By Andrew Levine. This article was first published on Counterpunch.
In the days leading up to his Inauguration, and then for several months after that, Obamaphilia was in the air. By the summer of 2009, the fumes and vapors had mostly cleared out, but a residue lingered on.
A diluted version still lingers; witness the zeal of liberal NGOs and Democratic Party “outreach” operations sending birthday cards and thank you notes to the Obamas – to both of them because Michelle is, by now, the more popular of the two.
But, of course, what the terminally addled Sarah Palin called “that hope and change thingee” didn’t quite work out.
Running against Mitt Romney, a cartoon version of a Republican grandee who had unconditionally surrendered to the Tea Party, Obama won again in 2012. By then, however, nobody expected much good to come of it.
Thus the last time there was a President-elect who had gotten large numbers of voters’ juices flowing, disillusionment set in slowly. With Donald Trump, it will be swift.
It will be bitter and nasty too. Many, maybe most, Trump voters voted for the billionaire buffoon to send a message to the various “establishments” or just because they couldn’t abide Hillary Clinton.
But there were also distressingly many Trump voters who really are “deplorable,” just as Clinton said. She exaggerated their numbers, and there is little doubt that she would have been better off keeping her mouth shut. But she wasn’t wrong.
Unless, as President, Trump is even more pernicious than he has so far seemed to be, or unless he cedes power to his most vile appointees, or unless his egotism spins out of control, those deplorables could turn out to be even more dangerous than he.
It may take them a while to realize it, but Trump has been treating them, along with all the other people who voted for him, as chumps.
If media reports are on point, some of them are already starting to figure out that they have been suckered. But with the Inauguration still more than six weeks off, the vast majority are still cutting the Donald slack. Having defeated the devil they knew too well, they are adopting a wait and see attitude towards the devil they latched onto.
When liberals cut Obama slack, it was because they believed in his essential goodness; no need for a peace movement while he was calling the shots – evidence notwithstanding.
Trump supporters are similarly deluded — except that what they believe in is not their man’s goodness; they know as well as anyone that he is a badass. What they believe in is his (magical) ability to restore outsourced jobs and to “make America great again,” whatever that means.
Sooner or later, most likely sooner, most of them will figure out that what they voted for is not what they got; that, in key respects, it is just the opposite. When they do, expect them to lash out. There will be hell to pay.
Their disillusionment will harm Trump and the Trump brand, but probably not right away. At first, the usual victims, the vulnerable communities whose wellbeing and security Trump’s campaign put in jeopardy, will bear the brunt.
Now they are suffering because Trump’s most nativist, racist and Islamophobic supporters are feeling empowered; it will be worse when disillusionment sets in.
Obviously, it makes no sense to blame everyone who is not white, straight, male (or female, but like-minded), Christian (or rabidly Zionist), and long in the tooth for Trump’s bait and switch.
But, then very little has made sense ever since, to everyone’s astonishment, the Donald’s efforts to turn the American political scene into a real world facsimile of a reality TV show transformed the 2016 election into a farce – and a cash cow for network and cable TV executives.
That there would be a bait and switch was inevitable, once Trump won. It seems unexpected only because, thinking Trump would lose, nobody gave it much thought.
Even Trump seemed surprised that he won. Perhaps someday, he or his children will write a book, or have one written for them, that will tell what prompted him to run for President in the first place.
Did he really believe that, as President, he would do his country some good? In other words, did he dupe himself? Or was it that he is so taken with himself that he thought the highest office in the land his due? No doubt, there were many motives jumbled together, but I suspect that, he being Trump, the main factor was commercial; the huckster just wanted to boost his brand.
Whatever got him in, he ought to have gotten out while there was still time, before he would find himself so far in above his head that he would be unable to bluster his way out.
But, for that, he would have had to know what is good for him, and to have been strong willed enough to act on that knowledge. There was no way that would happen. The man is monumentally blind to his shortcomings and disabilities, and unable to resist his egotistical urges. Moreover, the bully couldn’t stand to lose – especially to a girl and, as if that weren’t bad enough, to one he knew to be inept.
And so, he got swept away by the adoration of the crowds that decades of mounting anger at the Clintonite (neoliberal) status quo, fueled by billions of dollars worth of free media publicity, brought to his rallies.
Were he a tad less taken with himself, it might have occurred to him that he knew nothing and cared less about governance. He might also have realized that, coming out of the campaign, no one respectable would work with him, and that he would therefore have no choice but to throw himself on the mercy of the GOP, the party he nearly destroyed.
And so, the rats are running back onto the ship they thought was sinking. The Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio fans, and the always-biddable Mitt Romney, have all come begging for jobs.
What a pathetic spectacle! And how humiliating too for the Donald!
After defying all odds by beating back the Clinton juggernaut, he will find himself turning the government over to two old school Republican mediocrities, Reince Preibus, his Chief of Staff, and Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House – and to the reactionaries they will recruit to colonize the deep state.
Perhaps this is what he always wanted in his heart of hearts; ruling class solidarity is thicker than water and maybe thicker even than blood. But, for a savior wannabe, the fact that the real winners November 8 were Priebus and Ryan and others of their ilk has got to smart.
Even to this date, Trump seems remarkably uninterested in governance or in learning about the world. He has even stayed away from intelligence briefings.
Instead, he has remained, as best he can, in campaign mode – reveling in the crowds he still draws, and saying and doing whatever he feels like saying or doing at the time.
His telephone chat last Friday with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen was true to form too. Did he even know that he was putting four decades of China policy in jeopardy?
Or was he revising America’s one China policy without bothering to tell anybody or to explain what he was doing? Either way, so much for what an earlier President called “a decent respect for the opinion of mankind…”
Based on briefings from Trump apologists, sycophantic media, led by the more awful than ever Washington Post, are now claiming that the Donald’s affront to the Chinese was calculated and had been in the works for weeks. So much for a “decent respect” for the intelligence of their readers!
If they had any of that, they would be pointing out that, by going rogue on China, Trump proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he is about as much of a diplomat as the average third grader.
Before long, even the chumps who are now giving the Donald the benefit of the doubt will realize that turning the ship of state over to him is like giving the keys to the family car to a third grader – but with the difference that the damage a third grader could do is trivial in comparison to what the Commander-in-Chief of a bloated, armed to the teeth military, equipped with nuclear weapons out the wazoo, could unload upon the world.
How is faith in Trump possible? There is no entirely satisfactory answer; the phenomenon defies explanation. But the fact that, even now, with the Protestant Ethic a dead letter, many Americans still take success in business as an outward sign of inner grace is surely part of the story.
Trump has been successful in business, but not exactly for reasons of the kind that the Pilgrim Fathers would approve. He has never been one to postpone gratification; worldly asceticism is most assuredly not his thing.
From his father, Trump got a lot of money and a lot of political juice. He put both to use enriching himself further, flaunting his wealth every chance he got. And but for the lawyers and accountants who guided him in the fine arts of tax avoidance and in the use of bankruptcy laws to make others pay for his mistakes, he would be a poor man today.
Nevertheless, there actually are people, quite a few of them, who think that Trump is a great businessman and will therefore be a great President. Trying to talk them out of their beliefs is pointless. They are wedded to their benightedness.
The Donald is hardly suited to the office to which he has been elected, but there is no denying that he was an outstanding candidate. He put on a good show, and he knew how to work his marks. He is still hard at it.
The Carrier deal is a case in point. The much-ballyhooed narrative has it that Trump made a phone call and voilà, a thousand jobs were saved. Well, perhaps not a thousand, since some of them were upper-level management jobs that were never moving. But who’s counting?
Of course, no one outside Trump’s inner circle, maybe no one outside his head, knows what he did to pull of this public relations stunt. All that is known so far is that Carrier will be getting some seven million dollars worth of tax concessions from Indiana taxpayers for keeping some jobs in Indiana.
For how long, nobody knows. This would be the umpteenth time states and cities have bribed capitalists to stay put. The record is disappointing; they seldom stay put for long.
The Trump apologists’ line is that by lowering corporate tax rates, capitalists will be happy to do their part in making America great again by keeping manufacturing jobs here. What kinds of idiots do Trump apologists take the American people for!
What capitalists these days care about is the free flow of capital; this has almost nothing to do with corporate tax rates. If they can take their money anywhere, they will buy the cheapest labor they can find, consistent only with their need to maintain control over the production process and with the exigencies of marketing their goods and services wherever the markets for them are.
No doubt, Trump’s “deal” involved carrots and sticks about which he and his apologists are keeping mum – most likely, many carrots and very few sticks. Carrier’s parent company, United Technologies, is a major defense contractor – in plain speak, a death merchant. It lives or dies at the pleasure of the Pentagon and other government agencies. Trump had plenty of carrots and sticks to brandish.
But Trump is Trump; he doesn’t know when to stop. With one vengeful, fact-free tweet about the costs involved in building the next version of Air Force One, he sent Boeing stock plummeting, putting many jobs in jeopardy. There is no reason to think that he will stop there, or that he cares that “free market” economists are telling him, with increasing vehemence, that this is not how a healthy capitalism works.
He will care, though, if what we euphemistically call “the business community” comes to regard him as a menace. Then he will have a lot more to deal with than the chumps he has deceived.
The situation is complicated, however, because capitalists are nothing if not greedy, and Trump seems to be getting ready to buy many of them off.
To that end, expect him to make a big show soon of making good on one of his better campaign promises – rebuilding America’s transportation infrastructure.
However, Trump’s will not be the kind of infrastructure program that we desperately need, and that we had in the FDR through Eisenhower era, continuing, in diminished form, even as the Vietnam War depleted public funds.
It will not be financed out of public monies. Republicans have been standing in the way of anything like that for as long as anyone can remember, and now that they and Trump need each other badly, this is not about to change.
Trump wants to finance his fiscal stimulus by offering developers tax breaks. This will enrich them egregiously, while running up major deficits.
In principle, fiscal stimuli encourage inflation. Combine that with increasingly massive debt, then add on reckless deregulation, and you can be sure that financial crises will come even more frequently than in the past, and that they will be a lot more devastating in their consequences.
Ironically, Trump’s infrastructure program is very much like Obamacare, the Obama era government program that Republicans hate the most. They hate it mainly because this was Obama’s signature issue and they hate Obama – for all the wrong reasons.
No matter that its core ideas were hatched at the rightwing Heritage Foundation, and that something like it was put in place in Massachusetts before Obama was elected — by then Governor Mitt Romney.
Obamacare extended insurance coverage to many, though far from all, uninsured Americans, and it mandated insurance reforms that even its fiercest critics now no longer oppose. But the good it did came with a price.
As would have happened under Hillarycare a generation earlier, it reinforced the power of health care profiteers –the private insurance companies, the for-profit health care industry and, worst of all, Big Pharma. In the short run, everybody won – though not all the profiteers thought they had won enough. But it also postponed, probably for another generation, the day when, at last, the United States will rise to the level of other developed, and many not-so-developed, countries by according its citizens health care as a right.
Similarly, if Trump does follow through on his infrastructure promises, many workers will be helped, and many others will be helped indirectly because of the money that will be introduced into the economy.
But this will only ameliorate, temporarily and modestly, the increasingly dire condition of everyone who is not at the very top of the prevailing income and wealth distribution, while financiers and developers will prosper like never before.
If personnel is policy, as the saying goes, then either the Donald has some very bizarre policy views in mind, or, more likely, he has nothing in mind at all.
How pathetic is it that one if the few appointments Trump has made that is not preposterous on its face, his pick of Four Star General James “Mad Dog” Mattis to head the Defense Department, puts the principle of civilian control of the military in jeopardy! Pundits across the spectrum, from A to B, seem to like him; so do John McCain and Hillary’s Defense-Secretary-In-Waiting, Michèle Flournoy.
It seems that, unlike the Donald, he reads books and owns quite a few on military history. Yippee. No matter that his views are a tad incoherent – much like Obama’s and Clinton’s, and McCain’s and Flournoy’s. For instance, if reports in the media are on track, he wants to ratchet up the war against the Islamic State and other jihadi groups, while simultaneously ratcheting up opposition to Russia and Iran. Perhaps he hasn’t noticed that Russia has already largely done the Islamic State in. Or perhaps the principle that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” has been repealed and they haven’t bothered to tell anybody about it except the dunces at the Pentagon, the White House and Foggy Bottom.
But at least he is not another Curtis LeMay or a Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper, and, given the standards in place in Trumpland, that is something to cheer. Also, since it seems that the Secretary of Defense could impede, and maybe even block, a President who, in a fit of pique, goes off the deep end with the nuclear codes, it is reassuring to have a professional military man on the job.
It is much the same with Trump’s pick of retired Marine General John Kelley to head the Department of Homeland Security — except that in his passion to “secure” the border, he does conform more to the Jack D. Ripper template. Trump seems to have a thing for Generals, even more than for real estate tycoons and Wall Street predators. Military school must have made more of an impression on the young Donald’s mind than Wharton.
In any case, with those possible exceptions, all of Trump’s choices are laughable; or would be if the condition of the ninety-nine percent was less troubled, and if the United States wasn’t doing a lot more than its fair share to bring on a global ecological catastrophe, and if it didn’t have a huge military presence in all the four corners of the world and a nuclear arsenal capable many times over of ending life on earth “as we know it,” as they say in Clintonese.
There are, of course, the unspeakably vile ones: Steve Bannon for Senior Counselor to the President heading the list. Among other things, Bannon will be Trump’s liaison with the white supremacist community and with the Islamophobes and fascisant miscreants in the Trump base.
Bringing up the rear, there is his National Security Advisor, Lt. General Michael Flynn, one of the most blatantly Islamophobic nimrods in the military today.
Flynn was forced out of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014 after clashing with his superiors over his “management style”; among other things, he is said to have been abusive to his staff, and inclined to make “facts” up.
As everybody now knows, Flynn’s son and “chief of staff,” Michael Junior, retweeted fake news stories about how Hillary Clinton and her campaign manager, Robby Mook, ran a child sex ring out of popular family pizza restaurant in northwest Washington DC. Father and son were both on the Trump transition team, and Flynn Senior retweeted his share too, though without specifically naming the restaurant.
The two of them were part of a social media blitz that led a bona fide North Carolina “deplorable” to drive to Washington to “investigate” the situation, and to brandish and fire an assault rifle in the pizza parlor.
Coordinating intelligence reports and evaluating their veracity will be high on the list of Flynn Senior’s tasks as National Security Advisor.
Congressman Mike Pompeo, Trump’s choice to head the CIA, is not only among the most vicious Islamophobes in Congress – no mean feat – but is also a fervent opponent of abortion and everything else opposed by the Christian Right.
Billionaire Betsy DeVos, Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education, isn’t much better in that regard. She is an ardent privatizer too, and an enemy of public education.
But DeVos actually looks good, on the social reactionary scale, compared to Georgia Congressman Tom Price, M.D., Trump’s choice to head the Department of Health and Human Services. If it were up to that crank, even Medicare would be in trouble.
And then there is Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, Trump’s choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt’s passion is suing the EPA. In Oklahoma, he led the state’s fight against EPA efforts to rein in carbon pollution and to protect drinking water. The energy industry owns his heart and mind.
The competition is stiff, but this may be the worst Trump appointment of all.
Like Pruitt, Trump’s choice of Alabama Senator Jeff Session for Attorney General, is both ludicrous and vile.
In saner times, efforts to make Sessions a federal judge were rejected by the Senate mainly for blatantly racist remarks he had made. There are countless other reasons too why the very idea of Sessions in that post would set all Heaven in a rage, if only Heaven existed. In that vein, it bears mention that he too is an ardent opponent of anything and everything frowned upon by the Christian Right, abortion and same sex marriage above all.
Then there are the choices that are just simply ludicrous: among others, Nikki Haley for Ambassador to the United Nations, and, most bizarre of all, the hapless Ben Carson for the job of Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Haley, the Governor of South Carolina, a benighted state even by Southern standards, prepared for the role of top diplomat by earning a bachelor’s degree in accounting. Her parents came to the United States from India, however, so she is probably more aware of the outside world than the average white South Carolinian.
Moreover, compared to Carson, she is an ace. The good doctor has all but admitted that he knows nothing about housing, and has no experience dealing with, much less managing, large and complex bureaucracies. A celebrated brain surgeon years ago, he has morphed into a dull-witted laughing stock who believes, among other things, that poverty is a choice.
This did not prevent him from briefly leading the field of Republican candidates seeking the nomination for President in 2016, but it has significantly diminished the level of prestige accorded brain surgeons. When the point is to say that something is not difficult or doesn’t require exceptional intelligence to figure out, we say, for reasons that are not entirely clear, “it’s not rocket science” or, nearly as often, we compare it to brain surgery. Thanks to Carson, rocket science now has the honor all to itself.
Of late too, Carson, who fancies himself a personal friend of Jesus, has been letting loose with anti-Muslim drivel that would embarrass even Pruitt and Flynn. Among other things, he has claimed that Islam is not a real religion. Obviously, he will be a stellar addition to the menagerie the Donald is assembling.
Any and all of these appointments could make trouble for Trump, but none so much as the ones that fall transparently into the bait and switch category. When Trump voters realize what chumps they were, the Donald will rue the day he let his autocratic fantasies supersede what little common sense he had.
Trump chose Steven Mnuchin, a notorious bankster with impeccable Goldman Sachs connections for the key role of Secretary of the Treasury. Like many Wall Streeters, Mnuchin has, over the years, “donated” huge sums to Democrats, including Hillary Clinton. This has already been noticed in rightwing news sources.
But his appointment will reassure one-percenters that, campaign promises notwithstanding, they have nothing to fear from their class brother. On the other hand, the people that media pundits call “populists” will likely have a different take on the situation, once they stop being bedazzled by Trump’s badass bluster.
Vulture capitalist Wilbur Ross, Trump’s choice for Secretary of Commerce is, if anything, even less “populist” hero material than Mnuchin. When Woody Guthrie talked about bankers robbing people not with six-shooters but with fountain pens, it was people like Ross – and Mnuchin too – that he had in mind.
And, as if all that were not enough, Trump has announced that he will be convening a panel of high-flyers to consult with him on a monthly basis. According to CNN, the group has been assembled by Steven Schwartzman, CEO of the notorious Blackstone Group, and is made up of a “who’s who” of CEOs – including GM’s Mary Barra, Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan Chase, GE’s former CEO Jack Welch, Bob Iger from Disney and Walmart’s Doug McMillon. This should set Trump voters’ hearts aflutter.
It’s the old story in what we have come to call “democracies”: vote for X and get not-X. At least this time the disillusionment will come to those who need and deserve it most.
As of this writing, news is breaking that Trump has named fast food (Hardee’s and Carl Jr.’s ) CEO, Andrew Puzder, to be his Secretary of Labor. This is bad news for workers fighting for a $15/hour minimum wage and for unions. It also ought to further explode the myth that Trump is on the workers’ side. It probably won’t, though – at least not at first. There are still to many scales on the eyes of too many working people.
Meanwhile, the Donald has yet to tweet his choice for Secretary of State. I would be very surprised were he to come up with somebody who, like Mad Dog Mattis, is not stupendously awful. It will more likely be somebody like Mike Flynn — vile and ludicrous but not totally inappropriate, the way that Ben Carson is.
John Bolton has been to Trump Tower several times, presumably to talk himself up. He is certainly odious enough to win the Donald over. But he is an unreconstructed neocon, and Trump claims to be non-ideological. He probably isn’t, but then he isn’t consistent either.
Here’s a thought: in much the way that Dick Cheney chose himself to be George Bush’s Vice President, Jared Kushner, the Trump son-in-law and key transition advisor, could pick himself. He’d be perfect for the job: totally unprepared, loyal to the Great Man, and, just in case rightwing Zionists get antsy over Steve Bannon’s flirtations with classical anti-Semites, he would be there to reassure them that when Trump goes after everybody else, he will leave the Jews alone – except, of course, the ones who are secular or liberal or insufficiently enamored of a certain ethnocratic settler state.
What I hope most, though, is that Trump goes for Mitt Romney. Then the bait and switch will be so glaringly obvious that even the most obtuse Trump supporters would have to realize how snookered they have been.
Their fury, once unleashed, will do Trump in faster and more decisively than anything else could.
ANDREW LEVINE is a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).