Trump undermines America’s already-tattered authority
By Bob Rigg
Hillary Clinton and the Democrats deserved to lose the presidential
Under Hillary’s husband Bill, the Democratic Party moved to the center,
which in US terms means to the right, in what was touted at the time as
a smart strategic repositioning. What the Democrats lost sight of was
that, in repositioning themselves, they were abandoning their
traditional working class and black constituencies, while they were at
the same time continuing to rely on their support at the ballot box.
Slowly, over decades, it began to dawn on traditional Democratic voters
that the Democratic Party was no longer dedicated to serving their
interests. Mass unemployment and immiseration, especially in the
so-called rust belt but also nationwide, were simply disregarded by the
Democratic elite, which lined its pockets with congressional salaries,
pensions and benefits and supported the nakedly self-seeking Clinton
dynasty, which devoted more energy to building up its own assets than it
did to combating the flagrant inequalities that were increasingly at the
heart of post-neoliberal life in the US.
The predatory practices of the Washington elite were actively supported
by congressional carpetbaggers who approved legislation that opened the
floodgates to every imaginable form of financial manipulation. When
these sharp practices produced the global international crisis which, in
the US, dispossessed very large numbers of ordinary citizens, sometimes
depriving them of both their homes and their pensions, their cup began
to run over. Congress bailed out the banks with prodigious sums of
taxpayer money. The then-new Barack Obama administration, whose
financial advisers were the core of the financial elite, refrained from
prosecuting a single CEO. The good will of US Treasury Secretary Timothy
Geithner was valued more highly than the loyalty of Obama’s legions of
What does this potted Democratic prehistory have to do with Donald
Trump, the unlikely hero of the hour? Everything.
While Bill and Hillary were rapidly accumulating a personal fortune in
excess of $100 million, and were playing a starring role in the life of
the nation’s elite, many of their loyal constituents were going to the
wall while Bill and Hillary hobnobbed with the Trumps, even gracing
their lavish wedding with their presence. Their daughter Chelsea is a
best friend of Trump’s daughter Ivanka.
Hillary then, with the sublime arrogance of someone who knew that she
was in absolute control of the Democratic Party machine, decided to
stand for the presidency. She felt entitled to it, until a renegade
pretender called Bernie Sanders emerged from the woodwork and had the
temerity to challenge her. We now know, thanks to WikiLeaks, that, with
the knowledge and affirmation of the Clintons, the Democratic Party
machine tried every dirty trick in the book to foil Bernie’s
unexpectedly successful campaign, which was generating a powerful
groundswell of support, especially among demographic groupings that were
conspicuously unenthusiastic about Hillary.
If Hillary had been politically smart, she would have invited Bernie to
be her vice presidential candidate, but she passed him over because his
loyal sense of commitment to his own constituency would have required
her to modify her own private, undeclared conservative agenda once she
was in office. Her arrogance led her to assume that she could win
without Bernie and his loyal constituency. If Bernie’s predominantly
youthful, starry-eyed constituency had come out in active support of
Hillary, she could have won the presidential campaign. Hillary was to
reap what she had sown.
Under the Clintons, the Democratic Party betrayed and radically
alienated a sizable chunk of its traditional constituency.
A mega-billionaire entrepreneur called Donald Trump who had switched
from the Democratic Party to the GOP unexpectedly entered the
presidential race. Although a bully, a bounder, a narcissist and a
serial sexual predator, he won the GOP nomination to the presidency,
turning his own party on its head in the process. Almost the entire GOP
elite and many of their financial backers publicly turned against him.
But his demagoguery resonated with very large numbers of Americans who
felt that both major parties had lost all interest in their concerns.
Yesterday I stumbled over a German documentary about Adolf Hitler. What
struck me most forcibly was the impassioned, almost hysterical, way in
which crowds of ordinary German men and women thronged the streets to
applaud their beloved Führer, who, like Trump, would liberate them from
poverty and hardship, and would make their country great again. The same
fervor was also there for Trump, with a truly venomous edge that
encouraged mass xenophobia targeting, this time not Jews, but Latinos
Trump scathingly attacked financial, business and political elites,
although he and his family could throw around more money, hotels and
golf courses than most of them. Trump advocated seemingly radical change
in US society, yet was advised by conservative GOP troglodytes such as
Rudy Giuliani, Chris Christie and Newt Gingrich. He fired campaign
managers with remarkable frequency, and was rumored to have an attention
span of 20 minutes at most. This had never been a problem for Ronald
Reagan, by the way. He had few major financial backers. While the
well-connected Clintons could spend mega millions on advertising over a
period of months, he principally relied on social media.
He was caught with his pants down, so to speak, when more than 10 women
publicly accused him of sexual harassment and worse. But he followed in
the footsteps of Bill Clinton and the Kennedy brothers, lied in his
teeth and rode it out.
It was becoming clear that blacks, who had historically turned out in
large numbers for the Democrats, were beginning to feel used by the
party machine which they had backed so faithfully for generations. They
could often no longer muster up any enthusiasm to back a party which had
increasingly neglected and betrayed them. Then, toward the end of the
campaign, when it was apparent that blacks were underwhelmed by
Clinton’s candidacy, Obama publicly, in a remarkable display of
patronizing petulance, called on them to do the decent thing and to turn
out for Hillary. In my view this could have cost Hillary any chance that
she may otherwise have had of improving her standing with the black
Because Trump was discarded by the GOP establishment he turned
increasingly to Breitbart news, which is on the far right of the US
political spectrum. Breitbart’s Stephen Bannon was appointed Chief
Executive of Trump’s election campaign. A broad spectrum of far-right
groups including even the Klu Klux Klan declared their support for
Trump. Several hundred current and former senior members of the armed
forces, all on the right, publicly declared their support for a
President Trump. Trump is indebted to this unholy alliance of right wing
groupings and GOP troglodytes for their unwavering support when the
going was at its toughest. They are now in a position to call in their
debts just as he is being embraced by the GOP establishment which had
publicly turned its back on him. The GOP establishment is in any case a
notorious witches’ kitchen of internecine warfare and factionalism.
There will be a short-term honeymoon for Trump, but sooner or later the
temporarily concealed splits and divisions in the GOP will bubble to the
surface, and he will have to make some tough political choices which,
over time, will exacerbate inner-party differences. We know from the
election campaign that Trump is both vengeful and unforgiving. Those
senior GOP members who, like Paul Ryan, crossed him, will be waiting for
the axes to fall. It is already almost certain that Paul Ryan will be
unable to continue as Speaker of the House. Not all of Trump’s pet
projects enjoy the support of the GOP elite. The honeymoon is likely to
end abruptly, with the public beginning to see the Trump administration
and the GOP members of Congress as increasingly at odds. Trump will be
incapable of repressing the authoritarian traits of his personality.
Relationships with key players will come under pressure, and will
visibly fray at the edges. This will begin to erode public trust in him.
In the next three months leading up to the inauguration there will be a
lolly scramble for top jobs in and near the new Trump administration.
Trump will be forced to take substantive decisions on matters which he
has barely thought about beyond the level of catchy election slogans. In
the field of foreign policy easily the most important decision will be
his Secretary of State. Will he fall back on a reactionary brontosaurus
such as Newt Gingrich, who is rumored to be seriously in contention, or
will he pluck someone else from the ranks of his many almost unknown
foreign policy experts?
Salon magazine has already described Trump’s team as the “cabinet from
All names that are rumored to be in the mix are from the far right. Will
any of his children be included in the cabinet? I am privately wondering
whether Trump will appoint Fox’s Sean Hannity, who has licked his boots
since the very beginning of the election campaign, as his White House
At home Trump will have to deliver promptly on his promise to abolish
and replace Obamacare. Will he heed GOP orthodoxy by abolishing
Obamacare and replacing it with privately funded options that exclude
the 20 million Americans, many from his own support base, who were
uninsured until Obamacare came along? He has announced major government
funding for much-needed infrastructure improvements for the many
crumbling US cities. The standout exception to this rule just happens to
be Washington, the city that is patronized by the US political elite.
Will he support public transport? Will he, as repeatedly promised during
his campaign, abolish most environmental protections that have been
introduced by Obama? He will almost certainly approve the Alaska
pipeline project. He will also give the fracking industry carte blanche
to pillage the environment in search of cheap oil which liberates the US
from its dependency on the Middle East. This will also make it easier
for the US to go to war in the Middle East, as it could at least
temporarily be self sufficient in oil.
Whereas the stock exchange plummeted in the immediate aftermath of the
election, this morning the Dow had already risen to almost unprecedented
heights. US big business is eagerly anticipating a return to a frontier
economy as well as a move away from bonds into stocks and shares.
The free forces of capitalism will be unshackled from regulatory
constraints and straitjackets. Tax on businesses will be slashed in
half, from 30% to 15%. Income tax on the rich will be reduced, while tax
on the poor will apparently increase.
This means that the overall tax take will decline significantly just as
Trump is ramping up spending on infrastructure and defense. During the
campaign both Trump and hawkish Hillary rather vaguely undertook to
considerably increase military expenditure, to help make America great
again. Although international analyses have consistently shown that US
military expenditure far outstrips military expenditure in both China
and Russia, the US military/industrial establishment piteously laments
that it has been willfully starved of even the minimal resources
required to keep pace with these two potential adversaries (according to
SIPRI, in 2015 the US spent US$596 billion on defense, while China and
Russia spent US$215 billion and US$66.4 billion respectively). Some US
NGO analyses have figured out that the US spends almost a trillion
dollars annually on defense, 25% of the total US budget if one includes,
for example, the cost of veterans and the US intelligence establishment.
How will Trump balance the budget if he considerably reduces total
income, while massively stepping up expenditure on infrastructure and
the military? Historically the response of the neo-liberal establishment
has been to take a knife to welfare expenditure. But if Trump does this
he will inflame his own Trumpian grass roots support base. Will he be
forced to blow out the budget deficit, something that will place him at
loggerheads with orthodox GOP economics? He will come under pressure
from the GOP to further slash a wide range of social welfare benefits
and services. This would certainly anger many of his supporters.
On foreign policy the major issues at this stage would appear to be a
Mexican wall, Iran and Cuba. Although Syria has been a conversation
topic, Trump has never advanced beyond trite and unusually shallow
observations. What is interestingly clear, however, is that he will
disregard the Washington foreign policy establishment, and will seek to
avoid conflict with Russia’s Putin. This could also lead to a
de-escalation of the festering conflict in Ukraine. That would be a
plus. Putin has already welcomed Trump’s election and has expressed his
wish to seek dialogue with him.
Iran is a different story. Trump has throughout his campaign bought into
hate-filled sound bites that play on the Islamophobia that is sweeping
the US at present, especially in the evangelical community. He has
declared that he will “tear up” the nuclear deal with Iran, as if it was
a bilateral agreement that could be discarded with the stroke of a pen.
He will, however, be forced to confront the uncomfortable reality that
the deal was unanimously supported by all five Permanent Members of the
UN Security Council plus Germany, as well as by all other members of the
Council, even including little New Zealand. If Trump tears up the deal,
he will confirm the worst fears of the international community about his
untrustworthiness as an international partner. This will not serve the
best interests of the US.
The Iranians have already stated that, while their strong preference is
to continue to honor their obligations under the UNSC resolution, if the
US fails to comply with its obligations under the nuclear deal they will
walk away, and will increase their stock of centrifuges and their
production of enriched uranium to far higher levels than ever before.
This would also mean that, whereas Iran is now actively seeking to
liaise with the US in relation to ISIS and Syria, that diplomatic
relationship is likely to deteriorate, reducing the prospects of a
diplomatic settlement in Syria just as a possible rapprochement between
Russia and the US could be making a political settlement more likely.
Trump will come under pressure from Congress’s Cuban hard right in the
shape of two zealots called Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. Will he revert to
a remake of the old Cold War, which is not supported by either public
opinion or the up and coming generation of young Cubans?
My medium-term perspective is that the unwieldy Trump coalition will
begin to fragment, and will become mired in internal differences. The
Trump army will increasingly judge him, not by what he says, but by what
he does, or does not do. The chickens of Trump’s populism will come home
It’s early days yet. Almost anything can happen. In Nietzsche’s words:
“Nothing is true, everything is possible.”