Trump’s “America First” policies and the global eruption of economic nationalism

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By Nick Beams
21 February 2017

While the battle in Washington between the intelligence agencies, the media and the Trump administration over the question of Russia and Trump’s supposed ties to Putin is attracting most of the headlines, a conflict on the economic front is of no less significance.

Earlier this month, in response to Trump’s “America First” agenda and what it called his “divisive delusions on trade,” the Financial Times, the voice of British and to some extent European finance capital, warned that if the Trump administration continued on its present course, it would represent a “clear and present danger to the global trading and monetary system.”

The immediate cause of this unusually strong language was the claim by the Trump administration that the euro was significantly undervalued, operating to the benefit of Germany, which enjoys a trade surplus with the US.

The editorial called for other countries to “stand ready to resist bullying and not to let the US drive wedges between them.”

The Financial Times did not go any further, but the logic of this position is clear. If countries are to stand together to combat what are seen as American attacks, then the next step is the development of trade and economic agreements directed against the US—in short, a major step down the road to the kind of economic and currency blocs that exacerbated the 1930s Depression and played a major role in the drive to a second world war in the space of two decades.

No one has yet put forward the formation of such alliances, but the issue is assuming a larger presence in public pronouncements and no doubt in discussions behind closed doors.

Last month, speaking to the New York Times on the sidelines of the Davos summit of the World Economic Forum, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the president of the euro group of finance ministers, pointed to possible major shifts in orientation. “We’ve always said that America is our best friend,” he said. “If that’s no longer the case, if that’s what we need to understand from Donald Trump, then, of course, Europe will be looking for new friends.

“China is a very strong candidate for that. The Chinese involvement in Europe in terms of investment is already very high and expanding. If you push away your friends, you mustn’t be surprised if the friends start looking for new friends.”

So far as the Trump administration is concerned, China, and to some extent Germany, is the main economic opponent and threat to the economic pre-eminence of the United States. This orientation is one of the reasons for its conflict with the sections of the military and intelligence establishment that are pressing for a more open confrontation with Russia.

Trump has variously threatened to brand China a currency manipulator and impose tariffs as high as 45 percent on its exports to the US. While he has yet to announce any concrete policies and his positions so far have been set out only in tweets and similar remarks, the underlying position of the administration and the economic processes that are driving it were set out last September in a paper on the Trump economic plan authored by the then-business professor at the University of California-Irvine, Peter Navarro, and equity investor Wilbur Ross.

Since the election Navarro has become the head of Trump’s National Trade Council and Wilbur Ross has become commerce secretary.

The paper began by noting that in the period from 1947 to 2001, US gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of 3.5 percent a year, but from 2002, that average had fallen to 1.9 percent, representing a 45 percent reduction in the US growth rate from its historical pre-2002 norm.

The authors dismissed the claims of the Obama administration that lower growth was a “new normal,” labelling that position “defeatist” and claiming that low growth was the result of higher taxes, increased regulation and the “self-inflicted negative impacts from poorly negotiated trade deals,” including NAFTA and China’s entry into the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The latter, they wrote, negotiated under Bill Clinton, “opened America’s markets to a flood of illegally subsidized Chinese imports, thereby creating massive and chronic trade deficits.”

China’s accession to the WTO, they argued, “also rapidly accelerated the offshoring of America’s factories and a concomitant decline in US domestic business investment as a percentage of our economy.” They noted that from 1999 to 2003, US investment flows to China were stable at around $1.6 billion per year, but jumped in the period 2004–2008 to an annual average of $6.4 billion a year.

In other words, according to their argument, the flow of investment funds to China, made possible by its accession to the WTO, is one of the chief causes of the long-term slowdown in US economic growth.

The authors also hit out at WTO rules, saying that the exemption of exports to the US from value added taxes (VAT) imposed by European governments and the fact that US exports to Europe are subject to these taxes was a form of discrimination against US firms. These conclusions form the basis for the discussion within the Trump administration on the possible imposition of taxes on imports.

They wrote that unequal treatment of US exports was an example of “VAT gaming,” and that the US should have demanded equal tax treatment for US exports.

“Since the WTO would be meaningless without the presence of the world’s largest importer and third largest exporter, we had the leverage then—and we have the leverage now—to fix this anomaly and loophole,” they asserted, adding the implied threat that “without the US as a member, there would not be much purpose to the WTO.”

The Trump administration’s denunciations of China as a currency manipulator have attracted most of the media attention. But Navarro and Ross were no less strident when it came to the European Monetary Union.

“While the euro freely floats in international currency markets, this system deflates the German currency from where it would be if the German Deutschmark were still in existence,” they wrote. This was the reason, they claimed, that the US had a large trade in goods deficit with Germany, some $75 billion in 2015, even though German wages were relatively high.

The paper gave a clear summing up of where the Trump administration sees the position of the US in regard to the struggle for global markets. Answering critics of the “America First” agenda, they wrote: “Those who suggest that Trump trade policies will ignite a trade war ignore the fact that we are already engaged in a trade war. It is a war in which the American government has surrendered before engaging.”

They held out the prospect that in pursuing a policy of what they termed “more balanced trade,” the US would be able to secure cooperation because US trade partners were more dependent on American markets than America is on their markets.

As with so many of Trump’s policies, the trade war agenda outlined by Navarro and Ross represents not so much a break from the policies of the Obama administration as a continuation of their basic thrust and, at the same time, a qualitative escalation.

The underlying strategy of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and its counterpart for Europe, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, promoted by the Obama administration, was that privileged access to the vast American market for those countries that signed up would enable the US to force concessions upon them.

Both proposed trade investment deals specifically scrapped the system that had governed trade relations since World War II under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and then the WTO, which maintained that concessions offered to one country should be offered to all. This policy was in recognition of the damage done to the world economy and trade system through the formation of exclusivist blocs in the period of the 1930s.

Outlining the rationale for the proposed agreements in 2014, Obama’s trade representative Michael Froman wrote in a major Foreign Affairs article that “trade policy is national security policy,” and that the aim of the agreements was to “place the US at the center of agreements that will provide unfettered access to two-thirds of the global economy.”

He went on to explain that the post-war system was no longer adequate and that the US no longer held “as dominant a position as it did at the end of World War II” and had to build new “trade coalitions working toward consensus positions.” In other words, the development of new mechanisms whereby the US could counter its economic decline vis-à-vis its rivals.

The Trump policy is being driven by this same agenda, albeit in a different form. The underlying driving forces can be clearly seen.

First, there is the contraction in economic growth not only in the US but internationally. It has been estimated that the economic slowdown since the financial crisis of 2008 means that developed economies are one sixth smaller than they would have been had pre-crisis growth trends been maintained.

The contraction is even more pronounced in world trade. Since 2012, world trade has advanced by little more than 3 percent per year, less than half the average expansion of the preceding decades. As the International Monetary Fund has noted, between 1985 and 2007 real world trade grew on average twice as fast as global gross domestic product (GDP), whereas over the past four years it has barely kept pace. “Such prolonged sluggish growth in trade volumes,” it concluded, “relative to economic activity has few precedents during the past five decades.”

Even before the accession of Trump, the WTO noted the rise of protectionist measures. It pointed out that members of the G20 group—all of which pledged to eschew 1930s style measures—had, in the five months leading up to last October, been implementing an average of 17 trade constraints a month, a situation it described as a “real and persistent concern.”

In other words, the accession of Trump and his “America First” agenda of economic nationalism and a war of each against all is not some aberration, but the qualitative development of a trend that has been building up within the world capitalist economy over the past decade, but which is now coming to the surface with explosive force.

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In the age of Trump, conservative thought has died at last

From Edmund Burke to Mr. Burns:

Conservatism once had a coherent philosophy. After the neocons, the bigots and the neo-fascists, nothing’s left

From Edmund Burke to Mr. Burns: In the age of Trump, conservative thought has died at last
Edmund Burke; Charles Montgomery Burns, William F. Buckley, Jr. (Credit: Wikimedia/Fox/AP/Nancy Kaye/Photo montage by Salon)

One way to understand what we are witnessing, amid the national humiliation of Donald Trump’s presidency, is to see it as the total collapse of conservative ideology. That might seem like a strange claim in a year when the far right seems ascendant throughout the Western world, and when the Republican Party nominally controls the White House and both houses of Congress for the first time in a decade. But I think it’s accurate, and all the breathless Ayn Rand fanfics hidden away in the hard drive of Paul Ryan’s Windows Vista PC don’t make it less so. (It does not follow, by the way, that “liberal” ideology is in such great shape either, and the two phenomena are not unconnected. Topic for another time!)

As a political force, American conservative movement has been morally and philosophically bankrupt for decades, which is one of the big reasons we are where we are right now. Largely in the interest of preserving their own power and empowering a massive money-grab by the class they represent, Republicans have cobbled together cynical coalitions by trying to appease multiple constituencies with competing and often contradictory interests: Libertarians, the Christian right, the post-industrial white working class, finance capital and the billionaire caste. Those groups have literally nothing in common beyond a shared antipathy for … well, for something that cannot be precisely defined. They don’t like the idea of post-1960s Volvo-driving, latte-drinking liberal bicoastal cosmopolitanism, that much is for sure. But the specific things they hate about it are not the same, and the goals they seek are mutually incompatible and largely unachievable.

But behind that political devolution lies the ideological implosion that’s been coming a long time, longer than I can possibly summarize here. It’s safe to say that Edmund Burke and Alexander Hamilton, two 18th-century titans the modern conservative movement likes to cite as forebears, would be horrified by the limited, narrow-minded and intellectually inflexible nature of so-called conservative thought in the 21st century. How those guys would make sense of the fact that supposedly intelligent people who claim to share their lineage have hitched their wagons to the idiocy, mendacity and delusional thinking of the would-be autocrat in the White House — an implausible caricature of the stupefied mob democracy Burke and Hamilton hated and feared — I can’t begin to imagine.

Even so, the final stages of the collapse have arrived with startling suddenness. Just a few decades ago, William F. Buckley successfully appointed himself as the intellectual standard-bearer of the American right, in large part by purging overt white supremacists and conspiracy-minded ultra-nationalists from the mainstream conservative movement. Buckley was a slippery and devious character, and despite his command of classical languages and all that, was more like a guy who plays a first-rate intellect on TV than the real thing. Arguably his decision to drive the troglodytes from the temple was more a matter of political strategy than moral principle (although I believe he was genuinely ashamed of his early embrace of segregation).

In any event, racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and other forms of paranoid thought were never absent from American conservatism — as in the “Southern strategy” that got Richard Nixon elected in 1968, and made a big comeback during the great renaissance of the Reagan revolution. Those who expressed such views were expected to keep it clean, so to speak, and to observe rhetorical limits. Ben Carson and Clarence Thomas were welcomed at the country club; Klansmen and neo-Nazis and guys who handed out homemade brochures set in 8-point type about the Bilderberg Group were exiled to the strip mall. Immigration, always the great rift in conservative politics, was politely and pointedly ignored, like the ripping fart laid by the bank president’s wife at her garden party.

It couldn’t last, and it didn’t: The grand bargain the Republican elite thought it had struck with the loonier fringes of the lumpenproletariat came undone in spectacular fashion in 2016. Donald Trump and his pitchfork brigade stormed the country club, chugged all the Pinot Grigio straight from the bottle and then barfed it up on the imitation Persian carpets. Blowhard bigot Steve Bannon is running strategy for the White House, while his crony Stephen Miller — variously compared by late-night TV hosts to “Sméagol in a suit” or a younger Montgomery Burns — dispenses outrageous lies on the president’s behalf.

What’s left of the conservative intelligentsia is either whimpering in the corner alongside New York Times columnist David Brooks or groveling before its new overlords and swearing eternal fealty. Either way, it’s pathetic. Buckley may have been an erudite con artist to a large extent, but he had a coherent worldview, avoided telling outright falsehoods and would genially have agreed that there were some good things about the Enlightenment, and perhaps even about postwar American culture. It’s a long slippery ride downhill from him to this dude, the leading intellectual apologist for the Trumpian counterrevolution.

This is insane. [“This” being continued immigration by “Third World foreigners.”] This is the mark of a party, a society, a country, a people, a civilization that wants to die. Trump, alone among candidates for high office in this or in the last seven (at least) cycles, has stood up to say: I want to live. I want my party to live. I want my country to live. I want my people to live. I want to end the insanity.

I don’t know about you, but when I encounter someone with an expensive education who ought to know better using the term “my people” with no clear point of reference — he does not mean, say, the general population of the United States — I can almost hear the singing and see the flickering torchlight. As Molly Ivins once observed about a famous 1992 speech by Pat Buchanan (which I witnessed live, from the floor of the Republican convention in Houston), that probably read better in the original German.

That’s the climactic passage from “The Flight 93 Election,” a now-infamous viral essay by Michael Anton, a onetime George W. Bush speechwriter who has more recently been hired as a policy aide by Trump’s National Security Council. Anton published it in September under the pseudonym Publius Decius Mus, a reference so obscure and self-aggrandizing that even Buckley would have found it unbelievably pompous. (The historical Decius was a Roman consul who supposedly sacrificed himself for his troops — and, of course, for the empire.)

Several things strike me about the “Flight 93” essay, the first of them being its sheer propagandistic balls-out bogosity. Anton is a compelling prose stylist in a distinctively contemporary vein: He can turn a phrase and establish a rhythm, is not averse to pop-culture references and Internet-speak, and can deploy big words without getting in over his head. But his arguments are based in shameless Trumpian bullshit; I may be kidding myself, but I don’t believe Buckley would ever have descended to such a torrent of lies. In Anton’s imaginary universe of September 2016, crime was “way, way up” and “rising fast,” the economy was in ruins, Hillary wanted to admit “a million more Syrians” and America was about to be swamped in “a tsunami of leftism” that would unleash “vindictive persecution against resistance and dissent.”

None of that is remotely related to reality, and Anton certainly knows it. What is startling for a leftist reader is the fact that roughly one-third of Anton’s arguments correspond closely to those of, say, Bernie Sanders, as when he excoriates “the sophists of the Davoisie oligarchy” (i.e., the neoliberals) who rationalize “lower wages, outsourcing, de-industrialization, and endless, pointless, winless war.”

On the other hand, like nearly all right-wingers Anton has an enormous blind spot that prevents him from perceiving any difference between mainstream liberalism and “the left.” It’s almost hilarious to envision a world in which Hillary Clinton, of all people — the most conservative and most nationalistic Democratic presidential nominee since approximately forever (since Al Smith? Since Woodrow Wilson?) — could be successfully depicted as a socialist-feminist dictator in waiting. Since that world was our actual world last fall, it isn’t funny at all.

Or maybe he’s just pretending to think that Clinton was Trotsky in a pantsuit. Anton is no neocon, but he speaks and understands the neocon code. As a former Bush administration employee he is almost certainly an apostate to the neocon worldview, which is internationalist and imperialist, enthusiastic about free trade and agnostic on immigration, and eager to minimize religious and racial conflict. (If you haven’t noticed those are all things about recent conservatism that the Trump movement forcefully rejects.) One could plausibly say that it is the remnants of the neocon old guard, like John McCain, Lindsey Graham and their allies in the CIA, who are fighting a last-ditch counterinsurgency against the Trumpian takeover of conservatism.

I would speculate that Anton’s Göbbels-scale lies about virtually everything, although their substance is borrowed from Trump and Bannon, have their ideological roots in the neo-Platonist scare-gospel of Leo Strauss. That legendary University of Chicago political philosopher taught generations of young neocons that selling falsehoods to a gullible public in service to a noble cause is not merely defensible but necessary.

Anton’s gullible public, however, is his fellow conservative intellectuals. He is trying to convince them that their cause is lost and it’s time to try something new. Like most liars, salesmen and writers, he gets carried away by the force of his own rhetoric and reveals more than he means to. The gist of “The Flight 93 Election” is only partly that America faces an invasion of transgender P.C. Islamic terrorism and, like him or not, Donald Trump represents our last chance to eat non-Sharia, non-Communist apple pie without kale mixed into it and chai poured on top of it. Anton himself admits that conservatives say that every four years, and it’s never quite true.

His real point is that conservatism has failed — that the entire 200-odd-year tradition of strategic counterattack against revolution that began with Burke, and was designed to preserve as much power and privilege as possible and carve out a middle way between too much autocracy and too much democracy, has arrived at a dead end. Those on the right who accepted the pre-Trumpian status quo, even if they complained about it, Anton says, had “implicitly admitted that conservatism is wrong. Wrong philosophically, wrong on human nature, wrong on the nature of politics, and wrong in its policy prescriptions.”

Is he trolling his fellow so-called conservatives, or trolling himself? That passage feels to me like a mea culpa and an act of repentance. Anton’s solution to this impasse, needless to say, is not for conservatives to go back to first principles and recover the analytical, conciliatory and pragmatic spirit of Burke. He mocks the Burkean tradition once by name, and several times by implication, which is something like a priest denouncing the pope. Conservatism is wrong; Anton wants “his people” to live, and he sees that life made possible through in a unique revolutionary leader, an “alleged buffoon” who is “more prudent — more practically wise” than all those who opposed him. In other words, he wants conservatives to abandon their failed ideology and embrace a new one. That one has a name too, and many people on the American right were positively aching for it.

http://www.salon.com/2017/02/18/from-edmund-burke-to-mr-burns-in-the-age-of-trump-conservative-thought-has-died-at-last/?source=newsletter

Will the Trumpian nightmare lead to a real “political revolution” after all?

Out of darkness, light:

Slavoj Žižek argued Trump would be better for the left than Clinton — and if we survive this, he might be right

Out of darkness, light: Will the Trumpian nightmare lead to a real "political revolution" after all?
(Credit: Getty/Win McNamee/Andrew Harrer)

Last November, the Marxist philosopher Slavoj Žižek turned a lot of heads when he announced shortly before the 2016 presidential election that if he were American, he would vote for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton — not because he thought Trump was the lesser evil, but precisely because he was the greater evil.

The Slovenian intellectual’s hope was that the election of a vulgar, right-wing extremist like Trump would “be a kind of big awakening” that would trigger “new political processes” in America. In other words, with a reactionary demagogue as transparently abhorrent and dangerous as Trump in the White House, a popular movement on the left would emerge to challenge not only Trump’s reactionary populism, but the neoliberal status quo that had long prevailed in Washington. Clinton, argued Žižek, stood for an “absolute inertia” that would stifle a populist movement on the left, and while there was great danger in a Trump presidency, there was also great danger in electing Clinton — especially in the long run.

This was obviously a controversial — and very Žižekian — opinion that most on the left did not espouse. One of the most prominent leftist intellectuals of our time, Noam Chomsky, called it a “terrible point,” remarking that “it was the same point that people like him said about Hitler in the early ’30s.” Chomsky means the German Communists, who in the early 1930s were more critical of the reformist Social Democratic Party — which they preposterously labeled a “social fascist” party — than they were of the Nazis.

“The left could have been organized to keeping [Clinton’s] feet to the fire,” noted  Chomsky in an interview with Al Jazeera. “What it will be doing now is trying to protect rights … gains that have been achieved, from being destroyed. That’s completely regressive.”

While Chomsky is absolutely correct — the Trump administration’s assault on civil liberties, democracy and the Constitution has only just begun, and the left will be on the political defensive for the next four years — Žižek’s point was perhaps not quite as far off as as Chomsky believed.

Shortly before the election, many people wondered what would become of the far-right populist movement that had been energized under Trump after the election, which most assumed he would lose. It is doubtful that it would have just withered away, as many liberals no doubt hoped. With Clinton in the White House, the Democrats would have been at a clear disadvantage in both the 2018 midterm elections and the 2020 elections (think of the Obama backlash during the 2010 midterm elections, and then consider how much more well-liked Obama was than Clinton).

This is particularly important when you consider that 2020 is a census year, which means that the party that comes out on top will have greater control of redrawing district lines across the country. The GOP has been able to maintain control of the House since 2010 in large part because of the extreme gerrymandering that was implemented after the 2010 Obama backlash — and in four years the winning party will have similar power (currently, Republicans control state legislatures in 24 states, while Democrats only control five).

Of course, this is still some distance away, and a lot can happen in the interim. Though we are just one month into Trump’s term, his presidency has already surpassed all recent predecessors in scandal and controversy, and the dysfunction is palpable. At times it is hard to imagine how the United States can survive another 47 weeks of this unhinged and extremist administration. While many had hoped that Trump would curb his divisive rhetoric as president and take a more pragmatic approach to governing, the exact opposite has occurred, and it is now clear that fanatics like Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller are running the show (and that Trump’s erratic, impulsive and thin-skinned personality cannot be controlled).

Thus, Chomsky’s pessimism was well-founded when he said that the government is now in the hands of the “most dangerous organization in world history.”

At the same time, it appears that some of Žižek’s hopes are materializing as well. The clearest example of this was the massive Women’s March in Washington — along with hundreds of sister marches across the country — the day after Trump’s inauguration. According to various political scientists, it was the single largest day of protests in American history — and peaceful demonstrations have continued ever since.

Trump’s controversial executive orders and cabinet picks have led to a sustained grassroots resistance in the first month of his presidency, and it is unlikely to die down anytime soon. Moumita Ahmed, who founded the Facebook group “Millennials for Revolution” (originally “Millennials for Bernie”), recently told CNN that she believes this is “not just the beginning of the ‘tea party of the left’ but a larger movement for civil rights that could make history,” and that the protests will “continue and get bigger and bigger.”

As long as Trump is in the White House, the demonstrations are likely to grow. What remains unclear is whether this grassroots resistance will be as effective in shaping electoral politics as the Tea Party was back in 2010 — and whether the Democratic Party will be as welcoming to the populist left as the GOP was to the populist right.

The current tension between progressive activists protesting on the street and the Democratic establishment was displayed by an interesting exchange last week between House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and an NYU student at a CNN town hall. After pointing out that a majority of millennials no longer support the capitalist system, the young student asked Pelosi whether she felt that the Democratic Party could “move farther left to a more populist message, the way the alt-right has sort of captured this populist strain on the right wing,” and if the Democrats “could make a more stark contrast to right-wing economics?” The question — or, more explicitly, the statement that young people are rejecting capitalism — made Pelosi visibly uncomfortable, and the congresswoman felt it necessary to emphasize the Democratic Party’s loyalty: “I have to say, we’re capitalist ― and that’s just the way it is.”

This is understandable — after all, the Democratic Party does support capitalist party, and the House minority leader can’t be expected to make radical pronouncements. But Pelosi was so concerned with defending the sanctity of capitalism that she failed to answer whether the Democrats could or should espouse a more populist economic message, akin to the social-democratic platform that nearly carried Bernie Sanders to victory over Clinton.

That kind of Democratic resistance to economic populism is making many progressives question whether the party is ready to lead a viable resistance against right-wing populism. Some progressives are starting to join other left-wing organizations like the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).

Of course, it is a truism in American politics that third parties are not viable alternatives if the goal is to succeed in electoral politics — and as long as there is a winner-takes-all system in place, this will obstinately remain true. The pragmatic approach for the populist left is to work to transform the Democratic Party itself, as groups like Brand New Congress and Justice Democrats have set out to do, while sustaining a popular movement on the ground.

Likewise, the pragmatic approach for the Democratic leadership is to embrace the growing grassroots left and combat Trump-style populism with their own anti-establishment message. With a historically low approval rating, Trump is already the most unpopular president in modern history, and his party is now the “establishment.” That means the Democrats will have the perfect opportunity to lead a popular and successful resistance in 2018 and 2020 if they can adopt a compelling populist message of their own.

With the many profound crises that currently face humanity, there are plenty of reasons to be pessimistic about the future. The worst-case scenario is that the Trump presidency could sound a “death knell for the human species,” as Chomsky put it last year. But if we are lucky enough to avoid World War III, this nightmare could also bring about the “big awakening” that Žižek imagines — and could trigger a popular movement to reverse the damage that has been done over the past 50 years.

Conor Lynch is a writer and journalist living in New York City. His work has appeared on Salon, AlterNet, Counterpunch and openDemocracy. Follow him on Twitter: @dilgentbureauct.

The Trump press conference: A ferocious conflict within the ruling elite

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17 February 2017

The news conference given by Donald Trump Thursday afternoon was extraordinary and unprecedented. The event took on a surreal character as, for more than 75 minutes, the US president traded insults with journalists and otherwise engaged in a bitter battle with his nemeses in the media. It is not comparable to anything seen before in modern American history, even at the height of the Watergate crisis.

In witnessing such a spectacle, it is always necessary to uncover the rational content, the underlying political dynamic. In this case, the press conference gave expression to a vicious conflict within the American ruling class over foreign policy as the United States hurtles toward war.

The news conference was initially called to announce Trump’s new pick for labor secretary, but this took up only one minute of the event. Trump began with a litany of achievements and actions he has taken since his inauguration, which was largely directed at the ruling elite in an appeal for support. The stock market has “hit record numbers,” corporate regulations are being eliminated, immigrants are being targeted for deportation, and Trump has ordered a “massive rebuilding” of the US military, among other right-wing measures.

However, from the media, channeling the US intelligence apparatus, questions focused almost exclusively on the ties of the Trump administration to Russia and the circumstances behind the forced resignation earlier this week of Trump’s national security advisor, Michael Flynn, over his pre-inauguration telephone conversation with the Russian ambassador.

Trump responded with a diatribe in which the media served as a stand-in for his real opponents in the US ruling elite, comprising the bulk of the permanent military-intelligence apparatus that really runs the government, regardless of which party controls the White House or majorities in Congress. He repeatedly denounced what he called “illegal leaks” to the media from sources within the intelligence agencies.

It was remarkable that when Trump directly denounced the media as a mouthpiece for the intelligence agencies, there was no attempt to rebut him. Everyone knows it is true. Likewise, when he flatly denied any contact between his campaign and Russian intelligence agencies, not a single reporter could cite evidence to the contrary.

In the course of the press conference, Trump blurted out a number of astonishing comments that point to the extreme dangers facing the entire world.

Responding to questions about what he would do about a Russian ship conducting surveillance operations in international waters off the coast of Connecticut—the same type of operations US warships conduct on a much larger scale off the coasts of Russia and China—Trump said, “The greatest thing I could do is shoot that ship that’s 30 miles off shore right out of the water. Everyone in this country’s going to say ‘oh, it’s so great.’” He continued, “If I was just brutal on Russia right now, just brutal, people would say, you would say, ‘Oh, isn’t that wonderful.’”

Trump pointed out the implications of such a clash, given that Russia and the United States have the two largest nuclear arsenals in the world. “We’re a very powerful nuclear country and so are they,” he said. “I have been briefed. And I can tell you one thing about a briefing that we’re allowed to say because anybody that ever read the most basic book can say it: a nuclear holocaust would be like no other.” In other words, there are ongoing discussions, at the highest levels of the American government, about a potential nuclear war with Russia, for which preparations are well advanced.

When challenged by one reporter on why there was no response by the US government to a series of what he called “provocations” by Russia—largely consisting of incidents provoked by US and NATO war maneuvers along Russia’s borders—Trump replied, “I’m not going to tell you anything about what response I do. I don’t talk about military response.”

He expanded on this theme, declaring that he would not talk about military operations in Iraq, North Korea, Iran or anywhere else. “You know why? Because they shouldn’t know. And eventually, you guys are going to get tired of asking that question.”

Such conflicts within the ruling elite over foreign policy are usually fought out behind the scenes, as with discontent within the military-intelligence apparatus over Obama’s retreat from a direct military intervention in Syria in 2013, when he failed to enforce his so-called “red line” against the government of Bashar al-Assad.

This time, however, the conflict has exploded into the open. Aside from the specific form that the debate within the US state apparatus has taken, it is an expression of an underlying crisis of the entire capitalist order. Twenty-five years of unending war are metastasizing, with extreme rapidity, into a major conflict involving large nation-states. National security journals are full of articles in which there is open discussion about war with Russia, in which the question is not if, but when and how. Trump, on the other hand, has focused his attention on China. In either case, the consequences are incalculable.

What was perhaps most striking is how remote the entire press conference was from the sentiments and concerns of the vast majority of the American population. There was virtually no questioning at the press conference about Trump’s war against immigrant workers or the nationwide day of protest by immigrants and their supporters that was taking place at the same time.

Those participating in the mass protests that have erupted since Trump’s inauguration are not motivated by a desire to launch a war with Russia, but by hatred of Trump’s authoritarian, anti-democratic policies and the oligarchic government that he has set up.

Trump’s critics in the Democratic Party and media, however, are responding to powerful sections of the US ruling elite who welcome Trump’s ultra-reactionary domestic policies—tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, deregulation of corporations, attacks on democratic rights, persecution of immigrants—but regard his posture of seeking better relations with Russia as intolerable.

The Democrats have responded with passive handwringing while Trump has assembled his cabinet of billionaires, ex-generals and right-wing fanatics, and issued a series of reactionary and unconstitutional executive orders. But when given the opportunity to attack Trump as soft on Russia, they engage in savage witch-hunting that recalls nothing so much as McCarthyism.

There is no faction with the American ruling class that is opposed to imperialist war. In the struggle to prevent war, it is up to the working class to intervene independently, opposing both factions in the US ruling elite, both Trump and the line-up of the CIA, the media and the Democratic Party.

Patrick Martin

WSWS

How to Build an Autocracy

inauguralspeechtrump

The preconditions are present in the U.S. today. Here’s the playbook Donald Trump could use to set the country down a path toward illiberalism.

It’s 2021, and president Donald Trump will shortly be sworn in for his second term. The 45th president has visibly aged over the past four years. He rests heavily on his daughter Ivanka’s arm during his infrequent public appearances.

Fortunately for him, he did not need to campaign hard for reelection. His has been a popular presidency: Big tax cuts, big spending, and big deficits have worked their familiar expansive magic. Wages have grown strongly in the Trump years, especially for men without a college degree, even if rising inflation is beginning to bite into the gains. The president’s supporters credit his restrictive immigration policies and his TrumpWorks infrastructure program.

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The president’s critics, meanwhile, have found little hearing for their protests and complaints. A Senate investigation of Russian hacking during the 2016 presidential campaign sputtered into inconclusive partisan wrangling. Concerns about Trump’s purported conflicts of interest excited debate in Washington but never drew much attention from the wider American public.

Allegations of fraud and self-dealing in the TrumpWorks program, and elsewhere, have likewise been shrugged off. The president regularly tweets out news of factory openings and big hiring announcements: “I’m bringing back your jobs,” he has said over and over. Voters seem to have believed him—and are grateful.

Anyway, doesn’t everybody do it? On the eve of the 2018 congressional elections, WikiLeaks released years of investment statements by prominent congressional Democrats indicating that they had long earned above-market returns. As the air filled with allegations of insider trading and crony capitalism, the public subsided into weary cynicism. The Republicans held both houses of Congress that November, and Trump loyalists shouldered aside the pre-Trump leadership.

The business community learned its lesson early. “You work for me, you don’t criticize me,” the president was reported to have told one major federal contractor, after knocking billions off his company’s stock-market valuation with an angry tweet. Wise business leaders take care to credit Trump’s personal leadership for any good news, and to avoid saying anything that might displease the president or his family.

The media have grown noticeably more friendly to Trump as well. The proposed merger of AT&T and Time Warner was delayed for more than a year, during which Time Warner’s CNN unit worked ever harder to meet Trump’s definition of fairness. Under the agreement that settled the Department of Justice’s antitrust complaint against Amazon, the company’s founder, Jeff Bezos, has divested himself of The Washington Post. The paper’s new owner—an investor group based in Slovakia—has closed the printed edition and refocused the paper on municipal politics and lifestyle coverage.

 

CONTINUED:

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/03/how-to-build-an-autocracy/513872/

The Doors took their name from the title of Aldous Huxley’s book ‘The Doors of Perception’

Feb 10, 2017

The Doors, one of the most influential and revolutionary rock bands of the sixties, were formed in Los Angeles in 1965 by UCLA film students Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek.

It all started on LA’s Venice Beach in July 1965, when Morrison told Manzarek that he had been writing songs and sang ‘Moonlight Drive’ to him. Manzarek was speechless; he had never heard lyrics to a rock song like that before.


Promotional photo of The Doors.

Manzarek, an organist, had just formed a band called Rick & the Ravens with his brothers Rick and Jim, and since they were searching for a vocalist and drummer, he asked Morrison to join them. Drummer John Densmore of The Psychedelic Rangers joined the band and soon after they recorded six Morrison songs: Moonlight Drive, My Eyes Have Seen You, Hello, I Love You, Go Insane, End Of The Night, and Summer’s Almost Gone. Manzarek’s brothers Rick and Jim didn’t like the recordings and decided to leave the band. John’s friend, guitarist Robbie Krieger, who was previously also a member of The Psychedelic Rangers, then joined the band. They never found a new bass player, so Manzarek played bass on his organ. They renamed the band to “The Doors.”

Let’s break on through to the other side and find out what influenced The Doors to name their band. It was Jim Morrison who proposed the name The Doors to his band mates. He was inspired by William Blake via Aldous Huxley’s book on mescaline, The Doors of Perception.

Morrison chose the band’s name after reading Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, which got its title from a quote in a book written by William Blake, “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.” The quote is as follows, “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”


One of the copies of William Blake’s unique hand-painted editions, created for the original printing of the poem. The line from which Huxley draws the title is in the second to last paragraph. This image represents Copy H, Plate 14 of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell which is currently held at The Fitzwilliam Museum.

Apparently, the works of William Blake and Aldous Huxley influenced not just Jim Morrison, but also Ray Manzarek. In 1967, Newsweek published an article about the Doors titled “This Way to the Egress,” where Manzarek was quoted discussing the name of the band:

There are things you know about,” says 25-year-old Manzarek, whose specialty is playing the organ with one hand and the bass piano with the other, “and things you don’t, the known and the unknown, and in between are the doors – that’s us. We’re saying that you’re not only spirit, you’re also this very sensuous being. That’s not evil, that’s a really beautiful thing. Hell appears so much more fascinating and bizarre than heaven. You have to ‘break on through to the other side’ to become the whole being.”

The Doors went on to become one of the most famous rock bands. In January 1967, their debut album was released and was a massive hit, reaching number two on the US chart. The same year in October they released their second album ‘Strange Days,’ which was also well received. ‘Waiting for the Sun’ was released in 1968 and that year the band made their first performance outside of North America.

They performed throughout Europe, including a show in Amsterdam where Morrison collapsed on stage after a drug binge. In June 1969, they released ‘The Soft Parade,’ and next year they released their fifth studio album, ‘Morrison Hotel.’ In 1971, soon after ‘L.A. Woman’ was recorded, Morrison moved to Paris to concentrate on his writing. On 3 July 1971, his body was found in the bathtub in his apartment. The rock legend apparently died of a drug overdose.


Jim Morrison’s grave at the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Photo Credit

The rest of the band tried to continue without him and released two more albums, but the band eventually split in 1973.

 

Opposition to Trump’s anti-Muslim travel ban mounts on eve of court deadline

inauguralspeechtrump

By Patrick Martin
7 February 2017

A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco, will hear oral arguments Tuesday on the travel ban on visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries imposed by the Trump administration January 27 by executive order.

The hearing was announced Monday evening, shortly after the administration filed legal briefs with the appeals court seeking to overturn the decision by Judge James Robart, a federal district judge in Seattle, who issued a temporary restraining order blocking enforcement of the Muslim ban.

The three judges include William Canby Jr., appointed by Jimmy Carter; Richard Clifton, appointed by George W. Bush; and Michelle T. Friedland, appointed by Barack Obama.

The hour-long hearing, with 30 minutes for each side, will take place at 6 pm Tuesday, Eastern Time, or 3 pm Pacific Time, with a recording of the hearing released to the public after the conclusion of the arguments.

The states of Washington and Minnesota brought the suit charging that the executive order issued by Trump is unconstitutional because of its brazenly religious character. They also argued that it damages the interests of citizens of those states as well as institutions such as universities and corporations whose students and employees are affected by the ban.

Fifteen more states, with a combined population of more than 100 million people, filed an amicus brief Monday supporting the position of Washington and Minnesota. The brief was drafted by attorneys for California, New York, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.

Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and the District of Columbia joined in supporting the brief. The state of Hawaii filed a separate motion in support of Washington and Minnesota.  Nearly all these states are governed by Democrats.

The 15-state brief detailed the impact of the ban on the educational and health care systems in many of the states. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said that medical school programs would “risk being without a sufficient number of medical residents to meet staffing needs,” and that more than 2,000 students set to enroll in the state’s college and university system would be affected.

The main argument presented by the Trump administration was the claim that the states have no legal standing to challenge the executive order, and that the president’s power to control immigration is conferred both by the Constitution and federal law and is absolute and unreviewable by any court.

“Judicial second-guessing of the president’s national security determination in itself imposes substantial harm on the federal government and the nation at large,” Justice Department lawyers wrote in legal papers defending the executive order.

At the court hearing last Friday, Washington state Solicitor-General Noah Purcell responded by saying, “They’re basically saying that you can’t review anything about what the president does or says, as long as he says it’s for national security reasons. And that just can’t be the law.’’

Aside from the obviously authoritarian character of the administration’s claim, this is the diametric opposite of the position taken by Republican state attorneys general in 2015 when they argued—successfully—before the Fifth Circuit Court (based in New Orleans) that they had standing to challenge President Obama’s executive order exempting several million long-settled undocumented immigrants from deportation.

The Trump brief also urged the Ninth Circuit to reject out of hand any arguments based on religious discrimination, since the text of the executive order does not explicitly call for a ban on Muslims. Trump’s numerous statements declaring that he wished to impose a Muslim ban, and his seeking advice on how to word such a ban so that it would pass legal muster, could not be considered by the court, the brief argued, because this would involve investigating the motives of the executive branch, and would thus breach the separation of powers. The contrast between this argument and Trump’s own conduct, tweeting imprecations against Judge James Robart and all but branding him a terrorist sympathizer, is stark.

The brief filed by Washington and Minnesota replied that “courts have both the right and the duty to examine defendants’ true motives,” and cited precedents linked to previous Supreme Court decisions in relation to discrimination against gays and other disfavored minorities.

The states’ brief pointed out that the claims of urgent national security dangers were undermined by the sheer breadth of the order: “For several months it bans all travelers from the listed countries and all refugees, whether they be infants, schoolchildren or grandparents. And though it cites the attacks of September 11, 2001 as a rationale, it imposes no restrictions on people from the countries whose nationals carried out those attacks. It is at once too narrow and too broad… and cannot withstand any level of scrutiny.”

The issues of imperialist foreign policy underlying the legal recriminations were spelled out in an affidavit filed Monday by ten former top figures in the national security establishment, mostly from Democratic administrations. The document was signed by two former secretaries of state, John Kerry and Madeleine Albright, former defense secretary and CIA director Leon Panetta, former national security adviser Susan Rice, her former deputy Lisa Monaco, former homeland security secretary Janet Napolitano, and four former CIA directors or deputy directors: Michael Hayden, Michael Morrell, John McLaughlin and Avril Haines.

Noting that four of these officials “were current on active intelligence regarding all credible terrorist threat streams directed against the US” as late as January 20, 2017, the statement declared: “We all are nevertheless unaware of any specific threat that would justify the travel ban established by the Executive Order issued on January 27, 2017.”

Trump’s executive order will “disrupt key counterterrorism, foreign policy and national security partnerships that are critical to our obtaining” intelligence necessary to combat terrorist groups like the Islamic State, the statement declared. It went on to warn that individuals in the seven targeted countries who cooperated with US intelligence and military operations would now be endangered.

Newly installed Pentagon chief James Mattis reportedly ordered emergency measures for the protection of Iraqis who collaborated with the US military occupation by acting as translators or providing intelligence. The entry of these Iraqis into the United States under a special visa program was halted by the Trump order.

A separate amicus brief was filed by 97 giant corporations, including a who’s who of Silicon Valley: Facebook, Microsoft, Intel, Uber, eBay, Apple, Google, Twitter, Airbnb and Snap. The corporations argued that the order “inflicts significant harm on American business, innovation, and growth,” and by disrupting the movement of employees and potential customers “is inflicting substantial harm on US companies.”

Legal commentators expect the Ninth Circuit, which is the most liberal of the circuit courts in the US, to endorse Robart’s decision in some fashion, followed by an appeal by the Trump administration to the Supreme Court. In the event of a 4-4 split, which was the result of the previous immigration enforcement lawsuit by Republican-controlled states in 2015, the circuit court’s decision would stand.

Whatever the long-term result of the legal conflict, however, the temporary restraining order remains in effect this week, with as many as 100,000 people holding visas for entry into the United States from the seven countries targeted by the White House.

Meanwhile, more evidence has emerged of the racist and bigoted character of both the executive order itself and its enforcement by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. A report in Newsweek quoted Los Angeles immigration lawyer Stacy Tolchin, who describes how ICE agents separated Muslims from non-Muslims during detention proceedings at the airports in the period before the court order halting the travel ban was issued.

“They are segregating Muslims from the non-Muslims when they’re being detained, holding them in separate rooms,” Tolchin told Newsweek. “I think it shows what the real intent of the travel ban is.” The magazine reported that several other lawyers “corroborated Tolchin’s account, saying those who identified themselves as Christian or Jewish did not seem subject to the same treatment at the border.”