Once we understand how Trump and Trumpism came about, as a reaction to capitalism’s global crisis, we can see how the impeachment battle is really a battle for dominance within the US ruling class, says globalization sociologist William I. Robinson.


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Abridged Transcript (Full transcript below)

This is part two of our interview with William I. Robinson, professor of sociology at the University of California Santa Barbara where he works on critical globalization studies. Also, he’s author of the forthcoming book, The Global Police State, to be published by Pluto Press in May.

In part one of this interview, we discussed the rise of 21st century fascism around the world and the extent to which Donald Trump is a part of this phenomenon. In this second part, we look at the impeachment of Donald Trump from the perspective that the conflict we are witnessing in Congress is actually a battle within the US elite.

In his article, “Global Capitalist Crisis and 21st Century Fascism, Trump Beyond the Hype,” Robinson suggest that the US elite or ruling class is engaged in a battle over how to resolve the structural and ideological crisis of our global capitalism. In part one we already discussed what this crisis consists of. Now we turn to how the two sides, as represented by Republicans and by corporate Democrats, propose to resolve this crisis. Since we already discovered the right-wing approach, we focus on the corporate Democratic response. That is, how and why are these Democrats, specifically the wing of the Democratic party that Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton represent, different from Trump and the Republicans?

William I. Robinson: Whether we’re talking about impeachment in the United States, or headlines from anywhere around the world, the backdrop to that is the crisis of global capitalism. We have the structural dimension and the other dimension of that crisis is a crisis of state legitimacy. And we do have this sharp polarization worldwide between an insurgent fascist far-right and insurgent popular forces from below, rising up. Let’s focus on this crisis of legitimacy because it hits head-on in the United States.

There is a poll showing that the majority of millennials prefer socialism over capitalism. This crisis of legitimacy, of state legitimacy and capitalist hegemony, is worldwide and it’s particularly acute right now in the United States. And so, global elites are deeply divided. They’re deeply concerned about this crisis of legitimacy, which is why Trump’s now talking about socialism, saying, “We’re never going to have a socialist United States,” and you have Nancy Pelosi saying, “We’re capitalists here,” when she’s questioned by a millennial.

What they’re not united around is how to respond to that crisis, how to resolve that crisis. And we are seeing a breakdown of the ruling order. And the ruling groups are asking, “How do we reconstitute hegemony? How do we stabilize this system? How do we sustain the system? How do we stave off revolution or this radical rebellion from below?”

There have been three responses worldwide, and it holds for the US case as well. A number of transnational elites, including some within the Democratic party and including capitalists elites that don’t necessarily identify with either party, are trying to save the system from itself through mild reformism, from a little bit of redistribution by taxing capital and corporations a little more, by re-introducing the funding for social programs, and so forth, by some green capitalism. And this has been gaining momentum. But this is a minority among Democrats in the United States. It’s zero among Republicans and it’s really a minority of elites worldwide.

Biden is the classical example, and now the former mayor of New York also, and Buttigieg, all of them are simply more of the same, more of what we got with Obama and much of what we got with Trump, which is a continued war mobilization and massive financing for war and the military industrial complex, more neoliberal structural adjustments, a little more kinder, a little more friendlier than Trump’s neoliberal structural adjustment and austerity and so forth. And then you have that far right response we analyzed in the first part of the interview.

This impeachment process is somewhat of a farce because Trump’s real crimes, the war crimes around the world, the crimes of separating children from their families and locking them up in concentration camps, all of these real crimes have also been committed by the Democrats. They have no real division in that regard. Both Democrats and Republicans are beholden to the same transnational capitalist class, to the financial industry, to the military industrial complex, to oil and gas interests, and so on. The Democrats are not impeaching Trump because he’s privatized even more the US economy and the global economy, that he’s deregulated any and everything, that he’s imposed taxes, which are unbelievably regressive, that he’s busting unions, there he’s imposing austerity and cutting social benefits. The Democrats might complain about that a little, but they’re not impeaching Trump for that.

The mainstream of the Democratic party, the bigwigs who are so tied to the corporations are more upset with Trump for other reasons. And one reason is that the US elite is always supposed to respect each other. It’s okay that Trump kills other people abroad. It’s okay that he attacks the working class in the United States, but it is not okay that he goes after his political rival in this illegal way, in this underhand way.

Let’s remember that Nixon was forced to resign in the eve of impeachment, because he broke into Democratic Party headquarters, not because of all of the crimes that he committed. And Democrats that are so tied to the corporate elite have been deeply concerned about Trump’s reckless, buffoon-like conduct.

The Democrats have a different strategy for responding to the crisis of legitimacy. If Trump’s strategy is a fascist mobilization, hitched on racism and rebuilding and reconstituting a white racist historic block and intensifying the war against immigrants and so forth, the Democrats have, among other things, this strategy of looking for the external enemy, which is Russia. So, you have Hillary Clinton and so forth constantly talking about Russia.

But it’s not that Russia is a threat to transnational capitalist interest in the United States. It’s because this is the way social anxiety and the crisis of legitimacy is channeled towards some external enemy. The Democrats, meaning the mainstream elites, are more scared of the Sanders’ campaign and of this insurgency of the left and this rising popularity of socialism than they are of Trump. They’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. They have to oppose Trump and there’s mass sentiment against Trump in their own social base and they have to oppose the far left within the Democratic party and outside of the Democratic party. They’re facing their own party crisis.

If Bernie Sanders gets the nomination, this is going to present a tremendous crisis for the Democratic party as a party. Because if they side with Trump, that’s it, the Democratic party will dissolve. Imagine, the Democratic party supporting not just any old Republican candidate, but a far-right fascist Republican candidate that the base of the Democratic party voters cannot stand and is trying to get rid of.

And if they side with Bernie, they’re going to have to bring all of those resources, all of the party’s resources into the Sanders campaign. There’s a couple scenarios I can imagine. One is that they officially support Bernie. That’s their nomination, their candidate, but they don’t do anything very enthusiastic to get him elected.

The other one of course is what ruling groups always do when they’re faced with this situation, is the politics of co-optation. If Bernie becomes president, they will do everything possible to structurally contain anything Bernie can do.

We haven’t seen a conjunction like this since the 1930s. Of course, in the 1930s we didn’t face the existential crisis of ecological collapse and we also didn’t face such incredible means of violence and destruction at a global level at a time of acute crisis.

Also, at this point of globalized capitalism, the structural power of transnational finance capital is really overwhelming, which has this enormous power to undermine the progressive elements of a Bernie Sanders administration. Wall Street and the financial markets can withdraw massive amounts of capital from the United States and transfer them to other parts of the global economy.

There’s no way out for US and transnational elites. They’re not going to be able to get out of this crisis. The key question is, will it be radical and left forces and popular forces from below that take advantage of this expanding crisis to push humanity and the United States in the direction we need to go for our own survival or will it be these far-right, militarized forces, and a World War III that we’re facing, which gains the upper hand in response to this expanding crisis of global capitalism?

Full Transcript:

GREG WILPERT: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Greg Wilpert in Arlington, Virginia.

This is part two of my interview with William I. Robinson, professor of sociology at the University of California Santa Barbara where he works on critical globalization studies. Also, he’s author of the forthcoming book The Global Police State, published by Pluto Press in May. Thanks again, Bill, for being here today.

WILLIAM I ROBINSON: It’s a pleasure. Thank you for having me on.

GREG WILPERT: So in part one of this interview, we discussed the rise of 21st century fascism around the world and the extent to which Donald Trump is a part of this phenomenon. Now in the second part, I want to look at the impeachment of Donald Trump from the perspective that the conflict we are witnessing in Congress is actually a battle within the US elite.
Now, as I mentioned in part one of our interview, I highly recommend the article that you wrote last year for the Journal Science and Society titled Global Capitalist Crisis and 21st Century Socialism, Trump Beyond the Hype. Now, in this article, you suggest that the US elite or ruling class is engaged in a battle over how to resolve the structural and ideological crisis of our global capitalism.

Now, in part one, we already discussed what this crisis consists of. I want to turn now to how two sides as probably represented by Republicans and by corporate Democrats propose to resolve this crisis. Now, since we already discovered the right wing approach earlier, I want to focus on the corporate Democratic response. That is how and why these Democrats… I’m thinking specifically about the wing of the Democratic Party, of course, that Joe Biden represents and Hillary Clinton; how are they different from Trump and the Republicans?

WILLIAM I ROBINSON: Not very different. Not very different. It’s a short answer, but let me break this down a bit. Let me remind the listeners if you hadn’t heard the details of part one that I had pointed out that the current moment, whether we’re talking about impeachment in the United States, whether we’re talking about headlines from anywhere around the world, the backdrop to that is the crisis of global capitalism. And I had mentioned that we have the structural dimension and we spoke about that in part one, but more significantly when we talk about the US lead and its divisions is the other dimension of that crisis, which is a crisis of state legitimacy in a capitalist hegemony. And we do have this sharp polarization worldwide between an insurgent fascist, alt right and insurgent forces from below, popular forces from below, rising up. Let’s focus on this crisis of legitimacy because it hits head on in the United States.

And I had mentioned also in the first part of the interview that the most recent poll showed that the majority of women in the United States now support socialism over capitalism, but not just women. Previously there were a poll showing that the majority of millennials, now young people prefer socialism over capitalism. This crisis of legitimacy, of state legitimacy and capitalist hegemony, is worldwide and it’s particularly acute right now in the United States. And so, global elites–but here we’re going to talk about US elites–are deeply divided. They’re deeply concerned about this crisis of legitimacy. They are aware of it. They are aware of it, which is why you see, not just Trump says… Trump’s now talking about socialism. Trump’s saying, “We’re never going to have a socialist United States.”

But you have Democratic candidates saying, “I’m capitalist to the bone.” And you have Nancy Pelosi saying, “We’re capitalists here,” when she’s questioned by a millennial, “If the majority of us want socialism, why are you insisting on capitalism?” Elites in the United States, both Democrats and Republicans, and again, this goes worldwide, but we’re talking about the United States, are deeply aware of this crisis of legitimacy and of capitalist hegemony. What they’re not united around is how to respond to that crisis, how to resolve that crisis. And we are seeing a breakdown of the ruling order. And the ruling groups are asking, “How do we reconstitute hegemony? How do we stabilize this system? How do we sustain the system? How do we stave off revolution or this radical rebellion from below?”

And there have been three responses that I identify, and again this is worldwide, but we’re talking about the US case and it holds for the US case as well. A number of transnational elites including some within the Democratic party and including capitalists elites that don’t necessarily identify with either party, are trying to save the system from itself through mild reformism, from a little bit of redistribution by taxing capital and corporations a little more, by re-introducing the funding for social programs, and so forth, by some green capitalism. And this has been gaining momentum. This reformist attempt to reform the system and resolve this crisis by mild reform, but they want to resolve the crisis by mild reform, but they want to undercut radical transformation also by mild reform. But this is a minority among Democrats in the United States. It’s zero among Republicans and it’s really a minority of elites worldwide.

The World Economic Forum just had its summit, its annual summit in Davos, and there we saw the voices of this transnational reformist elite, but they’re minority. Then you have within the US elite, putting aside those reformers, you have the Democrats representing more of the same. You mentioned Biden, and Biden is the classical example, and now the former mayor of New York also, and Buttigieg, all of them are simply more of the same, more of what we got with Obama and much of what we got with Trump, which is a continued war mobilization and massive financing for war and the military industrial complex, more neoliberal structural adjustments, a little more kinder, a little more friendlier than Trump’s neoliberal structural adjustment and austerity and so forth. And then you have that far right response we analyzed in the first part of the interview.

The US elite reflecting the larger transnational elite is deeply divided. Now, let me analyze this by looking a moment at this impeachment process, and I understand that today as this interview is being conducted, it might all be over in that Trump’s acquainted by the Republicans. But on the one hand, this impeachment process is somewhat of a force because Trump’s real crimes, the war crimes around the world, the crimes of separating children from their families and locking them up in concentration camps, all of these real crimes have also been committed by the Democrats. They have no real division in that regard. And let’s remember that both Democrats and Republicans are beholden to the same transnational capitalist class, to the financial industry, to the military industrial complex, to oil and gas interests, and so on. Basically to the agenda of the transnational capitalist class.

The Democrats are not impeaching Trump because he’s privatized even more the US economy and the global economy, that he’s deregulated any and everything, that he’s imposed taxes, which are unbelievably regressive, that he’s busting unions, there he’s imposing austerity and cutting social buzzers. The Democrats might complain about that a little, but they’re not impeaching Trump for that. I think the Democrats who are leading this impeachment, the mainstream of the Democratic party, the big wigs who are so tied to the corporations are more upset with Trump for other reasons. And one reason is that the US elite is always supposed to respect each other. It’s okay that Trump kills other people abroad. It’s okay that he attacks the working class in the United States, but it is not okay that he goes after his political rival in this illegal way, in this underhand way.

And let’s remember that Watergate, if we want to go a little back in the history, Nixon was forced to resign in the eve of impeachment, because he broke into Democratic Party headquarters, not because of all of the crimes that he committed. And Democrats are also… and here, the Democrats I’m talking about the actual political elites that are so tied to the corporate elite. They have been deeply concerned about Trump’s reckless, buffoon-like conduct. The Democrats have a different strategy for responding to the crisis of legitimacy. If Trump’s strategy is a fascist mobilization, inched on racism and rebuilding and reconstituting a white racist historic block and intensifying the war against immigrants and so forth, the Democrats have, among other things, this strategy of looking for the external enemy, which is Russia. So, you have Hillary Clinton and so forth constantly talking about Russia.

But it’s not that Russia is a threat to transactional capitalist interest in the United States. It’s because this is the way social mass, social anxiety and the crisis of legitimacy is channeled towards some external enemy. But I want to stress here, Greg, that the US elite is rudderless. They don’t have a strategy to confront this crisis of state legitimacy and of capitalist hegemony. I want to conclude responding to this part of your interview by saying that the Democrats, meaning the mainstream elites, are more scared of the Sanders’ campaign and of this insurgency of the left and this rising popularity of socialism than they are of Trump. They’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. They have to oppose Trump and there’s mass sentiment against Trump as their own social base and they have to oppose the far left within the Democratic party and outside of the Democratic party. They’re facing their own party crisis.

GREG WILPERT: Yeah. That’s something actually I want to conclude with. I wanted to ask you about this polarization and the fragmentation of the political spectrum that you’re talking about. As you said, the left wing of the Democratic Party has gotten stronger now just as the right wing of the Republican party has gotten stronger. Actually, they dominate the Republican party now. But that’s not the case in the Democratic Party. That is, the left wing doesn’t dominate. And right now, with the primary campaign, we see this battle actually going on between the left wing and the center, for the heart of the Democratic Party. And that’s represented by Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden.

Now, if Sanders wins the nomination, it seems that the real question in this battle against Trump’s authoritarianism and fascism, if you want to call that, would be who will side with the corporate Democrat… Sorry, who will the corporate Democrats side with? Will they side with Trump or will they side with Sanders? As you said, they’re really opposed and afraid of Sanders. So, what do you think will happen?

WILLIAM I ROBINSON: If Bernie Sanders gets the nomination, this is going to present a tremendous crisis for the Democratic Party as a party. Because if they side with Trump, that’s it, the Democratic Party will dissolve. Imagine, the Democratic Party supporting not just any old Republican candidate, but a far-right fascist Republican candidate that the base of the Democratic Party voters cannot stand and is trying to get rid of. And if they side with Bernie, they’re going to have to bring all of those resources, all of the party’s resources into the Sanders campaign. There’s a couple scenarios I can imagine. One is that they officially support Bernie. That’s their nomination. That’s their candidate, but they don’t do anything very enthusiastic to get him elected.

The other one of course is what ruling groups always do when they’re faced with this situation is the politics of co-optation, right? Let’s say hypothetically they have to mobilize around Bernie Sanders. They have no choice because, again, that would throw the Democratic party in such a crisis it might even dissolve if they backed Trump. So, they back Bernie, let’s say Bernie becomes president, but do everything possible to structurally contain anything Bernie can do. And to isolate Bernie and to force Bernie administration to be surrounded by generals in the Pentagon and corporate representatives and in the treasury and so forth. I mean, a massive politics of co-optation.

But I want to say that it’s at times of crisis where there’s tremendous amount of uncertainty and things can go in so many different directions. So, you’re asking a very important question: what the Democrats will do if Bernie wins the nomination. But we’re at times of crisis in which anything can happen and things change very rapidly and things are very, very, very unpredictable. These are not normal times, right? This is not even 2008 for instance, when Obama got the nomination and became president. We haven’t seen a conjunction like this, really I would dare to say since the 1930s. This way we were at, at this point. And of course, in the 1930s we didn’t face the existential crisis of ecological collapse and we also didn’t face in the 1930s such incredible means of violence and destruction at a global level at a time of acute crisis. So, we’ve got to fasten our seat belts.

GREG WILPERT: Yeah. I think also the comparison to the 1930s is interesting in the sense that of course the back then Franklin Roosevelt won the nomination and he was very clear that he is a capitalist even though he took the reform course in order to save capitalism. That’s something… Well, you could say that maybe that’s the course that Sanders will take, but it will be much more difficult for him given the continuing crisis of global capitalism that doesn’t seem to be resolvable in the short term. Whereas in the 1930s, it did seem to present a solution, right?

WILLIAM I ROBINSON: Right, right. I would add on that also that at this point of globalized capitalism, the structural power of transnational finance capital is really overwhelming. So, capital putting aside the Democrats, politically in Congress and so forth, capital has this enormous power to undermine any… the progressive elements of a Bernie Sanders administration, Wall Street and the financial markets can withdraw massive amounts of capital from the United States and transfer them to other parts of the global economy.
There are many different ways to either to fully sabotage a Sanders presidency or to keep it tightly under control. But all of those things might sabotage Bernie Sanders’ program and his most radical elements, but it will also aggravate the underlying structural crisis that we’ve been talking about in the crisis of legitimacy.

Here’s the thing: there’s no way out for US and transnational dates. They’re not going to be able to get out of this crisis. The key question is, will it be radical and left forces and popular forces from below that take advantage of this expanding crisis to push humanity, the United States, but humanity more generally in the direction we need to go for our own survival or will it be these far right forces, militarized forces and a World War III that we’re facing gains the upper hand in response to this expanding crisis of global capitalism?

GREG WILPERT: Okay, well, we’re going to have to leave it there for now. I was speaking to William I. Robinson, professor of sociology at UC Santa Barbara. Thanks again, Bill, for having joined us today and for this very interesting analysis.

WILLIAM I ROBINSON: Thank you so much for having me on.

GREG WILPERT: And thank you for joining The Real News Network.


William I Robinson

William I. Robinson is professor of sociology, global and international studies, and Latin American studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara. His latest book is Global Capitalism and the Crisis of Humanity.