Last October, three weeks before the presidential election, I wrote an essay for left progressives titled “The Ruling Class’s Hatred of Trump is Different Than Yours.” People on the left, I noted, loathed the white-nationalist, quasi-fascist Donald Trump because of his sexism, racism, nativism, authoritarianism, militarism, “law and order” police-state-ism, anti-intellectualism, his regressive arch-plutocracy, fake populism, climate denialism and promise to “deregulate energy” and thereby escalate the petro-capitalist, greenhouse gassing-to-death of life on earth.
The establishment’s contempt for the orange-haired beast, I noted, was different. The nation’s unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money and empire were perfectly willing to live with most, if not all, of what the left hated about Trump. After all, I reasoned, they’d been backing or tolerating most or all of those terrible things under presidents from both major United States parties for decades.
Trump, I wrote, faced ruling-class disdain because he was considered bad for transnational capital and the American empire. For the most part, the “deep state” masters who backed Hillary Clinton did not appreciate The Donald’s blustering promises to roll back the neoliberal “free trade” agenda in the name of the forgotten working class. The foreign policy and “national security” establishment especially hated his criticism of Washington’s long march toward war with Russia.
They did not relish the related threat Trump posed to Brand America. It is longstanding, bipartisan, U.S. ruling-class doctrine that this country is the world’s great beacon and agent of democracy, human rights, justice and freedom. American reality has never matched the doctrine, but smart rulers knew that it would be especially difficult to align those claims with a president like Trump.
As a presidential candidate, Trump openly exhibited racist, nativist, sexist, arch-authoritarian, police-state-ist, Islamophobic, pro-torture, and even neofascist sentiments and values. “If our system of government is an oligarchy with a façade of democratic and constitutional process,” the veteran congressional staffer Mike Lofgren wrote last summer in the preface to his book “The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government,” “Trump would not only rip that façade away for the entire world to behold; he would take our system’s ugliest features and intensify them.” They also had policy differences with Trump’s “isolationist” and “anti-trade” rhetoric. That is why the nation’s economic and foreign-policy elites preferred Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio over Trump in the Republican primaries and Hillary Clinton in the general election.
Flash forward to the present. Horrified at the rise of an Insane Clown President who evokes chilling echoes of classic fascism, millions have taken to the streets. The issues that concern the swirling, record-setting crowds that have arisen from coast to coast are evident on their homemade signs.They include women’s and civil rights, climate change, social justice, racism, nativism, the police state, mass incarceration, plutocracy, authoritarianism, immigrant rights, low wages, economic inequality (the top tenth of the upper U.S. 1 percent now owns more wealth than the nation’s bottom 90 percent), hyper-militarism and the devaluation of science and education. The marches and protests are about the threats Trump poses to peace, social justice, the rule of law, livable ecology and democracy.
Meanwhile, the national corporate media and the U.S. intelligence community have been attacking Trump for a very different and strange reason. They have claimed, with no serious or credible evidence, that Trump is, for some bizarre reason, a tool of the Russian state. The charge is as wacky as anything Glenn Beck or, for that matter, Trump (former leader of the preposterous “birther movement”), used to say about President Obama. Citing vague and unsubstantiated CIA reports, The New York Times, The Washington Post and many other forces in the establishment media want Americans to believe that, in Glenn Greenwald’s properly mocking words, “Donald Trump is some kind of an agent or a spy of Russia, or that he is being blackmailed by Russia and is going to pass secret information to the Kremlin and endanger American agents on purpose.”
Beneath the wild and unsubstantiated charge that Trump is some kind of Moscow-controlled Manchurian president is a determination to cripple and perhaps remove Trump because he wants to normalize U.S. relations with Russia. Why, you might ask, would smoothing things over between Washington and Moscow be a terrible thing? It wouldn’t be for everyday Americans who don’t want to see themselves, their children and their grandchildren blown up in a nuclear war over, say, Ukraine (where the Obama administration provocatively helped create a fascist, NATO-affiliated regime on Russia’s western border) or Crimea (where the vast majority of the population welcomed reversion to Russia).
The U.S. power elite—rooted in key deep-state institutions like the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), the Atlantic Council, the Brookings Institution, The Washington Post and The New York Times—thinks differently. As Mike Whitney recently explained on Counterpunch, Trump’s failure to grasp the necessity of the New Cold War with Russia “threat[ens] … Washington’s broader imperial strategy to control China’s growth, topple Putin, spread military bases across Central Asia, implement trade agreements that maintain the dominant role of western-owned mega-corporations, and derail attempts by Russia and China to link the wealthy EU to Asia by expanding the web of pipeline corridors and high-speed rail that will draw the continents closer together creating the largest and most populous free trade zone the world has ever seen. … The economic integration of Asia and Europe must be blocked to preserve Washington’s hegemonic grip on world power.”
Don’t be fooled by how much CNN’s anchors enjoy broadcasting images of mass anti-Trump popular protests. The U.S. imperial, financial and corporate establishment doesn’t care about the plight of the Standing Rock water and climate protectors, livable ecology, Muslim communities, Latino immigrants, Black Lives Matter activists, poor blacks, civil liberties, the working class (white and nonwhite) or Trump’s recent, insane, budget-busting call for a 10 percent increase in the U.S. military budget.
The Trump presidency is a problem for the American establishment for some very different reasons. He’s a public relations and marketing disaster for Brand USA. How do you sell the United States as a great model and agent of freedom, democracy and cultural diversity when its visible state is captained by vicious, white-nationalist authoritarians like the Twitter-addicted “thin-skinned megalomaniac” Trump and his quasi-fascist “alt-right” Svengali, Steve Bannon?
Trump is seen by many American elites as too stupid, narcissistic and crude to head the world’s most powerful nation. It’s an understandable concern. As The New York Times noted, Trump “spent the first 48 hours of his presidency bickering about the size of the inauguration crowd.”
We’ve never heard a U.S. president say anything as dangerously idiotic as what Trump proclaimed to the nation’s governors on Monday while calling for an over-the-top and dead-in-the-water increase in the Pentagon budget. “We have to start winning wars again. … We never win,” said the new commander in chief, who stands atop a giant nuclear stockpile (the U.S. owns more than 5,100 nuclear warheads) with the capacity to blow the world up many times over. “When I was young, in high school and in college,” the Vietnam-era draft dodger added, “everybody used to say we never lost a war. America never lost. Now, we never win a war.”
Talking so flippantly and childishly about wars and the nation’s need to “win” them—this without even referring to any purportedly legitimate war aims in the nuclear era—is beyond the ruling-class pale. It’s not that the establishment is pacifist or squeamish about killing people. Far from it. The American empire’s body count runs into the many millions over the last half-century alone. But Trump’s juvenile language makes the U.S. look all too transparently like a recklessly daft rogue state, not the wise and “indispensable nation” it has long been purported to be.
Recall Trump’s talk to the CIA on his first full day in office. In a rambling speech broadcast on CNN and other cable news outlets, he complained like a petulant junior high student about the media’s supposed underestimation of the number of people at his inauguration. Then he told stone-faced senior intelligence officials that the U.S. might get another chance to go into Iraq and “get the oil.”
The world shuddered two weeks ago when a U.S. Army officer posed for a photograph with a wealthy patron at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago golf resort while carrying the “nuclear football”—the suitcase that carries the launch codes for the U.S. nuclear arsenal. The new president is going to spend many of his presidential weekends at his opulent Mar-a-Lago resort, where the membership fee doubled to $200,000 after he was elected, and members now have new rules to follow.
George W. Bush also was over his head in the White House. Still, with his longstanding, ruling-class, establishment pedigree and his history as a graduate of Yale’s secret Skull and Bones society, he had the decency and, well, the class, to know his limits and place. He subjected himself to certain rules of conduct imposed by his vice president and other more competent and knowledgeable handlers.
The malignant narcissist and Twitter-addicted Trump is a different breed. He might be able to clean himself up enough to read a semicivilized and half-conciliatory speech to Congress (earning thereby a fantastic description as “presidential” from the noted sycophant Van Jones). Still, he seems unable to stop himself from doing and saying things that shred the veneer of a wise, far-seeing and benevolent American empire.
Then there’s been his related failure to grasp the necessity of focusing his dangerous imperial energies on Russia.
Has Trump and/or the people around him gotten the message on Russia? Perhaps. He agreed to get rid of his incompetent and insufficiently anti-Russian national security adviser, Michael Flynn, under establishment pressure. Flynn’s replacement is Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, who views Russia as a “hostile revisionist power” that “annex(es) territory, intimidates our allies, develops nuclear weapons, and uses proxies under the cover of modernized conventional militaries.” Two weeks ago, the White House said Russia needs to return Crimea to Ukraine—a preposterous statement that may reflect a newfound willingness for play along with New Cold War rhetoric. In his first annual address to Congress on Tuesday, Trump signaled strong support for Russia’s great antagonist, NATO.
Still, don’t expect the Trump-as-a-tool-of-Russia talk to go away. It’s too irresistible for Democrats to drop. Besides working to delegitimize Trump (something Democrats hope to turn to their advantage in 2018 and 2020), the blame-the-Kremlin narrative helps New Cold Warriors atop both reigning parties keep the heat on Moscow. It helps them hedge in Trump’s lingering promise of rapprochement with Russia.
At the same time, the Russia card helps the corporatists atop the Democratic Party avoid responsibility for blowing the election. After defeating the progressive Democrat Bernie Sanders (who would have defeated Trump) in dubious ways, the neoliberal Democrats ran a hopelessly wooden, Wall Street-captive and corruption-tainted candidate (Hillary Clinton) who couldn’t mobilize enough working- and lower-class voters to defeat the hypernoxious and widely hated Trump. The “Moscow stole it” story line is a fancy version of “the dog ate my homework” for a dismal, dollar-drenched Democratic Party that abandoned the working class and the causes of peace, social justice and environmental sustainability long ago.
The moneyed masters in charge of the “inauthentic opposition” party (the late, left-liberal political scientist Sheldon Wolin’s all-too-accurate description of the Democrats nine years ago) would rather not take a long, hard and honest look at what that political organization has become. It does not want to concede anything to those who dream of turning it into an authentically progressive opposition party. The “Russia did it” imputation works for establishment Democrats hoping to stave off demands from more progressive and populist types (who recently came close to claiming the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee) in their own party. So much better to blame external others for the richly deserved near-collapse of their party at all levels.
The Russia card also has proved tempting to U.S. progressives who should and may know better. Their understandable passion for seeing Herr Trump humiliated and removed from office has led some of them down a disturbing path. As Gareth Porter has noted, “Many people who oppose Trump for other valid reasons have seized on the shaky Russian accusations because they represent the best possibility for ousting Trump from power.” It’s a big mistake. Porter reflects and warns:
But ignoring the motives and the dishonesty behind the campaign of leaks has far-reaching political implications. Not only does it help to establish a precedent for U.S. intelligence agencies to intervene in domestic politics, as happens in authoritarian regimes all over the world, it also strengthens the hand of the military and intelligence bureaucracies who are determined to maintain the New Cold War with Russia.
Those war bureaucracies view the conflict with Russia as key to the continuation of higher levels of military spending and the more aggressive NATO policy in Europe that has already generated a gusher of arms sales that benefits the Pentagon and its self-dealing officials.
Progressives in the anti-Trump movement are in danger of becoming an unwitting ally of those military and intelligence bureaucracies despite the fundamental conflict between their economic and political interests and the desires of people who care about peace, social justice and the environment.
Do serious progressives committed to democracy, peace and social justice really want to lie down in the same warmongering and pro-surveillance bed as the CIA and the Pentagon? Doing so is bad for their souls and moral integrity. It’s also bad for democracy and for peace to help empower and legitimize the imperial system’s unelected and infamously nefarious deep state “intelligence” bureaucracy, “maybe the only [Washington] faction worse than Donald Trump,” according to Greenwald. As Whitney wisely counsels, “Leftists should avoid the temptation of aligning themselves with groups and agencies that might help them achieve their short-term goal of removing Trump, but ultimately move them closer to a de facto 1984 lock-down police state. Misplaced support for the deep state Russophobes will only strengthen the national security state’s stranglehold on power. That’s not a path to victory, it’s a path to annihilation.”
Take to the streets (and highways, town plazas, fossil-fuel extraction sites, shop floors, assembly halls, airwaves and airports, etc.) against Trump, by all means. But also take to the streets against the grim neoliberal Democrats who opened the barn door for his dangerous presidency and against the unelected “deep state” interests working always to increase the ever-upward concentration of global capitalist wealth and power. We don’t want to bring Trump down just to help install an administration more properly suited to selling and otherwise advancing American empire, inequality and ecocide.