Monday, April 24, 2017

Trump and capitalist populism


Are any of us surprised that Trump turns out not to bethe worker-friendly populist he posed as while running for president?  He’s not the great anti-establishment outsider determined to return “power to the people”. Trump isn’t the swamp-draining populist working class champion he pretended to be on the campaign trail. Trump is the latest in a long line of sloganeers from Huey Long’s ‘Every man a king’ to Bill Clinton’s ‘Putting People First.’  Trump reveals the unoriginality of the phenomenon.

The evidence for this is solid enough.  His cabinet and top advisor circle is full of members of the ruling class like former Goldman Sachs President Gary Cohn (top economic adviser), long-time top Goldman Sachs partner and top executive Steve Mnuchin (Secretary of the Treasury), and billionaire investor Wilbur Ross (Secretary of Commerce). Trump has surrounded himself with the very same elite he criticized Hillary Clinton for representing. Trump meets regularly with top corporate and financial CEOs, who have been assured that he will govern in accord with their wishes.  He receives applause from business elites for his agenda of significant large scale tax cuts and deregulation for wealthy individuals and corporations they milk for obscene profits.

Trump was never really an anti-establishment candidate beyond the deceptive rhetoric he cynically employed – consistent with the longstanding fake-populist “essence of American [and bourgeois] politics” – to win enough white working class and rural votes to prevail over dismal, dollar-drenched Hillary Clinton.Trump is where the elites want him and “serves the establishment.”

 From Karl Marx’s time and before to the present day, bourgeois “constitutional” states practicing a strictly limited and deceptive form of “democracy” have been torn by a fundamental contradiction.  On one hand, victorious candidates have to win enough popular votes to prevail in elections. They can hardly do that by proclaiming their commitment to the rule of the wealthy capitalist Few.  On the other hand, they cannot garner the resources to win elections and govern effectively without the backing and cooperation of the investor/capitalist class, whose control of money and the means of production is critical to political power and policymaking.

 in a critique by Anthony DiMaggio:
U.S. corporations exercised power over communities, much like Kings do over feudal serfs, by exercising ownership over the means of production in the U.S. economy. They command worker loyalty due to their ability to hire and fire Americans and provide basic benefits such as health care or 401k and pension benefits. But corporations also possess the power to destroy people’s lives via capital flight. Simply by threatening to leave a community and move factories abroad in pursuit of higher profits and weaker environmental regulations, corporations hold citizens hostage…The marketplace is a prison, Lindblom warned, because these corporations ultimately control the levers of the U.S. economy, and control the life outcomes of American workers.”

Beyond the ownership and investment/disinvestment levers, concentrated capital achieves policy, cultural, and societal outcomes it prefers in numerous other ways: the buying of candidates and election through campaign donations; the flooding of government with armies of well-heeled lobbyists; the drafting and dissemination of Big Business-friendly legislation; massive investment in public relations and propaganda to influence the beliefs and values of citizens, politicians, and other “opinion-shapers”; direct “revolving door” capture of key government positions; the offer of private sector positions to public officials who reasonably expect significantly increased compensation once they exit government; the “cognitive [ideological] capture” (every bit as corrupting as bribery) of state officials, politicians, media personnel, educators, nonprofit managers, and other “influential;” the destruction and undermining of organizations (i.e., labor unions) that might offer some countervailing power to that of big business; the granting of jobs, corporate board memberships, internships, and other perks and payments to public officials’ family members; the control of education and publishing; the ownership, management, and  monitoring of mass media (including “entertainment” as well as public affairs news and commentary).

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis observed that Americans “We may have democracy or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”

That was an unwitting call for the abolition of capitalism, which is marked among other things by an inherent tendency towards the upward concentration of wealth and power. Dressing elite class and economic interests in popular garb has always been a core function of the U.S. electoral and party system in its various iterations.  The two major parties have different historical, demographic, ethno-cultural, religious, and geographic profiles that matter.  Still, they are united at the end of the day in their shared manipulations of carefully calibrated populist rhetoric and voter and partisan identity on behalf of the bipartisan super-rich and their global empire. Chris Hedges wrote, “Whether it’s Bush or whether it’s Obama, Goldman Sachs always wins. There is no way to vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs.” The two reigning capitalist parties was aptly described by Upton Sinclair in 1904 as “two wings of the same bird of prey”. 

It’s become fashionable on both left and right to think of Wall Street along with that of Silicon Valley and the military industrial complex as a reflection of the rule of the permanent “deep state.” But it is hard not to sense behind the notion of the “deep state” the simple and less-than-secretive persistence of the class rule regime called capitalism.

Adapted and abridged Paul Street article from here

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