The Gotham Walking Dead Money Grubbing Presidency 

by Reza Fiyouzat on May 28, 2017

The minute we learned Donald Trump had pulled off a win, the thought of a ‘Gotham Presidency’ flashed through my head. Now, with the cabinet in place and with more than a hundred days in, that first impression does not seem to have been too far-fetched.

Just on the most basic visual level, this administration looks uniquely Gotham-like: immorally bent, keeping a straight face with a pasted-on smile, intent on destroying all the social fabric in sight, by far the most vice-ridden American administration I have had the great fortune of witnessing first hand.

Trump’s Cabinet of Criminals & Chaos

Right on the heels of the initial shock, the cabinet nominees began to roll in. The A-list of long-dead ideas, previously defeated and buried, coming back to life, taking over government positions. It was just like the TV series, Gotham, season 3, when Penguin gets elected mayor having run a successful campaign with the slogan: “Make Gotham Safe Again!” As soon as he wins, with a maniacal ear-to-ear smile full of smug, Penguin appoints his criminal allies and lackeys to various positions in the city hall.

Trump’s victory, though, was no fictional TV entertainment: This was the top tier of the American government being staffed, not by lawyers and functionaries, but mostly by live members of the ruling class, the capitalist expropriators in flesh. Marx and Lenin (and a few million living people) would label them the real criminals.

Soon we realized it was an Anti-Cabinet: every nominated member a proven combatant against the mission of the department they were nominated to lead.

The list is well known, if still appalling: EPA headed by an anti-environmentalist who, as one of his first acts, reversed department scientists’ recommendations and allowed the use of a pesticide known to lower children’s mental and cognitive development; Education Department head-mastered by a sectarian Christian activist spectacularly uninformed about the public education system and committed to destroying it by siphoning its funds to privately run, unaccountable charter schools; FDA boss, a pharmaceutical industry lobbyist; Department of Energy overseen by an oil, gas and coal partisan gutting plans for future-oriented renewable energy; Health and Human Services put under the knife of an anti-healthcare physician who, since 2009, has doggedly tried to get rid of what little respite Obamacare gives people; and the most egregious, the Justice Department taken back to the 1950s by a crusader for prejudices against non-whites, a hater of the poor and women, a pusher of bigotry against stigmatized religious and national minorities. The only departments treated with respect are the Homeland Security and Pentagon: Law & Order and War. And, nothing else. Oh, and, the State Department is under the custody of oil industry, while the Treasury is handed over to the Wall Street.

Those are the star cabinet secretaries. Then came the deluge of policy shock and awe. The chaos has not yet succeeded in connecting some of its intended punches, though, thank a deity. For one, they haven’t yet killed healthcare of all kinds other than what the rich can afford, and, for another, haven’t yet installed a murderous tax plan, or successfully banned Muslim visa seekers.

But, the travel ban proposals along with the immigration and visa policy proposals have already had harmful effects. On the lighter side of the negative, The New York Times (March 16) reported that 40% of the 250 colleges surveyed nationwide are facing lower numbers of international student applications. This is not inconsequential: the much higher rates of international student tuitions support not just the departments those students join, but university-wide programs and facilities; from arts, music, humanities, and liberal arts programs to gyms, libraries and other common spaces and facilities.

However, the most harmful impacts, so far, have fallen mercilessly on the most vulnerable communities: undocumented immigrants and their families fleeing the violence of poverty, unemployment, or gang or state violence in countries devastated by U.S. policies, particularly in the Americas. The number of non-criminal undocumented immigrants arrested and deported from January to mid-March of this year increased by almost 33% compared to the same period last year, according to a report by The Washington Post (April 16). Obama was not nicknamed Deporter-in-Chief for no reason; a 33% jump on his record is that much more reprehensible.

On another favorite right wing front, the regulatory onslaught is under way, and much of the worst is yet to emerge.

And all through these one hundred and some days, we have been made to run the gauntlet of diplomatic upheavals, international scandals, security breeches that Trump defends as his absolute right to breech, his lovey-dovey phone conversations with mass murdering and mass incarcerating foreign despots, and at least one too many scandalous firings.

The reader must thank a deity or two every night for late night comedians.

Is Reform Bad?

Let’s pause in praise of reform; that cursed and under-understood notion.

We are familiar with, “Reform or Revolution!” It is a slogan raised by those who consider themselves revolutionary and who most likely have never lived through a revolution. This false dichotomy is foreign to real human history. Revolutions almost always begin as movements for reform, they always contain numerous flaws initially, flaws that need sorting out, and go through ups and downs as they proceed and build up, and as they become revolutions; and all revolutions need further reforms after revolutionaries take power. One needs the other.

The ‘reform OR revolution’ dichotomy considers reform as futile and argues that we need a revolution, right now; reform makes the system more stable, prolonging the life of this rotten structure.

Everybody realizes the necessity of the revolution. The existential question however is, and has been for a century, how to get there. Reform movements are the stepping-stones between here and revolutionary conditions. If we do not understand the place of reform, we cannot pave the path to the revolution and will forever stay in Slogan-Land.

One notion to ditch is this: Reform is not, nor can it be, the reason for the survival of the system. The system survives simply because it has not been overthrown. That may sound like a tautology, but it is not. The rulers are more powerful and more organized, with more capacity to mobilize their forces than the opposition. So, they continue to rule. It doesn’t mean they are running an efficient or a stable system. Nor is it the case that an inefficient system automatically leads to a revolution. The system is full of flaws and built-in instabilities, as well as flaws and instabilities it creates periodically. As long as the rulers remain in power, they can tolerate any number of flaws, since they don’t pay for it. The survival of the system depends entirely on factors other than reforms or lack of them.

Reforms, assuming they are implemented fully — in itself a highly qualified premise — simply give people breathing space. But, don’t denigrate or negate the value of breathing space; with more breathing space, we can better get our forces together and organize more effectively. Let’s not forget the basic things we need daily. Reform can mean safe drinking water, as opposed to poisoned water, as in Flint, MI. Reform means that women have equal rights. It means children cannot be exploited ten hours a day in sweatshops. It means people cannot be arbitrarily arrested. Reforms mean that people of all races must be treated equally, and that we have the right to protest to actually achieve equal treatment under the law, like Black Lives Matter is trying to do. To be able to do so legally is a plus for us.

Reform means more protected rights for the people v. the state.

Revolutionaries who reject reforms must answer this: If reforms prolong the system by making it more stable, from the perspective of those running the system, then what is the reason for the political sharp end of American capitalist class, the Republican Party, to be fighting so rabidly and so tooth and nail to rescind those reforms? Are they pathological, or actually just protecting their class interests?

They’re heads over heel in their rush destroying regulations that protect the commons and the environment, trying to abolish women’s ownership of their bodies, getting rid of the little healthcare working women and low income earners have; they’re going after tiniest amounts of resources set aside for food for public school students from poor families; on the truly outlandish side, they’re even targeting the Meals on Wheels program. The list of miserly meanness goes on.

It’s not like they need that money. Any of the top 40 families can pay for all those programs they’re cutting, for years to come, and not feel the difference. If those families took turns paying, the programs could continue in perpetuity, expanding by leaps and bounds, and none of those families would feel the difference still.

Fascistic Pigs or Pigs Gorging on Swill

One auto-response reaction on the left is the ‘fascist’ label. Most people raising this label to classify ‘Trumpism’ have not had to escape actually existing fascistic states. The biggest problem with this characterization is that, by misnaming a political phenomenon, you cannot understand the existing situation and end up strategizing mistakenly and join wrong alliances for political actions.

If you believe Trump’s administration is a new embodiment of fascism, for instance, your political logic likely tells you to do one of two things: either burn garbage cans and smash windows at every demo, or join the Democrats and maybe defend the FBI at this moment, the CIA at some point, sign petitions the Democrats send out, and raise money and campaign for Democrats. Both the trash burning window smashers on the radical left and the Democratic base and rank and file, on the conservative side, think they are stopping fascism, but really just fighting Don Quixote-like battles. The main difference is that Democrat politicians would, under the right circumstances, cooperate with the ‘fascists’, and their rank and file would just fold.

Another tendency is to characterize the Trump administration as Extreme Republicanism: It’s the old boys club taking over and acting like bullies that they are; political bullies acting on behalf of big financial and economic interests. The cabinet members are of course old Republican men and women, but a good half of the Republican Party is in panic over Trump, and hates how he’s running the presidency so obviously to the benefit of his own pocket. Also, to a good extent his cabinet is made up of members of the ruling class, not paid functionaries and lawyers. These are the actual fat pigs that own good chunks of the big fat trough at the top, and they are acting on their own behalf.

Here is another way to look at it: in Trump administration, American political leadership is saying out-loud that it has no solutions for the social problems people face. “This is it,” they’re saying.

Trump presidency is an inadvertent declaration. “Economically,” it is declaring, “this is it, and things will only get worse for the bottom 80-90% from here on out. Politically, the system can only produce gridlock or chaos. Right now is the turn for chaos. That, and the imprisonment of a lot more people. No alternatives, no foreseeable adjustments for the better, only for the worse, and whichever part of all this whole shit you don’t like, well, tough shit. Suck it up and proceed.”

Take healthcare. It’s really a simple fix. Healthcare for all, as a right, financed by sensible taxation. Every other industrialized country has figured it out. So, for even the most basic of human needs the American system is telling citizens, “SUCK IT UP!”

And the corollary to ‘suck it up’ is the not-so-fine print: “Or, you’ll be cuffed and hauled away for not sucking it up.”

It is actually an improvement, from their perspective, on the previous right wing paradigm. Remember George W. Bush’s doctrine, “You’re either with us, or you’re against us.” Observe the simplification: ‘Suck it up or else’ needs not worry about legalities; the ‘or you’re against us’ half of the previous paradigm requires proof at some point to show that somebody is actually ‘against us’. ‘Suck it up or else’ is more aloof, no procedural responsibilities come with it, and although indiscriminate on its face, it effectively targets the very poor. It’s ramped-up class warfare, the thing left to do when the ruling classes have no solutions.

Trump presidency is the real indication of where American capitalism has arrived: Trump’s neuroses, his narcissistic hedonism, his cronyism and nepotism, his and his family’s obsession with hoarding property and wealth at any cost, as fast as possible, by any means, no matter how crass or what amount of mess left behind, his outbursts of how wonderful he is, his gaudy Vegas taste, his contempt for established set of rules as may apply to him and his ilk, his mobsterish flamboyance, avoidance of real problems, creating imaginary one instead, his contempt for common hard working people, his fanfare and spectacle — all outward manifestations of a cultural and ideological dead end: no social solutions to show the citizens, but shiploads of money for bankers and for waging wars at home and abroad, and of course tons of money to put on a show.

This is all made even more striking since the personification is so aesthetically appropriate: the Trump family. The entire family’s most prominent attribute being their money-grubbing face, it’s as if American capitalism’s ‘id’ had taken over, unrestrained by protocol.

The traditional establishment is in a panic over Trump’s presidency mostly because he makes the system look embarrassingly flimsy, rudderless, and as impermanent as it truly and potentially is. Trump presidency is exposing the whole system as potentially ‘Trump-like’. He is exposing too much.

Warning Against Skipping Reforms

The ever-current and increasingly urgent choice of “Socialism or barbarism!” has never been more real. We are in the midst of rapidly escalating barbarity. Up until, say, the end of the Clinton presidency, it was well-managed barbarity. Starting with George W Bush, the barbarity index took a sharp spike to barely-managed barbarity. Now, we have just plain barbarity, with a choice of three sides: extra-legal degradation, high intensity police brutality or extra-judicial executions.

Another notion to dispense with: socialism is not predestined to automatically materialize simply because barbarity reaches insane levels. In history, there is no ‘predestined’ or ‘inevitable’. We human beings decide the outcome one way or another; it’s a struggle. We built it, we live in it, and of course we can always build something different. But, again, no amount of capitalist degeneration will by itself lead to a socialist revolution. Capitalism has infinite capacity for becoming more barbarically unequal.

So, unless you are willing to start taking seriously the fight for reforms, and then building upon that, and then building on that some more, and unless you start fighting to bring about all the streams of reforms together to form a moving river, and then hopefully build a big enough boat to educate for the revolution, then get used to the worsening hell. No amount of sloganeering will bring about change for the better.

 

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Manuel Barrera, PhD May 29, 2017 at 1:31 am

Excellent post. Not much to add except that we should understand its main point; reform does not make a revolution, but you cannot make a revolution without reform. Victory begets more victories. The capitalist class understands that so well and too many purporting to stand against them seem to understand it little. Reforms should not be the product of revolutionaries, but of the masses. Revolutionaries need to support the struggles that win reforms all the while understanding what it will take gain them and keep them.

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Reza May 29, 2017 at 1:10 pm

Here is a piece by Politico that can supplement the point about the importance of reforms; in this case the regulations that Trump administration is destroying:

Inside Trump’s war on regulations:
http://www.politico.com/interactives/2017/trump-war-on-regulations/

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