Notes On The News
by Gwydion M Williams
Lots of people are surprised at the rise of Donald Trump. Myself, I’m surprised that the rival elements in the current Republican Party held together for so long.
From Nixon onwards, the Republicans try to win the votes of voters who used to be solid Southern Democrats. Racist and socially conservative, but strongly for welfare and secure jobs. Mostly for people like themselves, but they did see that less types of humans should have something, if not the same. Talk of human equality offended them. The Democratic Party under Kennedy and Johnson undermining existing inequalities made them Republicans.
The trick was to keep them voting Republican, while taking away welfare and job security. To give them as little as possible in terms of racism and social conservatism. The Republican elite also had to please a wider non-Christian and non-white world. And immigrants, often non-white, were useful to the new Overclass. The poorer people who voted Republican were hostile to knowledge: increasingly unwanted.
The deep hostility and contempt that the Republican elite must have felt has now seen the light of day among the more ideological Neo-Cons. It’s now open how the Republican elite hate many of their own voters:
“Now the reality is it’s quite true that what Trump is selling is not going to do much to help the communities in question. Trump is not a responsible or sophisticated thinker about public policy.
“But these are essays making the case that suffering white working-class communities don’t deserve help of any kind. That’s a correct application of the strict principles of free market ideology, but it’s also a signpost of how American political discourse has changed since the end of the Cold War. If you said in 1966, or even 1986, ‘Well, strict application of free market principles implies the death of a huge number of traditional American communities and massive suffering among their working-class residents,’ then elites — including conservative elites — would say to themselves, ‘Well, then, these people are going to stage a communist revolution.’
“It was taken for granted that the governing class had an obligation — a practical one, if not a moral one — to actually make the system work for average people. Over the past 20 years, that idea has been increasingly abandoned on the American right.”[A]
The US Republican elite always despised those people. Nixon harmed them with tax breaks for the rich. Reagan went further, playing the part of an ignorant redneck to get elected. Led to power an elite who were never genuine conservatives. Right-wing, but also busy taking an axe to their own roots, thinking this was clever. ‘I am very superior and the inferior will see that I am best for them’.
“The modern Republican Party is an awkward contraption that harnesses a politics of white ethno-nationalism to a policy agenda dominated by Ayn Rand–inflected anti-statism. Donald Trump has exploited the wedge between the party’s voters and the ideologists of its master class, placing the latter in an awkward spot. In the face of this threat, there are many possible responses for an advocate of traditional Goldwater-Reagan conservatism to make. The most bracingly honest may come from National Review’s Kevin Williamson, whose antipathy for Trump has expanded to include Trump’s white working-class supporters.”[B]
That it lasted so long was the surprise. Their best thinkers are former leftists who now have a mindless admiration for the rich and powerful. They were no good at coping with awkward realities as leftists: they got worse as renegades. But they know enough to sound plausible, and rich people are usually mediocre thinkers outside of their own immediate area of business.
New Right policies have been anti-social: destroying the real basis of US power and wealth. Big corporations prosper by shipping jobs overseas. Vast fortunes are made from financial gambling and speculation. Since ‘efficient markets’ are a myth, speculators are ‘about as useful as so many tapeworms’.[C]
And now it may be falling apart. Right-wing parties cultivate resentment and ignorance; they are at risk from people who can cultivate it better.
Trump broke the rules by appealing much more openly and blatantly to such people. He may have to give them some of what they are after. He’s also closest to the old norm for US presidents – white males, late middle-aged to elderly, of North-West European origin. The other major candidates are a woman, a Jewish socialist and a Latino of Cuban origin. The last survivor of a string of failed Republican-elite candidates, Rubio, is also a Latino of Cuban origin.
“The basic idea is that authority is justified by morality (the strict father version), and that, in a well-ordered world, there should be (and traditionally has been) a moral hierarchy in which those who have traditionally dominated should dominate. The hierarchy is: God above Man, Man above Nature, The Disciplined (Strong) above the Undisciplined (Weak), The Rich above the Poor, Employers above Employees, Adults above Children, Western culture above other cultures, Our Country above other countries. The hierarchy extends to: Men above women, Whites above Nonwhites, Christians above nonChristians, Straights above Gays.”[D]
Was this a bad year for a Republican candidates? Hardly. Elections where the incumbent President has to step down and the Vice-President is not running are ideal for a rival party. The Republican elite offered their best, and their best was none too good. Had never been that good, but now the electorate are harder to fool. (But still unable to choose coherently.)
Interestingly, Trump is signalling a possible winding down of the US role. He says openly that the Iraq War was a mistake. He thinks he could do business with Putin. A Trump presidency may be the least bad way for the US hegemony to wind down without a world war.
Ignorant and self-defeating populism that saw the Confederate States of America as ‘the people’ against government tyranny has messed up the USA. So too has similar nonsense from people who genuinely favour mutli-racialism, but swallow the other delusions of anti-state populism. The Hunger Games fantasy-films tap into this: central government is the villain.
All of this is a remnant of pre-socialist radicalism. Radicalism that did liberate, but exhausted its useful role in the 19th century. But the two main parties in the early 20th century USA were each a mix of progressive and conservative elements. Republicans favoured ideological Individualism. The USA saved itself from the Great Depression by socialist measures, but Roosevelt’s New Deal was dependent on Southern Democrats. In a hard-fought battle with those who were determined to strangle the society rather than change their thinking, it was best not to call the measures socialist. Racial and sexual equality has usually been part of Socialism, and Southern Democrats would not be associated with it. But they had the common-sense to see that the state must revive a system that had clearly stopped working.
If the USA had Proportional Representation, it would have a substantial socialist party. Likewise if one of the major parties had collapsed, as the Liberals did in Britain. As things were, the merits of Moderate Socialism got forgotten about. Reagan tapped into deep beliefs when he told the people that the government was the problem and not a solution. Too many of the left shared this belief that the government was the problem rather than the solution, not understanding just what the government was doing for progressive causes.
Viewing the government as the problem rather than the solution allowed for a smooth demolition of traditional family values, without any elected politician appearing to favour this. This suited the loose-living hedonistic Republican elite, and many others found it acceptable. Liberation By Greed was the false promises of the Reagan / Thatcher era: yet it worked OK for those who weren’t either authentic conservatives or ideological socialists.
Worked for individuals, but not for society. The secret of Western capitalism is private enterprise, not some magic made by market forces. If a lot of people try things their own way, most will be wrong but a few will be brilliantly right. Science works that way, even though most major scientists are state employees. Literature works that way, even though most writers earn less per hour than a run-of-the-mill office worker. China works that way: Deng allowed private profit and greedy selfishness, but retained the government’s right to ignore or override market forces. Russia under Yeltsin trusted to market forces and it was a disaster.
After more than thirty-five years, it’s evident that Market Freedom does not improve economic growth, which is everywhere below the levels achieved from the 1940s to 1970s. Even the ‘disastrous’ 1970s were better overall than any decade since.[E] And there has been an unhealthy accumulation of wealth among the richest 1%.
Now it seems that many young people in the USA have noticed that Moderate Socialism worked fine when the US tried it, and still works fine in much of Western Europe. At the time of writing (28th March), Sanders still has a chance of winning. He’d need to win New York and California, where Clinton currently leads, but he’s pulled off similar victories before now. And even if he’s not chosen, he’s still changed US politics.
At the time, the West viewed the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests as possibly the overthrow of the Chinese Communist Party. When it failed, the Western media preferred to let the public believe that it was brutality that happened for no particular reason. Mostly. The 1990 Britannica Book of the Year[F], explicitly linked it to the 1989 overthrow of European Leninism outside the Soviet Union. Chris Patten also blabs about it in his 1998 book East and West,[G] after trying and failing to use Hong Kong to make trouble for People’s China. (At least he failed at the time: some of his work has born fruit in the shape of protests that slightly weaken China while doing Hong Kong no good at all, since it is utterly dependent on its link with the mainland.) But these are rare exceptions: most Western books present it as something that happened for no particular reason: a piece of general malice. Not as China’s first strong and successful system since the Opium Wars fighting for survival.
Since China didn’t owe money to the outside world and since it produced vast amounts of cheap manufactures that the rest of the world needed, they rode out that crisis. And the poverty and degradation suffered by Russia after 1991 convinced many Chinese who were dissident in 1989 that China had a narrow escape. But a minority have learned nothing and forgotten nothing:
“A New York-based Chinese activist has said that China’s authorities have detained three members of his family in connection with an open letter calling for the resignation of president Xi Jinping.
“Speaking from New York, Wen Yunchao said his parents and younger brother were ‘taken away’ by the authorities on Tuesday and have disappeared, days after the government ‘harassed’ his family over his suspected involvement in distributing the letter.
“Wen denied writing the online letter, which was signed by ‘a loyal Communist Party Member’ and circulated widely at the beginning of China’s parliament session this month. Wen also said he did not help distribute the letter, and had only linked to it on his Twitter account after the letter had been published by a Chinese news website.”[H]
Twitter links can go viral: everyone knows that. And it was potentially dangerous. A revolt against Party power by the National People’s Congress is one of two ways in which the current system could be overturned. (The other would be a military coup, or threat of a coup to intimidate the Politbureau.) The National People’s Congress is in theory the supreme body, China’s parliament – but in practice it does little. It elects the President, but the current norm is for it to elect the General Secretary of the Communist Party, who in turn is indicated five years earlier by being the leading new members of the Politbureau Standing Committee. That’s how Xi Jinping became the designated successor to Hu Jintao in 2007, displacing Li Keqiang who was believed to be Hu Jintao’s choice. A similar process will happen in 2017 that should indicate who will succeed Xi in 2022. But it remains unknown who: nor can we be sure that the sensible system of replacing the top leaders every ten years will continue to run smoothly.
In an inherently tense political system, the Chinese leadership have to worry about the National People’s Congress trying to exercise its nominal authority, as happened when Leninism collapsed in the Warsaw Pact countries. Those countries were mostly able to fall into the strong and welcoming arms of the European Union. Others were left out and failed: notably Former Yugoslavia and unhappy fragmented Ukraine. China seems even less likely to transform peacefully if it were tried now, rather than in maybe 20 or 40 years.
China avoided most of the turmoil that hit the world in the 2008 financial crisis. But it has a tricky task in moving beyond the highly successful export-led system than Deng Xiaoping created. It depended on a healthy global economy that could purchase cheap Chinese goods. But contrary to expectations, the New Right survived the disaster to their system and in Britain, managed to switch the blame to supposed excessive spending by the Labour government. There has been some revival of left-wing politics, but also a strong and more widespread growth in aggressive right-wing nationalism.
China’s problem is that it can’t export as much as it used to. The potential buyers are being squeezed by austerity:
“Chinese exports have seen their sharpest drop in almost seven years, adding to concerns over the health of the world’s second largest economy.
“Exports dropped sharply by 25.4% from a year earlier, while imports fell 13.8%.”[I]
China still managed growth of nearly 7% last year, and hopes for at least 6.5% this year. But the pressure is there. People under pressure often react foolishly and make things worse. And China has to worry about the next US president getting aggressive – Hillary Clinton is at least as dangerous as Trump; she’s always been more aggressive in foreign policy than Obama. So in a time of danger, tolerance of dissent has narrowed.
Daesh (ISIS) has killed far more Muslims than Westerners, but Western deaths get the big publicity. This very easily spills over into hostility to Muslims in general. And in turn feeds back and more Muslims opt for extremism.
It could all have been avoided. Back in 1990, Saddam Hussein would never have invaded Kuwait if he hadn’t been left with vast debts from the war he waged against Iran on the West’s behalf. He was still open to a settlement, but the West was determined to destroy him. Destroy him as they did destroy former allies who were now ‘surplus to requirements’: Ceausescu in Romania, Mobutu in Zaire / Congo, Suharto in Indonesia and the entire delicately-balanced federal state in Yugoslavia.[J] Meantime Israel was allowed to ignore the Oslo Accords and continue with their suicidal intent of taking over the bulk of the West Bank: it includes places with great emotional significance for Jews and Christians, but also for Muslims and currently inhabited by Muslims who are not going to be moved easily.
The media pay far too little attention to the large majority of Muslims who criticise many aspects of Western policy, but also reject terrorism as un-Islamic. They completely ignored a recent anti-Daesh march.[K] Of course this makes perfect sense if the aim is to empty Islam of all meaning. (And then only if the USA’s globalisation was adequate to the task, which it is not.)
It turned out to be impossible to get rid of Saddam and the Iraqi Baath without also raising up their main foes, the Iranian-oriented Shia, which was unacceptable to the USA. Saddam was allowed to crush their first rebellion, after they took Bush Senior’s call to revolt at face value. The leaders of the West then acted in a way typical of second-rate minds – if it failed once, do the same again but with more force. Vast sufferings were inflicted on all Iraqis, and finally the 9/11 attack by Islamists was used as an excuse to destroy secular Iraq.
All of this has further alienated Muslims, losing many who would more naturally have been pioneers of globalisation among Muslims:
“Hassane had a promising future. He had grown up on a council estate, and through hard work, the love and support from his family, and his own determination, had been on the cusp of realising his dream to be a doctor.
“He threw it all away for Isis and its vision of a pan-national state ruled by murder and sadism.
“Isis, as al-Qaida before it, has proven its ability to reach into the streets and Muslim communities of Britain, and tear away the country’s young.”[L]
That’s one side – those who had a promising future. Becoming disgusted with US-led globalisation is hardly confined to Muslims. For instance Mel Gibson ‘had it all’ as a major Hollywood star, but found it empty and returned to his father’s hard-line Roman Catholicism, with some accusations of anti-Semitism.
Lots of people are returning to ‘the God of their father’, but with Arabs there is now no major functional secular power to contain it. Destroying them as ‘surplus to requirements’ was the clever little scheme of the New Right, with the enthusiastic support of Tony Blair and New Labour.
The other side is petty criminals suddenly deciding to rise above a squalid life of crime and become Islamic martyrs: the suicide bombers of Paris and Brussels. “The Islamic State has legitimized their violent street credo”,[M] we’re told. With Europe squeezed by austerity, it offers Muslims an unacceptably lowly place. Of course some find life not worth living on that basis. They were little rats, and became part of a great dragon.[N]
Previous Newsnotes can be found at the Labour Affairs website, https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/past-issues/. And at my own website, https://longrevolution.wordpress.com/newsnotes-historic/.
[C] This phrase was used by George Orwell about the remnants of Britain’s landowning class. Who in fact did some useful work preserving natural beauty, an issue Orwell ignored. For speculators it is much closer to the truth.
[E] For more on this, read “Kicking Away the Ladder” and “23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism” by South Korean economist Ha-Joon Chang
[F] Article by Steven I. Levine, pages 438 & 440. Quoted in Problems 24.
[G] Pages 16 to 18, paperback edition of 1999
[N] This is based on Hitler’s insight into the appeal of socialism, one which he successfully adapted with Nazism