Trump in power - What is really going on?

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A thick cloud of controversies swirled round Donald Trump as he took the oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States at his inauguration as the country’s 45th President on 20 January. Quite apart from his racism, misogyny and Islamophobia, rumours circulate about his relationship with Russia and President Putin. On China, will his stance be the end of the ‘one China’ principle held by the US since 1979? His rants insisting on protectionism, his insulting attack on Civil Rights icon John Lewis, his decree that citizens of seven Muslim countries are banned from the US: all these and more raise more questions than answers. So what is really going on? Steve Palmer reports.

‘But what the hell? I’ll wing it and things will work out.’ – Trump

Donald Trump is not a politician, not even a businessman, but a salesman: he lives for ‘The Deal’. He is a lousy businessman, driving his companies into bankruptcy on six occasions. There is one, and only one product which matters to him: Donald Trump. ‘The show is “Trump” and performances are sold out everywhere,’ he says. All his pronouncements and tweets are fundamentally about promoting Brand Trump. In his book The Art of The Deal (p58), published in 1987, he writes: ‘The key to the way I promote is bravado. I play to people’s fantasies … a little hyperbole never hurts. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration, a very effective form of promotion.’ In short, in English, he is a liar.

The media have focused on Trump as an individual and tried to analyse what is happening from his anarchic torrent of tweets and soundbites. These swing from laughably petty and vindictive snipes at critics, to the airing of hugely controversial potential changes in policy. But analysing these is pointless: they are erratic and contradictory. There is no underlying logic to the noises he makes. Trump does not make decisions rationally: ‘Listen to your gut, no matter how good something sounds on paper … I always follow my own instincts’ (pp28 and 53).

This makes Trump almost completely unpredictable – what matters is not reason, but what the Trump gut says. Instead of the individual, we have to look at the political, economic and social context. Why has the US ruling class, with 350 million people to choose from, rallied behind a fascistic, narcissistic liar like Donald Trump? Why at this time?

US capitalism has been in a state of stagnation for years now, unable to restore profitability to an economy in relative decline. A section of the ruling class has decided that now is the time to take action – drastic action – to ‘Make America Great Again’ with a severe programme to restore profitability: attacking working class living standards, slashing state spending, rolling back regulation, and intensifying US imperialism’s exploitation of the rest of the world.

Disgusting first acts

Instead of Trump’s lies, what matters are his actions. In his first TV interview as President, he said that US intelligence services should be allowed to use torture because ‘it absolutely works’, and claimed that the building of a wall along the Mexican border to keep out migrants would begin ‘within months’. Even more disgustingly, one of his first acts was to reinstate the ‘global gag rule’, which bans US-funded NGOs from providing abortion services or related medical advice. This will ensure an enormous rise in maternal mortalities in many parts of the world. He also signed orders to proceed with the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline, which has been opposed militantly by indigenous communities. Although he claims to have sold the stock he owned in the company building it, Energy Transfer Partners, he has provided no evidence that this is true.

On the campaign trail Trump made much of attacking ‘the elite’ and railing against Wall Street bankers. But look at the people he is nominating to key administration posts: billionaires, millionaires and Wall Street bankers. These are not the billionaire philanthropists – like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffett – so beloved by liberals. All these people are unashamed reactionaries. Steve Bannon (Trump’s ‘Chief Strategist’, worth $10m) is a former Goldman Sachs banker, with a record of racism, anti-Semitism and economic nationalism, who shapes the Trump agenda. Wilbur Ross (Commerce Secretary, $3.7bn), described as ‘the king of bankruptcy’ for his wheeling and dealing with failing companies, has complained that ‘the 1% are being picked upon’ and is said to be the leader of Phi Beta Kappa, a secret Wall Street society. His Deputy, Todd Rickets (from a family worth $5.3bn), a finance capitalist, is a Trump fundraiser and advocate of government austerity. Betsy DeVos (Education Secretary, family worth $5bn) is an advocate for replacing public education with private schools. Linda McMahon (Small Business Administration, $500m) was CEO of the notorious World Wrestling Entertainment franchise.

Rex Tillerson (Secretary of State, $325m) was Chairman and CEO of Exxon Mobil until retiring in December 2016. Steve Mnuchin (Secretary of the Treasury, $300m) is a former Goldman Sachs senior executive who led a group which purchased troubled mortgage lender Indymac in 2009 and renamed it OneWest Bank. OneWest has been accused by the Federal government of aggressive foreclosure practices and ‘redlining’ – discriminating against ethnic minorities when lending. Andy Puzder (Secretary of Labor, $45m) is the chief executive of a fast food company which has persistently violated labour laws, is opposed to increasing the minimum wage, treats its own employees badly and ignores their complaints about sexual harassment, irregular pay and other violations of the law. A climate change denier, Scott Pruitt, a veteran of legal battles against the Environmental Protection Agency, is now to take charge of the Environmental Protection Agency. Trump’s choice for Health and Human Services wants to gut the progressive aspects of Obamacare, increase health care payments for the poorest people, outlaw abortion and introduce a host of other regressive measures. We could go on, down the list, but you get the basic point. None of these members of the elite give a fig for the US worker, only for their own wealth.

Wall Street began to reap the benefits even before Trump officially took office. At least five Goldman Sachs senior executives occupy strategic posts in the White House. Carl Icahn ($17bn), a ruthless corporate raider, is ‘Special Advisor’ on rolling back regulation; Stephen Schwarzman ($11.2bn), CEO of private equity giant Blackstone, heads up the Economic Advisory Panel; Peter Thiel ($2.2bn), venture capitalist and founder of PayPal, schooled in racist ‘South West Africa’ (ie Namibia), an enemy of multiculturalism, was on the transition team; Jamie Dimon ($1bn), CEO of JP Morgan, is on the economic advisory panel. Thanks to the ‘Trump bump’, the market rally since Trump won, leading Wall Street banks have already made a fortune. Bank of America fixed income revenues leapt $1.96bn (up 12%); Citigroup $3.01bn (36%); JP Morgan $3.37bn (31%); Goldman Sachs $2bn (78%); Morgan Stanley $1.47bn (167%). This is hardly ‘draining the swamp’, crushing ‘the elite’, or reining in Wall Street.

Colonial aspirations

In his jingoistic inauguration speech Trump claimed that: ‘For many decades, we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry.’ This is nonsense: in 2015 alone, the US creamed a tribute of $1.2 trillion off from the rest of the world. Over 30% of US corporate profits are extracted from overseas workers – in 2015 $650bn flowed into the US, with only $265bn going the other way to foreign capitalists. Trump is gearing up to put ‘America first’, as if US imperialism never existed: ‘America’ (ie US capitalists) has always ‘come first’. Trump’s rhetoric disguises his plans to bolster US imperialism. In a speech at the CIA, Trump called for renewed colonial occupations: ‘It’s like we haven’t won anything,’ he said. ‘We don’t win anymore. The old expression, “to the victor belong the spoils” – you remember? I always used to say, keep the oil. I didn’t want to go into Iraq. But I will tell you, when we were in, we got out wrong. We should have kept the oil Maybe we’ll have another chance.’ Beside the detail of this being illegal under international law, it would require a continuous occupation. Trump plans to reinvigorate the military and is appointing warmongers to do the job. His pick for Secretary of Defense, usually a civilian appointment, is General James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis ($5m), who says of war: ‘Actually, it’s a lot of fun to fight. You know, it’s a hell of a hoot. It’s fun to shoot some people. I’ll be right upfront with you, I like brawling’.

Trump’s National Security Advisor is General Mike Flynn, card-carrying Islamophobe and co-author of The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and Its Allies. Vincent Viola (Secretary of the Army, $1.8bn) made millions dealing in oil before and after the Iraq war. He has endowed a chair in Catholic theology at Fordham University, and funded a number of military think-tanks. The Homeland Security Secretary, General John Kelly, has close ties with a number of war contractors, and took part in suppressing the 1992 rising against racism in Los Angeles. Trump has signed an executive order to beef up the military so that it can fight two wars at once. This means adding 160,000 more people, including 60,000 soldiers, 50,000 sailors, 12,000 marines, 78 new ships and submarines (presently 272) and 100 more combat aircraft (presently 1,200 fighters out of a total 2,000 aircraft). The bill for all this over the next four years is, realistically, $250–$300bn. Paying for this while cutting taxes and reducing the debt will require a major programme of domestic austerity.

The full Trumpist economic programme hasn’t yet been unveiled, but its likely direction will be that proposed in 2005 as a response to Hurricane Katrina by current Vice-President Mike Pence. Back then Pence chaired the right-wing Republican Study Group. It proposed: suspending the Davis-Bacon Act, a law ensuring that workers on reconstruction projects receive the prevailing wage; designating the area a flat-tax free-enterprise zone; cutting taxes, offering numerous tax breaks; waiving environmental regulations and worker protection legislation; a voucher scheme to pay for private schools out of public funds; and the suspension of regulations that inhibit the activities of ‘faith-based’ organisations. Contracts were signed with no open bidding; several companies promptly turned round and subcontracted the actual work, simply taking a cut of lucrative contracts; undocumented workers, who were hired, then fled unpaid, after work was completed and their employer called immigration enforcement on them. Doubtless the $10bn ‘Border Wall’ and the even juicier $1 trillion infrastructure programmes will be subcontracted to Trump cronies, with similar incentives. The opportunity will be taken to privatise infrastructure, turning freeways and free bridges into toll roads and bridges. In addition, instead of free trade, Trump is expected to turn to protectionism. Yet none of this will help the working class or improve employment. Repatri-ated US capital will find workers cost $25 per hour, robots just $8 – and they can work without a break or mistake and never go on strike.

Fighting back

More broadly, the domestic agenda will step up repression and the attack on Civil Rights. Even before the inauguration ceremony, Trump’s inauguration committee had breached the First Amendment, which explicitly upholds the freedom of the press, by attempting to prevent the media from reporting on the protests which far exceeded in size the audience witnessing the spectacle. His attacks on the media and Republican assaults on the right to vote (particularly by minorities) can be expected to intensify.

This should come as no surprise: Trump has been mentored for over a decade by lawyer Roy Cohn. Cohn was chief counsel to Senator Joseph McCarthy, who conducted hysterical, rabid anti-communist witch-hunts in the early 1950s.

Yet repression breeds resistance: already millions are fighting back. On the day after the inauguration, rousing many people politically for the first time, more than two million people, mainly women, marched in protest. Trump’s clumsy attack on ‘sanctuary cities’ which aid undocumented workers, has provoked their mayors to publicly reject co-operation with the Federal government. We know the Trump presidency will end in disaster sooner or later. We are the ones who will determine whether that disaster is for Trump or for us.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 255 February/March 2017