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“History is full of examples of politico-economic elites who equate any challenge to their privileged social order as a challenge to all social order, an invitation to chaos and perdition…” The Assassination of Julius Caesar, Michael Parenti
For Donald Trump, Parenti’s insight is emphatically and relentlessly demonstrated. The months since Trump’s inauguration have brought a ceaseless attack from his political adversaries. More significantly, a broad section of the ruling class has unleashed the barking dogs of the media and pressed the military and the security services to guide Trump back to the aptly named ‘swamp,’ the morass of mainstream politics. The rulers saw “chaos and perdition” in the Trump electoral campaign and the first period of his administration.
Trump constituted a challenge for two reasons: first, he threatened to engage a neo-isolationist foreign policy that violates a broad consensus established since the demise of the Soviet Union, a consensus that unites US triumphalism (Reagan, the Bushes) with the “humanitarian” interventionism of the New Democrats (Clinton, Obama). Differences apart, both doctrines spring from the idea that, in the absence of a counterforce like the Soviet Union, the US claims the right or the duty to construct the world in its own image. Each political doctrine may draw upon a different set of guiding principles, but both come to the same conclusion. Both embrace the notion that the US is and must be the dominant and decisive global power. When the humbuggery is sheared away, both are committed to continuing the US position as the top imperialist power -- by force, if necessary.
Trump presents a problem because he brings a businessman’s disposition to outwit an opponent with his cleverness and bluff. Lacking political experience and any abiding principles, President Trump saw foreign military entanglements and military alliances (NATO) as costly impediments to business arrangements. Capitalist Russia, for example, offers numerous business opportunities, especially in the energy sector. His Secretary of State, Tillerson, was desirous of these arrangements while leading Exxon. From a real estate developer’s perspective, the carefully constructed ideological apparatus of human rights, civil society, and US-approved democracy is simply unnecessary baggage. Instead, Trump saw every world leader, every government as a potential bargaining agent.
Of course, monopoly capital does not share the perspective of the petty bourgeois businessman, the boisterous, glad-handing developer. Corporate internationalism is the mindset of monopoly capital; isolation is the mindset of the small businessman.
Trump found himself on the wrong side of that fence.
Second, the US ruling class cares deeply for the image of the chief executive of the state. Protecting and preserving the mythology of the Presidency is a very high order of business. And tarnishing that image is not soon forgiven. Trump’s vulgarity and his utter contempt for long established patterns of acceptable behavior have brought forth a hailstorm of scorn and ridicule. Newsreaders and entertainers across the narrow political spectrum deride the haircut, the physical features, the body language, and all other conduct of President Trump. Trump, the celebrity, could be as tawdry as he liked; but Trump, the President, is, hypocritically, held to higher standards.
When Nixon went off the rails and discredited the Presidency, the same hailstorm befell him. After Gerald Ford bungled through Nixon’s post-resignation years, the ruling class found a gee-whiz peanut farmer, a born-again Southerner to whitewash the stained Presidency. Avuncular Jimmy Carter was the perfect answer to the Nixon criminality.
Similarly, the bungled wars and economic collapse plaguing the George W Bush administration required a fix. That fix was the youth, the vigor, the clean-image, and the originality of the first African American President, Barack Obama. The burnishing of the Presidential image was so successful that Barack Obama astonishingly received the Nobel Peace Prize less than ten months after his inauguration.
Trump threatens that image once again.
The media campaign against Trump has reached hysterical proportions. With Fox News on the ropes from the loss or damaging of prominent hosts and with their leading lights caught in a cesspool of sexual harassment, their media competitors leaped at the chance to exploit Fox’s vulnerability. As the voice of the right, Fox News was compelled to mount a reluctant defense of the Trump Administration.
Virtually every competing monopoly media corporation saw an opportunity to gain in influence from Fox’s weakness, launching virulent and relentless attacks on Trump. Moreover, the security services fed the media appetizing and suggestive leaks which the media hungrily and uncritically passed on to the public. Daily stories-- multiple stories-- recounted Trumpian flaws, from etiquette to criminal plotting with Russians. Every day brings new innuendo, new sensationalism. Given that the media and the security services are speaking nearly entirely with one voice, given that little or no real evidence has been produced in support of any but the most trivial charge, many have characterized the campaign as a witch hunt.
Thanks to the anti-Trump blitz, Fox News has been put in its place. The mainstream or “liberal” media has enjoyed a ratings surge. MSNBC and its leading witch hunter, Rachel Maddow, have leaped forward dramatically. Lest someone believe that the corporate entertainment/news monopolies are trouncing Trump out of public service, he or she should be reminded of the revealing statement that CBS CEO Leslie Moonves said during the primary campaign: "It May Not Be Good for America, but It's Damn Good for CBS." It’s still about the money.
It’s a fascinating irony that Fox News is now being hoisted by its own petard. The competitive monopoly media are now engaging in the same scurrilous innuendo, sensationalism, and abuse of truth that enabled Fox News to arrive at the top of the media ladder. It was a President-- Bill Clinton-- whose peccadilloes served as the fodder for the rise of Fox News; it is still another President-- Donald Trump-- whose vulnerabilities are bringing it down. Whitewater, Vince Foster, Kenyan birth certificates, and now Russian infamy: no boundary exists between news and entertainment.
And the security services are feeding the frenzy, from the unconvincingly self-righteous FBI director Comey to the devious ex-CIA director Brennan. Once, during the era of the infamous J. Edgar Hoover and his CIA counterparts, leaks and political meddling were selective and surreptitious in order to maintain the shiny image of agencies free of politics and dedicated to collecting facts. Today’s security agencies leak like sieves and brazenly intervene in political life. Comey’s schizophrenia-- vindicating Clinton, then accusing Clinton, and then stalking Trump-- can only be interpreted as the moves of a consummate political opportunist seeking a prosecutorial home run. But the liberal pundits have elevated him to the level of a civil rights icon.
Should anyone think that the recent rebuff of the US security agencies by the UK government was simply over leaking details of the Manchester tragedy, think again. The UK government is registering its alarm over the promiscuous intelligence leakage in the US and its future threat to all aspects of confidentiality.
In some circles, the growth of interventions by the security agencies in political life has suggested the existence of a “deep state.” While this makes for a catchy, popular expression for their machinations, it is somewhat misleading, suggesting a group of renegade or rogue bureaucrats operating independently of entrenched power or wealth. In fact, the security agencies work in full agreement with the historic centers of power, the ruling class. They are, as they always have been, the vital arms of the ruling class. Certainly, there are no alarms coming from corporate centers, monopoly capital, or their hired intellectuals rejecting the meddling of the security agencies. The assault on Trump is an assault on Trump’s policies fully authorized by the ruling class and aimed at bringing him back onto the reservation.
La Trahison des Clercs Libérals
Ninety years ago, Julien Benda wrote a book, La Trahison des Clercs, excoriating the intellectuals of his day for their hypocrisy, their venality, and their spinelessness. Today’s liberal intellectuals fall below the low bar set by Benda. Russia-baiting and Putin-hating have become a national pastime with little or no reason to justify their toxic spread. With a few notable exceptions, no public intellectual with any important influence has challenged the relentless charges and rumors piling up. With a few notable exceptions, no public intellectual has acknowledged that most of the “suspicious” interactions or political interventions alleged of Russia are common with most of the US allies such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, or the UK; influence is the bourgeois lubricant for diplomacy. With a few notable exceptions, no public intellectual has noted that the US has, on numerous occasions, exercised massive, decisive influence over the political processes of other countries, from the first days of the CIA (the Italian elections of 1948) to the CIA intervention in the 2012 French elections or its role in the 2014 coup in Ukraine.
The silence of liberals in the midst of unsubstantiated allegations, rumors, and leaks attacking their political adversaries shatters their self-righteous embrace of fair play. The liberal virtues of suspended judgement and deliberate procedure apparently only apply when it is convenient. By failing to challenge the rampant leaks, liberals also fail to challenge the ubiquitous surveillance that could alone serve as the source for the information passed on by unnamed officials.
Reviewing books on Bill Clinton for The New York Review of Books (6-8-17), liberal professor Christopher Lehmann recalls the regrettable time when “Whitewater and what it led to was perfectly suited to several aspects of Washington culture, including Congress’s love of showy investigations, the rise of cable news, and conservative institutions’ need for a target…” It’s a pity that he and his liberal colleagues can’t see the parallel of endless Congressional fishing expeditions, a brutal cable television war, and the Democratic Party’s need for an easy target.
As in the Cold War, the spinelessness of the liberals opens the door to a new McCarthyism that distracts most US citizens from their real and worsening problems. Finding imaginary enemies, whether they are Reds under beds or inquisitive Russian diplomats, is an old, but trustworthy tactic to deflect attention from real and ominous issues.
“They have yet to consider that republicanism might largely be a cloak for oligarchic privilege… worn grudgingly by the elites as long as it proved serviceable to their interests.” The Assassination of Julius Caesar, Michael Parenti
The Trump legitimacy crisis signals the continuing deterioration of the US political system. With every election, voter dissatisfaction expresses itself more dramatically and more desperately. Oligarchs try ardently to channel public anger and discontent toward acceptable targets. They seek to contrive diversionary issues; they manufacture fears; and they unveil fresh faces.
Obama was thrust into the breach precisely to contain the aftermath of an ineffective, inept Bush administration and dissipate the anger from endless wars and economic collapse.
In 2016, voters turned their backs on ruling class electoral machinations. They rejected the unappetizing Republican primary candidates preferred by the oligarchs and choose the renegade Trump. They also rejected the anointed Democratic Party candidate Clinton for social democrat Bernie Sanders, but the undemocratic leaders of the Democratic Party refused to accept that outcome. Nevertheless, candidate Clinton was defeated in the general election by Trump. Now the ruling class is trying to discipline Trump.
The “cloak” of US republicanism is now transparently a garment serving the interest of the ruling class. As the media and the security services scramble to legitimize the political system, more and more people are looking for new answers, answers that are outside of the usual two-party circus.
The capitalist US, like the Roman Empire chronicled by Michael Parenti, is entering its twilight phase, wracked by unwinnable wars, chronic economic crisis, and prosperity as a mere memory for many. The search for a new road has become urgent.