Donald Trump and the Clash of Capitalists

The LA Times, in part two of its six-part series of articles pummeling President Trump, seems to echo my point that he is the Figurehead-in-Chief, a conduit through which others can work their agendas and that contributes no input of its own: “Trump’s easy embrace of untruth can sometimes be entertaining…But he is not merely amusing. He is dangerous. His choice of falsehoods and his method of spewing them…are a clue to Trump’s thought processes and perhaps his lack of agency. He gives every indication that he is as much the gullible tool of liars as he is the liar in chief. He has made himself the stooge, the mark, for every crazy blogger, political quack, racial theorist, foreign leader or nutcase peddling a story that he might repackage to his benefit as a tweet, an appointment, an executive order or a policy.” Saying that Trump lacks agency is largely true but it would be a bit uncharitable, however, to claim that he’s a totally blank slate because he did, after all, have both a paramount political strategy and an economic worldview that motivated him enough to hop into politics.

His political goal was to become the Populist Pied Piper, using the credibility he gained from his campaign’s supporters to become a highly-influential pundit who winds up taking the wind out of populism’s sails. That he still sees himself as playing this role as President helps make even more sense of why Trump oddly dropped the ball on the rollout of his agenda. By trying to ram his policies through Washington the way a true uncompromising outsider populist would, Trump’s intention was to provide the ultimate teachable moment for his followers. He would then point to the ineffectiveness of the hasty, haphazard, and thoroughly anti-establishment method of enacting his campaign platform along with how disastrous the fallout from those failed attempts was and conclude that these ideas were crude, ill-considered, and should be either watered-down or abandoned. Changing to a centrist tack after this initial flubbing (which Trump has done) would be a subliminal admission that populism doesn’t work and that making America great again would have to be done through the art of the deal, negotiating with the unsavory D.C. swamp creatures.

In addition to derailing populism, Trump is also using populism to help restore a particular sect of capitalists to their former prominence, as Benjamin Waterhouse illustrates:

“Trumponomics presents a conundrum: One of the wealthiest human beings on earth seems to be cribbing from the Occupy Wall Street playbook… How can we make sense of this populist mogul? Is the consummate one-percenter a new kind of Republican? History suggests no. Trump is not a new kind of conservative. But he is a specific type of one-percenter. (Really, 1 percent of 1 percent of 1 percent) From where the rest of us sit, all billionaires tend to look alike. But now, as in the past, divisions within the economic elite can be fierce, with enormous political consequences. As a real-estate developer, Trump has a different set of material interests than, for example, the Wall Street investors he maligns with such glee. To understand his economic populism, we have to grapple with the long history of the fractious business elite. The myth of a unified business community is a powerful one in American history. But it is also largely false. More often than not, competing economic interests have clashed fiercely over the vital issues of the day—from Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson’s ferocious battles over imposing protective tariffs to the tumultuous fights over airline industry deregulation in the 1970s. (The big carriers fought for the regulations!) The history of capitalism suggests that sector-on-sector political fighting has been most pronounced when the economy underwent profound structural changes. The rise of industrial capitalism created just such a destabilizing moment. Early factory owners cast themselves as virtuous “producers”—unlike the usurious entrenched wealth of the merchant, banking and slave-holding classes. In the 1830s, President Andrew Jackson declared war on the Bank of the United States because, as the historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., put it, “no institution played a more important role in transferring wealth from the producing class to accumulators.” As industrial capitalism expanded, its practitioners grew bolder in challenging the old order… In the past 40 years or so, the mass consumption industrial economy of the post-World War II era has given way to something new—often called “financialization.” Today, investment and financial speculation generate greater profits than manufacturing, natural resource extraction or service provision. Financial institutions and the elites who run them have become the faces of Big Business, replacing the once-mighty CEOs of U.S. Steel, DuPont and General Motors, who dominated at mid-century. As early as the 1980s, old-guard industrial executives noted the perils of this transition. In 1987, the Business Roundtable—a consortium of Fortune 500 firms—spoke out loudly against corporate raiders, leveraged buy-outs and short-term stock price manipulation, which have now become the mainstays of the modern economy. Many members of the Business Roundtable banded together in the “Coalition to Stop the Raid on America,” a bipartisan campaign for tougher regulations of hostile takeovers. Financialization is the capitalist disruption of our era, and it is the root of Trump’s economic message. Just as his position on immigration recalls an idealized, earlier (and whiter) America, so too does his attack on Wall Street and global corporations reflect a deeply conservative longing for a bygone epoch in American capitalism. An era when the United States dominated global manufacturing as Europe and Asia dug out from the rubble of war. An era when Big Business didn’t mean investment banks and hedge funds. When it meant domestic production—of steel to make buildings with and airplanes to fly. When business looked…more like him … His economic identity may make him an unlikely champion of a pre-financialized mode of capitalism. But since luxury hotel construction can’t be easily outsourced—and Trump can invoke the classic manufacturer’s claim of “making,” not “taking”—he has nothing to lose by calling out the hedge fund managers. Trump’s anti-elitism is neither crass pandering nor a betrayal of his class. Instead, his politics are of a piece with a long history of in-fighting among business elites as well as a nostalgic campaign to revive an older economy, to “make America great again.”

Trump has long been awake to the dangers of this shift to the primacy of finance capitalism and of neoliberal globalism run amok and wishes to reverse this trend, not just so his type of businessmen get their status back and get wealthier to boot, but because, if it’s not checked, the economic status quo poses an existential threat to capitalism as a whole. I can imagine that the 2008 financial crisis was the final straw for a man who has had presidential ambitions for decades. So, Trump is out to try to make capitalism responsible again–an eternal struggle because it’s impossible for capitalists to be responsible when capitalism relies on constant growth no matter what. Saving capitalism from itself usually requires an external force–like the state–to rein it in but Trump must believe that the solution can come from within the capitalist class. In this manner, Trump can be thought of as a pragmatic plutocrat like Nick Hanuer who advocate policies where the upper class voluntarily sacrifices slightly to stave off the rabble grabbing their torches and pitchforks. All told, I’d still agree that Trump is mostly a figurehead but he nonetheless has an ambitious vision that he will cling to and strive towards even if he isn’t quite sure how to get there yet.

The President Has No Clothes

The 2016 presidential election boasted the two most unpopular candidates in U.S. history and I’m sure many disgusted voters wished they could both lose. Well, in a sense, they have because Trump will not be fulfilling the role of Chief Executive. Instead, he will be content to play the part of America’s first figurehead president, as was his intention all along. The New York Times reported that during Trump’s search for a running mate, his son, Donald Trump Jr., allegedly made the offer to a senior advisor of dropped-out presidential candidate John Kasich by asking if Kasich had “any interest in being the most powerful vice president in history.” When the advisor sought clarification about what exactly that meant, Trump Jr. replied that “his father’s vice president would be in charge of domestic and foreign policy” while Trump himself would have the sinecure-sounding job of “Making America great again.” Naturally, Trump Jr. denied this exchange took place but, from what I’ve seen of the Trump presidency, I’d say there’s good reason to believe it was true.

But now, one might ask, doesn’t Trump’s burst of activity since his swearing in refute the notion that he’s an empty suit? I’d counter that by noting how Trump has actually accomplished little and that his status quo-shifting policies have yet to become reality. Anyone who doubts this will be disabused by Zack Karabell’s piece “President Trump has done almost nothing”, the following excerpt of which sums up the case nicely:

“There is a wide gap, a chasm even, between what the administration has said and what it has done. There have been 45 executive orders or presidential memoranda signed, which may seem like a lot but lags President Barack Obama’s pace. More crucially, with the notable exception of the travel ban, almost none of these orders have mandated much action or clear change of current regulations. So far, Trump has behaved exactly like he has throughout his previous career: He has generated intense attention and sold himself as a man of action while doing little other than promote an image of himself as someone who gets things done. It is the illusion of a presidency, not the real thing… Trump can issue as many documents called executive orders and presidential memoranda as he wants. As the fate of the travel ban shows, however, that doesn’t mean that even the more meaningful ones are actionable, and the preponderance of the orders to date would in any other administration have been news releases stating broad policy goals that may or may not ever become actual policy.”

The illusion of a presidency—that’s just what Trump needs to sustain if he wants to escape his term without having to implement populist policies that, as a globalist, he never had any intention of delivering on. Every move that the White House has made–and will make–can therefore be best explained by the Trumpian tightrope act where because he branded himself as a fiery outsider–utterly unlike the typical insincere politician–who would shake up Washington for the sake of the forgotten Americans he cannot simply ditch his populist campaign promises but nor does he want to fulfill them and do harm to globalization. But President Trump has found how to maintain the balance and not alienate either side—i.e. he can appear to be trying to make good on his campaign promises but do so in a consciously clumsy and madcap manner that will see these attempts fail in the end. The most conspicuous instance of this was the travel ban and the recklessness with which it was rolled out—almost as if President Trump, in an act of self-sabotage, went out of his way to botch it so that it would become both widely unpopular and legally untenable. Then there’s the added bonus of Trump seeming to adhere to his campaign platform spooking the Democrats and spurring them into becoming obstructionists, as Edward-Isaac Dovere writes:

“Trump’s executive order banning immigration from certain Muslim-majority countries—one of his most controversial and widely dismissed campaign promises—has sparked a panic among his critics about what else President Trump might actually do: create a Muslim registry, deport undocumented immigrant children, try to take oil from ISIS or kill terrorists’ families. Those campaign promises were all laughed off and dismissed by many, just like when he tweeted about sending federal enforcement into Chicago or stripping flag burners of their citizenship—or even changing libel laws to sue reporters or throwing Hillary Clinton in jail. “I was one of the folks that had hoped that he was just saying things to get elected and that he didn’t really believe in them,” said Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), who after the election sent an email to his supporters urging them to move past the election and be proud of a peaceful transfer of power. “I’m now convinced that I was wrong. We should not give him a chance to govern. I believe he is a danger to the republic.”

Getting the Democrats to rally together and block most of Trump’s agenda would suit him perfectly, especially if all these executive orders re-energize the Democrats to the point where they win the Congressional midterms in 2018.

In all, I think it can be confidently asserted that President Trump, like the emperor in the fable, has no clothes and, moreover, that he knows it and isn’t inwardly bothered by being in the (figurative) buff. As I wrote before, Trump never wanted the presidency and so he likely wants to coast through his time in office, do nothing that rocks the ship of state, and wind up with an okay rating of his performance by historians.

Palestine and the Middle East Great Game

Joining the chorus imploring the Israeli political establishment to straighten out its priorities and tone down the anti-Iran hysteria is Lt. General Benny Gantz, chief of the Israel Defense Forces. Gantz is convinced that “the Iranian leadership is composed of very rational people” and has adjudged that Supreme Leader Ali Khameini will not decide to pursue nukes, saying “I don’t think he will want to go the extra mile.” Contra his boss, Prime Minister Netanyahu–who totally opposes upcoming negotiations, is skeptical of the efficacy of sanctions, and demands Iran be rid of all its enrichment capabilities-for Gantz all the international pressure is “starting to bear fruit” and he nods approvingly at diplomacy along with Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Barak, formerly the foremost proponent of bombing Iran, has done an about-face of late, opening up a schism within the Israeli leadership. An anonymous Israeli senior official confided to the AP’s Jean-Luc Renaudie that, “Ehud Barak has evolved and seems more moderate,” and “In fact, the prime minister is somewhat isolated on Iran.” The doomsday clock has been set back by hours with Netanyahu in check.

One would think that Gantz’s admission would squash talk of all hostilities (including those occurring under the radar) but, for all his insight, the military chief is patently no pacifist on Iran. Indeed, in his interview with Haaretz, Gantz made sure to lace his language with equivocations. Iran doesn’t aspire to atomic weaponry but the military option–all but called-off–must still be “first in terms of its credibility”–Really? More than this, he announced recently the resumption of covert operations against ‘enemy nations’ after they were suspended last month for Netanyahu’s fear that they would “be discovered or go awry.” Writing about this discontinuance in Time Magazine, Karl Vick noted that these operations–which included assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists–were halted because they risked “recasting the nuclear issue itself, from one of overarching global concern into a contest confined to a pair of longtime enemies.” Vick intimated at the gist of things here, namely that this is truly a trumped up rumpus between two regional rivals and that the whole world has been sucked into it so one side could gain an advantage in an ongoing asymmetrical war.

Both Israel and Iran are waging ‘soft war’ against one another via proxies: Iran by using Hamas and Hezbollah to deter Israel’s regional ambitions, Israel by using the MEK and Jundullah. That explains why Gantz is having covert ops continue although other high-ranking officials have repeatedly acknowledged that even a hypothetical nuclear Iran wouldn’t pose an existential threat. This clandestine campaign is part and parcel of the Great Game being played between these adversaries. But they haven’t always been at daggers drawn and Israel wouldn’t balk at keeping the Islamic Republic regime provided they become convinced to again participate in Israel’s ‘periphery doctrine‘ wherein Iran will ally with them against the Arabs and cease being a bulwark of Palestinian resistance to occupation. The covert ops which are aimed at weakening Iran (but not to the point where they can’t be a counterpoise to the Arabs) will likely be cancelled for good and all when wayward Tehran wanders back into the fold.

What never seems to enter the Israeli calculus is that peace with the Palestinians would be infinitely easier to achieve. Per the Saudi-proposed 2002 Beirut declaration, all of the Arab states (and Iran) would offer full normalization of relations with Israel upon the dissolution of the occupation. Israel would be instantly integrated into the neighborhood requiring none of the intricate machinations of the periphery doctrine. Whether Israel accepts a one or two-state solution thus would the Gordian knot that this conflict has morphed into be severed. The former course is looking more likely since, in a startling development, land-famished West Bank settlers are mulling over the merits of having that territory annexed and its Palestinian inhabitants granted Israeli citizenship. The Atlantic’s Robert Wright adverted to this attitude shift reminiscing over his trip to Israel last summer where he was told certain settlers were “‘more attached to the land than to the state’ and would rather surrender Israel’s officially Jewish identity than surrender their settlements.” This turnaround goes a long way in surmounting a further hurdle-transcending the ideology of Zionism-but that’s a subject for a subsequent article.

The liberated Palestinians in turn must make concessions of their own including acquiescing to only a token right of return. The number of repatriates is contingent upon there being one or two states and, as columnist Eric Margolis in his book “American Raj” fairly suggests, chosen by lot “from those Palestinian families who lost their homes in 1948 and 1967.” Though this beau geste might seem a triviality, the permission would be immensely treasured. Margolis explains that “In a part of the world where symbolic gestures and proper manners are of paramount importance… even small gestures of humanity often can exert surprisingly potent effects.” Having realized justice for their brethren, the majority of Palestinian refugees would gladly be absorbed into the nations where they reside and would at last be welcomed by those nations since peace nullifies the Arab League’s position of deliberately deferring the refugees citizenship until their right of return and compensation is addressed by the UN.

The refugees are also kept at arm’s length by Arab despots who view the deracines as radical agitators. Margolis notes that although “Arab and other Muslim rulers had personal sympathy for Palestinians” they “feared them as a…source of revolutionary zeal.” These apprehensions were actualized, for instance, during the 1970 ‘ Black September ‘ incident. But this destabilization dilemma vanishes upon peace with Israel and then it would be up to the Arab autocrats to assimilate the destitute refugees and reform accordingly. Incentivizing them to do so, the U.S. should announce that it is dissolving all political connections to these countries out of republican, non-interventionist principle. Lest those elites wish to lose everything, representative government will bloom amidst a renewed Arab Spring. Oh, and did I mention that rectifying the Palestinian situation would defuse the Iranian nuclear issue too?

A Bit Of Context For The Pacific Pivot

It is perfectly understandable that some would be frustrated at the lack of progress in the P5+1 talks but there’s little reason to despair. In the wake of the latest round in Moscow, Kremlin adviser Sergei Markov captured the sense of pessimism in the Russian delegation, which felt uniquely suited to bridge the gap between Washington and Tehran. “For Russia the result is moderately positive,” but Markov cautions that “quicker developments” are required in order to foreclose the “quite high” chance of an Israeli strike in the summer months. As if in response comes Aaron David Miller reminding us that we needn’t be “nervous Nellies” because “The fact is that nobody-not the Israelis, the Iranians, nor the Americans-wants a war or a deal right now.” Miller is correct that it won’t materialize immediately but a deal is indeed in development–albeit at a glacial pace–and will be reached next year. Iran will at last be granted the right to civilian nuclear enrichment but, alas, will not receive the overarching rapprochement with America that it craves most.

It has become a commonplace that Iran is implacably against the West, its regime too irrational for compromise. Contradicting this popular perception is the forgotten Iranian proposal offered in 2003 which would have been the preliminary for a “grand bargain” where, as Glenn Kessler describes, “everything was on the table–including full cooperation on nuclear programs, acceptance of Israel and the termination of Iranian support for Palestinian militant groups.” In the estimation of Flynt Leverett, it was “a serious effort, a respectable effort to lay out a comprehensive agenda for U.S.-Iranian rapprochement.” Incredibly, the Bush administration not only sniffily dismissed this initiative but was furious at the Swiss ambassador for having the effrontery to send it along. Moreover, according to Richard N. Haass, the unprecedented offer was peremptorily rejected by the administration because “the bias was toward a policy of regime change.” Consider the myth of Iranian intransigence exploded.

Iran obviously wants a détente but then why, a skeptic might inquire, does Iran delight in vexing the West over its own version of nuclear ambiguity (will they build a bomb?) and its ongoing progress in uranium enrichment? Look no further than the Kessler piece where one finds Trita Parsi penetrating to the heart of the addled matter. “Parsi said that based on his conversations with the Iranian officials, he believes the failure of the US to even respond to the offer had an impact on the government,” which came to realize that “the US cared not about Iranian policies but about Iranian power.” Parsi explains that the uncouth refusal “strengthened the hands of those in Iran who believe the only way to compel the United States to talk or deal with Iran is not by sending peace offers but by being a nuisance.” Iran’s sole recourse is to be pesky and puckish, getting the West to blunder into making wild claims about Iran’s atomic ambitions only to eventually be made ridiculous on the international stage by chasing after nuclear hallucinations.

Not to be outdone in purposely causing provocation, Washington is relying on the option of regime change to instigate the Iranians to nationalist indignation. Overthrowing the Iranian government is a delusion but a useful one that forces Iranians to conform to the aforementioned stereotype of irrationality when they’re faced with potential Western intervention again. This tactic is also being used against China to similar splendid effect. A recent Center for Strategic International Studies report details how our Pacific Pivot serves to antagonize China: “The U.S. Asia pivot has triggered an outpouring of anti-American sentiment in China that will increase pressure on China’s incoming leadership to stand up to the United States. Nationalistic voices are calling for military countermeasures.” This reaction plays right into the hands of the Pentagon which will demand that any increase in China’s military budget be met with commensurate spending here. A China incited by our policies will keep the axe from slashing the overblown $1 trillion defense budget.

The centerpiece of U.S. foreign policy henceforth will be a grand Cold War directed at China. The Pacific Pivot is in fact a re-pivot, for China was set a decade ago to be Washington’s Public Enemy Number One as recommended by a defense strategy review composed in the earliest days of the Bush administration. China was to be targeted, according to Martin Kettle’s summary, on account of that nation being “now perceived as the principal threat to American global dominance.” With the Global War on Terror winding down, this contest can be prosecuted in earnest and it is to be waged by militant meddling in the Middle East. To secure this “American global dominance”-otherwise euphemized as “benevolent global hegemony”-Uncle Sam must have his hands on the spigots and be able to choke off the flow of oil. And this is where the concurrent mini Cold War against Iran comes into play.

There is much uproar in our media when Iran threatens to close the Strait of Hormuz but the nation most likely to execute that threat is our own. Conn Hallinan informs us that “It is estimated that, sometime between 2030 and 2050, China will surpass the U.S. and become the world’s number one economy-provided that it can secure enough energy for its growing industrial needs.” Fearing China becoming a peer competitor, Washington has to harass Iran-China’s number two supplier of oil and gas-through sanctions and power projection in the Persian Gulf.

The policymakers don’t want a shooting war but low-simmering tension and occasional escalation-a suitable excuse to, as the BBC’s Jonathan Beale asserts while reporting aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, “send a clear message to Iran as to who really controls these waters.” Controlling those waters is crucial for subduing an ornery and rising China in future and this imperial scheme is why the Iranian people are made to suffer and why average Americans must pay the price of empire instead of earning the wages of peace with Iran.

 

Trump Will Drain the Swamp? Not a Chance

Edward Isaac-Dovere was floored by how nonchalant President Barack Obama was about Donald Trump succeeding him during his first post-election press conference, writing “After a year of warning that Trump was uniquely unqualified for office, temperamentally unfit for the job, a challenge to democracy, a man who shouldn’t be trusted with the nuclear codes, and who should not, could not and must not win, Obama spent an hour standing in front of the White House seal acting like he didn’t mean any of it, and the president-elect didn’t mean any of what he said, and not much is going to change on Jan. 20 or anytime after.” Although Dovere doesn’t pursue this glaring possibility that neither Obama nor Trump were sincere in their campaign trail rhetoric, it’s what best explains why Obama is so calm and composed over Trump’s victory.

It must have been clear to Obama that Trump was trying to throw the election and had another objective in mind instead of the White House and so should Trump unexpectedly win it wouldn’t be a big deal. After his inauguration he would drop his intentionally-repellent candidate persona like a hot potato and do a complete 180 on the provocative elements of his platform. Indeed, the Great Trump Walk back has already begun. But the billionaire businessman was always going to flip-flop on his populist promises since they were never in line with his actual views on globalization. But even if Trump did subscribe to those positions, he would be compelled to ditch them by the deep state and capitalist class, as section B.2.3 of the Anarchist FAQ—which discusses the three barriers to direct democracy—explains to us:

That is the first barrier, the direct and indirect impact of wealth [i.e. the wealth needed to finance political campaigns]. This, in itself, is a powerful barrier to deter democracy and, as a consequence, it is usually sufficient in itself. Yet sometimes people see through the media distortions and vote for reformist, even radical, candidates. As we discuss in section J.2.6, anarchists argue that the net effect of running for office is a general de-radicalising of the party involved. Revolutionary parties become reformist, reformist parties end up maintaining capitalism and introducing polities the opposite of which they had promised. So while it is unlikely that a radical party could get elected and remain radical in the process, it is possible. If such a party did get into office, the remaining two barriers kicks in: the bureaucracy barrier and the capital barrier. The existence of a state bureaucracy is a key feature in ensuring that the state remains the ruling class’s “policeman” and will be discussed in greater detail in section J.2.2. Suffice to say, the politicians who are elected to office are at a disadvantage as regards the state bureaucracy. The latter is a permanent concentration of power while the former come and go. Consequently, they are in a position to tame any rebel government by means of bureaucratic inertia, distorting and hiding necessary information and pushing its own agenda onto the politicians who are in theory their bosses but in reality dependent on the bureaucracy. And, needless to say, if all else fails the state bureaucracy can play its final hand: the military coup…The capital barrier is obviously related to the wealth barrier insofar as it relates to the power that great wealth produces. However, it is different in how it is applied. The wealth barrier restricts who gets into office, the capital barrier controls whoever does so. The capital barrier, in other words, are the economic forces that can be brought to bear on any government which is acting in ways disliked of by the capitalist class…The mechanism is simple enough. The ability of capital to disinvest (capital flight) and otherwise adversely impact the economy is a powerful weapon to keep the state as its servant. The companies and the elite can invest at home or abroad, speculate in currency markets and so forth. If a significant number of investors or corporations lose confidence in a government they will simply stop investing at home and move their funds abroad. At home, the general population feel the results as demand drops, layoffs increase and recession kicks in. As Noam Chomsky notes: “In capitalist democracy, the interests that must be satisfied are those of capitalists; otherwise, there is no investment, no production, no work, no resources to be devoted, however marginally, to the needs of the general population.” [Turning the Tide, p. 233] This ensures the elite control of government as government policies which private power finds unwelcome will quickly be reversed. The power which “business confidence” has over the political system ensures that democracy is subservient to big business.

The wealth barrier did not apply to Trump—and he proved that a presidential candidate does not need a plenteous war chest to win if one is popular enough–but the other two certainly will. This is one stark reality that has already dawned on Trump and accounts for why he has–according to Newt Gingrich–disclaimed his campaign talk of “draining the swamp” that is the Washington establishment. Furthermore, Corey Lewandowski said purging the government of lobbyists and corruption was at the bottom of Trump’s priorities. If this is accurate—and I believe it very much is, no matter what Trump tweets–this means Trump is aware of the two barriers (and he either knew about them going into the election or was recently brought up to speed about who really runs the show in our nation’s capital). So, having experienced firsthand the presidency’s limitations, Obama isn’t faking being unfazed by a Trump term.

He isn’t, as Dovere maintains, “obviously” donning a mask “to avoid sparking the panic in the country and the economy that would likely come if the sitting president actively resisted the president-elect” but because Trump will indeed hardly change a thing. After all, as Rich Lowry notes, Trump “has assembled a Cabinet that by and large could have been put together by Ted Cruz, or for that matter, Mitt Romney.” He’ll promote and try to push through Congress a couple things here and there that one wouldn’t normally find within a conventional Republican agenda but that’s all. Trump is destined to disappoint and hopefully the millions of voters who were excited by the populist message he used to get elected will absorb the lesson that “draining the swamp”—i.e. creating radical change—can never be achieved through the ballot box or the state

Trump Dumped on D.C.

The 2016 U.S. presidential election will go down as the most stunning political upset of all time. Donald Trump’s victory blindsided and gob-smacked virtually everyone. It was shocking for me because I was laboring under the assumption that Trump was taking the most plain to see dive ever in a presidential race but pulled off the win anyway. That’s the best way, in my view, to make sense of Trump campaigning like he was a contestant on a reality TV show that was going on in his head–“America’s Next Top President”–and constantly spouting outrageous statements and stirring up controversies to drive up that imaginary show’s ratings. You just don’t alienate entire constituencies and go after a gold-star family and realistically expect to get elected come November. So while everyone else is frantically asking why Trump won, the real question, I think, is why did he try his damndest to lose? If his heart wasn’t really in it, what was he out to accomplish?

Howard Stern was on the right track in the answer he gave to his own question of ‘why did Trump even want the presidency when his life was paradisiacal?’ which was that NBC was going to lower the pay he was getting for The Apprentice: They were going to fuck with him on the contract. He [Trump] said, ‘You know what I’ll do, I’ll run for president. Even if I don’t win, I’ll announce, it’ll up my game, and I’ll get a better deal.’ Which is a smart move…I truly think the biggest shock in all of this is to Donald Trump. Because I think it was more of a, ‘Hey!’ a publicity kind of thing. ‘I’ll get my name out there. I’ll see what happens, we’ll have some fun. I don’t know that he could’ve imagined that this could’ve been the outcome. An entertaining publicity stunt to add value to the Trump brand was part of it but there was another, more substantive explanation for him throwing his hat in the ring and it stemmed from a phone call the Donald had with Bill Clinton.

Clinton had rung up Trump just weeks before he decided to run and, according to the Washington Post, “Four Trump allies and one Clinton associate familiar with the exchange said that Clinton encouraged Trump’s efforts to play a larger role in the Republican Party and offered his own views of the political landscape.” Clinton “listened intently” as Trump spoke of his White House aspirations and he “then analyzed Trump’s prospects and his desire to rouse the GOP base,” and added that Trump “was striking a chord with frustrated conservatives and was a rising force on the right.” Clinton supposedly “never urged Trump to run” but nevertheless “was upbeat and encouraging during the conversation, which occurred as Trump was speaking out about GOP politics and his prescriptions for the nation.” I don’t think it was likely that Clinton wasn’t eagerly pushing Trump to go for it given the stratagem his wife’s campaign had cooked up a month before, as Ben Norton writes:

“What was not often acknowledged in Trump’s heated race against Democrat Hillary Clinton, however, was how her campaign fueled his rise to power. An email recently released by the whistleblowing organization WikiLeaks shows how the Clinton campaign and Democratic Party bear direct responsibility for propelling the bigoted billionaire to the White House. In its self-described “pied piper” strategy, the Clinton campaign proposed intentionally cultivating extreme right-wing presidential candidates, hoping to turn them into the new “mainstream of the Republican Party” in order to try to increase Clinton’s chances of winning. The Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee called for using far-right candidates “as a cudgel to move the more established candidates further to the right.” Clinton’s camp insisted that Trump and other extremists should be “elevated” to “leaders of the pack” and media outlets should be told to “take them seriously.” The strategy backfired—royally.”

But let’s give the former President the benefit of the doubt that he merely wanted Trump to assume a prominent role in the GOP. What was that role to be? I’d bet that Clinton and Trump discussed the latter becoming a pied piper for populists in the Republican Party who leads them in a positive, business-friendly direction. Both Clinton* and Trump could see there was a working class ferment ahead that could define politics for a generation and that careful action had to be taken to counter and de-radicalize it. So, no matter how far he got in the presidential race, as a “rising force on the right” Trump’s task was to go about gaining a ton of credibility among anti-establishment voters by saying exactly what they were thinking regarding the economy and the Washington status quo. Then, once Trump changed his tune and moderated his views (to what they were all along) after looking thoroughly at the issues, the disaffected would follow him into the political mainstream. This process is already unfolding with Trump as President-elect shifting in his view of climate change. “Trump said he would study the issue “very hard,” reports Tom Friedman, “and hinted that if, after study, he was to moderate his views, his voice would be influential with climate skeptics.” This can obviously apply to any other topic he ponders. Trump being convinced by the necessity of certain things will sway his supporters and lead them to the centrist light and it’s huge that Trump himself suggested that this would be the case. Thus will Trump expedite the GOP’s evolution—another thing he and Clinton must have addressed in their survey of the political scene—and saved it from extinction. So, overall, it seems Trump ran, as I wrote before, as a favor for the establishment

Hierarchy’s Next Evolution

About two weeks ago, Senator Chuck Schumer told CNBC’s John Harwood that should the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement be brought up in Congress during the post-election lame duck session “it may well get its 51 votes in the Senate even if some Democrats change their views. But it’s an iffy question for the House to get a majority in the House.” I don’t think there’s really any uncertainly at all and that it isn’t too presuming to predict that if the TPP passes the Senate that its advocates will be able to rig up a slim majority in the House and get the double legislative stamp of approval. Most representatives will find it practically impossible to vote down the TPP when they are confronted with the arguments for its ratification and seriously have to engage with them. Take this one from Secretary of State John Kerry’s remarks to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, for example: “If we see the TPP rejected, it would be a gigantic self-inflicted wound—a setback to our interests in the region… it would be an act that will hurt American workers, slow our economy, hinder our ability to advance the full range of U.S. objectives [in East Asia].”

Or how about this one from President Barack Obama: “So the question is: Do we want that trade to be driven by American rules and American values? Or do we want the rules of the road written without us? Because failing to pass TPP would mean that U.S. exporters get squeezed out of Asia and some of the millions of American workers whose jobs are supported by exports to this region could find their jobs at risk. So this is about our prospects here at home, and a test of our leadership around the globe.”

Then there’s this from a piece from The Hill about Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and the TPP: “Still, Ryan noted the benefits of trade, especially for his home state where dairy and cheese exports fuel the economy. He argued that other nations are forging trade deals that are hurting U.S. exporters. “That means we have to engage in the world,” he said. “We need to open those markets up and prevent them from being closed.” Maintaining exports? Preventing markets from becoming closed? Now you definitely have the House of Representatives’ full attention. Those are the highest priorities of the U.S. government and so, when the importance of this agreement is framed in those terms, there’s no way the TPP will be nixed.

We will also see the TPP grudgingly accepted by workers because the argument that the health of the nation’s economy is on the line will hit home. They know that the U.S. working class is damned if the TPP passes and damned if it doesn’t, for either way there will be job losses. It comes down to this: would you rather those losses to come in the form of off-shoring or a major economic depression? Anyone would quickly pick the first choice but this doesn’t mean that afterwards people won’t be keeping the heat on the growing number of companies that will decide to set up shop overseas once the TPP opens up East Asia. The TPP will continue to be rightly condemned by its critics for all the offshoring it will enable and hopefully while they’re on the topic of things that are eliminating jobs they should expand their critique further and rip into the bigger culprit in that category.

That more sinister job killer has been the machine automation that has already been taking place for decades more so than anything trade-related done in Washington D.C. as Harold Meyerson points out:

“But an even more fundamental factor in the declining share of working Americans is the technological automation that has eliminated millions of jobs and is poised to eliminate millions more. The mechanization of work has already taken a toll in the nation’s ports (where cranes have reduced the longshore workforce to roughly 10 percent of its size 60 years ago), factories (where machines and computers have substituted for millions of workers), construction sites (where the prefabrication of parts has reduced the number of construction workers ) and offices (whatever became of secretaries?)”

But what has been the impetus for this automation? It is just the latest step in the quest of capitalists to make ornery, insolent workers obsolete through technological innovation. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon in his book System of Economical Contradictions, quotes an “English Manufacturer” who wrote “The insubordination of our workforce has given us the idea of dispensing with them. We have made and stimulated every imaginable effort of the mind to replace the service of men by tools more docile, and we have achieved our object. Machinery has delivered capital from the oppression of labour.”

Capitalism—like all hierarchical systems—has within it the seeds of its own destruction by inspiring resistance in those whom it oppresses (along with its other structural flaw of bosses not paying their employees enough to sustain the demands of capitalism). Awake to this resistance, the ruling classes are constantly engaged in formulating the next form of authoritarianism that will replace capitalism just as capitalism had to replace feudalism. One evolution has presented itself before with the appearance of the Bolsheviks’ state capitalism—a logical progression given capitalism’s tendency towards monopoly; why not consolidate to the point of joining its partner, the state?–and with the advent of the Fourth industrial revolution the successor to capitalism will now have to soon assume another shape because, as Proudhon replied to the “English Manufacturer”, “What a misfortune that machinery cannot also deliver capital from the oppression of consumers!”

What Will We Do When Bots Take Our Job Spots?

It looks as if the push by President Barack Obama and the business community to get the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement passed before year’s-end may have had some new life infused into it. According to John Engler, the President of Business Roundtable, “Public support for TPP has come up” and he is positive that “all the arguments are lining up for TPP.” Those pro-TPP arguments that the American people have heard–and will continue to hear as part of this “full court press”–have largely been the same but there was one made by President Obama that stands out from the bunch. During his recent trip to East Asia while attending a joint press conference with Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Obama acknowledged the wariness working class people have about growing globalization (because they see that they are only getting a raw deal from it) but he addressed their mistrust and “legitimate” anxieties by defending the TPP as the answer to the question “how do we make sure that globalization, technology, automation, those things work for us, not against us?” That’s the first I have heard anyone link the TPP with automation—the takeover of jobs on a grand scale by artificial intelligence and consequently a phenomenon which will be much more far reaching in its economic effects than any free trade agreement.

This epochal development, hailed by the World Economic Forum as nothing short of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, has also been denominated as the “Job Apocalypse” by Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson and indeed the rise of the machines will prove to be Doomsday for millions of workers. Reuters reports that the WEF is forecasting that “more than 5 million jobs could be lost in 15 major economies by 2020” and that’s just the beginning. Meyerson cites a paper by Oxford University’s Carl Benedikt and Michael Osborn in which they predict 47 percent of U.S. workers have a high probability of seeing their jobs swept away in a wave of automation over the next two decades.  So what will become of the huge multitudes of unemployed who have been booted out of their occupations by a robot? How would capitalism survive if people have no means of earning money to buy the products that the robots are now manufacturing?

Meyerson’s way for dealing with the social dislocations caused by automation is a wealth transfer policy, for “as computers pick up more and more skills, we will have to embrace the necessity of redistributing wealth and income from the shrinking number of Americans who have sizable incomes from their investments or their work to the growing number of Americans who want work but can’t find it.” That idea is already in line with that of Silicon Valley techies who recommend that everyone be provided with a Universal Basic Income. “Rather than a job-killing catastrophe,” writes Farhad Manjoo, “tech supporters of U.B.I. consider machine intelligence to be something like a natural bounty for society: The country has struck oil, and now it can hand out checks to each of its citizens. These supporters argue machine intelligence will produce so much economic surplus that we could collectively afford to liberate much of humanity from both labor and suffering.” UBI sounds encouraging but whether it would work is very much in doubt, as Matt Black explains:

“The reason why the idea of a Universal Basic Income is being floated is because of the inequality that exists under capitalism. While the basic income is designed to remedy some of those inequalities, it is exactly because it will be implemented within a capitalist system that should it ever be implemented it would be strangled at birth. Firstly, society and work functions in a way as to ensure that the boss class has the whip hand. An in-built unemployment line is a central component of the capitalist system. This coupled with the divide and conquer tactics from the government of the day, pits worker against worker. In theory, a Universal Basic Income would go some way to reversing this. For that reason, we will never see a Universal Basic Income, and if we did, it would be very different from that which is being proposed. The ruling class cannot and will not tolerate a system that puts working people in the driving seat. Secondly, as soon as every adult is guaranteed a Universal Basic Income; company bosses will be rubbing their hands with glee. Pressure to increase wages annually or provide decent terms and conditions with go out of the window. Business exists to create and maximise profit, therefore, the state providing workers with £400 a month will undoubtedly lead to a severe driving down of wages in the medium to long term; rendering the Universal Basic Income, completely worthless. The same idea applies to inflation. If you provide everyone with an extra £400 a month to spend, this will have a knock-on effect on the cost of things like rent, shopping, and energy prices. The more money you have in your pocket, the more that big business knows it can charge you. This really is elementary stuff. Again, within no time at all your extra £400 becomes worthless. Advocates of the Universal Basic Income would say that–“We could legislate to prevent bosses from cutting wages and against retailers increasing prices.” Oh really? That begs the question why we wouldn’t or can’t do that now. If it was so easy to reform the corrupt and rigged system we live in then we wouldn’t require a Universal Basic Income in the first place.

Danny Vinik also noticed along with Black that a UBI cushion would empower the working class, writing that “Americans would have greater leverage to demand higher wages and better working conditions from their employer thanks to the increased income security.” The capitalist class has always fiercely resisted and prevented any shift in the boss-worker power dynamic that genuinely benefits the working class so the odds are that UBI won’t be getting off the ground or, as Black said, it would get watered-down. It would probably take a revolution to give everyone a guaranteed income and if that’s the case we might as well have an anarchist-communist revolution that rids us of money entirely. We’d be heading on that route anyway since by that point the robots would be producing so much that we will be living in a post-scarcity economy where superabundance makes currency superfluous.

The People Versus the TPP

It’s not every U.S. presidential race that trade turns out to be a hot-button issue but there’s a brewing populist mood in the country and with it an intensifying scrutiny of free trade agreements and how they have detrimentally affected the American worker. This antipathy has made itself felt on the campaign trail and in Washington D.C as Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and most of Congress are all opposing the Obama administration’s Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement—basically NAFTA for East Asia. The election-year posturing may prevent President Obama from getting the TPP passed before he leaves office but ultimately his economic centerpiece will be approved since, as Mark Weisbrot writes, it “has the most broad and fervid support imaginable among this country’s most powerful corporate and “national security” elite.”

Most of the opposition already supports the TPP but won’t feel comfortable voting in favor of the pact until a few tweaks are made to it. As for those politicos who oppose it no matter what, even they will reluctantly come around because they know perfectly well that the U.S.’s capitalist economy demands access to such a significant market or it will face a depression. There is an additional reason why capitalism needs the TPP and other free trade agreements to survive and that’s because it needs to expand to guard against workers getting the upper hand in the domestic class struggle, as explained in section D5 of the Anarchist FAQ:

“In addition, imperialism allows big business to increase its strength with respect to its workforce in the imperialist nation by the threat of switching production to other countries or by using foreign investments to ride out strikes. This is required because, while the “home” working class are still exploited and oppressed, their continual attempts at organising and resisting their exploiters proved more and more successful… As such, imperialism (like capitalism) is not only driven by the need to increase profits (important as this is, of course), it is also driven by the class struggle–the need for capital to escape from the strength of the working class in a particular country. From this perspective, the export of capital can be seen in two ways. Firstly, as a means of disciplining rebellious workers at home by an “investment strike” (capital, in effect, runs away, so causing unemployment which disciplines the rebels). Secondly, as a way to increase the ‘reserve army’ of the unemployed facing working people in the imperialist nations by creating new competitors for their jobs (i.e. dividing, and so ruling, workers by playing one set of workers against another). Both are related, of course, and both seek to weaken working class power by the fear of unemployment. This process played a key role in the rise of globalization. Thus imperialism, which is rooted in the search from surplus profits for big business, is also a response to working class power at home. The export of capital is done by emerging and established transnational companies to overcome a militant and class consciousness working class which is often too advanced for heavy exploitation, and finance capital can make easier and bigger profits by investing productive capital elsewhere. It aids the bargaining position of business by pitting the workers in one country against another, so while they are being exploited by the same set of bosses, those bosses can use this fictional “competition” of foreign workers to squeeze concessions from workers at home.”… Globalisation cannot be understood unless its history is known. The current process of increasing international trade, investment and finance markets started in the late 60s and early 1970s. Increased competition from a re-built Europe and Japan challenged US domination combined with working class struggle across the globe to leave the capitalist world feeling the strain. Dissatisfaction with factory and office life combined with other social movements (such as the women’s movement, anti-racist struggles, anti-war movements and so on) which demanded more than capitalism could provide. The near revolution in France, 1968, is the most famous of these struggles but it occurred all across the globe. For the ruling class, the squeeze on profits and authority from ever-increasing wage demands, strikes, stoppages, boycotts, squatting, protests and other struggles meant that a solution had to be found and the working class disciplined (and profits regained). One part of the solution was to “run away” and so capital flooded into certain areas of the “developing” world. This increased the trends towards globalisation.”

So when President Obama, Paul Ryan, or any other gung-ho supporter of the TPP says it will open up markets and help the U.S. compete in the region what they are really saying is that the TPP will buoy capitalism by providing it with a safety valve and ensure the economic and political elites keep winning the class war. And, make no mistake, that conflict is very much real, as Warren Buffett admits: “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

Iran Sanction Mania is All About Economy

The Iran nuclear deal has made it to its first anniversary without any hiccups and is on track to easily last until its expiration if Washington upholds its end of the bargain by guaranteeing that Iran experiences economic relief from sanctions. This has yet to materialize but it will happen fairly soon despite Republicans trying to squeeze Iran for as long as possible by blocking any moves the Obama administration makes to allow for other countries to have normal trade relations with Iran. The Republicans’ determination to prevent Iran from being reintegrated into the global finance and trade system even though Iran has already done all that was asked of it in the agreement should be proof enough for anyone that the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran was whipped up as a pretext for maintaining and strengthening the strangulation of Iran’s economy. But why have Washington policy-makers and Congress felt the need—one that borders on obsession–to keep Iran straitjacketed by sanctions? It goes beyond Iran simply being a foe of the U.S. from the Islamic revolution onward, as Robert W Jordan explains:

“Most people have not focused on the economic competition that Iran will provide to Saudi Arabia and other countries once the sanctions are lifted. The Saudis would prefer a deal that diminishes Iran’s threat to the Saudi’s interests in the Middle East. They have a one-dimensional economy focused on oil. Because of the sanctions up to this point, Iran’s oil program has been curtailed. They have significant human resources, a well-educated population, a real middle class, and burning ambition to emerge from the sanctions and take their place as a prime competitor in the region. The deal gives Iran a chance to become an economic superpower, particularly when compared to lagging economies and human capital in other parts of the Middle East. The Iranian people may have unrealistic expectations of how soon they’ll see economic benefits, but when they come, it will be substantial.”

Hard-hitting competition with an Iran that has transformed itself into the China of the Middle East is something Washington would certainly prefer to avoid, which is only natural considering that the U.S.–like all capitalist nations–seeks to minimize competition as a matter of general principle and employs an imperialist foreign policy for this goal. These excerpts from Section D.5 of the Anarchist FAQ contain a concise overview of the tactics the developed nations have used in the past and currently use to undercut industry in developing nations: “Imperialism has another function, namely to hinder or control the industrialisation of other countries. Such industrialisation will, of course, mean the emergence of new capitalists, who will compete with the existing ones both in the “less developed” countries and in the world market as a whole. Imperialism, therefore, attempts to reduce competition on the world market…  Imperialism hinders industrialisation in two ways. The first way was direct colonisation, a system which has effectively ended. The second is by indirect means–namely the extraction of profits by international big business. A directly dominated country can be stopped from developing industry and be forced to specialise as a provider of raw materials. This was the aim of “classic” imperialism, with its empires and colonial wars. By means of colonisation, the imperialist powers ensure that the less-developed nation stays that way–so ensuring one less competitor as well as favourable access to raw materials and cheap labour… Globalisation can be seen as an intensification of this process. By codifying into international agreements the ability of corporations to sue nation states for violating “free trade,” the possibility of new competitor nations developing is weakened. Industrialisation will be dependent on transnational corporations and so development will be hindered and directed to ensure corporate profits and power.”

Why is there this need for imperialist domination of the developing world? If these nations locally produced manufactures that the developed nations would normally sell to them, then that would decrease the demand for exports from the developed nations and lead to unemployment and depression there. This industrial development would effectively foreclose markets that advanced capitalist nations need to keep their economies—and capitalism as a whole–going. As Laurence H Shoup and William Minter write in their book Imperial Brain Trust, “Herbert Feis, an active Council [on Foreign Relations] member and State Department economic adviser, expressed the problem [of the relationship between the U.S.’s domestic recovery during the Great Depression and the state of international trade] in a similar way, saying that most countries lived in chronic fear of unemployment and so want foreign markets to avoid “drastic internal adjustments as a result of changes in external markets.”

So when Washington holds back the industry of developing nations, it can sometimes be done for personal reasons but it is always done for business. But those same reasons of furthering commerce and market access also means Washington can’t economically wallop Iran indefinitely. It is ultimately in the interests of the U.S. for Iran’s economy to not become such a basket case that that nation becomes undeveloped and therefore in no position to receive the glut of American exports when bilateral relations are one day restored. Iran must be fully reintegrated into international trade to avoid this, as Shoup and Minter write:

“The first document produced by the economic subcommittee of the Advisory Committee on Postwar Foreign Policy stressed the danger of another world depression and the need to provide confidence in world economic stability. This necessarily meant that American planners had to concern themselves with the politics and economies of other nations. At a minimum the United States had to be involved in the internal affairs of the key industrial and raw materials producing countries. If one or a few of these nations did not cooperate in a new worldwide economic system, they might not develop rapidly enough to enlarge their purchase from the United States, thereby increasing the likelihood of a depression. The various countries’ economies had also to be efficient; otherwise they could not pay for more imports.”

The U.S. won’t let Iran’s development fall below a certain point which means there will be substantial sanctions relief and therefore I’m confident in saying that the nuclear deal will be seen through to its conclusion.