(This is the second part of the first in a series of articles addressing the political crisis hosted by the North Star. To retrieve articles in this series, click the Trumpism link under Categories to the right.)
Trump Loves Only His Base
For Trump to get enough votes to be elected, in hindsight he seems to have had an easy strategy: talk only to the base. His intended audience was not the society at large, but his own particular base.
This is something the liberal commentariat is either missing or else is very irritated by! The liberal commentariat likes to be the sole and principal audience, center of attention, at all times. They, just like the Clinton candidacy, consider themselves entitled. Late night show hosts like Stephen Colbert or Trevor Noah present their jokes and pile ridicule on Trump from the point of view of, “Look how crazy this guy is! Is he that clueless? He knows we have eyes, right?” Yes, he knows, and he doesn’t care. In fact, Trump’s base considers such ridicule by the ‘dishonest liberal media’ as his vindication.
What few realized fully during the elections is that Trump was deliberately and consistently talking only to his own base. He was not addressing the society at large. He targeted his intended audience, and he talked to them directly, completely and blissfully disregarding the liberal commentariat and what it was up in arms about. He is still doing the same thing. He is not, in his own image, the president of the entire society. He is the leader of a movement of a segment of society out to impose political and ideological discipline on the entire society.
During the elections, Trump saw that most people were fed up with the status quo. The Democratic Party leaders saw the same phenomenon, but chose to ignore it. Further, Trump’s ‘in’ was the simple fact that Hillary Clinton was the most uninspiring (nay, anti-inspiring) candidate the Democrats could have put up. The Clintons are the status quo; even worse, as pointed out above, they are the status quo that the traditional Republicans had dictated. That’s double status quo. The Democratic candidate who was actually energizing the party base through an anti-status quo message, Sanders, was actively sabotaged by the party leaders, and the news of that sabotage came out during the campaign period, further dampening the mood for a big turnout, and making Clinton look even more uninspiring.
Trump saw that Clinton was a wet blanket on the Democrat’s spirit, and kept on further energizing his own base with increasingly more outrageous statements. Even his ‘pussy grabbing’ scandal energized parts of his base, as the Daily Show reported.
As noted, fascism arises out of the need to impose discipline on both the working classes and (more importantly) on the ‘unruly’ factions of the ruling class. The ‘unruly’ ruling factions in the U.S. do have institutional power within the state structures and are naturally putting up a fight, evidenced by the reaction of some segments of the judiciary, the mass media and some government functionaries in agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency’s, or the CIA. They also have the necessary resources to put up a fight.
However, there are hundreds of thousands of professional types with the right credentials and connections willing to step forward to replace the unruly functionaries in various government departments. Replacing and disciplining the unruly will take time, and there will be administrative and social chaos, but chaos is what the extreme right can afford. They have the social and economic support networks and resources to ride out the chaos, while all the rest of us, the invalids and the ill-prepared, shall be washed away by the high waves of history, as planned.
How Bleak Can It Get?
Just because we are not at the point of fascism in the U.S. does not mean things cannot get worse. As people from the old world can tell you, things can always get infinitely worse. Anywhere.
For one item, the latest reports on Trump’s tax plans are likely to get the super rich to have successive wet dreams, and should give the rest of us scary nightmares for some time to come. This one headline reveals all you need to know: “Mnuchin wants tax reform by August as part of 3 percent growth plan.”
It used to be that in the richest country on earth, capitalism could produce much healthier growth rates without having to implement policies that would push the social fabric over the edge, and down into the abyss.
The key part of the tax ‘reform’ is to cut by more than half the corporate share of total taxes collected (which currently stands at under 10% of total tax revenue).
To put that in perspective: If your annual income is $70,000-100,000/year, your tax break can amount to a semi-decent family vacation, which is nice, but the vacation passes quickly and all you’ll have is nice memories and some photos and videos you’re not likely to look at ever again. If you are among the more than the 50% of the households making less than $50,000/year, you may be able to buy a new refrigerator with your tax break, if it’s not too expensive. That’s it. However, if you’re among the top stratospheric classes, your tax break will likely amount to a mini Trump Tower, on an upscale strip on a truly famed beach, plus college funds for five generations.
What will happen to us schmucks in the meantime? Whatever the ruling classes may want to happen to schmucks like us. Replacing all the social obligations of the state that used to be part of the social contract, the state will be reduced and minimized, and then further condensed down to a pure security state, with all the exponentially and rapidly developing technologies of weaponry and surveillance, all fully legal – in the sense that they’ll pass laws legalizing it – protecting the mansions of the stratospherically rich.
What about the Left?
Readers of Marx and Gramsci are familiar with the idea that revolutionary conditions simultaneously create counter-revolutionary conditions and reaction. The reverse can also be true. Leftists living right now in the U.S. are witnessing the reverse of that axiomatic statement: Reactionary conditions have created counter-reactionary movements. Depending on how the left intervenes, the ensuing counter-reactionary movements can defeat the reaction and shift the social conditions toward those more favorable for moving forward to revolutionary conditions.
The reason Trumpism looks so similar to fascism may be due to the fact that fascism has usually had a close relationship with organized crime in its society. In Japan, for example, the social links between the Yakuza networks and the right wing political forces are well known. The same close ties exist between the Italian fascists and mafia families in that country. The same in Iran, Russia, Azerbaijan and many other countries throughout the world.
So, maybe, along the lines suggested by Louis Proyect, we can think of Trump as something representing the mob side of that joint venture, not so much the actual (street-organized) political fascist side. At the same time, those street fighting foot soldiers could be brought out too if there is a real need and the will.
There is also another consideration: it could be that the American political system doesn’t really need a real fascist. The reason the U.S. can do without a real fascist may be due to the fact that the legal and security system put in place, especially since George W Bush’s regime, considers itself capable enough of handling any level of real resistance from below.
Regardless, bigger empires with more comparative power have fallen before. Our species is in its intellectual infancy still. As we grow, we will be doing a lot more new things, and a lot of them will have to do with how we organize ourselves socially.
The qualitatively significant factor for the left is this: The current political situation is dominated by a fight among the ruling elites, almost in all countries.
A strong push from below can deepen this divide further. If the push from below is strong enough, it can force more sub-classes of the ruling elites to peel away from their class, further weakening the internal unity of the ruling classes. That is why it’s essential for left formations in all countries to take advantage of such fights between their ruling elites, especially when they acquire such intensity.
But, what should the left do to gain some advantage at this juncture? In a word: Organize! We must organize our own forces, our own independent organizations, our allies and potential allies, and organize so that we can meld with and contribute to other social forces organizing to push back against reaction.
One thing is certain: Our first and foremost question should not be: Which ruling faction should we support? Should we support the CIA, now that it is going against Trump? Should we come to the help of the Democrats (and half of the Republican Party, for that matter) to defeat the extreme right?
Such questions are shortsighted; Democrats, not just the Republicans, and the CIA, and the mass media, and a whole host of other ruling institutions are exactly what brought us to the current situation. Aligning with any ruling faction or institution strategically is obviously not an option.
Our present question is very specific: How can we existentially and presently benefit from the political space that has opened up while there is a deep-structure infighting afoot among the elites? That is the key question. Our focus must be on engaging the opened-up political space to reach more people and help in the long and complex process of organizing people.
As to how we handle our tactical moves, a basic and practical principle works universally: beware of self-indulgent and, worse, planted distractions.
The self-indulgent distraction right now is: presuming ourselves to be the movement, or even worse, that we are the entitled leaders already. The left is not the movement, much less the leaders of the emerging movement; we are a part of the movement.
The movement is the masses of the millions of people expressing all the myriad symptomatic dimensions of this social disease called late capitalism; the movement is the millions of people publicly and loudly trying to collectively construct a social solution. If the left is to be anything, it has to help. Not lecture and talk at people, with all the negative-critical guns blazing as we enter the scene, handing out pass/fail grades to every move the people make, shoving our paper in their face, telling them to read it to learn better.
If the left is anything, it has to be humble, positive and helpful. We’re not there just to sell papers, or issue directives or a ‘line’. We must help where we can. If you cannot help, don’t pass judgment either. If you didn’t take bags of rice or blankets or other materiel to Standing Rock, or donate money, or do something useful that actually helped them out, don’t issue directives on what Standing Rock should have done or what tactics they should have taken. Help first, work with people whose lives are affected daily and immediately; then, if you learn something new, express well thought-out and well researched ideas about how to help more.
Planted distractions, on the other hand, are, again, the pleas to fall in line and merge with this or that ruling elite or sub-elite and their organizations engaged in the cat fight going on upstairs. There will be a lot of such distractions in the next four years. The obstacle course ahead will be dynamic and fast moving, but if the left plays its cards well, it can turn the tables on the reactionary forces.