Trump and The War Within the American Oligarchy
TRNN senior editor Paul Jay discusses how the Real News covers the Trump administration as well as the struggle between those who want to ‘reign in the excesses of capitalism’ and those who want to destroy the ‘administrative state’
ANTON WORONCZUK: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Anton Woronczuk in Baltimore, and we’re continuing our series of conversations with Paul Jay about mainstream media coverage and just how The Real News intends to do it. Paul, thanks for joining us.
PAUL JAY: Thank you.
ANTON WORONCZUK: So, Paul, let’s take up the conversation about covering Trump. The other day I was talking to a good friend of mine on the phone and he says he’s just utterly exhausted keeping up with things, everything that Trump is doing every day. So, how do we do it? How do we do it best? How do we do it better?
PAUL JAY: Well, it’s a complicated problem for us. If we had far more resources we could cover it all and there is a restructuring of government going on, at least an attempt to restructure government. And there is a lot to cover, if you’re going to deal with all the various fronts of life that Trump’s administration is going to try to reform, if you can use the word. Steve Bannon called a new political order is coming in. And that’s certainly what they’re trying to do.
First, let me say a few things about what we’re trying to do so we can add to the conversation. We’re not jumping on a pure anti-Trump bandwagon. We didn’t before the election and we’re not doing it now. What I mean by that is, we’ve always said, that Trump is not an aberration. Trump is the product of a process. He’s the product of an economic, political system — I mean, at the very least since the 1970s, 1980s — has been in a period of severe decline and decay.
It’s the growth of finance capital, where speculative capital is now more powerful than other sectors of the economy. I think it’s 40% of all profits are made by finance. A great proportion, I don’t have the numbers, but a majority of finance now is involved in pure speculation. The derivatives market is apparently six times the size of GDP when you take leveraging into account.
So, I mean, what does that mean, in short? It means an enormous amount of wealth that’s being created is in a tiny number of hands. Both in terms of the billionaire class individually and as we just did an interview recently with Heiner Flassbek, a German economist, that the corporations are sitting on mountains of cash. And they’re not investing it in the real economy. So, you know, capitalism can grow. Even if it’s always exploitative, even though it’s always unequal, capitalism can grow. Economies can sometimes be vigorous and you can have a fair amount of employment and so on.
But we’re in a stage now where because so much wealth has been accumulated at the top, and because wages are relatively stagnant, there’s not enough demand in the economy to justify that much more investment. That gets reflected in politics. That the money and the people that own that money are very short-sighted. They’re looking at, you know, how you have the fastest, greatest returns possible so they can live a life of extravagance, which is unimaginable for most people. You know, the kind of yachts and airplanes and houses and the bubble they’re living in.
We talked in another segment, I mean, it’s hard for them to even believe climate change is an issue. How do you even think about such things when your slightest desire is always fulfilled? You have a staff that runs your household. You never clean a dish, you know? You’re living a life of an emperor so the politics reflects that. So, Trump is the product of that decay.
ANTON WORONCZUK: Right. I mean, because we’ve reported on it. We’ve talked about how not only does that wealth create an enormous shield from all these things but, with this election, we’ve seen how it allows them to make an enormously powerful intervention into elections and to politics.
PAUL JAY: Yeah. Well, talking about Robert Mercer in the documentary. So, that’s the next thing we’re trying to make sense of, in terms of the Trump administration. There are serious divisions within the oligarchy. You know, Bernie Sanders said we have to fight the oligarchy.
ANTON WORONCZUK: … yeah.
PAUL JAY: There’s a section of the oligarchy — and I think this goes right back to the early stages of capitalism, you could say — there’s a section of the capitalist state, and a section of the oligarchy, who understand there need to be, if you want, stewards of the economy. That the state should play a role in making sure that the capitalism works in the interest of the whole class. And you look at systemic problems, like, why is there anti-trust legislation? You know, why is there legislation about the growth of massive monopolies? You would think, you know, if you really believe in free markets, and we know free markets lead to monopolies — that’s like 101 — why would you stop those monopolies from developing? Well, because they create systemic risk. You don’t have any competition. They can fix prices. They can also lead to paralysis and decay because if there’s not competition, they don’t have to innovate and so on.
So, in order to have a healthy capitalism, there are some systemic things you need to do. And the ’07/’08 crash on Wall Street, there was a section of capital and a section of the state, of the government, that realized you’ve got to do something about this hyper-speculation that’s going on on Wall Street.
It’s clear now that Goldman Sachs and all the other guys on Wall Street, they did what they did because they knew the government would come in and bail them out. They never would have risked their entire companies if they didn’t know they were too big to fail, and too big to prosecute. And even George Soros, for example, there’s people – Buffet – there’s people in the oligarchy who understand that you can’t push this too far without threatening the very system that made us oligarchs rich.
Then there’s another part of that equation. Let me just say, there’s a section of the oligarchy who say, “Well no, you know, we can have more of a free-for-all because we’re America. We make our own reality.” I do this show called “Reality Asserts Itself”. Well, that came from a quote someone asked Bush officials: How can you invade Iraq? It’s going to be a complete disaster. You’re not being realistic. And their answer was: “Oh, no, no. We’re America. We make our own reality.”
Well, these guys believe that about finance too. They believe it about everything. That America is just so exceptional, just so powerful that nothing can really be a systemic risk. And you guys are just… you guys who think that we need finance regulation, you’re just being pansies. You know, go for the jugular. You’re just… you’re liberals.
So, then there’s this, like, an old — there’s a very good example of what I’m talking about. It used to be that in the mines of England, in the mid to late 19th century, children would work in the iron ore mines in Wales, and women would work in the mines. And the intensity of the exploitation was so serious that the children were dying at such a rate. And women, who were hauling the ore up to the surface from the mine, their pelvises were getting shifted, so they couldn’t give birth. And the reason they were using women, and not mules, is because in those days there’s no exhaust fans, so you can’t have any urinating in the mines. Because the smell from the methane from the urination would poison the air. Not allowed to pee, and they were literally wiping out the women so the birth rate was declining so quickly, they were literally, physically, demolishing the working class and the mining populations of Wales. Well, capitalists emerged and, in the government level, who see in terms of systemic risk — because this wasn’t just happening to miners, it was happening to the working class throughout England — that you can’t have absolutely unfettered exploitation of workers, or you won’t have any workers.
ANTON WORONCZUK: And this is from that classic study by Engels who was looking at the working class.
PAUL JAY: Yeah, the conditions of the working class in England. Yeah and others at the same time. So, you had a… but at the same time, you had capitalists who were profiting from these conditions fighting against the eight-hour working day, fighting against laws that prohibited child labor, fighting against laws that prohibited women working in mines and such. And so, you had this division in the elites over how intensely can you exploit people before you have systemic risk?
ANTON WORONCZUK: And this is similar, to a degree, to what really the New Deal was about. This isn’t because the elites suddenly realized a sense of humanity at all. “Oh, yes, we must provide a social safety net for everyone.” And that’s when this sheer expression of humanity…
PAUL JAY: Yes and no. I mean, I think in the end, how the New Deal was successful was because of that, the reason it would pass. It could be and I think there’s a whole section of the elites, they want to live with themselves. They want to be able to look in the mirror and say, “Look, I’m not a horrible person.” They want capitalism without the worst amounts of exploitation, because they just feel better about it. You know, it’s part of what makes them happier. It’s not just, you know, a narrow calculation. It’s a part of it, but not only. But, in the final analysis, it is about the economic interest drives it.
Another example of this is tobacco. Like, tobacco is systemically bad for the society. The healthcare costs, the individual costs, the death rates, and so on and so on. And it always, you know — when I read this it just killed me — the executives of tobacco companies, who were sitting on the research, knowing tobacco caused cancer and killed people, were giving cigarettes to their own children.
ANTON WORONCZUK: I guess you could say that Exxon Mobil execs were doing the same thing by poisoning the air for their children. Carbon dioxide.
PAUL JAY: Yeah. So, we’re trying to cover Trump so we get at the sort of underpinning, so people understand that we’re not just trying to vilify this guy, Trump. These days I very much have in my mind when I’m doing interviews and we’re talking about stories, ordinary people who voted for Trump. It’s easy to be part of a chorus that just attacks Trump. Like, for example, on the impeachment campaign. Impeach Trump. Yeah, I’m sure on the face of it there’s plenty of legitimate reasons to impeach Trump. And one of the arguments against impeaching Trump is that you’re going to get Pence and perhaps a more efficient, less chaotic White House with the same kind of objectives. And in that sense, even more dangerous.
But that isn’t to me the most important point. The more important point is what do you say to all the people who believed he was a real alternative, that had given up on Obama, and this kind of neo-liberal hyper-capitalist politics that calls itself liberal — what do you say to them? You know, the guys like 40 days in and you already want to impeach the guy.
If you want to win people over to a vision of the world which is neither Trumpism, or corporate Democratism, how are you going to win ordinary people over by already trashing this guy at such a level? I’m not in any way saying don’t vigorously, viciously critique the policy and critique the underlying ideology. But just to call to impeach the guy, right away? So, what we’re trying to do is, at a systemic, analytical level, really understand what this division in the oligarchy is.
And I think the broad strokes of it is, it is a fight over unfettered capitalism versus what Clinton said in one of the early debates, reigning in the excesses of capitalism. That’s one division. And I think there are underlying economic issues there too which is the ’07/’08 put a shock through the system and everyone’s afraid of an unravelling happening here. And the next time the crash hits, and what is it going to mean in terms of social unrest? You’ve got to get the authoritarian state ready for this. You can’t coddle the opposition. You’ve got to be ready to crush it. And you need the ideological framework for doing that.
The other underlying thing, and we’re exploring this, but the neoliberal hyper-capitalist model, it’s a failure. This runaway speculative capital, stagnant wages, you know, rising unemployment. Even though our unemployment has come down a lot of that coming down of the unemployment rate is because so much of the employment has been part time.
ANTON WORONCZUK: People aren’t even looking for work anymore.
PAUL JAY: Yes, lack of, or low participation rate, and part-time jobs, and self-employment, which often the self-employment winds up being no real employment at all. Not to say there hasn’t been some recovery. There’s been some. But on the whole, this neoliberal model that was supposed to bring more equality and more wealth to all and so on and so on — it has not done that at all. So, what’s the real alternative?
Well, the real alternative, I think, and I think the evidence shows this, is if your starting point is the well-being of ordinary people, and not how much profits the elites can make, is you have to start building up the public sector. And Bernie said, you know, he called himself a socialist. One can debate how far the socialism, his socialism, went. But if you don’t start looking for public sector solutions, like even on an infrastructure plan and such… But given that this kind of welfare state, which not much of it is left anyway, model, really, has failed, you know, the Trump forces they’re not going to go to the other alternative which is the Sanders-esque social democratic alternative. So, you go back to the most brutal form there is. Just free-for-all capitalism and repression.
ANTON WORONCZUK: I think the other thing that we do here at The Real News, that’s really important, is in terms of covering things with more context and more historical understanding behind these forces. Because I think that, you know, to go back to the question of my friend earlier, where he said that, you know, chasing the news is exhausting. I think what happens now, at least with the way that mainstream media covers the news, is that it takes everything in the present tense. So, when you feel like everything is happening now, when you’re inundated with actions that are taken now it can be hard to think of a strategy or it can be hard to think of the simple question of what I’d do.
But I imagine that when you’re able to situate things in sort of longer term trends, such as the outcome of neoliberal capitalism, which, you know, political forces are rising to power, one is able to take a longer-term vision than to decide what to do in terms of who to ally with, what policies to support.
PAUL JAY: Well, I think one has got to be both. You can’t just talk at the broad systemic level. You’ve got to talk about what’s happening. But I think what corporate media is doing is they never, in a serious way, answer the question why it’s happening, in the context of talking about news. The why, for them, is always a horse race — well Trump is doing this because it positions him well against the Democratic Party argument and vice versa. It’s always at the paper thin level of personalities, and–
ANTON WORONCZUK: –personal behavior, yeah.
PAUL JAY: And partisan political struggle, which is a real struggle. It just doesn’t really answer the question “Why?” There was an article in The New York Times over the weekend talking about Bannon and Bannon’s ideology. And that Bannon believes in this de-constructing the administrative state, which means getting rid of regulations. But they don’t say why these regulations came into being. It’s assumed they’re oh-so-reasonable, and Bannon, the unreasonable guy, wants to get rid of them.
ANTON WORONCZUK: Or that they’re all there for the benefit of the common person and the ordinary worker.
PAUL JAY: Yeah. And we know that a lot of the critique of these regulations by Bannon and others is legitimate and a lot of the regulations are there to help monopolies who can afford them. A lot of the regulations do, in fact, help create more bureaucracy. And it’s not like the state and the government doesn’t have its own interests. They’re not there just as, you know, impartial neutral managers of society, even for the good of capitalists, they’re not that either. They have their own interests. They want big budgets for themselves. They want bigger staffs, and they don’t want to work hard, and whatever. I’m talking more senior level. I think at the lower level of Civil service people work very hard.
A lot of the critique is legitimate. But it also has a lot to do with the fact that these regulations are trying to do what Clinton said: reign in the excesses of capitalism. Regulate the excesses. And they can. On the whole, this regulatory regime is failing, and falling apart.
And then, when you look at it, it doesn’t mean there aren’t some regulations that are important, you know, we rely on the FDA — that we’re going to take some drugs, in theory it’s been tested. EPA, although it’s actually interesting how everyone assumes they have more regulatory power than they really do, especially the EPA. But, many of these things are out of control of the regulatory agencies, especially when you talk about finance, because the lobbying that goes on, when the regulations are written. The power of big money to control this administrative state is such that there’s a tremendous amount of corruption, and a tremendous amount of weakness.
But the solution isn’t get rid of all regulation and go for free for all. Because what does that really mean? That just means that these same, really all the oligarchy, but certainly the section backing this kind of conservative position, are just going to be rolling in even more money. It’s not going to solve problems for ordinary people.
So, when we cover Trump we have to do two things. We need to understand how this oligarchy works. What the splits are. Why they’re doing what they’re doing. But something we have to do way more than they are, because too much of our discussion is at the level of policy wonk. People that like having policy conversations and understanding this systemically.
What we’re going to do is we’re going to go into areas where ordinary working people voted for Trump, and start talking to them, and reporting on their problems, on their concerns, and then contextualize, you know, what do real solutions look like? And are any of the solutions coming from Trump-style politics? Are they real solutions? Like, is a tariff wall a real solution for jobs? So, we’re going to work our way through the various policy things.
Too much of the coverage of Trump right now is ratings-driven. In the internet world it’s click bait. Have a great, really good anti-trump headline and it’ll get tons of views. In the broadcast world, let’s have a really hot debate or CNN can slam Trump on something, or MSNBC, and they’ll get more ratings because people are genuinely upset.
ANTON WORONCZUK: Yeah, but the analysis is garbage.
PAUL JAY: Yeah, it doesn’t lead to people having some clarity of what the real alternative looks like.
ANTON WORONCZUK: Okay. Alright, Paul, thanks.
PAUL JAY: Thank you.
ANTON WORONCZUK: And again, if you have any questions for Paul about what we cover, or how we are covering it, you can send them to our Facebook account, to our Twitter account or to the email at: [email protected] So, thank you for joining us.