Trump’s Saving Grace

By: Andrew Levine | June 8, 2018
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What a nauseating spectacle — the language police at CNN and MSNBC castigating Samantha Bee for calling Ivanka Trump a “feckless cunt!”

Their producers should have told them that if truth isn’t a defense, it ought to be, and that prissiness über alles is for self-righteous prigs.

She said “feckless,” not, as was sometimes reported, “fucking.” Part of the confusion may be that on those liberal (actually centrist) networks, “the f-word,” like “the c-word,” is routinely spelled out when mentioned at all.

I wonder whether this is because the network bosses are worried that c-h-i-l-d-r-e-n might be watching.

Apologies to Kinky Friedman for that; it is a relief, in times like these, to think of the immortal Kinkster.

It could all change in the blink of an eye, should the T-word give the Saudis and the Israelis the war against Iran that they yearn for, but, for the time being, George W. Bush is still Number One in one respect: he has done more harm in the Middle East even than Donald Trump.

On the whole, though, it has been clear since November 2016 that W would hold “the worst president ever” title for no more than eight years. With Trump’s election, he has found his level; he is a Number Two.

Trump’s idea of good taste is a parody of a fifties Playboy reader’s. W’s tastes are more refined. He is even able to appreciate Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jew Boys.

Trump doesn’t have enough humanity for that. The only Friedman he can appreciate is David – his bankruptcy lawyer and the former head of American Friends of Bet El (a rabidly reactionary orthodox settlement on the Occupied West Bank). Trump’s Friedman is now the U.S. ambassador to Israel.

There is an Ivanka connection in this as well. Her in-laws, the Kushners, contribute to that “charity” as well.

Meanwhile, the Don has lately become a Roseanne Barr fan. That is telling too.

Up through the 2012 election, Roseanne was something of a working class hero. She always seemed to have a few screws loose in her head, but it is only since she was denied the Green Party nomination for president in 2012 that she has adopted the public persona of an unhinged crazy lady – or, what comes to the same thing, a racist conspiracy theorist and supporter of Donald Trump.

With Trump, it is all about celebrity. How then could he resist Roseanne? Before Mickey Mouse gave her the boot, her ratings in the TV wasteland that Trump inhabits were spectacular. He therefore liked her back.

Roseanne’s racist rant landed in the same news cycle as Samantha Bee’s on point characterization of Princess Ivanka. Because timing is all, the cable news “journalists” and their counterparts in print media grouped the two together.

Obviously, the symmetry they discerned between the two cases is absurd, but let that pass. The larger point is that Ivanka, her husband — and, for that matter, her feckless prick brothers — deserve all the abuse that falls their way.

Decorum be damned; if a Trump-style potty mouth helps drive home the point, then bring it on!

And show no mercy! Call out that shallow fashionista for what she is: a purveyor of baubles and schmatas to like-minded airheads with more money than taste!

Remember too that her father deserves verbal abuse ten times more and, with him, that is just the least of it.

That what he says and does is reported on respectfully and that purportedly serious journalists report on his tweets and on the nonsense that spews out of his mouth as if there might be a thought worth considering in any of it is nauseating too.

The office he occupies is the reason to care about what he says or does; the only reason. On the merits, there is no reason at all.

Even so, and despite the fact that Roseanne is a vile nut job, that ridiculous woman is not entirely off base in thinking that Ivanka’s father might have been a better choice for working class non-heroes than the alternative he ran against.

There are, after all, matters of very great importance on which Hillary Clinton and Democrats like her could arguably be deemed worse.

***

Does this mean that the Donald has some redeeming features, notwithstanding his obvious moral and intellectual shortcomings and his buffoonish demeanor? The short answer is No.

However, in view of the very un-democratic institutions that our “founding fathers” bequeathed us, and the durability of the duopoly party system that afflicts our political culture, the issue is a little bit more complicated than that.

Favoring Trump over Clinton was wrong-headed but not entirely unreasonable two years ago, given the parameters within which the choice had to be made.

In light of what has now been proven beyond a reasonable doubt about what a Trump presidency entails, Trump supporters are on even shakier ground than they used to be. But with the mainstream Democratic Party still basically unchanged, their position is not insane.

Clinton’s flirtations with World War III were more troubling than Trump’s – at least in the sense that her choice of enemies was more reckless. Now she is more or less out of the picture, but her legacy lives on; getting a new Cold War up and running has become a top Democratic Party priority.

Needless to say, Democrats aren’t the only problem; Republicans are inveterate Cold Warriors too. Communism is gone, but habits of mind associated with Cold War anti-Communism have somehow survived. Lately, they have begun again to thrive.

For that, give blame where blame is due. In much the way that the Trump campaign legitimized “America first” jingoism and white supremacist attitudes, the Clinton campaign revived and legitimated Cold War mindsets and assumptions.

Trump seemed to be, and for the most part has been, less bad. Unlike leading Democrats and their media flunkies at CNN and MSNBC, Cold War revivalism has never been his passion.

No doubt, the reasons why are as sleazy as the man himself. Even so, the country and the world should be grateful that they move him.

Common sense is on Trump’s side – why needlessly stir up animosities directed at an adversary with nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them? But common sense does not move the Donald; he has none. He has no principled convictions either. What he has are vile instincts and TV shows that he likes.

Trump’s business dealings have always been dodgy; and, despite his boasting, his deal making is about as artful as any garden-variety mob boss’s. Meanwhile, in the art of blackmail, Russia’s intelligence services are superb. Thus it is possible, even likely, that Russia has something on him.

Or, since, venality trumps prudence in Trumpland, there may be something he wants Russia to do for him that he is too foolhardy or too stupid entirely to conceal.

Whatever the reason, to the extent that Trump has been keeping the Doomsday Clock from edging closer to midnight, then hooray for him. If Clintonites and other Cold War enthusiasts don’t like it, too bad for them.

There is something else that Trump has been doing that the foreign policy establishment along with the entire political class, the ruling class, respectable media, and, the general public don’t care for in the least, and that, were he more lucid, Trump would oppose as well: he is overturning the American dominated world order established in the aftermath of the Second World War.

“Not,” as the saying goes, “that there is anything wrong with that,” quite to the contrary. But there are bad, indeed dangerous, ways of going about it. Count on Trump to find them.

For more than seven decades, the United States has been an economic and military hegemon. Since the demise of the Soviet Union, its position has been essentially unchallenged. Now, to the dismay of nearly all concerned parties, at home and abroad, Trump is undoing the framework upon which American world domination rests.

The result is turbulence at a global level; not only, as in the past, in the hinterlands and in hard to manage regions, but within the empire’s core.

This was bound to happen eventually; empires rise and fall. But the American empire was still hanging in there when Trump came on the scene, and there was, and still is, no replacement waiting in the wings. There is no stable system of alliances capable of imposing order in world affairs, and there is no alternative global hegemon.

There is, of course, the United Nations and, along with it, many more international organizations than a century ago. But they all kowtow to the United States, and are therefore useless for doing anything that the empire’s stewards oppose. Anything even remotely resembling a world government is as out of the question now as it ever was.

When Madeleine Albright and Barack Obama and others would blabber on about America being “the indispensable nation,” what they had in mind was hypocritical nonsense; America was hardly a moral exemplar for the world.

There is a sense, however, in which their words were literally true. For better or worse (generally worse), American power has kept uncontrollable instability at bay.

In principle, of course, there are more effective and just ways to assure world order. In practice, however, they lie beyond reach.

This is a tragedy even for the United States. Led wisely, the hegemon could be brought down gently. But when has the United States been wisely led?

Wise leadership would make it easier for Americans to address pressing problems inside “the homeland;” it would also free up energy and resources for experiments in governance and in living that could help move humanity forward.

The United States has not done much of that lately; the Cold War put the kybosh on the very idea.

How ironic, therefore, that by “making America great again,” Trump, the least wise leader America has ever known, is bringing the empire down.

This would be to his credit, but for the fact that his stupidity and ineptitude are bound to exact a toll. The chances that anything good will come of Trump’s bull in a china shop approach are nil.

Needless to say, bringing the empire down is not something Trump has chosen to do; he probably does not even realize that he is doing anything of the kind. He may even sincerely believe that he is “making America great again” – not understanding that, in the jingoistic sense that is all he knows, he has been doing just the opposite.

This is what happens when a septuagenarian with an adolescent’s mind is elected president, and proceeds to act out.

***

Whatever Trump may say or think, the main beneficiary of the world order now in place is the United States.

American capitalists, especially those involved with finance, have been making out like the bandits they are.

Unless Trump’s machinations set off a major economic slump, many of them will likely continue to prosper, at least for a while. It is not impossible too that some workers will be better off in the short run from, say, Trump’s tariffs on aluminum and steel. But most Americans will be worse off, as will most people in other countries. The world’s economies are closely intertwined; being run over by a bull in a china shop is the last thing they need.

Mindlessly tearing the existing system apart, without clear alternatives in mind and without giving any thought to changing the fundamentals of the underlying economic structure, makes no sense. It is a recipe for disaster.

Trump’s trade policies, like his economic policies generally, are political theater. They exist so that Trump, a serial promise-breaker and conman, can tell his marks that he keeps his campaign promises. If the gods are kind, as they almost never are, his machinations will backfire, as they inevitably will eventually, in time to cause him harm.

It is the same with the geopolitical aspects of Trump’s assault on the American empire.

America’s days as a global hegemon are numbered, but that number is not yet up. The hegemon is in peril now only because America has a president who is ignorant, arrogant, and inept.

Republicans don’t like this any more than Democrats do. Serving more or less the same masters, why would they? But, they go along. Fearing the wrath of the most intractable of Hillary’s “deplorables,” they seek safety by hiding under Trump’s tiny thumb.

Trump’s attacks on American dominance of the world economy are unintended; he knows not what he does.

His attacks on America’s political domination of the world are different; he knows precisely what he is doing – he is tapping into his bases’ and his own small-minded jingoism. The disingenuous “America first” jibber-jabber that enshrouds his machinations only serve to demonstrate what a conman he is.

A genuine left opposition would also be working to bring the era of American world domination to an end. But, again, everything depends on how it comes to pass. Laudable internationalist ways are one thing, Trump’s national chauvinist way is something else altogether. Any resemblance between what passes for foreign policy under him and what American foreign policy ought to be is, as they say, “purely coincidental.”

***

Trump has not quite destroyed the Republican Party, though there is still a fighting chance that he will. However, he has dealt a severe blow to the GOP’s free market theology, to the idea that, for every earthly problem, there is a market-based cure.

That belief is deeply entrenched in Republican minds. Even those who care more about making the country more godly or about law and order (repressing minorities and the poor, not the TV show), or balanced budgets, or old fashioned Country Club values, are still, with varying degrees of commitment, free marketeers.

Without quite making such a show of it, Democrats are on board with that too.

Of course, they don’t really believe in it – not wholeheartedly. If nothing else, they are all “military Keynesians,” they all use military spending to boost effective demand. And the Pentagon budget, which they all consider sacrosanct, functions as a back door, dangerously skewed and deeply flawed, industrial policy

But the faith in markets that they all evince to some extent does have consequences. They are especially evident in the policy prescriptions of such Republican stars as Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz (of whom it has been said that the word “loathsome” is joined to his name in the way that “fleet-footed” is joined to Achilles’). And they were rife in the pre-Trump GOP.

No longer; in the Republican mind, the invisible hand of the almighty market has given way to the visible hand of Donald Trump.

Republicans now follow Trump and Trump believes in his heart of hearts that, on any and all matters of national import, the Donald knows best.

If the coal industry cannot withstand market forces, Trump will see to it that the government keeps it alive. The steel industry too; if it cannot compete with foreign producers, then bring the tariffs on!

The pundits don’t care for this at all, but their explanations ring hollow. Their line is that Trump is keeping promises he made during his presidential campaign. At Fox, they think this is as it should be; the centrists at CNN and MSNBC disagree.

However, as is par for the course, they are both wrong: the very idea of promise keeping, when inconvenient, is beyond Trump’s ken.

An impartial observer could hardly fail to notice that a common theme of many of the policies that emanate out of the blooming buzzing confusion that engulfs the Trump White House is opposition to efforts to protect against environmental degradation. It is as if Trump wants to accelerate global warming and to hasten the onset of environmental catastrophes. His repudiation early on of the Paris Climate Accord was emblematic, and a taste of things to come.

In the White House now, the mark of energy sector capitalists is everywhere. It would give Trump too much credit to say that he agrees with, or even cares about, their arguments, such as they are. What he cares about is their money. And so he acts against market “logic.”

This is bad news, of course, because his policies are even more harmful than those that market logic would dictate, but, in at least one respect, there is a silver lining. Trump’s whims are dealing free market theology a blow – not a mortal blow, the doctrine is resilient — but a serious defeat nevertheless.

To the extent that this makes Republicans like Ted Cruz apoplectic — and disquiets Mike Pence, the next catastrophe in line — then bravo Trump. This may not be much of a saving grace, but it is better than nothing at all.

ANDREW LEVINE is 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).

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