Trump Declares an Imperial Presidency – Paul Jay

Trump’s emergency order threatens to create an all powerful presidency and weaken a constitutional order that allows the elites to settle their differences within an electoral process – Paul Jay joins guest-host Jacqueline Luqman of ‘Luqman Nation’

Trump Declares an Imperial Presidency - Paul Jay

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Story Transcript

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: I’m Jacqueline Luqman with The Real News.

We’re having conversations today about some of the critical issues that are emerging not just in the United States, but globally. And even though we are concerned, very concerned, about the direction this country is going in regard to issues with this current president and the announcement he made today, as well as the ongoing crisis that we’re watching unfold in Venezuela. We have to have a larger conversation about how these things are connected–how they’re connected not just to our lives as Americans, but particularly how they’re connected to specific issues of capitalism, of ownership, of American imperialism, and of white supremacy. These are seemingly unrelated issues, but actually they’re much more closely connected than we think.

So to have that conversation about how these issues are connected, I’m here talking with Paul Jay, who is the editor-in-chief of The Real News Network. Thank you so much, Paul, for joining me today.

PAUL JAY: Thank you.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: So let’s start with Donald Trump’s–President Trump’s–announcement today in regard to signing the funding bill, and his declaration of the national emergency to fund his wall.

PAUL JAY: So let me start with my little caveat when I get interviewed, here. I usually do–I don’t pretend to be a great expert on all the subjects we’re going to talk about. I am the editor-in-chief, and we think it’s important that people know how I look at stuff, because how I look at stuff certainly influences how we cover things. So that being said, I think it’s important to understand the underlying crisis of the American state right now, and why this executive order seems to be crossing a line that is very concerning to the–certainly the broad American government, the American state, the American political class.

And I think it comes down to a very specific thing, and it’s in terms of American history, but also the history of where this state came from, which is European history, which is generally speaking the elites, when they have differences when they’re fighting for power, when they’re fighting who’s going to control the government of the state, historically they go to war with each other. Right? Hundreds of years of wars in Europe, not just one country’s aristocracy fighting another country’s aristocracy, but civil wars; you know, France and England–you go on. And what’s emerged with modern capitalism is a state that has tried to resolve these contradictions without going to war.

Now, the United States obviously had a civil war, a massive civil war, with hundreds of thousands of people killed. And it was a fight over what form of capitalism would develop. Of course, the issue of the slave trade was one of the central questions, but it was very much–was the Northeastern capitalism going to dominate the labor markets in a form that was best for Northeastern capitalism, and the westward expansion, and so on? But the point is that when these elites reach points where they have real fights and contradictions, they used to mobilize as many peasants or workers as they could. And of course, that’s who paid the real price for these wars. Ordinary people would get slaughtered in these wars as the elites would sort out their contradictions.

So the American state has developed over its life a way to stop this kind of outright fighting. Instead of mobilizing peasants to go out and fight under you, better you get on TV and you mobilize people to vote for the political class, the political service, if you will, of the ownership class. They’re calling–we’re calling them the billionaire class. Now it’d be the multimillionaire class, right. And instead of how feudal lords used to fight it out, now they fight it out within the Constitution. Now when the Democrats and others are screaming how Trump is violating the Constitution–and probably he is–he’s upsetting this balance that allows the state to sort out contradictions amongst the elites. And it’s very important that the elites sort out contradictions amongst themselves without really going to war with each other, because it weakens them in exploiting ordinary people working people if the state and the government and the elites are in such chaos. And they lose this kind of constitutional framework, they get much weaker when facing people who, you know, can’t earn a living, working paycheck to paycheck, and people are getting more and more fed up with the whole system. They’re getting fed up with how stuff is–they’re getting fed up with the kind of owner power that the billionaire class has.

So Trump has crossed a line here with this executive order, because he’s saying I don’t care what Congress says anymore. You know how is this supposed to control spending? Well, I’m going to bypass that, and I’m going to with an executive order to do something that any normal president wouldn’t do. Right? And it’s not about the thing itself. It’s about, of course, the wall and the political consequences and how it’ll affect voting. It matters to the Democrats, and such. But the underlying thing is he’s upsetting this whole process of elites not trying to go for each other’s jugulars, literally, and using the state and the courts and the legal framework. That breaks down. They get into like real civil war territory. And that weakens them, as I say, in relationship to the people.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: And I think that’s a really great point. I love the history that you provided, because that’s important. The role of the elites in controlling consensus, basically, of who to support, because we see the breakdown in that consensus of support among workers with the shutdown. The 35 days that the federal government was practically closed, most of the agencies. And almost a million American workers, federal employees and contractors, didn’t get a paycheck. At least didn’t get one paycheck. And that caused a lot of real pain for real people in a very real way. And the narrative that has come from the elites that government is the problem, and by extension government workers are complicit in being the problem, that narrative was flipped on its head when these federal employees and contractors came out and said because of the shutdown that has occurred, because of these political games that these people in Washington are playing, I can’t pay my mortgage. We can’t pay our car note. Our children are not being fed. Who really are our friends, who are really our enemies in Washington?

So the rest of the country began, I think in earnest for the first time in a long time to ask those same questions of their elected officials. Now, wait a minute. If Americans are not getting a paycheck, they can’t pay their mortgages. They can’t pay their car payments. And these are hard working people. Are we trusting what these people who have been telling us that the government is our enemy? Are they really telling us the truth? Are they really our friends? I think, so, we’ve seen that breakdown in this consensus that power backed by money, backed by capital, has created in this country that has caused a lot of people to side with capitalism, to side with the those in power against the working class. And I think that shutdown–from my perspective–that shutdown changed that a little bit. It eroded that support. Do you agree?

PAUL JAY: Yeah, I do. I think from the point of view of ordinary people this is a bit of a double edged sword, what’s going on. And what I mean by that is the way the government and the state is in such chaos, and with the Trump administration, investigating the president, the Mueller investigations, and this thing of the executive order, and such. The more there’s chaos and disorder in their ranks, I think it’s actually a good thing. If they were more unified, more of the Trump agenda, the far-right agenda would be implemented. Now, a lot of it is being implemented. And a lot of it’s getting hidden by all the theatrics and all the focus on Russiagate and all the rest of that. But that being said, I think it would be far worse, especially in foreign policy, if Trump wasn’t under such attack, and the state wasn’t in such disarray.

The problem here is what Trump’s done with the executive order is this, pushing this idea of the imperial presidency. And this is something that was openly advocated under the last Bush presidency, and it was also advocated to some extent under the Obama presidency, who also used a lot of executive orders. But the idea that the presidency, especially in these times, needs to rise above the constitutional democratic process. And one of the reasons–they don’t talk a lot about this, but they see what’s happening in countries like China. The rise of China, the power of the Chinese economy, and the way they are able to make decisions in China, the presidency is an imperial presidency. Maybe the politburo, the party certainly has ways in. But the presidency of China is very much an imperial presidency. And it gives them the ability to make very big decisions relatively quickly. And there’s a push here that the United States, to stay competitive, needs to drop some of this democratic process. They also–there’s a push to draw up antitrust legislation; you need to allow these big monopolies to develop because big monopolies are developing in China.

From the point of view of working people, I think the disarray is good. But the danger is the imperial presidency. If Trump wins this fight, which means if he wins in 2020 after all these shenanigans, if he’s able to win in 2020, the problem here is going to be if his opponent is someone who wants to carry on the Clinton-Obama legacy. Right? The status quo kind of legacy. Maybe Trump might win against that. That’s a real danger, because if Trump and the far right are able to pull off 2020, then we’re not–the imperial presidency is going to be a polite way to say it. Then we’re moving into a real kind of fascism that I think the United States has never seen before. So from the point of view of working people, I think it’s a good thing that there’s disarray. I think it’s a good thing the Democrats are pushing back against this executive order.

But let’s not have illusions, either, about the people pushing back. Like, I saw a quote from Pelosi and Schumer who are saying, oh, he shouldn’t take money away from from the military, right? And the war on drugs, drug interdiction, in order to build the wall. And the way they use the underlying kind of militarist rhetoric to attack Trump. It’s the same way they use this anti-Russian rhetoric and war hysteria to supposedly fight Trump’s policies, when in fact it winds up reinforcing that kind of policy.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: And I absolutely agree with that, because what we have here is an allegedly resistance party, an alleged resistance party, in the Democratic Party. That’s supposed to be. If Trump represents, the current GOP represents, a push toward an imperial presidency, then if the Democratic Party is the resistance party, then you would think that their mandate is to not push imperialist policies, but they actually–in resisting Trump. Because he is so–I wouldn’t say he’s extreme. I think he’s just obvious. He’s unartful. He’s not as finessed as previous politicians have been with the very same message.

But we have the Democratic Party, who is pushing support, or normalizing, or kind of making victims out of the very agencies that entrench American imperialism here and abroad. The FBI, the CIA, and the Department of Defense.

PAUL JAY: I agree with that, except I do think Trump isn’t just more overt of the past. There’s different sections within capital. And the far right of capital that Trump represents is a real fascistic section of capital. You know, Robert Mercer, the billionaire that funded him; John Bolton, who’s running–you know, helping run foreign policy; the fact they bring back Elliott Abrams to run Venezuela. These are fascists. These are people who openly–and you go back to the Project for a New American Century in the late 1990s, and there are documents that they wrote, who openly called for overt use of military force to reshape the world, get rid of governments you don’t like. And international law is no longer necessary is the message of their documents; that international law was great when you had a Soviet Union to face you. But now it is essentially a single superpower world. We should just use the force and do what we want. I think they’re finding the world’s not quite so easy to manipulate as they thought it was.

Trump does, in my opinion, represent a kind of qualitatively worse force in power. I think when we say that there should be no illusions about what a Clinton presidency would have been or the Obama presidency was. They without question represent much of the same sections of capital. They, you know, they– Wall Street and the military industrial complex, which are very merged. I was just looking at who owns Lockheed Martin the other day, and the five biggest shareholders of Lockheed Martin are all Wall Street finance companies. But that being said, there’s a gravitation, as there was within German capital. You know, with the rise of Hitler. So I don’t think we should underestimate how dangerous this far right is. And we shouldn’t create illusions about what the other sections are.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: And I agree with you, but I think my perspective is that because–regime change isn’t a new thing with American politics. Previous presidents and previous administrations have just used covert–quote unquote–covert operations to do that. They’ve used the CIA, they’ve taken control of the media, and they have pushed a false narrative that has fooled or completely misinformed not just the American people, but the people in the countries that are being affected. I think the difference from me with this particular president is that he his approach is a bull in a china shop kind of approach. I mean, Steve Bannon is not–he’s not polished. I mean, he he did not present himself to be polished. He openly said, listen–I can’t remember the the conference where he spoke, but I believe it was in the UK–where he said, listen, if people call you racist, let them call you racist. But it’s not as if people haven’t been calling GOP policies racist before. It’s just that people like Bannon and Trump and Steve Miller and Elliot Abrams, and all of this current cabal in power, are–they’ve taken the mask off. They’ve done away with the illusions. They’ve done away with the politeness. And they have just stood there like John Bolton did with a notepad, you know, saying 5,000 troops.

PAUL JAY: But the difference matters. The overtness matters. It’s not new in the sense that–especially in terms of Latin America. Reagan foreign policy in Latin America.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Chile.

PAUL JAY: Yeah. I mean, the coups, and such and such. The mass murders, and so on. And and regime change after regime change over the decades. I’m not in any way suggesting that that the imperialist policies were somehow benign before Trump. Far from it. It’s under Truman, a Democratic president, Democratic Party president, that atomic bombs are dropped on Japan. And it’s under a Democratic President that the whole nuclear race has developed, whether it’s Truman or whether it’s Kennedy. The real building of this massive war machine, to a large extent, happens under Kennedy, right. So I’m not in any way suggesting this was some kind of a benign form of imperialism. There was an aggressive, vicious imperialism. That being said, this group with Bolton and Elliott Abrams, this group around Trump, they take it another stage. If they get their way. And their way is clearly leading toward some kind of attack on Iran of some form.

Now, that’s why I say the disarray is good, because it’s going to be maybe more difficult for Trump and the gang around him to do their Iran strategy when there’s such craziness going on. But I don’t think we should underestimate. And it’s not just on foreign policy. Domestically, I mean, even down to the level of Baltimore, where the Department of Justice used to come in and do these consent decrees with the police department. Well, that’s gone. No more. There’s no more pressure on police departments. In fact, on the contrary. The greatest encouragement from the Trump administration, get armed like you’re a military, and don’t hold back on the use of force. So I think we’re quite capable of not having illusions about this, you know, the supposed smart soft power the Democrats. We know it’s vicious. And we know it defends the fundamental issue, the system of ownership and inequality and distribution that’s at the heart of this problem. We know that. The Democrats are very much the defenders of that. The corporate Democrats, at least.

That being said, this Trump phenomenon is a significant degeneration that has a specific danger to it. And this may just be the beginning of this kind of politics.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: So thank you so much, Paul, for joining me today. And we will talk about Venezuela in our next segment. Thank you so much for joining me on The Real News Network. I am Jacqueline Luqman.