Friday, 18 November 2016

The real cause of Trump: rampant neoliberalism

As the great 'How Could This Have Happened' inquest into Donald Trump's victory continues, we've seen predictable liberal recourse to simplified 'explanation' and blame. Primarily, it points the finger at naked racism, understated misogyny, and hatred of minorities, all amplified by Trump and his play to authoritarian populism. And who would deny the prevalence of all that.

Yet, this liberal tick-box tells us almost nothing of substance. Indeed, it merely mystifies the issue more. For what's being identified here are symptoms rather than elementary causes.

How easy to invoke media memes like 'whitelash', as if we can simply say a country founded and built on racism has now just suddenly decided to turn decisively on black, latino or immigrant people. There's no doubt that base racism, and Trump's ugly cultivation of it, played a notable part in his election. But that doesn't make it a core cause.

How myopic, likewise, to claim Clinton's demise can be attributed to Trump's and his followers' hatred of Clinton as a woman. Misogyny exists, in varying degrees, at all levels of society. Yet, it's no more a principal cause of major political outcomes than any other form of social hostility. 

Among much of the liberal left commentariat, the 'explanatory' narrative seems more 'searching', yet no more convincing. Owen Jones, for example, posits, first and foremost, the same 'primary' factors: racism, misogyny and homophobic hatred. In his further 'probing' of the electoral demographics, Jones adds: 
Trump appears to have done best among middle-income Americans, and narrowly beat Clinton among the affluent. But the biggest shift to Trump – a 16-point swing– came from those earning less than $30,000 a year, even though he still lags behind Clinton among this group. Last time they voted for the country’s first black president. This time they shifted to a candidate backed by avowed racists, and ensured he won. Centrism has failed these and many other voters.
Jones believes that "Centrism", "the ideology of self-styled moderates" is now "in a state of collapse." Once, this "third way project championed by Bill Clinton and Tony Blair could claim political dominance in much of the US and Europe." For Jones, that 'vacuum' has now provided the opening for Trump.
Again, none of this provides any real insight on Trump's victory. Firstly, Jones is eager to blame racism as a central factor, while pointing out that many low income voters once loyal to Obama have now switched to Trump, thus undermining his very own claim about racism as a major determining issue. Why not, at least, discuss this as class, rather than racist, politics? 
Again, confusing cause and effect, Jones claims "Centrism" and its "collapse" as the reason for social and economic estrangement, and the political turn to Trump. But why not look, more closely, and critically, at the actual forces driving that "Centrism"? How appropriate is it even to call the extremist market doctrines embraced by Blair and Clinton 'centrist'? 
As Glenn Greenwald more convincingly argues, liberal denial and deflected blame following both Trump and Brexit have only obscured the real issue:   
The indisputable fact is that prevailing institutions of authority in the West, for decades, have relentlessly and with complete indifference stomped on the economic welfare and social security of hundreds of millions of people. While elite circles gorged themselves on globalism, free trade, Wall Street casino gambling, and endless wars (wars that enriched the perpetrators and sent the poorest and most marginalized to bear all their burdens), they completely ignored the victims of their gluttony, except when those victims piped up a bit too much — when they caused a ruckus — and were then scornfully condemned as troglodytes who were the deserved losers in the glorious, global game of meritocracy.
Greenwald also notes that Obama leaves office with high approval ratings, suggesting there's little evidence to show that racism is any more an issue in 2016 than it was in 2008 and 2012:
People often talk about “racism/sexism/xenophobia” vs. “economic suffering” as if they are totally distinct dichotomies. Of course there are substantial elements of both in Trump’s voting base, but the two categories are inextricably linked: The more economic suffering people endure, the angrier and more bitter they get, the easier it is to direct their anger to scapegoats.
Greenwald also relates, at Democracy Now, how the US media first talked-up Trump during the primaries, then turned on him when he became the Republican's candidate:
And in a big way, that also played a role, unwittingly, I think, in helping Trump, because, of all the institutions in the United States, the institutions of authority that are hated, the American media leads the way. 
Unlike liberal denialists and moderated leftists like Jones, Greenwald takes us to the closer heart of why Trump got elected.    

It's here we get to the essential cause, rather than symptoms, of what we're now witnessing in America, as elsewhere: rampant neoliberalism.

Neoliberal doctrine has been relentlessly imposed by a liberal political class, and propagated at every level of life, notably by a corporate media. In a fine study article on neoliberalism, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, Anis Shivani writes:
I would go so far as to say that neoliberalism is the final completion of capitalism’s long-nascent project, in that the desire to transform everything—every object, every living thing, every fact on the planet—in its image had not been realized to the same extent by any preceding ideology.
And, for Shivani, there's been no more zealous practitioner of unrestrained neoliberalism than Clinton:
When Hillary Clinton frequently retorts—in response to demands for reregulation of finance, for instance—that we have to abide by “the rule of law,” this reflects a particular understanding of the law, the law as embodying the sense of the market, the law after it has undergone a revolution of reinterpretation in purely economic terms. In this revolution of the law persons have no status compared to corporations, nation-states are on their way out, and everything in turn dissolves before the abstraction called the market.
Complementing this view, Nomi Prins provides a detailed assessment of Hillary Clinton's service to Wall Street. She recalls how Clinton backed her husband in dismantling the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999, which "freed the big banks to use their depositors’ money as collateral for risky bets in the real estate market and elsewhere, and so allowed them to become ever more engorged with questionable securities." Clinton also failed as senator to initiate bills that would regulate Wall Street, while protecting her major bank contributors (Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, and Morgan Stanley). And she voted to approve Obama's $700 billion bank bail-out during the 2007-8 financial crisis, the very institutions that had ran amok with risky investments, plunging ordinary people into poverty.

Prins concluded with this warning, had Clinton got elected:
The banks have voted with their dollars on all of this in multiple ways. Hillary won’t do anything to upset that applecart. We should have no illusions about what her presidency would mean from a Wall Street vs. Main Street perspective.
It's here we saw the vital role of Clinton's liberal backers. In particular, Clinton's liberal media devotees either ignored, said little about, or cravenly excused her neoliberal positions, from every form of financial deregulation and corporate alignment, to upholding, despite expedient prevarications, key 'free trade' deals like TTP and  NAFTA.

Evading serious discussion of her corporate loyalties, political corruption and mass warmongering, Clinton was eagerly hailed at the Guardian by Polly Toynbee, Hadley Freeman and other female notables.

Likewise, while 'progressive feminist' Laurie Penny could rightly denounce Trump's sleazy behaviour, she saw in Hillary's conduct an admirable "dignity". Having talked-up her candidacy, Penny now laments her losing:
It was decreed that the only alternative to naked screaming fascism was the status quo. Despite her gender, Hillary Clinton was the status quo candidate, the legacy candidate, the dynasty candidate. She also looks like what she is — a woman in politics — and that enraged as many people as it inspired.
An all seemingly sober admission. Yet, where do we find in such narrative the more crucial truth that Hillary was the neoliberal candidate?

In contrast, a fine piece at Jacobin magazine details Clinton's corporate-serving policies and "neoliberal feminism":
When Clinton was brought onto the board of Walmart, the company was facing serious problems of gender discrimination. At every level, women were paid less than men, leading to the largest sex discrimination class-action lawsuit in history. As Featherstone wrote, while “Clinton’s presence on the board helped to make the company look like a better place for women, there is no evidence that she took any measures as a board member to address Walmart’s systemic sexism.” This example captures the essence of neoliberal feminism — the placement of women in leadership positions of institutions dedicated to maintaining unequal, sexist, and discriminatory practices. While it is sold as a “trickle-down theory,” in reality, women in these positions — Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice, Carly Fiorina — only serve to reproduce the unjust and unequal institutions they head.
The title of another sharp piece captures Clinton's faux progressive foreign policy: "Dear Hillary: You Can't Be a Pro-War Feminist". For its author, Belén Fernández, Clinton can't escape:
the fundamental irreconcilability of feminism and giddy warmongering [...] Clinton’s performance on the international battlefield over the years makes a mockery of any pretense of support for the rights of women not to be violated, either sexually or otherwise.
Citing a 2014 Time magazine article, Fernández highlights Clinton's:
warmongering efforts as Secretary of State under Barack Obama, when her State Department “helped enable Obama’s expansion of lethal drone strikes.” The article goes on to observe that “on at least three crucial issues — [escalation in] Afghanistan, Libya, and the bin Laden raid — Clinton took a more aggressive line than [Defense Secretary Robert] Gates, a Bush-appointed Republican.”
And then, notes Fernández, there's Hillary on Israel:
“I think Israel did what it had to do” was her assessment of the 2014 Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip that killed some 2,251 Palestinians, among them 299 women and 551 children. It’s no wonder, perhaps, that more than one observer has referred to Israel’s devastating domination of Gaza as itself tantamount to rape.
John Pilger has issued a scathing indictment of the Guardian and other liberal propagandists for hyping Clinton and ignoring her crimes.

In another searing rebuttal of Hillary adherent Jonathan Freedland, Jonathan Cook denounces Democrat-supporting liberals for rigging the primaries against Bernie Sanders, and, under Obama and Clinton, upholding the very worst neoliberal doctrines. For Cook:
Trump isn’t the antithesis of liberal America. You liberals created him. You unleashed this monster. It is you in the mirror. You stayed silent, you took no stand while your country was stolen from you. In fact, you did worse: you enthusiastically voted time after time for those who did the stealing. 
 As Naomi Klein asserts, that same neoliberalism is:
the force most responsible for creating the nightmare in which we now find ourselves wide awake [...] That worldview – fully embodied by Hillary Clinton and her machine – is no match for Trump-style extremism. The decision to run one against the other is what sealed our fate.
For Klein - author of The Shock Doctrine - neoliberalism has caused the mass devastation, insecurity and inequality that's so energised Trump's resentful constituency. And it sees in the Clintons nothing but indifference as they cosy-up to the global elite: 
Elite neoliberalism has nothing to offer that pain, because neoliberalism unleashed the Davos class. People such as Hillary and Bill Clinton are the toast of the Davos party. In truth, they threw the party.
Unlike so many Guardian-styled liberals, desperate to exonerate Clinton and blame everyone from Wikileaks to Putin, Klein views neoliberalism as the core, causal issue behind Trump's ascendancy. 

So too have other progressive women, like Green Party candidate Jill Stein who captured it neatly in this post-election tweet:
Dear Liberals: the pain of Clinton neoliberalism caused the rise of Trump. To survive, we must build an economy that works for all of us.
Stein was, of course, wilfully ignored and sidelined by a corporate media beholden to everything Clinton defends and Stein opposes. Other conscientious left women like Susan Sarandon also saw through the false 'lesser evil' and 'glass ceiling' pleas to support Clinton.

As Craig Murray concisely notes, the liberal plea to elect Clinton was itself pitched as a neoliberal rationale:
Still more blatant was the promotion of the idea that Hillary being a corrupt neo-con warmonger was outweighed by the fact she was female. The notion that elevating extremely rich and privileged women already within the 1% to top positions, breaks a glass ceiling and benefits all women, is the precise feminist equivalent of trickledown theory.
That metropolitan governing class not only believed in itself completely, but couldn't see past its own preoccupations and concerns. Liberals think that everything is basically fine barring a minor tweak here and there (because for middle class liberals with nice houses everything really is basically fine). It's signature policy is more women in the boardrooms of multinationals. It has managed to take the massive issue of inequality and turn it into a problem of the rich.
Thus, Trump's election is also a landmark failure of liberalism; a political failure, as with Brexit, to persuade people that neoliberalism is the only realistic game in town.

The liberal media is now invoking facile memes like 'post-truth' and 'fake news' to suggest that it was 'irrational' and false output on social media that helped deliver Trump and Brexit.

Yet, isn't this media-hyped 'problem' of 'false news' the most brazen inversion of a truth? From the BBC's complicit lies over Iraq, to the Guardian's warnings that Corbyn cannot be trusted with the economy, there's no more fake news than the state propaganda and neoliberal narratives peddled daily by our 'mainstream' media.

Using Trump and Brexit as examples, the BBC even had Alastair Campbell in the studio defending the term 'post-truth' as a way of exposing the 'dangers' of 'fake news'. Campbell stated:
It's acknowledging that politics, which has always been rough, has moved to a different phase where politicians who lie now appear to get rewarded for it. (BBC2 Jeremy Vine Show, 16/11/2016.) 
What might Orwell have said about Campbell, master spinner and Blairite warmonger, sitting inside the BBC being rewarded for his thoughts on 'post-truth and 'fake news'?

Beyond the BBC's own newspeak, Trump isn't some toxic aberration. His election isn't just some sudden turn to neo-fascist politics. He's the latest manifestation of dark corporate authority in the US.

Trump is a 'charismatic', 'reality show' con man. But he's also an inevitable outcome of what happens when capitalism in its most promiscuous and visceral form creates ever deeper social destruction, inequality and misery, allowing space for the concocting of even more right wing 'solutions'.

Liberals see Trump as a 'stain on American democracy'. Again, this symptomatic outpouring tells us much about how a liberal establishment help disguise actual cause and effect. A basic part of that denial lies in the very refusal to see that America is not actually a democracy at all. As one notable US academic study concludes, it's an oligarchy. Some may add other valid identifiers: a plutocracy, a kleptocracy, and now, after so many brutal neoliberal decades, it may be reasonably argued, a demagoguery, announcing a deepening shift to more corporate-fascistic rule.

Mass rejection of Clinton is the outcome of an all-consuming neoliberalism. It's not that Trump's supporters identified it as such, and voted in that political vein. It's a primal reaction to a system that offers them nothing. And when Clinton and other liberal protectors of that system dismiss such people as "deplorables", the response is not surprising. As Anis Shivani observes:
Hillary Clinton has been the most perfect embodiment of neoliberalism among all the candidates, she is almost its all-time ideal avatar, and I believe this explains, even if not articulated this way, the widespread discomfort among the populace toward her ascendancy. People can perceive that her ideology is founded on a conception of human beings striving relentlessly to become human capital (as her opening campaign commercial so overtly depicted), which means that those who fail to come within the purview of neoliberalism should be rigorously ostracized, punished, and excluded.
This will go down as one of the greatest snake oil sales jobs of all political time. But it wasn't hard to see why brooding, alienated Americans bought the mix. It wasn't difficult to see how they embraced Trump's seductive 'remedies' in emboldened rejection of Clinton.

Of course, alongside his immediate back-peddling on 'platform policies', like pledging to jail Clinton and end Obamacare, the list of Trump's crony 'transition team' shows just how 'determined' he is to 'drain the swamp'. If Clinton is the swamp, Trump and his coterie are part of the same sewer system.

There's a short honeymoon now before Trump's hardline constituency realise they've been played. But it may be considerably longer before the Clinton cabal openly concede their own venality in cheer-leading an arch-warmonger and Wall Street-serving villain.

Wait also in vain for the remotest acceptance that they used every dirty trick and subterfuge to stop Bernie Sanders, knowing that, at all stages of the primaries, he was regarded as the only candidate to stop Trump. And, as Shivani reminds us, Sanders diverged significantly from Clinton's wholesale neoliberalism:
He does not believe—unlike Hillary Clinton—that the market can tackle climate change or income inequality or unfair health and education outcomes or racial injustice, all of which Clinton propagates. 
Self-protecting Democrats, media liberals, and posturing 'leftists' are now in raging mood, lamenting the 'crisis of democracy', and urging on the 'Not My President' street protests. What they fail to admit is their own lamentable part in ignoring Clinton the hawk, and remaining silent on the neoliberal disorder she helped create. Within their New York party-media bubble, they see and understand almost nothing of the real, fundamental cause of Trump's landscape victory.

Reports of supporters crying over Clinton's 'thank you speech reveal so much about the illusion-making complicity of the liberal media. Echoing the words in her speech, Clinton tweeted:
"To all the little girls watching...never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world."
Except, of course, all those little girls in the Middle East no longer able to watch, all the non-valued, powerless and undeserving she helped bomb. Typically, Clinton's first post-election public appearance was at the Children's Defence Fund gala.

It's a 'crisis of civilization', anguished liberals, notably 'liberal progressives', wail; 'a vote for intolerance and destruction'. Tell that to the destroyed women and families of Iraq, to the broken people of Libya and Syria, to the children of Gaza, wondering when the next US-supplied bomb is coming to kill them.

Clinton, has been behind every moment of these 'civilizing interventions', and much more. Backed by Hillary, Obama leaves office having raised the military cheque for Israel over the next decade to $38 billion (from $3.1 billion to $3.8 billion per year). And, for all the unpredictability of Trump, and speculation over his seemingly ad hoc foreign policy, we've, at least, been spared the predictable spectre of Clinton's intensified militarism in Syria and heightened prospects of war with Russia.

Again, how could so many lofty liberals fail to see Clinton's true colours? How could they dismiss the corporate bankrolling that tried to buy another election as just some 'that's the way it is' political system? Why weren't they shouting down the system itself? Why weren't they saying: 'the real lesser evil choice is not between two corporate-placed elites, but the choice between upholding or rejecting a system set up to secure elite power in perpetuity'?

Paradoxically, Trump the corporate trickster, has no seeming ambition to court neoliberal ideologues. Indeed, there's no apparent driving mission behind 'Trump economics' other than a more protectionist version of grab-it-all-while-you-can capitalism. For Shivani, the Trump elite seem ready for a "shackles off" fight with all contenders, a kind of perverse challenge, in itself, to the quieter menace of neoliberal orthodoxy.  

As Noam Chomsky warns, this is most apparent in his vulgar denial of climate change and its emergency implications. Having delivered both House and Senate for the Republicans, Trump is now dispensing posts to another motley crew, all ready to wield their own array of planet and people destroying policies.

Yet it's a rupture that brings forth not only more bombastic villains, but new progressive opportunities. Political authority has shifted and intensified. But this also signals a deepening crisis of elite legitimacy. We are witnessing the death throes of neoliberalism, and, bleak as things seem, the possibility of real alternatives to emerge. Bereft of remedies, it won't be long before Trump's vacuous policies give way to the same social disenchantment over Obama's 'Hopey-Changey' failure. The only other direction from there is a serious leftward turn, as shown so promisingly in the mass popular support behind Sanders. Acknowledging this radical potential, Klein observes:
A good chunk of Trump’s support could be peeled away if there were a genuine redistributive agenda on the table. An agenda to take on the billionaire class with more than rhetoric, and use the money for a green new deal.
And if Sanders was always likely to have beaten Trump in America, Jeremy Corbyn can win in Britain. When the next smart pollster, Blairite plotter or BBC journalist declares that Corbyn has no chance of being elected, just remember the Sanders surge, and, now with Trump, how readily people can turn against the warnings of the political-media establishment and 'assurances' of 'know-all' liberals.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

An admirably brilliant summary of how we got to where we are.
I have mild quibbles about your optimistic conclusion, however. I cannot be optimistic as long as the super-stars of anti-establishment - Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore - get away with their outrageous lapse of consciousness during the election race. Their performance needs to be boldly confronted and exposed because they wield such enormous influence.
I agree with the analysis that this election was an historic snake oil sale. But the real diabolical genius of it is best described as a pincer move. All sides have been hijacked, the social division is almost perfect.
That said, terrific analysis and wonderful writing!

John Hilley said...

Many thanks for your valued comments.

"Diabolical genius." For sure. Neoliberalism has society surrounded. Yet, its flanks are riddled with contradictions, its ideologues struggling to hold the line. The Trump regiment has now arrived, and time will tell whether they punch around like wild berserkers, or get brought into line by the usual Wall Street establishment. As all this unravels, with inevitable disenchantment over the Trump rescue setting in, new political possibilities are always likely to open up. Again, remember just how close Sanders came, something once considered unthinkable in America.


Unknown said...

Wonderful compendium on the undercurrents of Trumps victory(ditto Brexit)and the liberal media's response. Thanks John.One question though: Are the liberal media just circling the wagons at the moment or are they genuinely stupified at Trump's victory? Or both? I understand they're indoctrinated to within an inch of their lives, but i've been astounded at their inability to link Trump and Brexit to the economic circumstances that vast swathes of the population find themselves in. Thanks again for a terrific piece, best i've read post Nov 8, along with Greenwald's.

John Hilley said...

Thanks for your kind and thoughtful comments. Yes, both Trump and Brexit have been enormous shocks to the liberal psyche. You have to assume, at least, some relative level of belated realisation over their failure to see the political dynamics and disconnections. Yet, guided by the Guardian and other vanguard liberal media, which remains in denial and deflected blame mode, they still seem unable to face the core causes of such outcomes, or the depth of feeling that saw people turn so readily against the establishment. I see the vote for, and further endorsement of, Corbyn as a similar rebuke to a condescending elite. All in all, it signals a real legitimacy problem for system-serving liberals.

Garry Williams said...

Thanks for the reply John. Nothing much surprises me with regards to the Guardian/BBC but the level of bile, smear, and outright lies aimed at Corbyn this past 18 months has shocked me. I mean, they were cheerleading a coup on a democratically elected leader. They could barely contain themselves. So much so, it was counterproductive(from their point of view)as people could see through the naked propaganda. It's beyond satire that they are horrified at Trump's victory, yet actively campaign against the only antidote to this far-right populism in the shape of Sanders and Corbyn. The mental gymnastics involved is impressive. It's a wonder they know what day of the week it is. Again, thanks for a terrific piece. We need the likes of you, Media Lens, Jonathon Cook, and Mark Curtis more than ever. A true counterpoint to the corporate media. Keep up the good work.

plexity said...

Just superb. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Well, I'll just have to bow to your superior analysis. However if racism was not a "cause" of Trump's victory, it's open emergence is a pernicious effect of it, and in his cabinet choices he is doing everything he can to enable it. Your sniffing dismissal of protests ignores this simple fact. We are up to our *** in alligators and we don't have the leisure to implement any directions to drain the swamp.