Trump vs. the Anti-Trumps: It’s the System That Needs Changing, Not just the Personnel

EDITORIAL, 11 Feb 2019

#573 | Richard E. Rubenstein – TRANSCEND Media Service

Playing Trump’s game is almost irresistible.  At least, most of his opponents seem unable to resist it.

The name of Trump’s game is Personalistic Moralism.  The President’s politics are not policy-free, but policies in his political universe are inextricably wedded to personal moral characteristics.  If you want the Wall (“border security”), for example, that means you are strong, tough, and protective.  You are knowledgeable about the physical and cultural dangers posed by immigrants, and you care for your fellow Americans.  But what if you don’t want the Wall?  In this case, you are weak, effeminate, ignorant, uncaring, and secretly in favor of “open borders.”

This, by the way, is the text. The subtext, resting on the understanding that the main advocates of plentiful immigration since the nineteenth century have been employers seeking cheap labor, is that those who favor the Wall want to protect native American workers while those who don’t, care only about their profits.  Of course, Mr. Trump worships great wealth and the system that produces it.  But his basic political instinct, shared with Far Right ideologues going back to Edmund Burke and Charles Maurras, is to criticize mere moneymaking when it conflicts with ethno-national solidarity and a professed concern for “native” workers.[i]

Trumpism gives a perverse new meaning to the old Movement slogan, “The personal is political.”  It is a mistake, therefore, to consider the President an unprincipled politician with an unfortunate tendency to insult, demean, and threaten his opponents.  Because his own moral character invites contempt, it is easy to forget that Trump is above all a certain type of political moralist. For him, virtue or vice (defined in terms of strength/weakness, masculinity/femininity, loyalty to the national tribe/globalism, and so forth) produce virtuous or vicious policies.  For him, politics is, at bottom, a struggle to defeat immoral and contemptible opponents.

Conflict specialists have long been familiar with this sort of Manichean thinking.  If you ask the parties to a serious dispute to name the causes of their conflict, each party will almost always point to their opponents and answer, “They are!”  President Trump’s adversaries, however, do not seem to understand that in making attacks on his character their primary strategy, they are playing his game, in his stadium, according to his rules.  By doing so, they reinforce the stereotypes of them that Trump has successfully marketed to his base.  Most important, this sort of personalism excludes a form of discourse that is absolutely essential to solving the problems that, unsolved, gave Trump the presidency.  I am talking about the discourse of systems and system-change.  

A few examples of current issues in dispute should make this clearer.  For starters, take Trump’s proposed border wall and the issue of immigration.  The Democrats’ principle response to the President’s anti-immigrant campaign has been to portray him as a racist bully and heartless separator of families.  (“How tender-hearted you liberals are,” reply his supporters.  “But he is protecting us!”) Now and then, the Dems offer some legislative proposal said to be an alternative to Trump’s mural obsession, but their “comprehensive immigration reform” packages basically concede his major point – our alleged need for border security – while trying to extract some compensation for the concession, such as protection for the DACA “Dreamers.”

This response is typical.  It involves two moves: first, attack Trump’s character, then try to engage in old-fashioned bargaining.  But the bargaining, if it happens, almost always takes place within the boundaries established by existing sociopolitical, and economic systems.  In the case of immigration, what most anti-Trumps will not propose or discuss are changes in the American system that would make the problem of border security easily soluble, if not obsolete.

For example, when working people voice fears that immigration will endanger their jobs and undermine current wage levels, many self-proclaimed progressives dismiss this as irrational – racism and/or xenophobia in action.  Well… racism often does play a role in anti-immigrant agitation, but the economic fears of many lower-wage workers are quite well founded.[ii]  The answer is not to call them racists and cite statistics showing that the overall effects of immigration on the economy are positive. This is exactly the sort of bureaucratic response that turns working class people into right-wing populists.  It makes far more sense to guarantee resident workers against job losses or wage cuts caused by immigration.

This may seem startling, but is it utopian?  Is it crazy?  Not at all.  It simply requires stepping outside the boundaries set by our existing system and adopting a level of economic intervention in the interest of working people that is currently anathema to free market cheerleaders and their billionaire heroes.  The same sort of planning would also make it possible to direct newcomers to locations where their services are needed, and where they are most likely to be economically successful.  Canada, among other nations, has already taken some steps in this direction.

A second non-utopian solution to the immigration problem has already been proposed by President Lopez Obrador of Mexico.  This is to recognize the factors that compel millions of Central Americans to migrate in search of employment and safety and take steps to eliminate or mitigate those factors.  The Mexican President proposes a “Marshall Plan” for Central America.  Why not create and fund an even larger and more comprehensive plan than the modest effort he suggests?  Among other things, this would compensate our southern neighbors to some extent for a century of looting of their economies and corrupting or overthrowing their political leaders!  And, we could easily pay for such a plan, with enormous sums left over for other worthwhile social projects, by slashing the wildly bloated U.S. military budget.

But, wait!  The military budget, it turns out, is a key part of the same system that requires radical alteration if we are to deal successfully with the immigration issue.  Remember the military-industrial complex?  This huge, government-sponsored economic sector – an oligarchy if ever there was one – is kept afloat by practicing what Paul Krugman calls “weaponized Keynesianism.”[iii]  By entering into enormously profitable cost-plus contracts with favored producers like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, and United Technologies, the government adds significant demand to an economy plagued by congenital overproduction.  This system will not be changed unless two things happen.  First, we need to rethink and decide to dismantle the American Empire, which requires the U.S. to maintain global military supremacy, not just sufficient force for self-defense.  Second, we need to figure out how to convert the military-industrial complex into a system that produces needed civilian goods and public services, and to do this in a way that puts it under democratic control.

Could a restructured socioeconomic system solve not only Central America’s poverty problems but our own?  As we know, deep poverty shatters families and neighborhoods, degrades schools and other public services, disempowers communities, lowers life expectancies, and generates crime and mass incarceration.  Furthermore, these conditions, un-remedied, generate or reinforce racism and xenophobia on the part of working people struggling to stay out of poverty and terrified of descending into the abyss.  For half a century, federal and state governments in America have been promising development programs that would rehabilitate ravaged cities and deindustralized or abandoned rural areas, but the only program creating significant jobs in most poor regions has been the illegal drug business.

To change this situation means:

  1. recognizing that the current socioeconomic order (misleadingly dubbed a “free market” system) actually produces poverty as part of its normal operations; and
  2. asking how that dynamic can be changed.

In fact, looking at all the problems mentioned thus far – immigration and nativism, “military Keynesianism,” the vicissitudes of the Empire, deep poverty, racism, and working class/small business insecurity – we find that they are all related to failures and dysfunctions of the same mega-system.  That is, they all point to a crisis of American capitalism.

In my view, the solution to these problems will very likely involve a transformation of American socioeconomic life in the direction of socialism.  To put this in a nutshell, we are in desperate need of public institutions capable of managing the economy, guaranteeing decent jobs and incomes, eliminating oligarchic power, and mobilizing people to transform their communities.  But Big Government that is not under democratic control moves toward fascism, so the great question is how to create a system that is fully capable of central planning and authoritative leadership, while fully responsive to workers’ power, local initiatives, and our people’s desire for personal freedom.

Another way of putting this is to say that the crisis of capitalism is also a constitutional crisis.  This means that, however much we may disagree about the likely outcome of the discussion, we have to start talking with each other now about how to characterize the breakdown of traditional systems and what kind of social and political arrangements could fix or replace them.  Where systems fail, social-constitutional dialogues are the alternative to violent group struggles.  But, these conversations will not take place in America if all we can think and talk about is Donald Trump’s foolishness and brutality, or if all Trump’s supporters can contemplate is the left’s softness and self-righteousness.

Friends, if we do not move the consciousness of system-failure and the need for system-change to the center of our praxis – if we focus simply on replacing obnoxious with more sympatico leaders – systemic problems will continue to multiply.  And, if this happens, popular movements far more dangerous than Charlottesville’s white nationalists, and authoritarian figures far more dangerous than Mr. Trump. will surely appear on our doorstep.

Do you want a slogan to summarize all this?  Something pithy and a bit provocative?  Consider this one (copyright waived):

Defeat Trump!  Impeach the System!

NOTES:

[i] Charles Maurras was a French ultra-conservative who founded the anti-Semitic journal, “Action Francaise,” and who is one of Steve Bannon’s intellectual heroes.

[ii] See National Research Council, The New Americans: Economic, Demographic, and Fiscal Effects of Immigration (1997), 140: “Therefore, although immigration yields a positive net gain to domestic workers, that gain is not spread equally: it harms workers who are substitutes for immigrants while benefiting workers who are complements to immigrants. Most economists believe that unskilled domestic workers are the substitutes, so their wages will fall, and skilled domestic workers are complements, so their wages will rise.”

[iii] Paul Krugman, “Weaponized Keynesianism.” New York Times, June 24, 2009. See also Seymour Melman, Pentagon Capitalism: The Political Economy of War (McGraw Hill 1970)

__________________________________________

Richard E. Rubenstein is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment and a professor at the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University in Virginia.  His recent book, Resolving Structural Conflicts: How Violent Systems Can Be Transformed was published by Routledge in 2017.

 

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 11 Feb 2019.

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3 Responses to “Trump vs. the Anti-Trumps: It’s the System That Needs Changing, Not just the Personnel”

  1. Nicholas Marconi says:

    Dear Mr. Rubenstein,

    I enjoyed your article. I like to comment one key passage:

    “In my view, the solution to these problems will very likely involve a transformation of American socioeconomic life in the direction of socialism. To put this in a nutshell, we are in desperate need of public institutions capable of managing the economy, guaranteeing decent jobs and incomes, eliminating oligarchic power, and mobilizing people to transform their communities. But Big Government that is not under democratic control moves toward fascism, so the great question is how to create a system that is fully capable of central planning and authoritative leadership, while fully responsive to workers’ power, local initiatives, and our people’s desire for personal freedom.”

    I agree, some form of “socialism” is the kind of socio-economic transformation that we need. But, the word “socialism”, unfortunately, will stop people right in their cognitive tracks. “Central planning and authoritative leadership” will bring back images of Hitler-ism and Stalin-ism for many people, even in the so-called guise of good intentions or goals such as “worker’s power, local initiatives and personal freedom.” These goals have been promised before by “leaders” who turned out be ruthless dictators that ruled by a noble ends that justified any means.

    Because of this, I believe we need to engage in discussion that is more basic still. I agree with you that envisioning and proposing the solutions that you is not “Utopian” in the negative way that this term has been used. Actually, a vision of a world where people are not fighting one another and oppressing one another and instead are co-operating and sharing the wealth that they produce together fairly and responsibly is Utopian because we have yet to achieve it. But, this doesn’t mean we can’t. The most important and basic realization for people to have is also one that is also the most difficult to achieve, the realization is that we need one another. Our very humanity is based on our self-awareness which includes recognizing the self-awareness of others in mutuality. But, this means facing a vulnerability and a profound level of trust that we have found historically very difficult to do; the problem thus becomes with this realization in mind is to resolve levels of alienation in our relationships by altered forms of communicating with one another.

    Thank you again for your thoughtful and helpful essay.

    regards,
    Nick
    Shelburne, VT

  2. rosemerry says:

    I agree with Nick about the value of this article, putting forward sensible practical ideas vitally needed to solve a serious crisis.

  3. Satoshi Ashikaga says:

    I agree with Nick. His argument is also thoughtful and helpful. This means that Professor Richard E. Rubenstein’s article above is very thought-provoking and inspiring. Thank you very much for writing such really interesting and stimulating article, Professor Rubenstein!

    By using this opportunity, let me show you a few examples of devil’s advocate regarding the above article in the following two aspects: (1) Trump’s efforts for peace and (2) Trump’s efforts to destroy the U.S. Empire, especially from the financial aspect.

    I expect effective counter-arguments or rebuttals to them by the TMS readers.

    —————————————————————

    (1) TRUMP’S EFFORTS FOR PEACE: IF YOU ARE ANTI-TRUMP, ARE YOU AGAINST THE FOLLOWING MOVES, FROM (a) TO (c), MADE BY TRUMP?

    (a) “TRUMP” vs. “MATTIS + MILITARY INDUSTRY”:

    – Trump says he ‘essentially’ fired Mattis (who actually resigned in protest): (5:00): https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=KETh853qURA   (“POMPEO AND MATTIS DEFEND MOHAMMED BIN SALMAN AND YEMEN GENOCIDE”: https://www.wildnkrazy.com/post/ ;   “James Mattis Is a War Criminal: I Experienced His Attack on Fallujah Firsthand”: http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article45992.htm

    – Mattis calls for closer ties with industry in ‘areas where it languished’: https://www.defensenews.com/digital-show-dailies/air-force-association/2017/09/20/mattis-calls-for-closer-ties-with-industry-in-areas-where-it-languished/  

    – Mattis: Impact of Industry Innovation Will Continue to Grow at DoD: https://dod.defense.gov/News/Article/Article/1276282/mattis-impact-of-industry-innovation-will-continue-to-grow-at-dod/

    – Mattis: More Engagement Needed With Industry, Allies: http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/articles/2017/9/20/mattis-more-engagement-needed-with-industry-allies

    – Full Interview: Defense Secretary James Mattis, May 28, 2017: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=GR8TcsXcrMc

    – Mattis quotes: https://freebeacon.com/national-security/the-best-from-mad-dog-mattis/ and https://www.businessinsider.com/general-maddog-mattiss-best-quotes-2013-1

    —–

    (b) TRUMP’S DECISION ON WITHDRAWAL FROM AFGHANISTAN AND SYRIA:

    – Donald Trump withdraws US forces from Syria, declaring victory against ISIS: https://indianexpress.com/article/world/donald-trump-withdraws-us-forces-from-syria-declaring-victory-against-isis-5501500/

    – Report: Netanyahu Failed to Persuade Trump to Reverse Syria Decision: https://www.breitbart.com/middle-east/2018/12/20/report-netanyahu-failed-to-persuade-trump-to-reverse-syria-decision/ and  Why Trump’s withdrawal from Syria is bad news for Israel — and good news for Iran: https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2019/1/3/18159364/trump-syria-withdrawal-israel-iran-hezbollah

    – Trump orders major military withdrawal from Afghanistan as Mattis departs: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/trump-agitating-for-major-military-withdrawal-from-afghanistan-advisers-say/2018/12/20/0c35f874-04a3-11e9-b5df-5d3874f1ac36_story.html?utm_term=.0db6448c0053

    – The foreign policy ‘blob’ is horrified by Trump’s Syria move– though not the voters: https://mondoweiss.net/2018/12/foreign-predictably-horrified/

    – Trump Tweets on Withdrawal from Syria & Mass Hysteria Ensues: https://www.syrianews.cc/trump-tweets-syria-mass-hysteria-ensues/amp/

    —–

    (c) TRUMP” vs. “MILITARY INDUSTRY”:

    – Trump Vs. The Military-Industrial Complex: https://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/trump-military-industrial-complex/

    – Donald Trump Could Be the Military-Industrial Complex’s Worst Nightmare: https://www.alternet.org/2016/03/donald-trump-could-be-military-industrial-complexs-worst-nightmare/

    – Trump attack on Lockheed Martin foreshadows war on defense industry: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-lockheed-idUSKBN1411HF

    – Why does Trump hate the military so much?: https://www.bostonglobe.com/2018/11/26/why-does-trump-hate-military-much-why-does-trump-hate-military-much/Knrhseb085a8U2OqoPELmJ/story.html

    —————————————————-

    (2) TRUMP IS WORKING HARD AS A DESTROYER OF THE U.S. EMPIRE, ESPECIALLY IN TERMS OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT. IT IS HIGHLY LIKELY THAT THE WALL AT THE MEXICAN BORDER, IF CONSTRUCTED, WILL NOT EFFECTIVELY STOP THE ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS. HOWEVER, THE EXPENDITURE OF $8 BILLION ACCELERATES THE POSSIBILITY OF A FINANCIAL COLLAPSE OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. (IN MOST CASES, THE COLLAPSE OF A POLITICAL POWER SUCH AS THAT OF AN EMPIRE FIRST APPEARS AS ITS FINANCIAL PROBLEM.) IF YOU ARE ANTI-TRUMP, WOULD YOU LIKE HIM, BY SUCCESSFULLY MANAGING THE FEDERAL DEBTS, TO PROLONG THE LIFE OF THE U.S. EMPIRE?

    – In 2009, it was said: “US debt to hit $20 trillion by 2020”: https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2009/08/debt-a28.html

    – The above forecast has now become the reality:  “National debt tops $22 trillion for the first time as experts warn of ripple effects: National debt tops $22 trillion for first time, after Trump tax cut” : https://eu.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2019/02/12/national-debt-tops-22-trillion-first-time-ever/2849978002/

    – That is a time bomb: “Forecast of the gross federal debt of the United States for fiscal years 2017 to 2028 (in billion U.S. dollars): Federal debt of the U.S. – forecast 2017-2028 | Timeline” : https://www.statista.com/statistics/216998/forecast-of-the-federal-debt-of-the-united-states/

    – Lessons from the 1933 U.S. federal government bankruptcy: “The Bankruptcy and Enslavement of The U.S. Citizen by the Federal Reserve’s International Bankers”: http://www.renegadetribune.com/bankruptcy-enslavement-u-s-citizen-federal-reserves-international-bankers/

    – Trump to declare national emergency, announce $8 billion for border wall: https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/congress/government-shutdown-vote-border-bill-trump-n971576

    ———————————————

    PLUS ALPHA:

    – “Trump to Spend Weekend at Mar-a-Lago After Declaring a National Emergency”: https://ijr.com/trump-weekend-mar-a-lago-declaring-national-emergency/

    – “15 Lies Per Day in 2018: Analysis Shows Trump Put ‘Unprecedented Deception” Into Overdrive This Year”: (December 31, 2018): https://www.commondreams.org/news/2018/12/31/15-lies-day-2018-analysis-shows-trump-put-unprecedented-deception-overdrive-year

      
    “In a democracy people get the leaders they deserve.”   – Joseph de Maistre  (https://www.azquotes.com/quote/1364879)

    =======================
     

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