New era taking shape
Donald Trump’s early cabinet nominations are in line with his conspiratorial rightism. Paul Demarty assesses the reaction
Among the great and the good of Twitter, we observe a great divide: between those whose 140-character witticisms are the product of their own minds and hands, and those whose social media profiles are plainly the domain of ‘their people’ - PRs, assistants, interns, apparatchiks, automated chatbots.
There can be little doubt, of course, that ‘@realDonaldTrump’ is in the first category: the mixture of brutal putdowns, conspiracy theories, ruminations on the emasculation of American football and so on can surely only be the product of The Donald slapping a tanned hand angrily against a touchscreen of his very own. This unfiltered digital id-stream is, of course, only the more hilarious now that he is president-elect and there are no more excuses not to follow the man’s circuitous trains of thought; thus the latest of many scrambled responses to his plans, whereby he appeared to formally invite Nigel Farage to serve as British ambassador in Washington.
Cue a desperate response from Her Majesty’s government, thanking Trump, but declaring that there is no vacancy, wrapping the whole package up in yet more threadbare guff about strengthening our historic relationship, etc. In reality, in a world with more than enough delicate situations to begin with, a great deal of chaos and uncertainty is breaking out at the global order’s very summit.
Changing of the guard
Uncertainty, of course, is the watchword - a president-elect is not a president, and Trump will not get his chance at playing commander-in-chief for another couple of months.
In the interim, there is the prefatory drama of his nominations for cabinet positions, which are picking up steam, and attracting a great deal of concerned attention. There is, first of all, Alabama senator Jeff Sessions, who is supposed to be attorney general (in American politics, the position is more important than it might sound, and essentially equivalent to home secretary in British terms).
Sessions’ full name is Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, presumably after Jefferson Davis and Civil War general Pierre GT Beauregard - to have one Confederate name can be put down to misfortune, but two - for three successive generations of firstborn men - begins to look like nostalgia for the glory days of King Cotton and the bull-whip ... And Sessions has altogether too often looked the part, interfering with black voter registration drives, allegedly describing the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People as un-American and “communist-inspired”. Let us merely say that we do not expect a department of justice (DOJ) under his command to reduce police militarisation or confront neo-Jim Crow gerrymandering in deep red states.
Trump is also proposing congressman Michael Flynn as national security advisor (NSA), and Mike Pompeo to head up the CIA. Flynn is a retired three-star general with a paranoid cast of mind - a fanatical counter-jihadist, who believes a vast global conspiracy encompassing Islamic State, Iran and the Chávista regimes of Latin America is sponsoring terrorism against United States interests. He is often reported as having sympathy for the Russian government, which can presumably be put down to the fact that Russia is throwing a lot of ordinance at his hated enemies. Pompeo is a Tea Party die-hard and Kansas representative, who enthusiastically supports mass surveillance and wants Edward Snowden to be executed for treason. Between the two of them, expect ever more intrusive spookery than already exists - which is saying something.
The main event, however, is yet to come - and that is the state department appointment. Numerous names have been floated: obnoxious neocon John Bolton was in the running for a time, and Rudy Giuliani looked set for coronation until his recent lobbying efforts on behalf of the Saudis and others were deemed an embarrassment, in the light of the use made by Trump’s campaign of the Clinton Foundation scandals.
The latest twist is that Mitt Romney, of all people, is in the frame: the socially liberal, private equity vulture soundly beaten by Obama in 2012, and nobody’s idea of a Trumpite (he refused to endorse a vote for either candidate this time around). A great deal of coquetry between Romney and Trump has taken place - on a golf course in New Jersey, of all places - but the thing is not confirmed. To say the least, this would be a great relief to the international capitalist establishment; it is one thing for the DOJ to be taken over by a dog-whistle racist with a Lost Cause of a given name, or even for the NSA and CIA to be handed to rightist ideologues.
The state department, however, is the crucial thing - the core of American global policy. There are plenty of signs that Trump is being urged very heavily to retreat from those parts of his programme - such as it is - that impinge on the nature and form of Pax Americana. A ‘moderate’ - which is to say, someone committed to continuity with the essence of post-cold war American geopolitical strategy - would provide welcome reassurance.
At the moment, the uncertainty hovering over the state department is provoking a great deal of worry. The renewed tough talk from the European Union on Brexit - whereby the 27 member-states apart from Britain have made starkly clear their consensus that there will be no compromise whatever on free movement: with an incoming Trump administration, the EU must rely on its own resources to put a scare into anyone thinking of following Britain (and now America) into populist-nationalist revolt. With Marine le Pen banging on the door of the Élysée palace, and Farage’s grin wide enough to swallow galaxies at this point, you can hardly blame them.
His lies and theirs
We must now say a few words about exactly what it is that makes Trump such a stick-in-the-craw president-elect, and to do so we must disentangle two types of objections that, in reality, are thoroughly tangled up. Objection category one: Donald Trump is a (particular kind of) Republican hard-rightist; there is likely to be a great deal of policy made in the next four years which is very unpleasant for liberals and lefts. It is not irrational for the latter constituency to be less than chuffed with the president-elect. But this would be equally true had Ted Cruz won out - a man who basically wants to prosecute every Planned Parenthood employee for infanticide; and, for that matter, most of the rest of the Tea Party-infused Republican candidates, who got so thoroughly, deservedly and hilariously Trumped this year.
The other class of objection is best exemplified by the line of argument from Team Hillary, spectacularly unsuccessful, that basically attempted to portray Trump as Putin’s catspaw and a security risk from the point of view of American national chauvinism. The Trump objected to here is the one whose otherwise run-of-the-mill calumnies against the Obama administration contain the elements of a drastic shift in foreign policy doctrine - towards rapprochement with Russia, reversing the expansion of Nato, welcoming the break-up of the EU ... It is this Trump who met Farage before any other British politician, and wants him as an attaché in Washington. These are the sorts of things that make Donald Trump the second-to-last choice of US imperialism in the recent electoral cycle (after Bernie Sanders).
A good illustration of this is Trump’s friends and followers on the ‘alt-right’. The latter is an ill-defined phenomenon of modish reaction, characterised by infantile lashing-out at political correctness, overt authoritarianism, openness to conspiracy theories, and absurd male chauvinism. Liberals and lefts find such characters distasteful, and the prospect of Steve Bannon, their philosopher-king, serving as a senior advisor to the president of the United States is hardly welcome.
Yet there are all manner of diseased, hateful degenerates on the American right, of which the alt-rightists are only one of the younger subspecies. To understand the exceptional opprobrium they face, we must introduce the minor detail that a good many of them are ... sympathetic to Vladimir Putin, an honorary alt-rightist, with his bare-chested, macho peacock displays and nationalist-populist resolve. It is not the misogyny the alt-rightists share with every televangelist in America that makes them uniquely unacceptable, but their celebration of nationalist populism as such, even when it is opposed to perceived US interests.
Thus it is with increasing exasperation we observe the course of the post-election recriminations, which have become fixated (as with the Brexit aftermath) on the circulation of false clickbait ‘news’ stories on social media. There is no phenomenon of sufficiently minor significance that some cut-price pundit will not spin a historical periodisation out of it eventually; thus are we told we live in a ‘post-truth’ age.
There is, naturally, no doubt that a great many of the stories Trump and his confrères put about regarding his various vanquished opponents were utter balderdash. (One porky in particular will always stand out for us: Giuliani claiming that terrorist attacks had only recently come during Democratic presidencies - despite his having been mayor of New York in 2001.)
Yet the idea that the media organisations so piously huffing about made-up stories can talk about the subject with any moral authority is laughable. The mainstream media lies, day in and day out; it constructs utterly cynical paranoid narratives out of whole cloth. How many British media outlets - currently full of worry about ‘post-truth politics’ and fabricated clickbait garbage - reported, as if true, defeated London mayoral hopeful Zac Goldsmith’s impeccably Trumpian insinuations that the ultimately victorious Sadiq Khan was a terrorist sympathiser? How many American outlets have spent the last year burnishing baseless accusations that Trump is an agent of the Kremlin? How many media outlets, worldwide, did not talk about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction as if they really existed?
The truth is that - as we have argued repeatedly - the most unpleasant aspects of Trump’s modus operandi are all phenomena that have either been openly tolerated by the acceptable representatives of official American politics or otherwise have been covertly gestating on their watch. The demagogy of Bill Clinton, his war on black males in poor urban neighbourhoods, authorised the right to go further; the right’s increasingly ridiculous authoritarianism invited a Donald Trump to try his best. Making abortion illegal once again, as a wide spectrum of supposedly ‘acceptable’ rightists wish to do, precisely by manipulating facts, is a surer hold on a woman’s vagina than the president-elect ever boasted of in the back of a limo. And no piece of Trumpite clickbait will exceed qualitatively the contempt for truth displayed by American politicians for centuries (advanced in the extension of the suffrage, the United States is by the same token advanced in dishonesty before the sufferers).
The capitalist establishment lies systematically: is it any wonder that Trump’s lies were also believed?