral, circling the drain for centuries, and have our leaders not plundered, murdered, enslaved, and ruthlessly exploited fellow humans, nature, and resources at a horrifying and increasing rate? Even further back, isn’t this where Western civilization has been headed towards for 6,000 years: a system based on brutal and authoritarian hierarchies propped up by organized religion, barbaric racism and tribalism, imperial delusions of grandeur, and myths about a world full of limitless resources?
Also, the ruling classes have been getting more ignorant, more venal, less philanthropic, and less empathetic. There are studies that can confirm this: for instance, through measuring emotional intelligence (EQ), it has been found than in corporate firms, positions above middle management show a dramatic drop in EQ. Of course, we know most CEOs and corporate owners are borderline if not full-blown psychopathic or sociopathic. The ownership of our nation are perfectly willing and able to exploit workers, cut benefits, destroy public programs, ignore the poor and minorities, and breed mass alienation at a level unseen since the Gilded Age.
There are about 585 billionaires in the US, about 175,000 people with over 25 million in total (0.05% of the population), 1.4 million individuals with wealth over 5 million (0.42% of the population), and it’s estimated there are about 12 million millionaires in the US (about 3.6% of the population). They are on the other side of a class divide that is widening more every year.
The 2016 election clearly showed white voters turned out in droves for Trump, but what mostly went unmentioned is that for all voters making over 50k a year, the edge also went to Trump, 49% to Clinton’s 47%. So much for the idea that those with wealth are part of a enlightened and tolerant “meritocracy” as our corporate overlords and their media puppets like to constantly remind us: rather, those with just a little bit of money, unconsciously or not, use their vote to crush the lower classes through Trump’s tax cuts for the wealthy, tariffs and trade wars, etc.
Umberto Eco also points this out: he correctly demonstrates that one of the features of fascism is an “appeal to the frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups”. Erich Fromm also mentions this phenomenon at length in his classic Escape from Freedom.
The insatiable desires of the elites and the economic leverage the “Global North” holds furthers absolutely dirt-cheap prices for all manners of consumer goods, by externalizing the costs onto faraway nations, the environment, and the poor who inhabit nearby industrial or manufacturing sites, and other “sacrifice zones”.
This accounts for the burgeoning phenomena of the worker as an “independent contractor”, a model touted by Silicon Valley and venture capitalists. The new model is to cut as many benefits as possible and use low-wage service work or the threat of falling into this precariat as leverage to squeeze as much work and productivity as possible out of what remains of the middle class.
Small businesses which serviced the rich in previous eras are now forced to compete more fiercely or die, and thus compelled into deflationary business models with price wars, etc.; while the large-sector service corporations effectively have monopolies and can force workers to accept low pay due to the reserve army of labor.
Perhaps soon, the majority of the rich will be forced to acquiesce due to popular demand on issues such as free college or universal health care. Yet, they will never, ever choose voluntarily to surrender their basic model of economic power or to restructure corporate America. Freedom without economic equality is impossible. The majority of us are relegated to a form of serfdom, with no prospects for democracy in the economy and the workplace.
Another point worth mentioning is that reform is never going to happen in time through legislative and judicial means. The amount of hoops to jump through, in our constitution and in the legislature, to structurally change the system will take way too long, sap momentum, and destroy any movement based in electoral politics however good the intent.
Requiring any mass movement to follow every legalistic framework for change is just another form of elitism: forcing the multitude to advance at the glacial page of the legal system is simply an authoritarian call for law and order to cement unjust property rights. Any form of reformist policies will be denied by appealing to the status quo of existing laws, and their deluded obsession with following corrupt legal procedures and bureaucratic red-tape written by corporations and lobbyists. Rather, citizen assemblies, general strikes, direct action, and public referenda should be used as much as possible to counter the dirty tricks of the elites.
The main strivings of the members of our government, Democrat or Republican, are for power, money, and fame: they are not any substantially or qualitatively different from Trump in this respect. Their warped, huge, and fragile egos have convinced themselves that they really are the right people for the job, regardless of their obvious corrupt nature, lack of knowledge, and moral failings. Rather than being devoted to public service, their actions imply that they view themselves as doing the public a favor by simply existing and choosing to run for office to provide us with an “enlightened” political class, rather than those scary “populists”.
There is an unacknowledged anti-democratic strain in US society which insists every public policy position must be run by an expert, a technocrat, despite all evidence suggesting these professional-managerial class types (personified by Obama, his reign marking the apotheosis, the high-water mark of meritocratic and liberal democratic ideology) are craven, corrupt sycophants beholden to the power elite.
Apparently there are about 5 million people in the US who hold clearance to view classified material. There are about 1.3 million military and about 700,000 police officers. So that’s 7 million right there which constitute the national security state. The 21st century Praetorian Guard, if you will. If you count the defense corporations, fossil fuel multinationals, and various conglomerates which profit off the destruction and exploitation of workers and the environment, and all the sub-contractors which rely on the largesse (trough) of defense, fossil fuel, and other anti-life industries, that’s a few more million easily.
What I’m getting at is dislodging Trump, or any figurehead president, is small potatoes, because there are at least 10–30 million Americans with a shitload of guns and money who do not want to see any, and I mean any fundamental progressive changes. Without a mass base advocating for socialist and revolutionary democratic policies, there is nothing the ruling classes won’t do to protect their privileges.
Forget an imbecile like Trump. The power elite would rather re-animate the corpse of Genghis Khan than have Bernie Sanders or anyone left of him in charge. Believe that. They would rather use the power of capital flight and take their money to Swiss bank accounts or the Cayman Islands and bankrupt our entire country than see any socialist in power. Bank on it. Forget elections as the exclusive means towards dismantling the power structure. Only mass movements in the streets can fight the barbarism we are confronted with.
This essay also appeared at Dissident Voice: https://dissidentvoice.org/2019/09/death-by-a-thousand-trumps-the-logical-end-point-of-capitalism/