Be Thankful for a Dysfunctional, Chaotic White House
Henry Giroux and Paul Jay discuss the Trump-Bannon-Pence administration, a naked display of the 1% ruling without apologies and damn what comes tomorrow
PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.
I was always somewhat a fan of gridlock in Washington. I know a lot of people complained about how the Democrats and Republicans couldn’t get anything done and there wasn’t enough bipartisanship in Washington. I was always very happy about that when it happened. I was quite concerned because whatever corporate Democrats and Republicans could agree to would usually not be very good for the rest of us. In the same way, I’m not so concerned about chaos in the White House, although some people are. Here’s a little clip from Trump’s press conference around a week ago.
DONALD TRUMP: I turn on the TV, open the newspapers, and I see stories of chaos. Chaos. Yet it is the exact opposite. This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine. Despite the fact that I can’t get my Cabinet approved.
PAUL JAY: Well, as the administration running “like a fine-tuned machine”, I’m thankful that it’s not. I welcome the chaos in the Trump White House. I’m very afraid of if in fact it was a well-oiled machine, what deeds it might accomplish given the policy objectives that Trump has laid out. For the same reason I’m somewhat concerned about impeaching Trump. While I don’t think Vice President Pence could ever turn this ship into a well-oiled machine, it might come closer to one than Trump has, and that makes me more concerned.
At any rate, here to muse and talk about this with me is Henry Giroux. Henry is Professor for Scholarship in the Public Interest at McMaster University. He’s an author of many books. His latest are America’s Addiction to Terrorism, and America at War with Itself.
Thanks for joining us, Henry.
HENRY GIROUX: Thanks for having me on, Paul.
PAUL JAY: What do you think? I welcome gridlock, and I welcome this chaos, because the… not that I welcome the government not doing anything. It’d be nice if government did something good. But given what the realities of what might be happening here, the dysfunctionality of the Republican Party and the White House I think are somewhat to be welcomed.
HENRY GIROUX: Well, I think it sort of reveals in many ways how dysfunctional this government really is. But it also reveals the power struggles that are going on within the government among different factions, and at the same time, it offers a possibility, a way of revealing the disjunction between what these people are saying and what’s going on in the real world. I mean, I think that whenever this government talks about, whenever Trump talks about a well-oiled machine, what he’s really doing is hiding, in many ways, the kind of contradictions at work in that regime. Saying one thing and doing another, not really being able to put into place procedures that will work for the American people, or in fact, putting into policies and issuing Executive Orders that in a fundamental way are at odds with any chance of justice, economic, political or otherwise.
So I think the contradictions offer up a kind of paradox in some ways that allow people to raise questions that ordinarily wouldn’t be raised in light of the really false assumption that the government is working well. It’s not working well. It’s actually working terribly. I mean, it’s promoting all kinds of injustices. It’s making appointments that in some ways suggest how stupid it is when it comes to working with other branches of the government, particularly civil servants, and it really reveals – and I think this is very important – I mean, it really reveals not just simply a regressive political ideology, it also reveals in some fundamental way a high level of incompetency.
PAUL JAY: Right. The other thing I think that’s good about the way this presidency is unfolding – “good” in a macabre sort of way – that much of what we’re seeing, the sort of banal conflicts of interest, the going down to his big estate in Florida and wining and dining and billionaires having easy access to him and filling his Cabinet with multimillionaires and billionaires and so on and so on, it’s just bringing out in the open what goes on all the time. Do people really believe that these kinds of people didn’t have easy access to President Obama? Except President Obama was able to maintain this aura of being presidential. He was charming, he was smart, he had a great smile. And this idea of the presidency almost like royalty and he in fact is the head of the state, the president plays the role that a monarch plays in constitutional monarchies, I think it’s great the fact that Trump is so vulgar, it’s so blatant, it’s exposing in a naked way what so often gets hidden.
HENRY GIROUX: Well, again, I agree. I think this is really raw politics, in a profoundly insightful way. What we see is the 1% exercising power without any apologies, without any attempt to cover up the fact that they have nothing to do with a kind of, what I would call, populist program that benefits most workers. They don’t care about working class people, they don’t care about immigrants, they don’t care about blacks, they don’t care about poor people. This is basically the second Gilded Age, and I think that what they’re doing is shoving it in your face because they have no consideration whatsoever for speaking to people who in some way voted for them in the first place. I mean, I think that outside of the racism, outside of the ultra-nationalism, when it comes to addressing the real conditions that people were absolutely petrified over, living in an utterly precarious economy that serves the 1%, that narrative has now revealed itself to be utterly false, and I think this will continue.
As you have said many times in this program, this is a government of billionaires and militarists and incompetents. I think that we’re seeing every day how true that is.
PAUL JAY: I did an interview yesterday with Heiner Flassbeck. He’s a German economist. The basic conclusion of it was that the way capitalist economics are developing with such a massive amount of concentration of wealth in the top one percentile and the corporations themselves sitting on mountains and mountains of cash, which they don’t want to invest into the real economy partly because, or to a large extent, because wages are kind of stagnant, and there’s not enough growth in the economy to justify the investment. So the money sits in corporate coffers. And if you look at the whole cycle, you wind up – and his words were – essentially, capitalism is killing itself. We’re getting to a stage of capitalism where the parasitical finance on Wall Street, even corporate America that’s involved in actual manufacturing not wanting to reinvest the money that they’re making, it’s becoming a system which is really in decay, and then we’re seeing a politics and a culture that reflects that. Trump is a very legitimate representative of all that.
The other thing I think is interesting is that you’ve always had this division in the elites, and this goes back I mean perhaps as long as there’ve been elites, but a section which sees the more systemic needs of capitalism if you were… same thing with under feudalism, people who saw that, for example, that you needed to have certain limits on what Wall Street can do, you need position limits in terms of speculation and commodities, there has to be a reining-in of big monopolies and trusts because when capitalism is allowed to simply, unfettered, go for the most narrow-minded profit-seeking the system itself is threatened, and there’s always been this division in the elites of those sections of the elites that look at a more systemic class interest, if you will, and the supposedly government and the politicians are supposed to play that role of looking at the interests of the system as a whole if you want the interests of the Empire as a whole. Now you have the section of the elites that’s simply grabbing for themselves, and even not just the system be damned, when it comes to things like climate change the planet be damned, we seem to be in a somewhat new stage of the decay of American politics. I’m not sure how… if they can come back from this.
HENRY GIROUX: I know. I’m with you. I think that what you see is a financial elite that has no consideration whatsoever, if not, … pathology (?) the very nature of the social contract (8:47). The relationship between labor and capital in the age of Trump is dead. And as far as they’re concerned, the only thing that really matters is accruing as much capital as possible and everybody else be damned. I mean, what you have here is no attempt to suggest that there’s a relationship between capitalism and democracy. Under the New Deal, under Johnson, under FDR, there was an attempt in some way to suggest that the social contract mattered because if you blew it up there was the possibility of all kinds of radical movements emerging that would challenge capitalism and suggest the need for a kind of democratic socialism. This particular element of the ruling elite operates in a culture of cruelty and hardness and greediness, given its concentration of wealth and its power that is unparalleled.
But I think there’s something that you missed, and I think that what we have that’s new – I think is particularly new – is remember that power is global, politics is local. I mean, power floats. It has no allegiances to national states; it has no allegiances to particular localities, to particular communities. I mean, this is a global elite that has transformed in a fundamental way the nature of politics, and as a result of that it has drained enormous… not only drained enormous resources from the states, for instance, and from the federal governments while militarizing them, but at the same time it’s destroying all the public institutions that make possible any notion of civic literacy, any notion of critical analysis. That’s why you have the rise of the punishing state, that’s why it seems to me you have Trump as the ultra-representative of the 1% now claims that the press is the enemy of the American people. When the press becomes the enemy of the American people that means he could be subject to treason. That means it could be punished by virtue of employing the punishing state. So you really have a very different configuration between the punishing state and the social state. The punishing state now is in control by the financial elite. And they could care less about the social contract. And that’s what’s distinctive.
PAUL JAY: When you talk about the war on the press, there’s a piece of legislation that’s being proposed in the United Kingdom that would make it illegal for the press to receive, for example, WikiLeak leaks and the such… whistleblower leaks, anything that would have been classified. If a newspaper or a news organization receives it, you are in violation of what would be the equivalent in the UK of violating the Espionage Act in the United States, in other words, The Guardian newspaper, the editors or owners of The Guardian newspaper could’ve been charged for publishing the WikiLeaks.
If you imagine this war with the press that Trump is talking about, if that starts getting reflected in legislation, we could start seeing similar things here.
HENRY GIROUX: I agree. But I also think its suggests a new kind of politics and a new kind of resistance. I think to rely on the press, alternative or mainstream, but basically the mainstream, to inform people about what’s going on, as important as it is, it has to be paralleled by a politics of direct engagement.
We have to resuscitate the echoes of fascism. I mean we have to be able to talk about a country that has now tipped over into authoritarianism. What does that mean? That means you have to fight at the local level, you have to fight over the state legislatures that have been taken over by the far right. You have to fight at the national level. You have to employ the general strike. You have to create educational centers outside of mainstream centers. We need citizenship schools. We need the unions to come together and to be able, in a sense, shut down the economy. Unless people have can regain a sense of their own power and not just simply through demonstrations, but long systemic actions that really do enormous damage to the financial elite and actually put them in jeopardy, we’re not going to see much change.
PAUL JAY: All right. Thanks for joining us, Henry.
HENRY GIROUX: You bet.
PAUL JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.