Saturday, 21 January 2017

The 18th Brumaire of Donald J. Trump

“All great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”

Think for a moment of the act of placing a first-class letter in a mailbox somewhere in the United States, let’s say, Coleville, New Hampshire. The letter is addressed to a remote village on the island of Maui, Hawaii, a distance of 4,962 miles. It costs 47 cents, approximately 1/10 of 1% of the actual cost of getting the letter there. Why?

The two locations belong to the United States of America, and the people who live in them have the right, by the fact of sharing a nationality, of communicating with each other and of having their communication subsidized by, say, businesses in Manhattan that send out hundreds of pieces of mail to be delivered within a few hundred yards. In fact, the creation of the post office system and of the transportation infrastructure it required was instrumental in the formation of the country and our sense of belonging to it. This process is ably and amply outlined in a wonderful book entitled, How the Post Office Created America, by Winifred Gallagher.

We do not stop to think of the ubiquity of letterboxes or the fact that upon roaming around the 50 states, we are never very far from one. Each of them guarantees a uniform service and links us as citizens through this universal promise. Historically, we have supported it through government spending and through the acceptance of socially desirable subsidies that enable small, isolated communities to participate as fully as possible in the life of the nation. The American flag flies at every post office in the country.

It is this aspect of the Post Office’s symbolic and effective role in binding us together as a society with a national consciousness that makes the entity ripe for destruction by the neoliberal elites. Neoliberalism’s propagandists instruct us that, in Thatcher’s immortal words, “There is no such thing as society.” Thus, there should be no such thing as a national post distorting the market in communications and shipment of goods. Instead of shared public property, they lecture, there must only be markets, and consumers who use their purchasing choices to maximize self-interest and thereby direct economic activity in the optimum fashion (in this, the best of all possible worlds).

It is for this reason that the Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C., occupying the space of the old Post Office Department on Pennsylvania Avenue, is such an apt symbol of the Trump Era, in which three decades of the gradual transformation of public property into private goods will now accelerate to warp speed. The hotel itself may well generate the first of many scandals as we witness the Trump gang drain the public purse, housing, as it already has, many of the carpetbaggers and rent-seekers who will descend upon the nation’s capital, nostrils enflamed with the intoxicating aroma of money lifting like a dawn mist off the Potomac.

It is fitting that this phenomenon should occur at the very site of our socialized system of communications, a founding enterprise of our disappearing nation. The 263-room, five-star hotel embodies to perfection Trump’s uniquely grotesque expression of the neoliberal creed, i.e., that the state should function as a series of atomized markets. In Trump’s case, these markets will be exploited by the billionaire financiers with whom he has populated his cabinet, thereby making obvious what the Democrats better managed, minimally, to hide.

Thus the tragedy brought about by Ronald Reagan, by whom the idea of government as a collective expression of sovereign will and shared destiny was so skillfully discredited, repeats itself in the person of Trump, but now as farce. Whereas Reagan turned the presidency into a turnstile through which corporate plutocrats could seize ever larger chunks of the nation’s wealth, today Trump himself, as Dealmaker-in-Chief, hosts business partners and foreign dignitaries in his eponymous luxury palace a few doors away. Instead of interest groups subtly imposing their will, the president prepares to dole out vast riches directly, perhaps using his prince regents or the royal Infanta as intermediaries.

The model has operated these last four decades in part due to its opacity. It took an Obama, elegant, cerebral, with a classy wife and seductive syntax, to pretend convincingly that the continued accumulation of wealth at the top was an unintentional and temporary artifact, despite the glaring evidence of the 2009 bank heist and similar, ongoing spectacles of criminality. Trump merely takes the rules long established and plays by them, openly. This will not end well. But the nature and depth of the damage to be borne by us all is impossible to foresee.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Who's where? Trump and the Neo-Con oppo

It’s too early to see what the new alignment among the Masters of the Universe will look like despite all the howling and sniping and facile talk of The Resistance. But I have serious doubts about the assumptions many of us are making about who is on which side.

In one version of the new scenario, the bruised Democrats are getting ready to somewhat or partially dig in their (tiny) heels to try to stop some of the worst damage coming from the Trump Administration. In that narrative we should be paying attention to who is in charge of this pushback, trying to keep the reins out of the DNC/post-Hillary camp (this would be view from the Bernie wing), or letting the Dem establishment take the lead to block the worst Supreme Court nominees and hope for a reveral in 2018/2020 (this would be the more mainstream liberal attitude).

The assumption in both cases is that we are all more or less on the same side and are going to fight over nuances of strategy and tactics. I’m not convinced.

There is clearly a major catfight taking place at present, partly in full view and partly, we can presume, out of sight between the security/spy/war-making apparatus that was comfortably engaged in building up tensions with Russia and the unexpectedly uninterested commander-in-chief-to-be. Trump has signaled that he doesn’t think brinksmanship with the Russians is necessary or good for business, which is heresy for the neocon-influenced wing that backed Clinton. (Recall the enthusiasm with which the Hillary campaign trotted out all sorts of establishment Republicans to endorse her and warn against dangerous Donald.)

My personal view of the Russian Hack kerfluffle is that whether or not there is any truth to it is beside the point. There may have been more than the usual snooping that everyone does on everyone else, and there may not; the concrete evidence is sorely lacking so far.

If Trump were on board with the anti-Russian policy consensus, the issue probably would have been let die a natural death—even if the worst accusations are true—as part of the dirty dealings common to our electoral process, certainly no more grave than Nixon’s treasonous 1968 deal with the North Vietnamese to delay a peace settlement and let him win the presidency. Hillary would have been dismissed as a weak candidate who didn’t figure out how to play nasty enough.

But given the policy stakes, the Manchurian Candidate angle is too useful for discrediting Trump in advance and trying to force him back into line. Anonymous “intelligence” sources can keep up a steady drumbeat of alarming news about threats from the big grizzly indefinitely, given the eagerness with which Beltway reporters will rush into print anything whispered to them in the cloakrooms.

That’s where the composition of the teams breaks down: many of the Bernie-wing commentators are NOT on board with the hack consensus, recalling a similar rush to swallow the phony WMD story that justified launching a war of conquest the ongoing Iraqi debacle. For establishment Democrats, daring to doubt puts people like Taibbi, Greenwald, and any others in the traitorous Breitbart/O’Reilly camp. Even Bernie himself may not escape tarring—he has been remarkably mum on the topic.

The implications are disturbing given the sudden proclivity to label anything not in conformity with the permitted narrative as “fake news,” which is coming to mean things certain big players don’t agree with. There is even a new bill being introduced in Congress with one Democrat and one Republican sponsor, called the “Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act”, whose purpose is to “strengthen the U.S. government’s ability to track and combat disinformation and propaganda overseas, especially by Russia.” Although it’s sponsors, including Connecticut liberal Chris Murphy, insist that the act is not aimed at domestic newsmakers, check out its ambiguous language in the link provided and ask yourself if you feel safe with tools like that in the hands of Steve Bannon.

Murphy is from a blue state and touts his liberal credentials, but he also brags about bringing home the defense-spending bacon to Connecticut's many armaments producers. There are plenty more in his camp who we can presume were not at all unhappy about the possible largesse from a new Cold War and might be disposed to oppose The Donald as a threat to Pentagon contracts. We should be alert to the possibility that the authoritarian impulses so obvious from the incoming White House team may be echoed—and deepened—by our erstwhile allies.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Noticing Work (hat tip: TJ)

I try not to shop on holidays because I don’t think stores should open on those days and force their employees to come in, unless we’re talking about some absolute necessity—like movie theatres, for example. Yes, people like the convenience, and employees may like the extra holiday pay if that even still exists. We’re so used to being able to walk into supermarkets and chain stores at all hours that we tend not to think about the requirement that someone be standing there at all hours to serve us.

But in the atmosphere of open disdain for work and workers that has built up over recent decades and is about to be grostesquely exaggerated by the incoming regime, what might once have looked like an idiosyncracy now becomes a political act. The parade of squillionaires about to seize the reins of government promises to further impoverish average people who have no savings, no stock portfolios, no pension guarantees, and nothing but their labor to keep them afloat. Trump, who built a business empire by cheating banks and stiffing workers out of their pay, will usher in a glorification of stinginess and egocentrism and inaugurate a mass nose-rubbing of people of modest means by the delighted finance octupi with which he has surrounded himself.

Throughout the Clinton-Bush-Obama years, whole swaths of the populace saw their lives systematically destroyed by business-friendly “free trade” deals and were told basically to suck it up, that “the economy” was doing better than ever and if they weren’t, they should just get retrained—perhaps as an “associate” at Walmart. Disdain for the yacht-less didn’t originate with Trump, but it’s about to get a lot worse.

As an antidote, I plan to make a daily effort to express appreciation and respect for the everyday tasks by workers who are being put in the crosshairs of the GOP parasites who are determined to take away what little they have left and transfer it to their own and their cronies’ pockets. It’s a small thing, but not an insignificant one as we usher in the next Gilded Age.