Under Trump, much has been made of the loss of US alliances and the forsaking of US values at home and abroad. Well, things weren’t that great anyway; that’s why Trump and other authoritarians have ridden resentment to election.
Global and national tensions were manifested in the 20th century world wars. These tensions were mostly about power and control of natural resources and also about power and control over labor. Labor and resource issues were colonialism abroad, and exploitation at home.
The post war consensus was part of an egalitarian trajectory that first came to real fruition with the New Deal. This included Keynesian economics and an inclusive welfare state. This post war consensus trajectory sought to free the little guys from overt exploitation, and to share the wealth. This consensus petered out at the cusp of the Carter and Reagan presidencies, when free market neoliberalism became ascendant as part of an institutional, financial power pushback against little guys and civil rights gains.
Nominally, both the post war consensus and neoliberalism sought to reduce suffering, and to make the world safe for trade. Inclusive, democratic values were championed. In practice, the poor and the environment were exploited. Whole countries were thrown under the bus in the name of strategic alliances. Racism and double standards flourished. It was frankly, a lot of hypocrisy, peppered with a few bright and shining moments of gain for the little guys.
Meet the new boss…
The hypocrisy of the both the post war consensus and neoliberalism have now come home to roost. Today we in the US are seeing the overthrow of one American values hypocrisy for another. We careen into crass nationalism and nativism, not only against foreigners but against our own people as well. American can’t be great by vilifying more than half the population.
The US is recapping all former large state revolutions, all of which have the same pattern: the top dogs ran off with all the wealth and power, leaving the little guys to eventually tear the whole house down in mass resentment.
The US government, in Democrat and Republican forms, has abdicated its role for social and environmental responsibility and allowed business and multi-national corporations to increasingly run the show. The well-being of people and the environment has taken a back seat, even as the US claimed to be beneficial overall. It was, and is, a feel-good story not based on truth.
Globalization held the promise of enfranchising and benefitting all; to an extent, this was true. But instead of a rising tide lifting all boats, developed nation middle classes lost money to under-developed nation lower classes.
Mexicans were happy to make Ford trucks for a fraction of the labor cost, because the job was better than what they had. Don’t mention lack of environmental projections. Corporations then went to find cheaper labor elsewhere. This process of finding the next cheapest labor took decades to play out, and in the end, no one anywhere was satisfied. Now we have a coal-polluted warming world of refugees and immigrants looking for succor on the shores of resentful countries who lost their goods to corporate greed. No one is winning except the top dogs with yachts and huge bank accounts.
All the while, Democrats and Republicans in the US both failed to protect workers and the environment. The US public was held captive to ideological battles that covered up the corrupt rip off architecture of the whole system. The battle as now engaged is supposedly between business and bureaucratic elites, even as all of them raked in the profits and rode the 1% bandwagon to everyone else’s loss.
“Everyone else” is made up of all the underdogs who have always been fighting amongst themselves to get more scraps than the next. It’s easy enough to divide and obfuscate on the little guys, turn us all against each other. And why are there are only scraps while the 1% and 10% sequester all the wealth? What kind of human, religious, or business values sanctions that?
And so, slaves and underclasses of all types have stayed under the boot heel of all-the-above-current-flavor of oppressors, as a phony battle of values diverted the underclass as a whole from unifying in seeing the real enemy. The real enemy? Elite business as usual, from whatever quarter. An intoxicating and divisive story, to set one against the other, covers us all in its tempting, camouflaging haze.
Machiavelli had it right
Globalization basically just increased the hegemony of corporate/bureaucratic monopoly at the expense of the world and US 90%. No one in power really cared about democracy and equal representation anyway. The halls of power had already been taken over by gerrymandering actors who like all power holders, first and foremost looked to consolidate and to stay in power. As Ralph Nader said, “the only difference between Democrats and Republicans is how fast they get on their knees for big business.”
It turns out however, that conservatives are a lot more Machiavellian than their liberal counterparts. They have made the first really blatant anti-democratic moves (voter suppression, stripping power from governors). In an insightful NYT review about the similarities of the fall of the Roman Republic, the author says, “if we were to make explicit the implicit analogy that runs all the way through “Mortal Republic,” we would most likely cast Donald Trump as a farcical reincarnation of Tiberius Gracchus. Like the original populist, Trump was propelled to power by the all-too-real failures of a political system that is unable to curb growing inequality or to mobilize its most eminent citizens around a shared conception of the common good. And like Gracchus, Trump believes that, because he is acting in the name of the dispossessed, he is perfectly justified in shredding the Republic’s traditions… If that analogy is right, the good news is that Trump will, once the history of our own mortal Republic is written, turn out to be a relatively minor character. Far from single-handedly destroying our political system, he is the transitional figure whose election demonstrates the extent to which the failings of our democracy are finally starting to take their toll.”
Pull the wool from our eyes
Trump’s disruption can be seen good because he is blowing off the cover of the business as usual lie, which has been anything but benign. What will become clear is that while Trump disrupts and vilifies academic elites and the administrative state, business and corporate interests are moving in and consolidating their power. One swamp is replacing another, but folks, swamps are swamps; elites are all elites. All the liberal power guys are invested in the same corporate mutual funds as Dick Cheney.
Will anyone see it though? See that business as usual as a whole is one unified, fetid swamp?
After current world authoritarianism and nationalism flames out, what will we be left with? Will the disrupting job be complete enough so people have to entirely re-make the world and start over? Will there be enough current elite gas left in the tank so current malfunction will re-emerge? Unfortunately for us, the current malfunction seems to be a deep property of human civilization itself. The Kings, politicians, bureaucrats, and businesses can’t seem to help gaming the system and ripping off all the little guys. Where and when has it been otherwise in civilization?
(Local tribes taking things in their own hands may be the answer, back to hunter-gatherer square one. But a tribe’s functional number of members may only be 150–300 people. That would make the City of Sonoma alone into between 73 and 36 tribes. Hmmmm. That may not work either…)
Hope springs eternal
Reestablishing America as any kind of values-based leading presence, in the world and at home will be a challenge. The biggest challenge will be to not try and re-impose or re-establish the business as usual lie, which was exploitive of people and the environment, even when the US was exercising its supposed high ideals.
After Trump, rather than a full implosion, hopefully we’ll have a Phoenix-like rising from the disruptive ashes; we’ll start over, and demonstrate to the world and to ourselves that we deserve trust, that we have actual beneficial values, and that we won’t just be looking to more of the same stilted deal that winners always seem to take.