Published on http://www.counterpunch.org/
To understand the way Donald Trump has restructured the game board of politics is now the only way to understand what the results of this presidential election may be.
Trump has done a better job of understanding a part of the U.S. population who are not compatible with the ideologies of either Democrat or Republican. How this population came into being has much to do with the historically political indifference and disinterest in politics that claims most Americans, or, more precisely, only a Pavlov type response to “Big Government.” A negative one.
Economics fares worse here because while politics has a personalized dimension such as “I hate that bitch Pelosi or that bitch Hillary or that swine Kissinger or that crook Nixon” and so on, economics provides no such foothold. No such portraits and thus no mind grasp. In fact, the business of Wall Street in regard to the Great Recession 2008 is as penetrable as the Cabbala. And purposely so. What you cannot get a clear picture of, or any picture of, is not available for attack. Or regulation. Or indictment. Understanding requires a picturing of the world, whatever aspect, and frankly, the world has gone beyond the reach of everyone. But in vastly different ways. Let’s stay among the Trump supporters.
In spite of the fact that this Trump demographic cannot fathom what the hell is going on with our globalized, financialized techno-capitalism, the play of U.S. economics as transpired since Reagan has affected them. In fact, that play has pushed the middle class down into the blue collar working class who are on their way to extinction but still in better shape than a flat out underclass who are already extinct. The disappearance of these signifiers “blue collar working class” and “Underclass” in the media and in our elections is a sure indicator of scheduled extinction. I say “scheduled” because these people are still around, although clearly a society that has opted for a cheap labor force wherever it can be found as well as for robotics and AI which will knock labor totally off the list of capitalist needs already sees them as extinct. Creatively destroyed.
Our chosen economic system has needled about 80% of the population and then pushed hard, and then, with barely any opposition, has thrown them on the discard pile, to be recycled into serfs, cyborgs, or on a wait list for The Singularity.
Because you can have reaction, even very strong reaction, in the absence of any understanding as to what the causes may be, we now see in Trump’s followers such a reaction. So, we have disorientation and bewilderment, real angst and insecurity, all of which produces anger and a need to strike back. If you put the Smartphone and mammoth flat screen TV aside, you find very many fed by insecurities of every stamp, growing financial hardships which engender personal and family life stress and strife, and fears that no illusion of personal empowerment can put to rest. None of this lot has a clue as to how they are in worst shape than the generations before them who worked hard at union jobs but one job, not two or three, who had a dependable job that meant you could plan a retirement date with a pension. Immigrant workers were not a problem as they are seen to be now. Immigrants from all over were absorbed into a working life in which advance could be pictured because it was evident and its requirements transparent. Your work was the vehicle of your success, the medium of accomplishment. How such working life security descended into the present floating crap game, few can figure out. How ownership of money and property became the medium of success and has been able to translate into privilege and power remains bewildering to many. Least of all, can they picture the lives of those celebrities of great fortune who have replaced the working class heroes of the past. Fault cannot lay with those whose own values and understanding remains opaque to us. The world’s dealings have exceeded and over spilled the understanding of too many.
The world that the prosperous, not the wage earners but the dividend recipients, the investment class, can picture remains confined within their own world. Our by-line pundits and on-line public intellectuals are baffled by any outbreak that arises outside their own world picturing talents because they are in the same compounds as the dividend recipients. What baffles this class is not how to leverage money to make money but how disenchanted wage earners can mobilize themselves as a political threat. In this 2016 presidential campaign, Bernie Sanders has been able to find enough supporting solidarity to come close to winning the Democratic Primary. What Bernie has done is give the bewildered and angry Many a picture, through volume and repetition, of the causes of their immiseration and plight. That picture told a story that showed a fantastic wealth divide and the power and privilege it grants a few, power and privilege that had already remodeled an egalitarian aspiring society into a feudal one. Occupy Wall Street as well as the appearance on the scene of Wall Street battling Elizabeth Warren had served as John the Baptist precursors for Bernie. And so had the many Old and New Left voices that emerged in the Viet-nam years. There as a socialist critique of a runaway capitalism that Bernie could lean on. It was possible to feel the Bern because the ashes of dissent had not yet died in the American cultural imaginary.
Millennials, more than disinterested in history, were therefore immune to the long campaign by “free enterprise” to demonize the Left, to turn every socialist into a Soviet era Communist, to turn socialism critique into nothing more than a drive to expunge individual freedom and personal choice from the lives of Americans. What socialism offered was an invitation to join the Borg hive. But Millennials flocked to Bernie, unaffected by the socialist smear. Free university education sounded good to them. So did measure to save the planet from a global warming that was scheduled for disaster during their life time. What Bernie intended to do as president, whether he could be gridlocked or not, was very picturable to the investment class. I doubt if anyone celebrated Hillary’s success in the Democratic primary more than the investment class. In time, the Millennials would either desert the camp of dissent, as had the New Left before them, or fall into the voiceless, bewildered awaiting a creative destruction.
Donald Trump’s victory in the Republican primary means that his followers remain in play. They do not have a Leftist/socialist agenda. What they have is an inchoate anger and readiness to break things up. Obviously, the system in place, whatever its claims, its history, its promises, have not worked for them. They are breaking bad and no one but Trump seems to be holding the leash. Because he is one of those individuals birthed in his own mind as invincible, he too remains leash-less. He is the Republican candidate for the 2016 election but the Republican Party has no control of him. Neither does the Neoliberal ideology seem to be something Trump knows or cares to know. Like all solipsists who create a world to their own liking, he sees no reason to heed the voices of others.
The coalescence of Trump and the Trump supporting demographic was a meeting of a solipsist looking for a world of believers and followers and a world of the angry and fed up looking for a path that is clear cut and a leader who can lead them down that path. Trump is the hammer for all those who have been hammered. He is an odd choice but all megalomaniac demagogues have been odd choices, the strutting, swelled head sort who grasp the vernacular of the Precariat and press all the hot buttons of anger and revolt. What is understood by both Trump and his followers is that when you break out against a ruling order, you cannot take up the reasoning of that order launched against you. The pact here between leader and followers is outside the ken of words and their meaning.
Trump and his followers remain complicit in a new order of things that Trump will bring about, a new order that promises a release from their present burdens and a return to a former well-being. Because relief from the burdens of a domestic working class with diminished usefulness to the global economic order is not easily deliverable, if at all, and certainly not by Donald Trump, Trump’s followers are scheduled for disappointment. Because a former well-being of the middle class inspired the upward climb of the working class, and both preempted an entrenched underclass, and none of this about to reappear in the plutocratic clime of the U.S. or brought about by a plutocrat without any ties to any class but his own privileged one, Trump’s followers are here also scheduled for disappointment.
Those in Trump’s camp cannot be tied to one party or the other, both parties having failed to represent this camp. Both parties are tied to what Trump and his followers would turn upside down. They really had no place to go but to Trump. The path to Bernie Sanders was blocked by the word “socialist” as well as by their own disinterest in following the connections Bernie made from their plight and economics and politics. The clarion call to fight the wealth gap remained for many on the ground level: an attack on the wealthy is a Communist attack, an attack on the basic freedoms of America. Trump, on the other hand, has lessened the impact of politics, economics, and history on his followers’ miseries, anger, and bewilderment. What he has done is apply the No Nothing’s Occam’s razor to reasoning, replacing it with the bravado and bombast of the Gut. Trump may be less of a threat as an idiot demagogue (easy to impeach) than any of the historically subtle monsters that an angry populace has turned to.
But what are the cross-party affiliations that show us there is not a political solution the disaffected can now turn to? Let’s make a match now with our two political parties.
If you are dividend/interest/inheritance wealthy, a member of the donor class, you can be of either party. You could in the first half of the 20th century find the wealthy mostly among the Republicans and blue collar and middle class workers with the Democrats, and sometimes, without success, with socialist/labor/Communist parties. With the advent of assortative mating, or a professionalized woman marrying a professionalized man, we have not only a joint income identifiable with the upper-middle class but a kind of political deliberation whose criteria are not limited to business profits. Thus, now we have well-to-do gentrifiers, abortion choice and LGBTQ, political correctness, charter school supporters from both parties.
We also now have what I call a life-world divide within the parties themselves. I mean that blue collar Democrats now unemployed or underemployed or too over-employed and under-compensated to live with a needed level of security are partied together with gentrifying, stock portfolio Democrats. Consider the allegiances: football, fast food, and fantasy games on one side, with no particular interest in global warming, and animal shelters, gluten-free, women’s rights, and investments on the other side. Some have nothing to do with business or profits but only with their bosses. There is no inclination on one side to lean into the capitalist agenda because the ups and downs of the Dow Jones are not being represented in their portfolio, which, of course, they do not have. The monitor sports as avidly as the investment class monitors their stock returns.
Then we have a divide within this Democratic Party over ground: taking the high moral ground or the low moral ground. We witness a xenophobia transitioning into real hatred and fear of immigrants on one side and a magnanimous welcoming on the other side. In the same party. Immigrants do not show up favorably for some Democrats because they picture them as taking their jobs or having something to do with their present insecurities. Other Democrats enjoy the immigrants who work for them, or, not seeing themselves in any way financially threatened by immigrants, have the opportunity to be welcoming and multi-cultural.
One side feels itself under no pressure not to be political correct, perhaps because the occasions in which the worst angels of our nature are touched are minimized in the gated and gentrified communities, Others, in the same party, feel that political correctness is like a lid holding down their objections and rejections, their outrage and revolt. It is something similar to Huck Finn’s natural self being held down by all of Aunt Polly’s protocols of good manners. Thus, there is a feeling that there is something unnatural and therefore oppressive about political correctness. Others, in the same party, cannot comprehend what that feeling might be.
Republicans are likewise divided, though not along the same lines. On the investment class side, issues such as abortion, LGBTQ rights, gun control, immigration, poverty, misogyny, race, ethnicity, handicappers, animal rights, Jesus, environment, war, welfare, political correctness, Intelligent Design, a tax and spend “Big Government,” and all the politics of identity, the culture wars that exercise the Democrats, are fundamentally irrelevant to the Quants, hedge fund managers, and entire Wall Street financial sector. They are however useful in gaining political support from those who are not well served by the risky exploits of this financial sector.
For the Republican side who have allegiance to Neoliberal economic policies, the stake in any election is not to bring any of these issues to wondrous fruition but rather only to keep from office those who might regulate, dismantle, indict, block or in any way inhibit their free financial play.
For the Republican side who believe that Hillary like Obama intends to take away their guns, or tax them to support the lazy, or kill a baby in a womb, or make a mockery of marriage between a man and a woman, or keep Jesus out of the schools, or give their jobs to illegal immigrants, or take away jobs in the coal mines, or stop timbering to preserve the nest of a spotted owl, or have “government workers” teaching their kids, Republican Party allegiance is axiomatic.
Those feeling such grievances stand uncomfortably with those who only disingenuously do so, who are dedicated to using whatever issue, sacred or profane, to shield their financial practices. It is clear that it is these practices, grown steadily out of hand since Reagan, which lie at the root of what has shaped the anger fear and confusion of their Republican Party brethren.
The ways in which members of the same political party find each other incomprehensible, whose lives are almost inconceivable, reveal to us that party loyalties are growing thin. If a candidate comes along who mixes up a concoction that is neither Democrat nor Republican, then you can expect that candidate may pull from both parties. And Donald Trump has done just that, standing not only as a candidate but also as a party in which the Precariate from both parties can find a new home. He is that third party we have been waiting for. Whether he wins or loses the election, the angry army that has sought this third party will not vanish. Whether their anger will ever find an answer in what Bernie Sanders has proposed, is also a future matter.