In this era of fire and fury, when a boorish racist president can declare himself a stable genius in response to a journalist’s exposé of life inside the White House, American political culture is on display in all its hideous and worsening vulgarity.
Indeed, the publication of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House (Little, Brown 2018), has evoked its own fire and fury from that aspiring book-banner, Donald Trump. What’s notable is the book’s instant popularity and the rather desperate response from Trump and his defenders to discredit it testifies to just how insecure is the underlying political foundation of Trump’s White House.
Wolff’s “fly-on-the-wall” account of White House World portrays Trump as inept and unstable, spending his days watching cable news, reading little, ignoring his advisers, and impulsively tweeting a daily barrage of insults and nonsense. Then there are the Big Macs and the casual threats of nuclear war.
There’s also the allegation that this man didn’t even really want to be president. He reportedly saw his election campaign as mainly just another scheme to boost his “brand” in the business world.
Beyond the salacious new details provided by Wolff, none of this is exactly a news flash. In fact, the larger question now isn’t where all this scandal of stupidity is leading us. Obviously, Trump and his Republican allies embrace a hellish future vision of capitalist inequality, worse than ever, but hardly in contradistinction to the neoliberal assault on the rights and living standards of working-class Americans experienced in the Clinton-Bush-Obama years.
Deeper Political Challenges
In fact, at this juncture to continually focus on Trump’s lying, intolerably narcissistic personality as the singular heart of what’s objectionable in Washington politics avoids confronting deeper political challenges. Which is this: The class war being waged against the American people cannot be defeated by the kind of tepid liberalism that cares only for the defeat of Trump acolytes at the ballot box.
Case in point: After Democratic candidate Doug Jones defeated Republican Roy Moore in early December in the U.S. Senate election in Alabama, the victory was enthusiastically celebrated across the country by many liberals and progressives. Yet the newly elected Jones quickly made his limitations clear.
Sounding more like the corporatist Hillary Clinton than any grassroots symbol of anti-Trump resistance, Jones made it clear his own orientation was toward compromise and “getting things done.” In this spirt, Jones looked forward to meeting with Trump, would examine every issue without partisan blinders, and so on. Despite defeating a notorious sexual harasser, Jones did not even support the demand that President Trump resign from the presidency over his own sexual harassment charges.
Unfortunately, talk of “getting things done” is for many Democrats usually code for saying we don’t have an idealistic bone in our opportunistic bodies. Supposedly, Hillary Clinton didn’t inspire the people in last year’s election because of her unexciting “wonkish” emphasis on practical policy solutions to America’s complex social and economic problems. This was allegedly in contrast to Bernie Sanders, that pied piper of socialism who was out there promising all the children a new pony (Clinton actually made this argument.)
This is how elite Democrats, thoroughly ensconced in corporate money and culture, think about working-class Americans. They’re society’s figurative children who must do their chores (i.e., vote), and then it’s off to bed while the grown-ups (i.e. the privileged and the powerful) stay up late figuring out how to get things done. The latter includes promoting a status quo stable enough for the next quarter’s corporate profits, neutralizing dissent or any move toward independent politics, and making sure their own checks are in the mail.
Frankly, the leadership of the Democratic Party is just not that interested in mobilizing the American public to defeat Trump. Where were the massive nationwide protests that should have greeted the Republican tax bill? Certainly the sentiment was there. A CNN poll prior to the vote in Congress showed majority public opposition to the bill (55 percent). Overall, 66 percent of Americans thought the bill would do more to help the wealthy than the middle class.
Now, at a time when corporate America is basking in profits and wealth, Congress has cut the business tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent. This, despite the fact that both Democrats and Republicans had already long made it easy for large corporations to avoid even the standard tax obligations. Rightly, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT.) described the now passed Congressional tax bill as one of the “greatest robberies, criminal activities if you like, in the modern history of this country.” Sanders also claimed he and fellow Democrats “did everything that we could” to stop the bill.
The latter was not quite true. Every effort should have been made to mobilize massive public opposition to the bill’s passage. The tax bill could have been met with mass street protests, rallies, organized work stoppages, teach-ins, civil disobedience and more. But, of course, that kind of coordinated national response takes organized oppositional political leadership. Is there such a thing in the United States?
It’s almost predictable now that should the Democratic Party win a new majority in Congress in 2018 or 2020, they’ll “fix” the tax bill with some rotten compromise with the Republicans. Thus, if the corporate tax rate is down to 21 percent from 35 percent, the Democrats in the lovely spirit of bipartisanship will fight like hell for a hypothetically fairer corporate tax rate in the 28 percent range or so.
Malcolm X might have described this as the “progress” that comes from removing the knife stuck 12 inches in the body by six inches. Of course, how do Democrats organize resistance to a corporate class war in which their own party has long been complicit? The neoliberal, pro-billionaire policies undermining working-class living standards are as much as product of the policies and politics of the Clinton and Obama years as the two Bush and Reagan administrations.
Impeachment? Not So Fast!
Tellingly, the House of Representatives also voted in early December to table a resolution to impeach Trump, sponsored by Rep. Al Green (D-Tex). Green cited Trump’s role as “the chief inciter” of American racism, bigotry, hatred, xenophobia, sexism, and ethnocentrism as basis for impeachment. Only 58 Democrats out of 192 voted in favor of the impeachment resolution.
The politics of racism and hatred with which the White House is associated are not less important than obstruction of justice concerns, said Green. But leading Democrats aren’t having it. House Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer led a majority of Democrats to vote with Republicans against the impeachment resolution.
Instead, a year into office they’re still looking for a way to bring Trump down through the “Russiagate” special counsel investigation. Here’s the thing: The great advantage of defeating Trump by exposing alleged campaign complicity with the Russians is it offers a way to bring Trump down without having to mobilize the American people around actual progressive social and economic demands.
Just as they were more worried during the primaries about the Sanders’ threat from the left than the Trump threat from the right, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) is now more worried about maintaining the deeper stability of the status quo than disrupting it. In my estimation, the party’s elite leadership fears mobilized mass protest against the cruelty and injustice of the Republican agenda more than the rightist agenda itself.
Instead, we’re all apparently supposed to keep ourselves busy watching CNN’s Anderson Cooper or MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, as they drill ever deeper into the minutia of Russian involvement in the U.S. election. Someday soon Team Trump’s collusion with Russia will bring him down, and then we can all rally around Joe Biden for President in 2020 or something.
Of course, to impeach and remove Trump from office would just mean his replacement with another right-wing reactionary, Vice President Mike Pence. So, does it really matter? Beyond the matter of removing the finger of an inept and impulsive blowhard from the trigger of the nuclear button (a very big button!), yes. At the very least, Trump’s removal would represent a rejection and defeat for the rightist agenda, even if it is to some extent symbolic.
In his resolution, Green said Trump’s “association” with white nationalism, neo-Nazism and his incitement of hatred and hostility was evidence that he was not fit to occupy the Oval Office. “I have a low tolerance for bigotry,” Green said in an interview after the vote. “I don’t think that obstruction of justice is more important to this country than racism, xenophobia, the hatred and the ugly behavior that’s coming from the White House. The resolution did not make reference to the Russia inquiry.
Enough of Elites
It should be obvious by now that the solution to society’s problems involves more than just maintaining a fever pitch of hysteria over the moronic Trump’s vulgar presidency. The solution is more than entertaining the notion that someone like Oprah Winfrey could actually be some sort of savior from the current madness? Haven’t we had enough of this ultra-rich class of neoliberal elites?
How exactly did we arrive at a moment when such a cruel and awful man could become president? An honest assessment of the rise of Trump must unavoidably begin with examining the sorry failures of the Obama administration to transform “hope and change” into something more than empty platitudes.
We can take some wisdom from abroad. In his recent New Year’s statement, British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn spoke of the possibilities for a great future where all the “wonderful, caring, and talented people” of his country will share in the wealth they themselves create. But Corbyn also warned that society is being held back by a “self-serving elite which delivers staggering wealth at the top while more and more people struggle to simply make ends meet.”
Corbyn also urged Britain’s working class not to despair. “The establishment’s secret is out,” he declared. “They’re not as strong as they appear. They have no idea how to fix their broken system, or upgrade our stagnant economy…. They are stuck in an outdated rut with no new ideas.”
The same lessons apply on the American shore. The fact that the mere publication of a popular journalistic exposé of Trump in the White House can cause such popular uproar, and such defensiveness from the President’s lackey’s and defenders, is testament to the flimsy foundations upon which far right Republicans rule. Of course, the larger infrastructure of class power and American capitalism is a bit stronger. But elite corporate power is not invincible. Hardly.
‘There Were Deserts, I Saw Fountains’
It was 30 years ago that Patti Smith first sang “People Have the Power,” her revolutionary anthem to the human dream of a just society. “The people have the power to redeem the work of fools,” declared Smith. It will indeed be up to all the wonderful, caring, and talented people, of whom there are still many, to accomplish this redemption, to not let the violent usurpers of humanity’s quest for justice, these profiteers and greed-mad capitalists and their defenders, demoralize those who believe in and fight for a new and just society.
Defeating Trump is one thing, but defeating Trumpism long-term will take far more than electing another version of Hillary Clinton in 2020. It will take a new, organized and independent political movement, one rooted in the vast majority power of American working people, to challenge Wall Street and their bipartisan political servants around issues of economic and social justice.
The discontent currently brewing at high temperature in the grassroots speaks to the potential for the emergence of organized socialist politics in the United States. Needless to say, the stakes are high. Without a vision of a new society, run by the majority and transcending capitalism, the contradictions of the current class system will invariably produce only more Trumps, only more war and instability and everything antithetical to a decent future for the planet. Make no mistake: The next Trump will also very likely be less buffoonish and far more dangerous.
“Where there were deserts, I saw fountains,” sang our great rock-n-roll poet. Yes, and where there is capitalism and war and inequality, there are those who see the potential for a future united human community of working men and women, people of all races and sexual orientations, living in solidarity and peace in a social system free of all cruelty, exploitation, and oppression.