Trump at CPAC: Tax Cuts, Massive Military Build-up
Phyllis Bennis, Bhaskar Sunkara and Paul Jay discuss Trump’s CPAC speech and promise to “make the GOP also the party of the American worker” along with ‘”one of the great military build-ups in American history” and Steve Brannon’s promise to defend America’s ‘cultural identity’
PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.
When Donald Trump spoke at CPAC, the Conservative Action Committee meeting in D.C. just over the last few days, his speech ranged from foreign policy to domestic, and essentially picked up the theme he established originally at a speech at the CIA — I think so, at any rate — which is, that the CIA should wage war without restraint. In his speech at CPAC, it was corporatism without restraint. Here’s a clip of the core of the spirit of that speech. Here’s Donald Trump.
DONALD TRUMP: The victory and the win was something that really was dedicated to a country and people that believe in freedom, security and the rule of law. Our victory…
DONALD TRUMP: …was a victory and a win for conservative values.
DONALD TRUMP: And our victory was a win for everyone who believes it’s time to stand up for America, to stand up for the American worker, and to stand up for the American flag.
The core conviction of our movement is that we are a nation that put… and will put its own citizens first.
DONALD TRUMP: The GOP will be, from now on, the party also of the American worker.
PAUL JAY: Now joining us from New York is Bhaskar Sunkara. Bhaskar is the founder and editor of Jacobin Magazine. And joining us from Washington, D.C., is Phyllis Bennis. Phyllis is a Fellow and Director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. She’s the author of many books including her most recent, “Understanding ISIS and the New Global War on Terror.” Thank you both for joining us.
PHYLLIS BENNIS: Good to be with you, Paul.
PAUL JAY: The Trump administration, the Republican Party now will be the party of the worker. What do you make of that?
BHASKAR SUNKARA: Well, for me, at least, I think it’s very telling. I listened to both Trump’s speech and also Bannon’s, the panel that Bannon was on the day before. I thought it was interesting that it seems like Trump has basically adopted, or has gone back to, a lot of the Bannon rhetoric.
So, Bannon himself was talking… he had a very, you know, poignant part, I hate to say, of his talk where he said that, you know, America is not just a marketplace. It’s not just an economy. It’s a culture, a people and whatnot. And he defines the act of creating this people through the need to have borders, they need to have sovereignty, to restore sovereignty from bad trade deals, in his view, to restore sovereignty through having restrictive immigration controls. And in the same way you heard a lot of that in what Trump said the day after.
So I thought it was very striking that Trump kind of knew to speak to this kind of Bannonite populist message even in a very conservative environment where you might actually assume that he might draw more heavily on kind of the slightly more libertarian wing of the party, talk more about his efforts to deregulate and do other things that traditional conservatives would like. But it was interesting that he seemed to play off some of the economic nationalist parts of his agenda.
PAUL JAY: Phyllis, we’ve kind of heard this before in history.
PHYLLIS BENNIS: Well, we have, of course. This is the base of one kind of fascism, a kind of economic populism that leads to this kind of nationalism on steroids, if you will. But it’s interesting. I had noted that same point that Bhaskar just talked about where Bannon said this thing about we’re not an economy just in some global marketplace with open borders, but we are a nation with a culture and a reason for being.
STEVE BANNON: The center core of what we believe, that we’re a nation with an economy, not an economy just in some global marketplace with open borders, that we’re a nation with a culture and a reason for being. And I think that’s what unites us, and I think that that is what’s going to unite this movement going forward.
PHYLLIS BENNIS: Now, given what we know about his history with the so-called alt-right, which is the polite term for white supremacy, we know that when he talks about the reason for being of this country, he’s talking about that reason being for the advantage of white people. So, I think we have to see this as a not particularly hidden code for the kind of racism that Bannon has become very well-known for.
It is true that the various strands of the right wing are all represented at this conference. The conference itself, the CPAC conference, as I understand it this year, like in the past, has been made up largely of young activists who may or may not even be tied yet to one or another particular strand within right-wing mobilization. But they talked very specifically about uniting the right. Both Bannon talked about this and then Trump did, as well, that there was talk of a new political order being formed based on uniting everybody — and when they say everybody, it means everybody on our side.
So you do have this sense of the economic nationalism tied to a militarism that’s reflected, of course, in the recent appointees to Trump’s cabinet. He’s the first president in history to have all three generals and former generals serving in all three of the national security positions in his cabinet.
So in this context we’re hearing a lot about the need to rebuild the military, we’re going to have more ships, we’re going to have more planes. We’re going to have more people. There’s going to be more money. When, at the same time, we hear how outrageous it was, according to Trump, that $6 trillion — a figure that does not actually match, but you can figure out a way to make it work — $6 trillion he said was spent in the Middle East.
PAUL JAY: Well, let me play Trump speaking to this. And kind of we’ll divide this discussion into two — one about foreign policy, and what his plans are, especially towards the military, and then we’ll talk more about the whole question of deregulation. Here’s Donald Trump speaking about foreign policy and what he plans to do with militarization.
DONALD TRUMP: We inherited a national debt that has doubled in eight years. Think of it: $20 trillion. It’s doubled. And we inherited a foreign policy marked by one disaster after another. We don’t win anymore. When was the last time we won? Do we win a war?
Another major promise is tax reform. We are going to massively lower taxes on the middle class, reduce taxes on American business, and make our tax code more simple and much more fair for everyone — including the people and the business. We’re also putting in a massive budget request for our beloved military.
AUDIENCE: (cheering, applause)
DONALD TRUMP: And we will be substantially upgrading all of our military — all of our military — offensive and defensive, everything. It will be one of the greatest military build-ups in American history.
PAUL JAY: So he’s going to have massive tax cuts and the biggest military budget in history, and he also says he’s worried about the size of the debt. Phyllis, what do you make of that?
PHYLLIS BENNIS: Well, I think he’s counting on people not doing the math. If you’re cutting everybody’s taxes, you’re not going to have a whole lot of money available for a massive military budget — unless you’re prepared to get that money from slashing social security, Medicare, education, jobs, all the things that people in his base are counting on. So it’s going to be a very tricky piece of business to try and pull that off.
We know that right now, up until this time, 54 cents out of every federal dollar available that’s not already apportioned to something else goes to the military. That’s the main reason we don’t often have enough money for jobs and healthcare and education. It’s because the money is going to the military.
If he says now we have short-shrifted the military and we have to massively re-fund the military in whole new ways with new amounts and it’s going to be the biggest military build-up in history, then we’re talking about slashing what’s left of the social safety net — and that’s going to play very, very badly in Trump’s heartland audience.
PAUL JAY: Bhaskar, his language is all about the American flag, make America great again, the greatest military build-up in the history of the country — and massive tax decreases. Is it just he’ll say whatever people want to hear, and then in that case, what does he actually plan to do?
BHASKAR SUNKARA: Right. Well, in some cases, you could say yes, that’s absolutely hyperbole. But, in other cases, you could say that he has this agenda, but then he knows he has to negotiate with the Paul Ryan wing of the Republican Party and then capital more generally.
So, for example, let’s take his import kind of tax that he wanted to put on Mexican goods. You see kind of capital saying, “No, that’s not acceptable. But on the other hand, the refugee ban, sure, we really don’t care that much.” So you see this kind of negotiation where people are worried about their bottom lines, and the capitalist class is kind of carrot-and-sticking the Trump administration and shaping policies that way.
When it comes to this military build-up, though, it often seems like this is the kind of deficit spending that the Bannonite wing of the Trump administration wants to do – except, unlike with certain jobs and infrastructure programs, they might want to propose, they know that the Paul Ryan wing can’t be seen as being soft on defense. So it serves the purpose of deficit spending and investing across states. I mean, there’s a reason why these military contracts are so hard to get rid of. There’s those famous stats about the F35 and how many congressional districts, the production of that fighter is spread across.
So this might be a way to just do this deficit spending while tying it with a kind of a chauvinistic, jingoistic kind of appeal, so that it’s much harder for the more traditional business conservatives in the Republican Party to say no to. Though, that’s just kind of speculation.
Obviously, the math doesn’t add up. The same goes for his pledges about how he wants to both revitalize coal and revitalize natural gas production in the country. Obviously, these two would be in competition with each other. It’d be very, very hard — basically impossible — to do both. So I think that a lot of this is rhetoric and bluster, but, you know, it seems like something that’s politically palatable. I could easily see a majority of votes from Republicans and Democrats in Congress getting behind some sort of new defense investment.
PAUL JAY: Phyllis, the party of the American worker — does a massive increase in the military budget and one would think either a massive increase in the deficit, or, as you say, sucking out federal money from the social safety net. I mean, it’s a little bit of a gratuitous question, I guess, but at any rate, how does that help an American worker?
PHYLLIS BENNIS: Well, I think we’re talking about this being an administration for the American soldier more than the American worker. This has been the rhetoric all along. We know that workers are the ones being hurt the most by these kinds of policies, and yet there is so much distrust among large sectors of the working class, the white working class, the people of color in the working class, at having been essentially taken for granted and sold down the river by earlier administrations that were more conventional — whether Democrat or Republican — that there was this sense among a sector of that, the white sector, who were prepared to accept the kind of racism and misogyny at the heart of this campaign, to accept these claims that, on their face, are simply not going to work.
I think it’s not going to be something that can follow through for four years. It’s not going to last that long. But it is a rhetorical moment. We should think about this. I mean, the images, the optics, of this conference among other things had people holding up and waving Russian flags that said Trump across the middle of them — and this was in the Conservative Action Committee. So whether they didn’t know what the flags were that they were waving, they just waved them because it said Trump on it? I don’t know. But this is one of the optics that we’re looking at.
When Trump supporters have been saying for a while that the problem with the U.S. military is that it has been fighting these unconventional wars and is no longer prepared for a real conventional war — and that’s what we really have to build up, the war planes, the submarines, the aircraft carriers — in that kind of a war, you’re talking about going to war against Russia or against China. You’re not talking about going to war against ISIS, with an aircraft carrier.
So, that notion that we are going to use this as a moment to talk about war against Russia for a moment, while their supporters are waving Russian flags, just speaks to the incredible chaos even at the messaging level. There was a message here, sort of this three-part bucket that Bannon talked about, sort of outlined all three — that the goal is national security and sovereignty, meaning the immigration attacks; economic nationalism, meaning abandon the rest of the world and the global economy in the interests of just U.S. economic interests; and what they called very crucially the deconstruction of the administrative state, meaning that regulations are to be abandoned, people are to be appointed to be cabinet secretaries with the purpose of deconstructing or destroying the cabinet agency they are put in place to supervise.
PAUL JAY: Well, we’re going to do a Part 2 of this interview and discuss exactly that — the deconstruction, what Bannon calls the deconstruction of the administrative state. So please join us for Part 2 with Phyllis Bennis and Bhaskar Sunkara on The Real News Network.