America’s Real Nigerian Prince

by Mark A. Lause, North Star Editorial Board on April 13, 2018

 

President Donald J. Trump is the spawn of the American political system and media. Those with an affinity for and confidence in that parentage—the media and the political system—have found his administration terribly disappointing, even traumatically so. The president and his revolving door team are in an ongoing process of weaving campaign rhetoric and tweets into a script, which they hope to present as policy. In keeping with his particular kind of Reality TV offers one soap opera scenario after another, without the substance of a soap opera.

All of this obscures a core coherence. What we have been involuntarily binge-watching is a bad remake of a previously unbroadcast season of the Ronald Reagan Show. We have the same pixie-dust about cutting government spending to liberate what they laughingly call “the free-market.” They couple this fetishized “deregulation” and “small government” nonsense with an unlimited and unaccountable level of military spending to keep the merchants of death pumping the money to their campaigns. The domestic reflection of this combines a Kinder-Küche-Kirche fantasy about traditional values with a studied indifference to the jack-booted militarization of police forces. The attempt to wrap this later, more massive atrocity in in a red-white-and-blue, us-against-the-world rhetoric works less well, leaving the underlying racism and authoritarianism virtually undisguised.

You have to ignore a lot of experienced reality before you can believe any of this. As in the Reagan era, self-described fiscal conservatives chant their mantra about avoiding deficits and balancing the budget, but their practice embraces record budgets with record deficits. Even more than under Reagan, the “social conservatives” and evangelicals have had to practice the opposite of what they preach.

 

 

There are two related features of this Trumpian repackaging of Reaganism evident distinctive to its legacy. The first revolves around its Olympian level of dishonesty. Don’t misunderstand me. Lying is part of a president’s job, but it’s almost always been employed to do something . . . a not particularly admirable but utilitarian function. The current lot seems just incapable of telling the truth about anything. Trump is the presiding genius of this, having gotten half a dozen lies or implicit lies into a single tweet. But his spokespeople regularly lie themselves. They often contradict each other or themselves and, when called on it, simply attack the motives of whoever’s pointing it out.

 

 

The lies may or may not be about something important. They may or may not aim at accomplishing something. Or they may have just reflected the habitual unconcern for the facts. In any event, there will never be a retraction . . . much less an apology.

Secondly—and even more fundamentally—is the straightforward, undisguised celebration of plunder. Not that pilfering the public treasuries hasn’t always been part of American politics. It became a great spectator sport in the age of the aptly named “Robber Barons.” However, it has almost become part of broader business jihad on government.

 

If you choose to put cronies in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency or Housing and Urban Development who don’t really see the purpose for such bodies, what do you expect? They see their budgets as essentially misspent on useless things—polar bears and civil servants doing nothing vital, like making money. Given that, what can be the crime of spending the money on other, more important things? Indeed, buying a beautifully draped palanquin on which those mere functionaries you employ can carry you to and from meetings with the president might be a supreme act of patriotism. So, too, when caught red-handed, deny, deny, deny . . . and work militantly to undermine the credibility of those un-American, criminals who’ve seen a problem.

The only vital values here revolve around having capital—or appearing to have it. So, crooked deals, cronyism, payoffs to silence embarrassing dalliances, and even sharing the figurative Jacuzzi with Vladimir Putin reflect this. The Russian issue is real enough, but it’s real importance is that it’s symptomatic of a wider practical ethos or corruption.

The natural spawn of the media and the political system, this presidency has been disconcerting to those who have had confidence in the parentage. Trump-watching has, for them, been a rather traumatic reflection of their own judgments and priorities.

For those of us who never particularly shared that confidence in those institutions, the real instruction has been watching those who had made one terrible decision after another scramble to right themselves and formulate their predictable cant—the uncritical praise of “real news” and a political system that, they insist is working and righting itself.

They said the same thing after Watergate, when they dropped the investigations of Nixon’s crimes after he agreed to leave. They didn’t even require that after the carefully limited choreographed grandstanding of Iran-Contra. And the same people who peddled the WMD hoax to sucker-punch the western world into what’s currently shaping up to be a World Class Quagmire subsequently wrote it off as a mistake anybody could have made and Nancy Pelosi promised that even the most superficial investigations of the deliberate lie were “off the table.”

Trump was not stray meteor that crashed into us. The American political system paved the way for the current trash fire in Washington. And it has shown no sign of having learned anything that will prevent its repetition.

As to any self-reflection in the corporate media, one of the most telling exchanges was that of MSNBC’s Alex Witt with former presidential candidate Jill Stein. Witt tried to berate Stein, alleging that the Greens had helped Russia tilt the election to Trump. Stein correctly pointed out that the major American news organizations had provided billions of dollars of free air time to Trump. This, while ignoring alternatives, including Stein and Bernie Sanders’ bid within the Democratic Party. Witt’s pathetic reply was that the issue was not the media but Russia.

The most “liberal” of the allegedly “liberal media” has learned absolutely nothing and will do nothing differently in the future. Already, they are making lock-step appeals to Democrats not to go “left” in the upcoming off-year election. Run veterans, more women, more people of color, but don’t talk about reimposing regulations . . . especially anything that might dent media profits or crimp their ever-expanding monopolies .

I don’t think they really need to worry too much about that.

The real question is what we will do in opposition not merely to Trump but to the media that made him and the political system that presented him as the best alternative it could produce.

 

Mark A. Lause is the author of the new book, The Great Cowboy Strike: Bullets, Ballots, and Class Conflicts in the American West (Verso)

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