The Establishment’s ‘Fear’ Is Different From Yours
The instantly famous Anonymous New York Times Op-Ed (ATOE), published Sept. 5, in which a senior Trump administration official complained about the brutish awfulness and incompetence of Donald Trump and claimed to be working with other White House officials to check Trump’s worst impulses, has evoked a range of responses on so-called social media.
“The author is Mike Pence,” a first correspondent wrote to me, because the editorial’s anonymous author (hereafter “AA”) used the word “lodestar,” an unusual word that Pence has used many times in the past.
No—too easy. The word choice seems calculated to throw people off. Pence, Trump’s presidential heir apparent in the case of constitutional removal, is like the first suspect in every murder mystery. He’s the person who initially seems to make sense as the culprit and then fades as the investigation gets more serious.
As William Saletan showed on Slate, moreover, there’s a strong linguistic, ideological and broadly political case for the AOTE’s real author being Jon Huntsman, Trump’s ambassador to Russia.
The ATOE was “treason,” a second correspondent—an online Trumpenleftist—wrote me. Wrong. The ATOE wasn’t treasonous unless we idiotically conclude that the president (a global real estate mogul) and the U.S. nation-state are one and the same, as in “L’Etat, C’est Trump.”
“It’s an imperialist coup,” another “left” Trump apologist (such preposterous “red-brown” people are surprisingly common online) told me. That was amusing. It conjured images of Trump—himself a foiled (so far) billionaire advocate of a U.S.-sponsored coup to overthrow the democratically elected Maduro government in Venezuela—as Mohammad Mosaddegh, Jacobo Arbenz, Patrice Lumumba, Salvador Allende or Manuel Zelaya.
It is not a “coup” or “treason” if top staffers in an administration turn against the president of the United States (POTUS). It’s an egregious failure of that POTUS to achieve loyalty and consensus across the executive branch. Trump is not owed such loyalty and consensus simply because of his title. POTUS is not a king.
(You’ve got to hand it to the Trumpenleft: They say they want a revolution and then they raise alarms about “the plot against the president,” who happens to be a creeping fascist and arch-plutocrat with openly totalitarian instincts and behaviors.)
“The op-ed only makes things worse,” a fourth correspondent wrote me, “by feeding the orange beast’s conspiratorial ‘deep state’ paranoia and that of his white-nationalist base.” (I had the same thought at first. If the ATOE had self-described lefties writing me feverishly about “treason” and an attempted “deep state coup” against poor Donald Trump, imagine how it’s been playing out in the minds of the president and his more fully right-wing and armed white-Amerikaner backers!)
“This,” a fifth correspondent wrote me, “looks like the biggest example in history of ‘cover your ass.’ ” In this correspondent’s view, the AA and his allies are aware that veterans of the current Insane Clown White House are falling short of usual post-West Wing salary and career expectations when they leave. The AA and his circle in the administration want be able to tell prospective future employers and/or voters and campaign funders that “we tried our best to check the wacky tyrant. We were doing our duty to the nation and the world by staying in the administration.”
That is a workable hypothesis, one which makes a lot of sense to me. I would add here that the AA and his Times editors may be trying to cover not only their own asses but those of the whole Trump-sullied U.S.-American establishment, the Republican Party and the American Empire as well.
Whoever he may be (my money is on Huntsman), the AA is clearly no friend of the left. He says this explicitly: “Ours is not the popular ‘resistance’ of the left.” (Of course, his notion of “the left” he’s not part of absurdly includes the corporate-neoliberal Democrats.)
The ATOE reflects a standard neoliberal, establishment Republican perspective, one that seeks to align itself with traditionally Republican victories attained under Trump while distancing itself from the malevolent stink of associating with him.
The AA writes that “[w]e want the administration to succeed and think that many of its policies have already made America safer and more prosperous.” He praises Trump’s presidency for “effective deregulation, historic tax reform, a more robust military and more.”
Consistent with the Republican Party establishment’s long and noxious embrace of racist-nativist dog-whistling and climate denial, the ATOE says nothing about the Trump administration’s two most egregious sins beyond its shocking and relentless hyper-Orwellian practice of the “permanent lie” (the constant and maddening distortion of facts and truth): (1) its racist and even creeping fascist rhetoric and actions regarding immigrants and people of color and others, and (2) its zealous carbon-capitalist acceleration of the Greenhouse Gassing-to-Death of Life on Earth, a crime that promises to make even the Nazis look like small-time criminals.
The second problem—state-capitalist ecocide—is being advanced with noteworthy efficiency by the Trump administration. “While the Trump administration swirls around in a vortex of Tweets, lies and Russiagate,” Joshua Frank noted on Counterpunch last weekend, “one thing is for certain, while we are all distracted and perplexed by the daily mayhem, Trump and his fossil fuel buddies are getting away with environmental plunder.” The administration’s infamous incompetence and dysfunctionality (much bemoaned by the AA) does not extend to the ecocide project, curiously enough—a topic that fails to receive significant media attention despite its status as the biggest issue of our or any time.
The AA fears and loathes Trump for ruling-class and imperialist reasons, not for ones that ought to most concern people who care about democracy, social justice and prospects for a decent future.
He is typical among establishment political actors from both major capitalist and imperialist U.S. parties in that regard. As I’ve been writing and saying from before the Trump presidency, the establishment—from people like Huntsman, George Will, the late John McCain, Dick Cheney and Jeff Flake on the right to folks like Rachel Maddow, Bob Woodward, the Clintons, Barack Obama, Tim Kaine, John Kerry and Anderson Cooper on the so-called left—hates Trump for reasons different from those that ought to most concern we the people.
What are the mainstream ruling class’ problems with Trump? The main wealth and power elite policy complaints are that the “populist,” “isolationist” and “protectionist” president is woefully ignorant about, and even strangely opposed to, the standard institutional structures of U.S. empire and of U.S.-dominated global trade and investment.
Then there’s the explicitness of Trump’s racial bigotry and sexism; the openness of Trump’s authoritarianism and totalitarianism; and the transparent “beyond the pale” malignancy and childishness of his Twitter-addicted narcissism (so extreme that he feels compelled to deny the number of Puerto Ricans who died in the wake of Hurricane Maria last year). There’s also the remarkable extent of Trump’s stubborn idiocy, deepened by his ridiculous (if textbook narcissist) faith in his own superiority; and troubling connections between “the House of Trump,” Russian state-connected oligarchs and “the House of Putin” going back many years.
Properly restrained divide-and-rule racism has long been OK for the ruling class, but Trump is far too seriously invested in toxic racial bigotry for an American elite that has learned to cloak persistent white supremacism in the flags of diversity and tolerance.
Standard “imperial presidency” authoritarianism has always been fine with the establishment, but Trump takes it to preposterous levels by transparently attacking the rule of law and the independence of the corporate media.
The U.S. establishment has long tolerated and even cultivated fascism in Third World client states but not in the “homeland” itself, the supposed exceptional headquarters and beacon of so-called capitalist democracy and liberty.
Presidential lying has long been tolerated and even applauded in the national media-political culture, but Trump goes far beyond acceptable elite norms with his wild and shameless advance of untruth. He averaged 16 false and misleading statements per day in June and July of this year. His astonishing record of grotesque, self-serving falsehood (e.g., the ridiculous charge that he was denied a popular vote victory by illegal immigrant ballots and the sickening claim that the Puerto Rican death toll from Hurricane Maria was tiny) includes numerous “permanent lie” fabrications that he repeats again and again—long after they’ve been exposed as fictions.
The U.S. remains a patriarchal and sexist nation, but the beauty pageant pussy-grabber-in-chief is a disturbing embarrassment.
Standard presidential narcissism (i.e., Bill Clinton and Barack Obama) is fine, but Trump’s constant Twitter-weaponized shame-fest and his endless reality-television drama are just too nationally humiliating. He’s been turning the executive branch of the world’s most powerful state into something on par with “The Apprentice,” if not “The Maury Povich Show.”
It’s OK for the president to be stupid as far as the ruling class is concerned. Look at George W. Bush. He was an abject dolt who thought God had told him to invade Iraq. But “Du[m]bya” had the decency to know that he was a figurehead for purportedly smarter establishment actors and let himself be managed by ruling class “adults” like Cheney and Robert Gates.
Corruption and captivity to wealthy elites from the U.S. and some other rich, U.S.-allied nations is one thing. Potential captivity to a “hostile power” (as Russia is officially designated by the U.S. foreign policy establishment and media) is another.
Above all, perhaps, Trump is just too unpredictable and impulsive for the ruling class. It’s hard to make decent investment decisions when the White House is a fickle and capricious horror show that might (for example) impose (or roll back) a whole new set of tariffs or insult a “valued trading and investment partner” on a foolish tyrant’s bizarre whim from one day to the next.
There are limits to just how malevolent a U.S. president can be before he turns into an imperial public relations liability.
I caught Bob Woodward’s appearance on Rachel Maddow’s widely viewed MSNBC talk show last week. The remarkably dull and uninspiring Woodward was there to pitch his recently released instant bestseller “Fear: Trump in the White House.”
Neither Maddow nor Woodward said anything about Trump’s racism-fascism or about Trump’s acceleration of ecocide (though Maddow preceded her Woodward interview by helping break the news that the Trump administration had diverted $10 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to pay for building racist immigrant detention centers—no small story as Hurricane Florence bore down on the Carolinas).
The basic theme of the segment was that Trump is bad at U.S. “global leadership” (also known as U.S. imperialism), as well as at what Woodward and Maddow risibly called “avoiding World War III,” and at ensuring U.S. domination of global trade. Maybe they should have complained that Trump’s anti-immigrant stance was helping shrink the reserve army of easily exploitable cheap labor.
Trump is a dangerous monster who needs to be removed from the White House and the nation’s political life. On that all decent people can agree. But we can’t stop there. The Fake Resistance and Inauthentic Opposition Party (the Democrats and some traditional Republicans) seek the removal of Trump, to be sold as a great victory for popular democracy while preserving the reign of the nation’s unelected and interrelated juntas of capital, empire, race and militarized police-state repression.
And that’s not good enough, not with the species teetering on the edge of full environmental catastrophe under the soulless command of the profits system. We need a rebellion, indeed a revolution (and not just a political one) that goes much deeper than merely the amputation of the malignant symptom of Amerikan cruelty, plutocracy, sexism, racism and stupidity that is Trump.
We need to undertake a giant popular uprising that targets the whole U.S. state-capitalist societal order and its vast imperial and repressive edifice at home and abroad—the broad institutional and cultural structures of oppression (including the Democratic Party) that made something as noxious as a Donald Trump presidency possible in the first place. Chris Hedges noted on Truthdig last May:
The Trump administration did not rise, prima facie, like Venus on a half shell from the sea. Donald Trump is the result of a long process of political, cultural and social decay. He is a product of our failed democracy. The longer we perpetuate the fiction that we live in a functioning democracy, that Trump and the political mutations around him are somehow an aberrant deviation that can be vanquished in the next election, the more we will hurtle toward tyranny. The problem is not Trump. It is a political system, dominated by corporate power and the mandarins of the two major political parties, in which we don’t count. We will wrest back political control by dismantling the corporate state, and this means massive and sustained civil disobedience.… If we do not stand up, we will enter a new dark age.
The “real issue to be faced,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in his final essay, “is the radical reconstruction of society itself.”
That’s the last thing you’ll hear from establishment elites. They have a simple fake-fix: Vote for Democrats in the midterms. “The best way to protest,” the deeply conservative former president Barack Obama told University of Illinois students three days after the ATOE, “is to vote. … When you vote, you’ve got the power. …”
Really? We get to vote, yes, but mammon reigns nonetheless in the United States, where, as the mainstream political scientists Benjamin Page and Martin Gilens note in their important book “Democracy in America?,” “government policy … reflects the wishes of those with money, not the wishes of the millions of ordinary citizens who turn out every two years to choose among the preapproved, money-vetted candidates for federal office”—candidates like Obama, who blew up the public presidential campaign finance system with record-setting contributions from the likes of Goldman Sachs and Citigroup in 2008.
Am I saying you shouldn’t vote for Democrats in the midterms? No, I’m not. It’s important to try to oust the openly ecocidal and creeping fascist Republican Party from its control of the U.S. Congress and the state governments. Trust me, fellow workers and citizens, you do not want to live under Trump if the GOP keeps both the House and the Senate. So suck it up and vote if you live in a contested district. But do so without any faith in the notion that voting under the oligarchic U.S. electoral and party system is anything close to the real and democratic politics that matter most or anything like what Obama called in Illinois “everybody doing their part” for “this whole project of self-government.” Our greatest intellectual, Noam Chomsky, put it very well on the eve of the 2004 elections:
Americans may be encouraged to vote, but not to participate more meaningfully in the political arena. … A huge propaganda campaign is mounted to get people to focus on these personalized quadrennial extravaganzas and to think, ‘That’s politics.’ But it isn’t. It’s only a small part of politics. … The urgency is for popular progressive groups to grow and become strong … by steady, dedicated work at all levels, every day, not just once every four years. … You can’t ignore the elections. You should recognize that one of the two groups now contending for power happens to be extremist and dangerous and has already caused plenty of trouble and could cause plenty more. … So in the election, sensible choices have to be made. But they are secondary to serious political action. The main task is to create a genuinely responsive democratic culture, and that effort goes on before and after electoral extravaganzas, whatever their outcome.
Chomsky’s good friend Howard Zinn said it even better nearly four years later, as the Obama phenomenon had engulfed the entire society, including “the left,” in the nation’s quadrennial “Election Madness”:
I’m talking about a sense of proportion that gets lost in the election madness. Would I support one candidate against another? Yes, for two minutes—the amount of time it takes to pull the lever down in the voting booth. … But before and after those two minutes, our time, our energy, should be spent in educating, agitating, organizing our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the schools. Our objective should be to build, painstakingly, patiently but energetically, a movement that, when it reaches a certain critical mass, would shake whoever is in the White House, in Congress, into changing national policy on matters of war and social justice. … Let’s remember that even when there is a “better” candidate (yes, better Roosevelt than Hoover, better anyone than George Bush), that difference will not mean anything unless the power of the people asserts itself in ways that the occupant of the White House will find it dangerous to ignore. … Yes, two minutes. Before that, and after that, we should be taking direct action against the obstacles to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
There has long been a self-destructive and frankly pathetic degree of intra-leftist bloodletting on how portsiders can best respond to the absurdly narrow range of choices on offer in the U.S. party and elections system. This venom among progressives and radicals is badly misplaced. It must stop. The real and serious political action is about what we do before and after, not during elections.