With one week to go until the electoral college meets to officially, presumably, select Donald Trump as the next US president, the nature of the future administration is becoming clear: a collection of generals and businessmen, a President-elect currently undertaking a “victory tour”, a possible deep and mysterious entwinement with foreign powers, particularly Russia, and a willingness to heavy individual citizens.
Two tendencies are in conflict: one, to not be bamboozled into thinking that a populist, grandstanding leader is doing something radically new, but second, an amused and ironic complacency about the sort of safeguards that are being trashed — with the enthusiastic backing of much of the public.
Indeed, the situation it puts any commentator in is schizoid. I can’t decide between the position that painting Trump as some great exception is simply a way of normalising the anti-democractic and surveillant character of “normal” government — and on the other hand believing that Trump, to judge from the choice of cabinet, is assembling a team that could manage a smooth suspension of democracy and the constitution altogether.
There’s two levels to this. The top one is the simple venality of the political right. These people have no values at all, save for the maintenance of power by a tightly identified, class-race group (gender coming a definite third). Large sections of the Republican leadership, the old Tea Partiers, and the extreme right will accept anything Trump does. Heavying individual companies to stay in the US, Chavez-style? That’s being patriotic. Trashing the CIA? No problem. Putin? Obama’s attempts to keep some sort of relationship going was eviscerated as appeasement. Now, Trump is returning to a spheres-of-influence type thing, to give carte blanche. That is waved through.
[Rundle: all the US groans under the weight of towering Trump]
What’s the basis of this? It’s that US power has to be identified with the power of capital and whiteness. Loyalty to it is dependent on that. The right are willing to take almost any risk with their own country, in order to maintain that power. Everything that looks like a real value is simply an image, a representation, annihilated by the sheer commitment to will and power. Do they contemplate the possibility that they might be undermining the security or the very viability of their nation in the pursuit of power? Doesn’t seem so. These section of the right are so taken over with, and defined by, hate of the left, that they have lost all conception of a stable state of being. They’re chaos-bringers, whose “national” loyalty to the US is superseded by race and in-group loyalty.
The rise of the Trump right in-group, their final detachment from any national loyalty, is demonstrated in the ease with which the Trumps have become a pseudo-royal family, the second layer to the process. Here another paradox: Trump is the first actual citizen — non-politician, non-general — to win power in a republic that was designed with the idea that anyone could become President. Yet he is the first President-elect to unashamedly live like royalty, ensconced in a black marble tower in the real capital of the US, thus costing the public a million dollars a day in security. His pharaonic habits extend from the all-gold interiors to his psychically incestuous relationship with his daughter Ivanka, who is now being touted as a de facto first lady/daughter. Incestuous desires, and the permission for such, are characteristic of royal families; the incest taboo, a universal feature of all societies, is often suspended for royals.
How did a republic whose constitution held freedom as the citizen protection of its borders, become a pseudo-monarchy that is indifferent to foreign influence in its government? The answer is that people aren’t really indifferent to the prospect of their government being taken over; they simply don’t believe it, because it may — may — be happening under Trump, and they are, well, simply in love with him. The loved one can do no wrong — any explanation of their behaviour that countenances indifference or contempt of the lover is systemically excluded (one reason why infidelity is so often not seen). Trump has managed to become a de facto King for a whole section of the US populace.
In doing so, he has tapped into a fault-line that runs through the American system of government — their creation of an office, the presidency, who is not simply an elected monarch in crucial respects, but who has some psychic features of being a god-emperor. Implicitly, the US defines itself as God-ordained — the government protects rights given by the creator — and thus, more than any other country, the presidency can take on a god-like aura (especially in an era of nukes). The presidency is a blind-spot in the system, and with sections of the nation in a crisis as to their identity and the future, it’s one that many can tumble through into pseudo-monarchy, and the worship of such.
Given this slippage, Trump is getting away with a lot, and could get away with, well, anything. He has filled his cabinet with generals, Goldman Sachs execs, and may add the head of ExxonMobil to it. Absurdity mixes with foreboding: Ben Carson, who had earlier announced that he lacked the skills to be a cabinet secretary, is now taking Housing and Urban Development, just about the most complex social portfolio on offer. Rick Perry may head Energy, the department he wanted to abolish, but the name of which he couldn’t remember.
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The idea that they’re simply a gangster elite out to rob the state seems unlikely; they could make as much money as they wanted without having control of the state. But their “trickle-down” notions that low taxes on corporations will revive the US economy is not simply a strategy, but an affirmation — their identity relies on the idea that tycoons are the protean source of prosperity, benefactors, the pharaonic thing again.
Trump is berating individual citizens — such as United Steelworkers 1999 leader Chuck Jones, who questioned the real number of jobs saved in Trump’s intervention in the Carrier company — and has only recently been persuaded to put his business interests at arm’s length. Were his presidency to, as is likely, fail to achieve the prosperity he has insisted it will, would he be tempted to repressive measures? Were there to be an event — a large-scale domestic terrorist attack — would he be willing to take advantage of it, with anything and everything, up to the selective suspension of habeas corpus (allowable “in time of war”)?
Even those of us resisting the simplistic notion that “disliked person X = Hitler” of much of the centre/cultural left, can’t deny that the proposed Trump cabinet looks more like the assemblage for a Latin American junta than it does a US cabinet. On the other hand, that may be a simply hysterical assessment of what will be a centre-right cabinet, with some populist moves, on a great deal of chaos. On the third hand … I dunno.
[Rundle: Trump is the end of the left as we know it]
The political hysteria is self-serving for a centre-left and a cultural left, who refuse to admit that a large section of the country is antipathetic to them. But the people pretending this is normal have a sort of deranged serenity, a reverse hysteria, in which no event, no statement can suggest that something is actually amiss. How would you respond if you were an American, in country? With a commitment to challenge the Trump administration as it comes in, on the basis of a pluralist, rational and majority alternative. In Australia? By focusing on how different our system is, on the opportunities it offers to challenge such de facto God-like power — especially as the pathetic wannabee Trumpkins here attempt to rub off a bit of glamour from the master.
In the US, Trump draws on deep cultural roots. In Australia, it’s a pathetic power play by the superannuated. The Bronny Bishops, Ross Camerons, Mark Lathams flatter themselves — they’re the sort of entitled political lifers, the Ted Cruzes and Jeb Bushes, that Trump demolished in the primaries. Long may their celebration of Trump continue; it shows they have no commitment or desire to build a genuine populist movement here. For our American cousins, it’s about to get real.