Bannon-Trump Promise to Unleash Unfettered Capitalism
Bhaskar Sunkara, Phyllis Bennis and Paul Jay discuss Trump and Bannon’s fight for the ‘deconstruction of the administrative state’ and deregulation of fossil fuels and most corporate activity
PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.
We’re continuing our discussion about the presentation by President Trump and Steve Bannon at CPAC over the last few days. And now joining me from New York, once again, is Bhaskar Sunkara. He’s the Founder and editor of Jacobin Magazine. And joining us from Washington, D.C., is Phyllis Bennis. She’s a Fellow and Director of The New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington.
Thank you both for joining me again.
PHYLLIS BENNIS: Good to be with you.
PAUL JAY: So, first of all, here’s a little more of the Trump speech and a little bit of Steve Bannon.
DONALD TRUMP: We’re preparing bold action to lift the restrictions on American energy, including shale oil, natural gas and beautiful, clean coal, and we’re going to put our miners back to work.
DONALD TRUMP: Miners are going back to work.
We have begun a historic program to reduce the regulations that are crushing our economy. Crushing.
DONALD TRUMP: And, by the way, I want regulation. I want to protect our environment, I want regulations for safety, but we don’t need 75% of the repetitive, horrible regulations that hurt companies, hurt jobs, make us non-competitive overseas with other companies from other countries. That, we don’t need.
STEVE BANNON: The third, broadly, line of work is what is deconstruction of the administrative state.
I’ve said that there’s a new political order that’s being formed out of this and it’s still being formed.
PAUL JAY: Bhaskar, a new political order is being formed. And I thought it was particularly interesting when Trump gives the example of the regulation he wants to get rid of, he goes to coal, which ties in with, of course, their climate denial. I think they want to get rid regulations across the board, but perhaps the most dangerous of it all is the whole issue of the environment.
BHASKAR SUNKARA: Right. Right. And I think it’s part of this narrative that has been pushed by both Democrats in West Virginia — and Democrats in West Virginia dominated the state legislators until just a couple of years ago — and Republicans, which has … it’s regulation that’s killed the coal industry. As opposed to the most easily accessible coal reserves being already all used up and the remaining coal reserves being more difficult to extract from, and all these other broader factors and dynamics.
So there’s this kind of, first of all, just false narrative that it’s regulation that killed the coal industry. Not that we actually need more robust regulations, just in general against fossil fuels. I think that there is this kind of nonsensical idea that you could take coal, you could revitalize it just by getting rid of regulation. And also, at the same time, you could revitalize a natural gas industry. I think that’s false — it’s something the Republican party is going to be able to push and if things don’t pan out the way a lot of West Virginia voters, for example, want it to pan out, then you can just blame it on the lasting effects Obama EPA regulations and things like that.
But I think the broader question, which is the more important question, is this common sense idea that a lot of Americans have, that the problem is state intervention and state regulation, as opposed to the lack of regulation and the lack of state intervention. So, in other words, the problem that Americans have is that the state is interfering with their economic pursuits or with other pursuits, as opposed to the state not providing bedrock social rights.
So, fundamentally, the myth that Trump was getting towards, and the myth has been repeated time and time again by Republicans of all stripes, is that the problem is too much state intervention, too much state interference in people’s lives. Too much regulation and whatnot, instead of the absence of the state. And this is what Bernie Sanders was trying to propose as an alternative, the idea that we actually need bedrock social rights and we actually need the state in certain spheres of life to guarantee those rights and protections.
So the liberals, on the other hand, have not actually helped push things in the right direction because they’ve snuck in regulations through the back door. If you think about something like one of the greatest expansions of state regulation, in recent memory, at least, was the Americans With Disabilities Act pushed by the Clinton administration. And, again, this is a heavily legalistic framework that relied on the threat of lawsuits and relied on all these other things as opposed to making a (audio difficulties) argument that the state deserves and should have a role to play in certain spheres of life. And the Obama attempt to deal with (audio difficulties) through backdoor regulations and whatnot because they couldn’t actually win arguments when they had control of the Congress, you know, was kind of along that line.
So Trump’s just able to plant this developed narrative that the state is, kind of, everywhere and the Obama administration snuck in regulations everywhere and that’s really not better. And I think it’s because there hasn’t been Democrats making clear, forceful arguments that, in fact, the state has a valuable role to play in people’s lives.
PAUL JAY: Phyllis, part of the critique from Trump and from the conservatives, there’s a grain of truth, in a sense, that Democrats and Republicans, but perhaps even more under Democrats, certain kind of regulations do favor big monopolies. It’s much easier for them to afford the implementation of the regulations and it leads to more monopolization. A lot of small businesses see this as an issue and see the Democrats as facilitating this.
PHYLLIS BENNIS: Sure. This is a longstanding economic problem is how do you balance the role of the state, as Bhaskar was saying, in controlling what would be otherwise a completely unregulated market where market forces win out against people. We still have that problem. There still is an enormous amount of confusion. I remember old people holding signs saying “Keep the Government Hands Out of My Medicare”. Because they clearly didn’t understand Medicare as a government program. And you have this lack of understanding that’s deliberately created. It’s deliberately made complicated and hard to follow, hard to understand, so that when somebody gets up and says, “The problem is over-regulation,” people say, “Yeah, that sounds right.” You know, it makes sense at a visceral level more than at an intellectual level — and people respond to it, viscerally, not analytically.
So I think that we do have a lot of work to do. There’s so many ways in which what the state apparatus has done has made things for ordinary people. The reason that fossil fuels remain viable economically at all is because they still get subsidized in ways that wind and other kinds of energy don’t. If those kinds of energy got the kinds of subsidies that gas and oil had traditionally gotten they would suddenly be far more viable as economic alternatives.
So you have a whole host of challenges like that. But when you combine it — and I think this is the really dangerous part — when you combine it with the claim, “We’re going to put everybody back to work because we’re going to rebuild our military.” The only thing that we’re talking about building now are pipelines that are going to destroy the environment and war planes that are going to destroy other peoples, other nations and other environments — these are the things that are going to be produced, that we’re going to employ people in prison management and in prison staffing and in building prisons and in building pipelines. That’s not a recipe for a viable, sustainable, peace-based, equity-based economy. That’s a Wall Street, inequitable, environmentally-destructive economy. And that’s what the Trump administration is putting forward. They’re just doing it in language that’s designed to say, “Everything you hated about the last eight years, the last sixteen years, the last thirty years, we’re going to reverse it all. It’s all going to be different. It’s going to be beautiful. Imagine.”
It’s kind of an imaginary economic policy just like it’s an imaginary foreign policy. When you say, “We’re going to build a wall and Mexico’s gonna pay for it.” “Really? What does Mexico have to say about that?”
You know, it’s that sort of assertion where nobody is really holding the administration or its spokespeople accountable. People do, and the media go through what’s true and not true. We have the four Pinocchios, the two Pinocchios, the 17 and a half Pinocchios for clear lies, but then there’s no consequence for any of that. We don’t see the Congress — we don ‘t see the Democrats in Congress moving yet on whether it’s impeachment or another form of accountability for these claims of what’s going to be done that can’t be done. Claims of what will be done that will be illegal if they are done — there simply isn’t any legacy left of accountability.
PAUL JAY: Right. I mean, in fact, the one redeeming feature, I would say, of the Trump administration, is the fact reducing tensions with Russia. We’ll see what that means in the long run, but the fact that the media and the Democrats are so harping on something that’s, on the whole, not so bad, and not dealing with the real issues of substance that are real problems in the Trump policy, it gives some credence to the fact that the media is playing the role of the opposition party at a kind of partisan political level, practically, rather than really dealing with the issues of substance.
PHILLIS BENNIS: I would say, Paul, that I think while there is a clear partisan component to the anti-Russia hysteria, and while I certainly agree with you that a better relationship with Russia is crucial if we’re going to have any chance of new negotiations in Syria, of avoiding a very potentially dangerous escalation in Ukraine and elsewhere, it’s also true that, despite the legacy of U.S. interference in other elections around the world, we would, I hope, support people in all those other countries calling out the U.S. for doing that — if it is true. And we still don’t know whether Russia intervened directly. We have assertions that the intelligence agencies know that, we don’t know it yet. But it does seem to me appropriate to call for some kind of an investigation to find out and to oppose that. That doesn’t have to be equated to maintaining the hostility to Russia that could lead to war.
BHASKAR SUNKARA: Well, I do have a problem with some of this idea of, like, we need a fact-based opposition to Trump. I think it is slightly different than saying we need a different political vision or message.
Because one of the, actually, interesting things about the Trump phenomenon, something that we could take some notes from is the idea that he just presented a broad, consistent message and vision — similar to, in many ways, Bernie Sanders’ vision, in that Bernie Sanders is often criticized by liberals, by people within the Clinton administration, more would-be Clinton administration, I should say, for basically giving the same speech over and over again. By the end of his campaign, people who went to his rallies were just finishing his sentences ’cause they had heard it so many times.
To the same degree you could say that about Donald Trump. You could say that about the idea that he was going to make America great again, he was going to bring back jobs, he was going to do all these things — he wasn’t laying out kind of policy details. What he was trying to articulate was an alternative set of politics. You know, a particularly obnoxious, right-wing kind of populist politics that, of course, we resist. But I think that was a lot more productive as kind of building an opposition movement and building kind of a different spectrum.
So, in other words, Bernie Sanders pushed the envelope of what was possible politically in America, and if he was in the White House would have pushed the envelope of what was possible at the policy level. In the same way, Trump, through his rhetoric, was able to expand what we conceived of as being possible or normal in the U.S. political discourse — obviously for us, in the wrong direction.
But I’m wary of the attempts by the largely liberal media to contest Trump on kind of the nitty gritty of these things as if, “This guy’s a liar because this this can’t be implemented into policy.” As opposed to the way we should be contesting him, which is to say, “His political vision is bad,” and kind of get at him on his normative(?) (audio difficulties)
PHYLLIS BENNIS: I think it’s really even more than that. It’s really about the practice.
You know, whatever his political vision when he is rounding up families, when he is rounding up people on the street. When he is empowering ICE and the CBP to carry out these massive increase in expulsions of people who have lived in this country for so long. When he is violating international law on a daily basis by suddenly announcing that we’re only going to allow in 50,000 refugees this whole year, when 38,000 have already come in, rather than a 110,000, which is way fewer than we are obligated under international law to allow in. Those are the things that, I certainly agree with you Bhaskar, that we should be focusing on is the practice and what it means in terms of the impact on communities of color, on women, on the trans community, on all of the vulnerable communities, on Muslims, on Arabs, on everybody who is being targeted now by, not only the Trump policies themselves, at the core of it, but also by the movements who now feel empowered by all of that rhetoric and all of that sort of visionary language of what it’s going to mean when you talk about making America great again and everyone understands that what he’s really saying is make America white again. That has real consequences on a daily basis in the real world. And I agree with you, those are the things that we should be focusing on.
PAUL JAY: And I think we have to, when we’re talking to people, especially people that have voted for Trump, and at Real News we’re going to be doing that in an area it’s called Dundalk near Baltimore, we’re going to going to southern Pennsylvania and reporting in districts where the majority of working people voted for Trump.
I think it’s important to, first of all, acknowledge that the kind of regulations that existed — and Hillary Clinton talked about this in her first debate with Sanders, she said, “The responsibility of government is to rein in the excesses of capitalism.” And they want to rein in the excesses in order to defend it systemically so that the kind of system that gives, as we know, more than 90% of the increase of income since the crash went to 1% of the population. To defend that system that creates such economic inequality, the Democrats, the corporate Democrats see as their role reining in things that are excessive to defend the overall system of it.
But what Trump is proposing in the gutting of the regulatory agencies and gutting of regulation, is to actually allow completely unrestrained capitalism. To allow it to be as vicious and as aggressive as it possibly can be and there’s no way that’s good for the American worker.
PHYLLIS BENNIS: Absolutely.
BHASKAR SUNKARA: I would also push back, though, on one thing. I do think the make America great again appeal, obviously, was a nativist appeal, obviously, was laden with kind of racism and especially xenophobia. But, at the same time, it did, I think, reflect for a lot of people who went for that appeal, the idea of just returning to a period of shared prosperity. A period when you could work hard and have enough to get by, and you could be reasonably assured that your children would be better off than you were — and that contract has kind of been ripped up and thrown away.
And I think in many ways where people were confronted with either that appeal, compared to the kind of Clinton lack of appeal, which was “America’s already great”. You know, which one actually resonated more with people’s day-to-day lives? I think it made sense that for a strong, large minority of the population, Trump’s appeal was the one that actually resonated. And I think it’s a little bit complex to why. But it’s all the more reason why we actually need an affirmative response to Trumpism.
PHYLLIS BENNIS: And it’s absolutely right. And I also think that we have to be very clear that the people who believed it are going to be among those. They’re not going to be the ones at the very bottom, but they are among those who are going to be hurt the worst by these policies when they actually come into being.
PAUL JAY: Okay, thanks, Phyllis, thanks, Bhaskar. And we’ll continue this discussion. And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.