Every day brings a new story about President Trump, mostly superficial regurgitation of his outbursts on Twitter. We have had ‘undiplomatic’ outbursts galore, a period where war on the Korean peninsula loomed heavily over us based on the size of Trump’s button, even claims of being a “strong and stable genius”, with amusing unintended parallels to Theresa May’s “strong and stable leadership”.
Meanwhile, beneath the surface of superficial reporting in the western press, the US pursues wars and occupations aplenty, both directly and through its proxy forces and client states: in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Ukraine, Pakistan, and across Latin America. It also continues to maintain its network of hundreds of military bases across the world, guaranteeing its global dominance through force of arms.
A seemingly endless stream of weaponry flows from US manufacturers as military aid to its comprador allies in its oppressed neocolonies to maintain its global ‘order’. The US’s tools of financial imperialism – the mighty dollar, the IMF, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) – continue to force global compliance through economic warfare against stated enemies, as well as facilitating the ever-increasing exploitation of labour throughout the world.
The latest outburst from Trump has been that he has referred to various African countries and to Haiti as “shithole countries”. This ushered in the predictable “not all Americans” responses as people clambered over one other to assure the rest of the world that Trump is just a ‘bad apple’ and they don’t really think that about the oppressed countries of the world; that they’re not racist.
But in truth Trump’s statement is just a blatant expression of US imperialism, which is built on the exploitation, oppression and destruction of oppressed countries, naturally leaving those countries destitute and unable to fund a high standard of infrastructure or a comfortable life for most of their populations. It is a fundamentally racist project built on the tacit assumption that US citizens are better than those under their boot – as ‘proved’ by the fact that the robber is richer than the robbed.
Trump simply articulates what many living in the US accept as a given: that America is number one.
What seems to disturb those who make their living in the ‘liberal media establishment’, as well as those who cleave to their liberal imperialist paradigm, is not the sentiments of the president, but that he doesn’t have the good sense to hide them. Trump’s ‘mask-off’ Americanisms are what really irritate those interested in preserving and promoting US imperialism. And yet, despite this, they manifest their own racist worldview endlessly – with caricatures that have originated in the US of ‘perfidious Slavs’ and ‘insane north Koreans’ littering their output.
A running thread through much of this is the assumption that Donald Trump as president is an anomaly, an unfortunate blip in an otherwise working system, and that everything will go ‘back to normal’ in three years’ time. Of course, anyone familiar with historical materialism will understand that Trump is not an anomaly or a mistake but a very real product of the internal make-up and contradictions within US imperialism; that he is part of a phenomenon that can be understood and explained.
You cannot understand the United States without understanding that there are millions of Americans who think exactly the same as Trump – that there were millions who supported the Iraq war, just as there were millions who supported the Vietnam war. Millions are today clamouring to ‘build a wall’, to ‘deport the illegals’, to ‘bomb the shit’ out of somewhere. America’s history has been one in which a large proportion of the population has supported US aggression, going all the way back to those original settlers who conducted a genocidal war of extermination against the indigenous peoples of the north American continent.
Racism permeates American society because the entire country is built on racism. America is a place where a black minority population descended from slaves is disciplined through regular extra-judicial executions by the police; where the descendants of the defeated peoples in the settler wars are kept penned in euphemistically termed ‘reservations’; where menial labour is stratified along colour lines, conducted by chicano and latino workers denied the rights of US citizenship in order better to control and subdue them.
One need only read the works of Marxist revolutionaries in the United States such as Angela Davis, Huey Newton or George Jackson to see the reality of how class differences in the United States have for its entire history been strongly influenced along racial lines.
Or you could go further back and examine how the white paramilitaries such as the Ku Klux Klan, White Legion and White Cross employed reactionary mass terror against the black reconstructionist movement after the conquest and occupation of the slaving Confederacy by the federal army.
Or go even further back and see how the European settler armies massacred and enslaved their way from east coast to west, interning the defeated and their descendants in a series of concentration camps.
White farmers lynching black workers was not an aberration but a very real manifestation of a settler society built on racism – and as a result to this day the skin colour issue serves to retard the development of class struggle. This is the structure of settler colonialism essential to its very make-up, and we see it in the other great settler colonial projects: in Israelis calling for the deaths of Palestinians; in white South Africans’ construction of the apartheid system; in white Australia’s genocide and continued denigration of the Aboriginal populations.
Adolf Hitler took the genocide of the indigenous population of North America as his inspiration for the Nazis’ attempt to eradicate the population of eastern Europe and replace it with German settlers. The ‘Indian wars’ were the blueprint for Hitler’s Lebensraum. This is the settler colonial legacy of the United States, and it is only through understanding the history of this state, built on genocide, European resettlement and slave labour, that we can understand the present events in the US
This brings us back to President Donald Trump. Knowing the history of US imperialism allows us to put current events into perspective. A powerful movement against colonialism and for national liberation swept the globe in the 1960s and 70s. Through years of struggle of oppressed countries inspired by the success of the Soviet and Chinese revolutions, the remnants of colonial empires have given way to a neo-colonialism in which direct colonial rule in the subject countries is replaced by comprador bourgeois rule.
This has been accompanied by de-settlerisation across the world, including in the United States itself. As Butch Lee and Red Rover put it in their 1993 text Night Vision: Illuminating Class War on the Neocolonial Terrain: “With de-colonialisation and integration of native petty bourgeoisie into western capitalism, white settlers [are now] anachronistic and slowly being abandoned as French Algeria, ‘Rhodesia’ and settler Kenya already have been.”
No longer are the American ‘white working class’ (ie, small and medium-sized farmers) the backbone of a settler state; garrisoning and occupying the vast tracts of land in the United States is no longer a top priority for the ruling class. What is more, its maintenance has become an unbearable economic burden for the US ruling class. Instead, the settler legacy is in the process of being abandoned in a drastic cost cutting measure.
Simultaneously, the export of US industrial production, which had been going on for a long time, accelerated from the 1970s onwards. During this neo-colonialist phase, US jobs were exported to oppressed countries as US capitalists chased profits, driven by the need to counteract an in-built law of capitalism long ago identified by Marx: the tendency of the rate of profit to fall.
Essentially, capitalists sought cheaper labour costs to arrest the fall in profits that stem from the increased mechanisation of production. This has meant the loss of traditionally well-paying manufacturing jobs across the USA, once protected by the reactionary and racist AFL and CIO unions, and with them the now anachronistic settler descendants find themselves pushed rudely towards true (ie, unprivileged and unprotected) proletarianisation.
Whether deliberately or unwittingly, Donald Trump tapped into the legacy of settler colonialism in a way that neither the regular democrats nor the republicans can.
There is no more perfect encapsulation of this than Trump’s slogan: “Make America Great Again” (MAGA). All you need to do is step back and think for a moment: for whom was America once great? Certainly not for black, chicano or native peoples, or for the victims of US aggression globally. For those who find themselves on the receiving end of US imperialism, America was never ‘great’. For them, the more apposite slogan is perhaps the ever-popular “Death to America”. But for the labour-aristocratic section of the American working class MAGA does resonate, because for them America was once great.
It deserves to be reflected on that the same people who consider that this genocidal racist settler state and premier imperialist power was once great are the same people who vote for Donald Trump, and what it was that made the US imperialist state so great for them.
“I would say it’s breaking down even now. It certainly is in Europe, and that’s why there are fascist movements and all this right-wing stuff happening in Europe. Because the social compact is breaking down, and it’s going to happen here too. And the political struggle is not going to happen peacefully, in the sense that it’s not going to be some gradual social process.” (Stolen at Gunpoint, J Sakai interview with Ernesto Aguilar, 17 June 2003)
In hindsight, those words from 2003 seem prophetic of Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election of 2016. As American imperialism continues to decline economically, as once privileged settler garrisons find their lot diminished, and as the intensifying forces of climate change begin to make themselves felt even more acutely across the North American continent, more and more the population of North America will stratify into those fascist forces who throw their lot in with the US bourgeoisie and those who realise they have nothing to lose and everything to gain from its complete destruction.
The deification of Barack Obama and the demonisation of Donald Trump
Already well on his way to sainthood among certain sections of the US upper classes during his presidency, Barack Obama, the former head of bloodthirsty US imperialism, arch-imperialist and mass murderer, has been elevated to godhood in a counter-factual historiography that whitewashes his bloody legacy.
The crimes of Obama shouldn’t need to be stated on these pages, but the trail of war and destruction the USA hewed across the globe during Obama’s presidency, including the destruction of Libya, the massive expansion of US drone strike killings and the total modernisation of the US nuclear doomsday arsenal, should stand Obama in good stead as one of history’s great monsters, proudly taking his place among the other former US presidents.
What is most interesting is how the liberal opposition to Donald Trump so often falls back to questions of his mental capacity. This has long been a means by which establishment media attempt to delegitimise the targets of their ire, whether those be heads of state or the person on the street. Leaders such as Kim Jong Un and Muammar Gaddafi are branded as ‘mad’, ‘insane’ or ‘conspiracy theorists’, as are any of us when we talk about things like deep state politics, or CIA covert operations, where you’re a conspiracy theorist if you don’t ignore the contradictions in the official narrative.
To see this strategy turned against the president of the United States has been an interesting and often bizarre thing to watch. If the heavily-promoted book Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff is to be taken as accurate, Donald Trump is a lot of things: certainly stupid, egotistical and possessed with a strong sense of entitlement, but not insane.
In fact, one of the most damning things that comes across in the book is Trump’s fundamental lack of understanding about how the US presidency – and US government as a whole – works. And this is hardly surprising, since Trump did not make his way up through US politics a la Clinton or Obama.
Obama was a ‘great’ president, successfully fronting and packaging eight years of imperialist-engendered barbarism and turmoil in a right and proper manner, and for that he is raised to the pantheon of ‘great’ former presidents, while Donald Trump is a madman and a monster because he fails to understand that his primary task is to apply a civilised and reasonable veneer to the system he is being paid to represent on the global stage.
Meanwhile, the gears of the great imperialist machine carry on turning behind the scenes.
Trump’s economic policy
So when we discard the baggage of liberal think pieces, how do most US capitalists actually view Trump? Do they see him as the same demon that the Obama worshippers do?
A recent edition of the Economist included a number of articles on how the bourgeoisie views Trump’s performance in office. The first carried the tag line “Donald Trump’s economic policy has not been as bad as expected. Meanwhile, the economy is booming.” (No discredit where none is due, 13 January 2018)
This should tell us almost everything we need to know about how Trump is viewed by the capitalists, but two aspects of the story merit further examination.
The first point is the assertion that the economy is ‘booming’. While it may not feel like it to many, we are approaching the peak of the current business cycle. Things actually are good in the capitalist sense of the word. As the article pointed out: “Mr Trump has benefitted from a global economic surge that has lifted confidence – and stockmarkets – across the rich world.”
Unemployment rates are falling in the USA as they are across many of the imperialist countries and wages have increased as a result. Trump has ridden this surge and regularly tweets Dow Jones industrial average figures as a measure of his economic success.
This is, of course, just a stage in the business cycle under capitalist production and a further recession will occur in due course, owing to capitalist overproduction. It is now ten years since the last big crash in 2007, which puts the global economy on course to experience another crisis at some point during Trump’s presidency. How he will weather that storm remains to be seen.
The second question to consider is this: What is Trump actually doing beyond claiming credit for the internal cycles of capitalism? The article goes on to draw attention to what he has not done.
During his campaign, and shortly after his victory, Trump spoke often about imposing border tariffs on Mexican and Chinese imports, and tearing up trade treaties. However, in practice, he has rowed back from exacting any sort of tariffs on Mexican and Chinese imports, while those trade agreements, instead of being scrapped, are being ‘renegotiated’ in an attempt to gain additional advantage for the USA. The Economist, and, one would assume, a majority proportion of US capitalists, view this favourably.
What Trump has done is cut the corporate tax rate down to 21 percent. This is not as low as the 15 percent rate he proposed while campaigning, but it is still a significant cut. While this is no doubt very welcome to those corporations that pay US tax, it is a tax cut during an economic boom phase, providing fiscal stimulus at a time when the Federal Reserve is raising interest rates in an effort to reign in profligate borrowing by increasing the cost of capital, in an attempt to lessen the effect of the predicted economic contraction on the horizon. It also deprives the US government of approximately $1.5tn over the next decade.
The other major part of ‘Trumponomics’ that has been followed through on is the regulatory bonfire promised during the campaign. Various employee protections, environmental protections and anti-monopoly protections such as ‘net neutrality’ are in the process of being gutted, all to the benefit of US capitalist interests, while there has been a near total moratorium on new regulations.
Based on this analysis of Trump’s economic policies, it is clear that he is not making America ‘great again’ (if that were even possible for an imperialist country in terminal decline). He is instead pushing through a number of aggressively pro-capitalist changes at home and pursuing many of the same overseas economic policies that his predecessors have. After all, it’s not as if the IMF is doing anything differently now than it did during Obama’s presidency.
The Economist article sums this up quite nicely: “Some change is cosmetic. The White House has drawn an unusual amount of attention to trade disputes that would have been considered dull in the past.”
And in that, perhaps, lies the essence of properly analysing how different Trump’s economic policy is from that of his predecessors. The intensely negative attitude towards him from the liberal media means that the rapacious nature of US economic policy is getting more attention than it normally would, but that does not mean that it is fundamentally any different to that which was being followed previously.
If the next crash occurs at some point during Trump’s presidency, as is most likely, we will see how he contains the upswing in domestic social unrest that this can be expected to bring, when he can no longer fall back on pointing to rising stock market numbers as a sign of his success.
It may well be that in such a situation Trump and elements of the US administration turn will their eyes once more to ‘unfair competition’ from outside the United States. But for now Trump’s economic policy is far more moderate than his campaign rhetoric would have led us to believe, and is viewed favourably by US business interests.
Meanwhile, the irreconcilable class contradictions in the US continue to generate strife, turmoil and untold misery for the oppressed at home and abroad, a million miles from Donald Trump’s White House, and will continue to do so as long as US imperialism exists.