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Magician’s dust

By Vijay Prashad. This article was first published on Frontline.

Donald Trump takes office with an agenda so toxic that it could curdle milk. But the Democratic leadership seems to be in no mood for a fight, and much of the anti-Trump discourse is obsessed with the alleged Russian role in the presidential election. By Vijay Prashad

Not far from Trump Towers in New York City, where Donald Trump lives, is a slash of graffiti that disparages him. The language is harsh. One mocks Trump’s slogan—Make America Great Again—suggesting that its real meaning is “Make America Hate Again”. The poster dresses Trump in the clothes of Uncle Sam and calls him a “Loser”. This should not be a surprise. In New York City, Hillary Clinton won close to 80 per cent of the vote. This is not Trump country. Here the sentiment is one of dismay. It is as if the world has ended.

Promises of a resistance to the Trump presidency flood pockets of social media where the embattled liberals huddle. A group of former Congressional staff members released a detailed document called “Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda”. These Democratic Party workers took their lessons from the Tea Party. When Barack Obama was getting ready for his inauguration, protests broke out across the country to challenge his legitimacy. Was Obama a real American, it was asked, or was he born in Kenya without the right to be President? At that time, Donald Trump became a minor player in this “Birther” movement. Racism, hatred of liberals, antipathy to “government” and other maladies coalesced into the Tea Party, which was then funded liberally by the billionaires of the Far Right. The Tea Party groups challenged the Republicans—whom they called RINOs (Republicans in Name Only)—and forced the party to lurch to the right. The Congressional staff members trying to build up resistance to the Trump presidency believe that a great deal could be learned from the Tea Party. They would like to adopt its audacity in order to “keep resisting”, they say. But—sadly—the Democratic Party does not have the appetite for resistance. It has already surrendered.

Hillary Clinton, with her husband, Bill, will attend Trump’s inauguration. The Democratic elite will follow their lead. Musicians who have refused to perform at Trump’s gala event have more guts than the Democrats. The Democratic leadership in the United States Congress has already suggested that it is willing to “work with” the Trump administration. It will not decline to cooperate, disrupt the nomination process for his Cabinet, or refuse to endorse his appointments for the local levels of the judiciary. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, who will lead the Democrats, says that he will “hold Donald Trump’s feet to the fire” to make sure that he is accountable to the American electorate. Accountability is a low standard because Trump is already defining the terms for which he should be accountable. He pledged certain policies—many of them outlandish—in the campaign, and he would like to be held accountable to those promises. If that is all that the Democratic leadership plans to do, then it has decided not to offer substantial resistance to the Trump agenda.

Beware the Russian menace!

In the lead-up to Trump’s inauguration, all the talk has been on the Russian role in the presidential election. Television anchors hyperventilate over the hacking of the Democratic National Committee emails and the release of this trove by WikiLeaks in the weeks before the election. U.S. intelligence agencies, in a shockingly poor report released on January 6, argue that “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election”. Putin, the U.S. intelligence agencies argue, “developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump”. What evidence was released to prove this was sophomoric (such as the role played by RT, the television channel, in giving prime time space to the libertarian and green parties, and by running stories critical of Hillary Clinton). Suggestions that the U.S. must respond to the Russian attack are legion. Senator John McCain, whose policy suggestion is always to go to war, argued that the U.S. should see this hack as an act of war.

That the U.S. has, for the past seven decades, interfered in elections across the world was not of any consequence. This is not hypocrisy but the outrage of the privileged. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), whose brand is synonymous with electoral interference through buying votes or assassination, now throws its hands up in dismay that the Russians would dare to assault the U.S. But even this outrage is specious. Apart from naming a well-known hacker, Guccifer 2.0, the report has no specifics. It does not even establish if these hacked emails actually influenced the outcome of the election.

It is more likely that the repeal of the 1965 Voting Rights Act by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 led to widespread suppression of the minority vote in key States such as Pennsylvania. The 2016 election was the first presidential contest without the Voting Rights Act. Evidence of voter suppression of minorities is plentiful. It just does not define the outrage. It is also more to the point to investigate the failure of both parties to tend to the severe economic malaise that has inflicted parts of rural and small-town America. The stagnation in that part of the country has fuelled forms of intolerance and bigotry that fester alongside drug addiction and general hopelessness. “White nationalism” masquerades as American patriotism behind slogans such as Trump’s “Make America Great Again”—make America, in other words, like it was before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The key to Trump’s victory lay somewhere between the suppression of the minority vote and his crafty mobilisation of this “peasant revolt” in key battleground States. None of this is being investigated. For the Democratic Party, it is far easier to blame the Russians than to look deeply into the mirror.

A better world is impossible

Trump takes office with an agenda that could curdle milk. The U.S. Congress, controlled by the Republicans, will repeal the Affordable Care Act, sending tens of millions of Americans off the health insurance rolls. It will shrink the ethics office, making it difficult to investigate violations of basic norms by the government. Businesses will find that regulations, including labour and environmental regulations, will disappear or be weakened. Oil companies are sharpening their drill bits as Wall Street financiers are waiting to launch new Bespoke Tranche Opportunities (BTOs). Taxes will drop, particularly corporate taxes. None of this will guarantee the “return” of jobs to the U.S. Where labour is to be hired in large numbers, the chances are that businesses will do their hiring in low-income countries; within the U.S., hi-tech factories tend to employ as many robots as people. Trump’s “forgotten Americans” will remain forgotten.

But with his genius for propaganda, Trump will continue to highlight how he—personally—called a CEO and insisted that a factory remain in the U.S. Eight hundred jobs in Indiana at a Carrier plant, seven hundred jobs in Michigan at a Ford factory. These are statistically insignificant numbers compared with the 145 million workers in the U.S., and the 1.5 million people who lose their jobs in this market every month (many find new jobs, although the data show a slide in pay).

Trump will make these grand announcements, and the media will replay them as enthusiastically as Trump’s announcement of these achievements on Twitter. No general policy will be produced to tackle the acute underemployment and unemployment problem in the U.S. The magician will throw dust in the air and everyone will applaud.

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