Those who are cheering themselves after the recent, erm, event with the hope that the Trump presidency will come to grief will be encouraged by the last day or two, in which it has become clear that Trump’s transition team is in a state of disarray and plagued by infighting between different camps. The transition team is charged with getting the president prepared to take over the most powerful country in the world, sourcing 4000 executive appointments from the cabinet on down, and creating a policy implementation plan for the new administration.
Until last week, it was headed by the hapless Chris Christie, who has spent the last six months being Donald Trump’s airbag. But Christie was moved aside on Friday and replaced by Vice-President-elect Mike Pence. With Christie went Mike Rogers, an experienced national security adviser. The reason? Christie was always a stop-gap, apparently, never in the running. His sin? As a prosecutor he had gone after the father of Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, and close adviser, for white-collar crime. Seems Christie, the poor schmuck, was being used all along.
Then, yesterday, it was said that Mike Pence was no longer in charge of the transition team. Who is now? Apparently Jared Kushner.
So, yes, one scenario is that, come January, the Trump administration takes power and staggers from crisis to crisis, all the while forgoing the populist domestic agenda it had set, in favour of a by-the-books Republican one, and thus discrediting itself utterly with its base.
But there is far too much hope being placed in that, a remnant of the belief that Trump can’t possibly have won, that this isn’t happening. It is, and it will continue to. Whether Trump succeeds or fails, even on his own terms, the administration will roll on. And what an administration it will be.
The Trump administration is now an extraordinary constellation of power and influence, drawing together politics, commerce, media and international relations. Trump sits at the centre, both in control and as a ceremonial head, and his three children and one son-in-law will simultaneously run his companies, while also being involved in the decision-making at the White House.
“Senior strategist” Stephen Bannon runs Breitbart.com, the white nationalist website, set up with the money from the Mercer family, big Trump backers. The Trump admin is now restricting information released to the mainstream press, and leaking to Breitbart. Bannon’s connections lead to Russia, as do Trump’s (through Russian banks), as do his former campaign manager Paul Manafort’s — an adviser to the pro-Russian side in the Ukraine civil conflict — as does Rudy Giuliani, a candidate for secretary of state, whose consultancy company has links with every bastard imaginable. Oh, and the Trump organisation is making links with Marine Le Pen in France and numerous other bastards on the European hard right. Ha, even better, there are right-wing Israeli links too. Though Breitbart.com and Bannon tread into anti-Semitism, they have strong links with Likud, and further-right elements in Israel. The kiss of the whip was Alan Dershowitz coming on TV to say that we “shouldn’t judge” Bannon for what he has reportedly said, just see what he does. This is all falling into place.
Nor should you take any comfort in the idea that this will inevitably fall into chaos. The Trump team, for all their disarray, are quickly conforming their program to the Republican mainstream — abandoning the idea of tariffs, for example, to “tax credits” for companies that won’t offshore, which of course wont stop anything offshoring. Both team Trump and the Republican Congress are relying on the idea that a few headline wins — a shitload of bombing on Islamic State, manifest cruelty to undocumented migrants — will sate the base enough to give them a couple of years of breathing space. And they may be right.
This may all be over in a few years, after more chaos, failure to deliver, looting of government, etc, and that’s certainly something to work for. But even if it’s only temporary, what is happening in the world now is nothing less than a total collapse of the liberal order in the West. What was established in 1945 as a workable framework for the mediation of class conflict and a way of proceeding to a fairer, more reflexive, less unequal, and thus more liberated society, has, in the past quarter-century, been trashed by what I’ll call a “liberal centre” — to avoid pointless arguments about the N-word (“neoliberal”) — which has imposed an order combining global free markets, open borders, a winnowing of industrial employment, a steady erosion of wages and conditions and a lack of retraining and re-employment. Simultaneously, a rising progressive class has been too willing to use institutional and cultural power to impose progressive-class values, which place an overemphasis on abstract and general rights and involve a denigration of the traditional worlds people find their meaning in. The latter would not be nearly so significant, if the former process –free-market globalisation — had not done most of the demolition work.
Given their head by the end of the Cold War and the standing-down of a certain type of static-national-security state, those of the “liberal centre” have wrecked the joint. They have taken a prosperous West, moving forward towards a more socially liberal future, and, via their monomaniacal extremism for the simple principle of atomised market relations, made quite reasonable people so desperate for some sort of social ground, some solidity to their existence, that very reasonable people will go rushing towards Trump, Brexit, Le Pen or anyone who comes along. When they do so, the 30% or so of the population who one could call the “progressive class” — and who pride themselves on being literate and numerate — berate the other 70% for their racism, sexism, etc, and expect political victory.
In Australia, all that has prevented the hard right from becoming a major force has been our long run of prosperity, which has made communalist ethno-nationalism a place for eccentrics and dysfunctionals. When the prosperity collapses, or merely stalls, as it must, the hollowing-out will be all the worse — since millions of people will realise they’ve been conned. In a settler society, still Anglo at its core, the anger will be something to behold. We are not very well prepared for this shift, as evidenced by the fact that three days debate and umpteen articles can be given over to an angry exchange on a TV show.
Whatever else we want society to be, it needs a pluralist liberal culture (not a totalitarian, intolerant one) as a feature of its public sphere, and a few other liberal things besides. Those of us who aren’t liberals or progressives have long known how fragile the liberal order is, and how hubristic and intolerant progressivism has been. Those who value the best of both should do some reflecting on how reasonable societies oriented towards a progressive future became so quickly transformed, and the role they played in it. That’s necessary even if Trump, May, Le Pen, and godhelpus Abbott Mark II, or whoever, screw up. If they don’t, it will be a matter of life and death.