What Makes this Historical Moment so Urgent?
Paul Jay says the Trump administration is a reflection of the deep crisis that faces us; the drunken power of the financial elites is the underlying force that must be defeated
PAUL JAY: There’s been urgent moments throughout humanity. I suppose if you, you know, if your tribe was somewhere in a forest and there’s a forest fire, it’s pretty urgent. It was pretty urgent to try to stop World War I, it was pretty urgent to end it. The same thing goes for World War II and other major threats or cataclysms.
But I think we’re in a particularly urgent moment. There’s something different about it. Of course, the most important piece is climate crisis. It’s not that the climate crisis just showed up. As far as I know, people have been talking about the urgency of the climate crisis since at least perhaps 1968. But most of us weren’t listening. But the problem now is the window for doing something about it is very small, and hopefully still there. But the leading climate scientists are saying that if urgent action is taken, in terms of carbon emission, there will be some kind of geoengineering, but I don’t think it’s clear what geoengineering will actually be effective and won’t just be moneymaking and destructive. But the window of doing something that will prevent the earth becoming unlivable for most people, and someday all people, it’s a very short window. That’s a very particular urgency.
The other thing that’s happening and you can see this with the intense propaganda war against Russia, or potential trade war with China, the kind of pre-World War II global rivalry is heating up again. We’re not in a big singular superpower world anymore. Particularly, China is becoming certainly not a military competitor with the United States, but it’s becoming an economic one. And Russia is a good existential enemy for the military-industrial complex, but it actually is a regional power with some real strength, and a lot of nuclear weapons. And the United States’ basic foreign policy is there should be no rivals, and they don’t like any kind of regional power. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Iran, China, or Russia. Even if none none of those countries are global rivals, American policy doesn’t like regional. And don’t spend a whole lot of money on all these arms for nothing.
The United States believes, rightly or wrongly-. I should say the elites of the United States believe, and they’ve talked a lot of other people into believing it too, that the standard of living of the United States, the commercial power of the United States, is dependent on military might. They may not say it directly, but that’s more or less the logic of it. And if America ain’t great again, and that means military, and Donald Trump makes no bones about a great America means a great military, if Americans don’t have what they have in their own literature, military literature, called full spectrum dominance, then America’s privileged position will be diminished. And they sell that to people, that people’s standard of living, well-being, will be diminished. Of course, they dress it up in patriotic slogans. Because if you made it so straightforwardly commercial, how many people want to go and fight and die for such a thing? So global rivalry is making this urgent, this moment more urgent, as well.
There are other issues that are very pressing. But the underlying thing, and I think we’re kind of crossed, crossed a tipping point in a process economists call financialization. The power of Wall Street, the development of computers allowed Wall Street to extend its reach beyond all imaginings, and creating all these really complicated financial products, derivatives and such. Computers allowed globalization, outsourcing of production to happen on an enormous scale. You know, you get the Wal-Marts and the Amazons producing all over the world. But of course, not just them. All of this wealth that’s gone to finance, it is such an orgy of wealth. Apparently there’s as much as $350 trillion available for investment. And we know most of that is in the hands of, you know, maybe 5, 10 percent of the population. But most of it’s actually in 1 and 2 percent. $350 trillion.
Well, the entire global-. I’m sorry, the entire GDP of the United States, a year of production, is $18 trillion. The world is $80 trillion. So the entire production of a year of the world is $80 [trillion], and there’s $350 trillion sitting in people’s hands to invest. And we know most of that money is going into speculation. It’s like, into casino capitalism. Only a small portion is actually going into investment that boosts, you know, creates jobs and actually creates real growth.
And the importance of that isn’t just the paralyzing effect on the economy. These are the people that control politics. This is how you get a climate denier cabal of criminals and right-wing ideologues as a president and an administration. And this is literally Robert Mercer, who’s a Wall Street high-speed quantitative traders, was a critical person in putting Trump into power. But go look at the top ten list of the people that donate for the president, and where the big donations come from. The vast majority are coming from the financial sector.
So that strength of the financial sector, the ridiculous amounts of money being made by them and other sections of the elite, that, that super billionaire class, we reached a point where there is so much wealth at that end, and they have so much political power, that they don’t care about even threats to their own system. Like, there’s no Roosevelt on the horizon. You know, you can say Roosevelt saved capitalism. But yeah, he did it, he saved capitalism in a way that was a sort of compromise with American workers. It created the social safety net. You don’t see that on the horizon. At least not someone who has a real chance to take power.
So it’s a critical moment that there just cannot be faith in the elites anymore. No elite figure is going to come forward and save the day. It’s really up to ordinary people to get organized, and that urgency is that the elites are not fit to rule. And I wouldn’t have said that in the past. As bad as the 20th century was, you know, Roosevelt did appear, in Europe post-war you had a more rational version of capitalism for a while, that sort of European social democracy. It’s all gone or going away. And the most parasitical, the most reactionary sections of the elites, are now dominant. So there’s no solutions coming from them, at a time of climate crisis and such urgency.
So this moment is particularly dangerous, and we all got to kind of really internalize what that means about how we live and what we do politically, and the kind of news we take in.