Donald Andrew Henson II

Posts Tagged ‘Donald Trump’

Degraded American Fascism

In American Society, The Trump Administration on April 7, 2017 at 7:24 pm

I stated unequivocally in my last post that President Trump is not a Nazi, certainly not another Adolph Hitler. I think attempts on the left to paint him as such are misguided and hyperbolic, and hyperbole never helps to move the conversation further. In addition, whenever someone cries ‘Nazi’ for lesser crimes than the Nazis actually committed, it does a disservice to those who truly suffered under that ugly regime.

However, that doesn’t mean I think he’s a good person, nor certainly does it mean he’s a good fit for the presidency. He is, in fact, uniquely unsuited for the job. He is someone who’s been granted every advantage in life who yet cannot pass on any opportunity to bully those who haven’t. Perhaps one could excuse an uneducated day-laborer for resentfully decrying that the Mexicans had ruined his economic opportunities, but where does the Wharton grad’s resentment come from? Daddy should’ve left him a few million more?

He’s not even a particularly good businessman. His multiple bankruptcies – and the fact that he refuses to release his tax returns – speak volumes. Much was made a few weeks ago about the fact that, if he had just put his inheritance into an index fund, he would be worth substantially more than he is today. Repubs like Trump are always saying the government should be run more like a business – I’m sorry, but I don’t think bankrupting the country three or four times to finally make it ‘profitable’ is the direction most of us want to go in.

The fact that the Right can still even make assertions like these just leaves me gobsmacked. I’m reminded of the parade of big shots asking the government to save their banks from their own incompetence, Hank Paulson on his knees begging George W to specifically NOT let the banks fail, as pure capitalism would’ve required. The very un-business-like business of bailing out Wall Street criminals less than a decade ago should have discredited this kind of talk for a generation.

But so should have Trump’s failures as a person and a businessman disqualified him as a viable candidate for president, even by the very low bar for behavior set by corporate America. As ever, Sam Harris puts it in the right perspective:

There isn’t a single Fortune 500 company, or a reputable university, or any other respectable institution in this country, which has a board of directors, which, three years ago, would have said the following, ‘You know what we need to take our organization to the next level? We need a truly brilliant leader. We need someone with vision and integrity, someone who is ethical and deeply knowledgeable. We need the wisest person we can find, to take us forward at this point. You know who we need? We need Donald Trump.’ I am confident that had those words been uttered in any boardroom in America, the result would have been derisive laughter. And there are good reasons for that.

Conservatives worry that a more progressive government might allow some ne’er-do-well to receive a few thousand bucks more than he or she deserves, thereby upsetting the survival-of-the-fittest, Ayn Rand ethos so necessary to a capitalist system; elevating a few thousand souls out of poverty might keep a ‘job creator’ from being a billionaire. But doesn’t the existence of a guy like Donald Trump indicate that our current system does not necessarily move the cream to the top? (Not to mention pretty much every other reality TV star).

So why is he President? Thomas Dumm, writing over a year ago for the blog Contemporary Condition, credits then-candidate Trump’s popularity to what he calls a degraded, 21st-century, American Fascism:

I would suggest that the European fascism of the first part of the twentieth century has its degraded counterpart in the form of an American fascism suited to the twenty-first. Trumpism is the current incarnation of this degraded fascism, in which the newsreel in the movie theatre is replaced by the resonating power of Fox News….and the impotent admiration of the MSNBC resonance machine.

Fascism requires propaganda to thrive, and Fox and other conservative outlets have been creating fertile ground for the extreme right and the alt-right to grow for nearly two decades now. Peddling half-truths and innuendo for years has conditioned their audience for a guy like Trump, who deals in ‘alternative facts’ – no truth at all. It’s telling that in his defense of tweets accusing the Obama administration of wire-tapping him, he said last week that they are becoming true. You make assertions, twist the facts, browbeat the press, and your assertions become truths.

Trumpites

But these new ‘newsreels’ created by Fox, Breitbart, and Trump’s tweets are only effective because they allow a particular group to hear a story they want to hear. Dumm explains, “This is fascism; it is a new means for giving expression to the masses, while ensuring that the underlying economic arrangements remain intact.” (italics mine)

This was so prescient – Trump, who ran as the champion of the working man, has made little pretense of doing anything for his voters at all, besides his attempted Muslim bans. He’s cobbled together the wealthiest, most inexperienced Cabinet in our history, with neither the ability nor the inclination to do anything for the angry white middle class. He promised to drain the swamp, but instead its brimming over with the financial and ethical conflicts brought in by his staff. He tried to push through Paul Ryan’s healthcare plan – knowing it was worse for the middle class than even an outright repeal would be. Even some in the GOP remarked that his budget proposal appeared to purposely punish the very people who voted for him.

And here’s the thing – his supporters knew he wouldn’t deliver – that it was all just symbolism. From coal jobs coming back to better healthcare to locking Hillary up – it was all about “giving expression to the masses” never about really fixing anything. It was all about the right to say and do all the politically incorrect things they wanted to say and do, to poke a finger in the eye of those uppity liberals. And of course to proclaim a kind of cultural mythology in the face of a diversifying and changing country. But no real plan to actually fix the holes in our economic system that technology has torn.

Dumm continues:

But I want to suggest something more — that this is nihilism as well. Why? Fascism, as a totalitarian political force, insists upon an intense organization of its masses. That is a part of its aesthetic. Trumpism — for lack of a better term – is not nearly so organized….His policy pronouncements are closer to being automatic writing than coherent attempts to demonstrate solutions to problems, sketches on the back of envelopes that are then farmed out to hack consultants to puff up in to white papers.

There does seem to be an ominous message – not sure if it’s from Breitbart or where – but the idea that if we can’t somehow drag things back to the 1950s or some other ‘past of former greatness’, then it would just be better to blow the whole system to bits. There’s an entire  sub-culture on the right actually preparing for this as an eventuality

This ties in with my series of posts about unemployment (which I promise to finish) – my real fear is that these new fascist sentiments, degraded or otherwise, will make it impossible to honestly tackle the problems we’ll face when the future position of the working class becomes even more tenuous. If real structural changes can’t be made – in other words, if the progressive agenda America needs to implement is instead viewed as truly socialist (and not just rhetorically so) by an increasingly nihilist right – then we are facing a very ugly future indeed.

Is Trump Fascist?

In American Society, Current events, The Trump Administration on April 5, 2017 at 2:48 am

Donald Trump

I know you’ve seen the Photoshopped images of Trump in Nazi attire, or with a Fuhrer-esque mustache, or some other kind of outlandish caricature that insinuates he’s Hitler reincarnated. And certainly this is nothing new – I’m guessing as soon as we had some kind of program that allowed us to manipulate photos, someone was creating Hitler memes. Hillary as Nazi was quite popular this past election season, and Obama as Hitler has been a perennial favorite – perhaps only slightly less popular than Obama as Lucifer. (The inconsistency evident in the Obama as Hitler meme always sort of screamed out at me, but I guess a lot of his haters don’t realize it’s not possible to call someone a communist AND a nazi at the same time – more on that in a minute).

Apparently, a lot of people aren’t aware of one of the oldest internet memes in existence – Godwin’s Law. There are many iterations of this law, but basically the idea is that if you bring up Hitler or the Nazis in your argument, you’ve immediately lost your debate – or at least ended any pretense of rational discussion.

But ever since then-candidate, now-President Donald Trump stormed on to the political playing field, calling out the Mexicans for sending over rapists and murderers, the old rules of ‘debate’ have been rapidly re-written – mostly in a downward direction. Calling other people names didn’t diminish Trump’s popularity – it increased it. The GOP won both houses of Congress by calling Obamacare ‘socialism’.

And many have said that Godwin’s Law shouldn’t disqualify an argument – some people are indeed Nazis.

So is Trump a modern-day Hitler? Well, it certainly doesn’t help your cause when groups like the Ku Klux Klan endorse you, and noted white supremacists proclaim ‘Hail Trump!’ at rallies  while other participants applaud gleefully and do that Hitler salute thing. But I’d have to say no. While these groups have endorsed his behavior, he hasn’t endorsed theirs – although he may have been slower to make that clear than many would have liked.

And while he spent a lot of time demonizing others on the campaign trail, his ‘final solution’ for those groups is building a wall, not a gas chamber. You could argue that he wants to marginalize certain groups in society, but you can’t seriously claim he wants to kill them. Donald Trump is not Hitler, nor is he a Nazi.

But is he a Fascist?

This is a more difficult question, for while historians pretty much agree on the parameters of 20th century European Fascism, there’s much less agreement on how to describe it in a 21st century American context. Here’s one attempt summarizing Fascism’s key tenets:

Fascists believe that liberal democracy is obsolete, and they regard the complete mobilization of society under a totalitarian one-party state as necessary to prepare a nation for armed conflict and to respond effectively to economic difficulties. Such a state is led by a strong leader—such as a dictator and a martial government composed of the members of the governing fascist party—to forge national unity and maintain a stable and orderly society. Fascism rejects assertions that violence is automatically negative in nature, and views political violence, war, and imperialism as means that can achieve national rejuvenation. Fascists advocate a mixed economy, with the principal goal of achieving autarky through protectionist and interventionist economic policies.

I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that there’s a lot in that definition that can be said to be true about Trump and those with whom he surrounds himself. Liberal democracy is used here as a synonym to western democracy, and doesn’t refer to how we use the word ‘liberal’ in American political conversations. But Trump et al are actively questioning many of the foundations of how democracies have functioned since World War II. Obsolete is exactly the word he would use for many respected institutions such as NATO or the EU itself. The GOP is eagerly hoping to effectively have one-party rule until the next election cycle (Mitch McConnell will have probably used the ‘nuclear option’ in the Senate by the time you read this, effectively ending bipartisanship for the next two years) – but both parties are guilty of that. However, Trump has repeatedly claimed that he, and he alone, can fix America’s problems – only the charismatic strongman can make America great again.

Trumps followers want police and military to use more force, not less, to keep the rowdies at home and abroad in line. (Trump’s AG just issued a directive today that basically bars the Federal government from preventing state and local police from using excessive force). Violence has been condoned at Trump’s rallies since the beginning, the idea of locking up political opponents cheerfully encouraged and embraced. Trump’s recent budget proposal has called for massive increases in military spending, one might guess in preparation for a new decade of American imperialism – Trump himself said we should have kept Iraq’s oil for ourselves after our invasion.

As far as that last statement pertaining to autarky goes (had to look that one up myself), I don’t think a more apt description of Trump’s views on international trade could be written.

The above definition doesn’t mention anti-Semitism or the widespread formation of independent militias that, in my opinion, were key parts of Fascism in the last century – the parallel components in the American version being anti-immigrant or anti-Muslim rhetoric and the ramping up of paramilitary groups such as the Bundy Bunch. No one knows for sure how Donald Trump really feels about an American society armed to the teeth, but he certainly went after that vote.

I don’t see a totalitarian bent to the administration – although Trump himself is still pretty chuffed he won; he’s president and you’re not. And, it’s bizarre how cozy so many members of his team are with communist Russia. Apparently socialism is very, very bad, especially as it pertains to everything Democrats do, but a Cold War communist like Putin is all right. Historically, Fascist groups have been virulently anti-communist.

So, in conclusion, it’s a mixed bag, but definitely more than enough to set off alarm bells. While the Trump movement doesn’t fit the textbook definition of Fascism, there’s enough there in my opinion to be considered Fascism light. 

Or, as another writer says so much more eloquently, a degraded, cartoon version of Fascism. We’ll look at his ideas in my next post.

Which Economy is Trump Talking About?

In American Economy, Current events on January 28, 2017 at 4:30 pm

I’ve written about the apparent confusion of the language here in the US between conservatives and liberals, commented on how the word ‘entitled’ has been transformed from a criticism of the upper classes to a pejorative for the working poor, and lamented that some accept lies as facts simply because they have heard them hundreds of times. And now we have Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway giving us ‘alternative facts’. But in all of this confusion, there is one idea that is so muddy and unclear that one hardly knows what it means – or whether it means anything at all. In fact, I think we may all have quite a different idea in our heads when we hear the words ‘the economy’.

Studies of bi-lingual children have shown that the same word spoken in different languages can produce very different images in the mind. One study involved French-Canadian children between the ages of 4 and 7 years old who had one English-speaking parent at home and one French-speaking one, and could use both languages with equal skill. The children were given a piece of paper and some crayons and were asked by an instructor, in English, to “draw a dog for me, please.” The children happily complied. The drawings all looked very similar, as do most drawings done by children of this age. No surprises.

The next day, the same children were given the exact same instruction, but this time, the whole event was conducted in French instead of English, so the children were told to “dessinez un chien pour moi, s’il vous plait.” Again, all of the drawings looked very similar to each other – but to the astonishment of the instructors, they all looked decidedly different from the drawings of the previous day. The study was repeated with a variety of different objects and creatures school children might be familiar with – every time with the same surprising result.

It seemed that when the children were communicating in French, they were actually thinking differently than when they were speaking in English. Is it possible that ‘un chien’ produces one image in the mind, while ‘a dog’ conjures another? Can it be that not only do different cultures have different ideas kicking around in their brains, but also different ideals?

Or, that what one person means when he says ‘the economy’ isn’t the meaning I get when I hear him say it? This might explain why we are in so much disagreement about how to fix our ‘economy’.

I’ve never been rich, so I have a decidedly middle-class idea of what a good economy might look like. To me, a good economy means that everyone who wants to work can find a job, and that those jobs pay enough to provide the necessities of life. With a bit of hard work, other opportunities to obtain better jobs with better pay become available, and some of the niceties of life, such as a house or car, can be afforded as well. Over time, not only can one afford a few comforts and modest luxuries, but a modicum of financial security. Professionals and successful entrepreneurs can scale to even greater financial heights, but pretty much everyone can expect to exchange his or her labor for a typical American lifestyle. Government assistance is for those who have temporarily fallen upon hard times or who legitimately can not work.

NAFTA, North American Free Trade AgreementWhat about for those who don’t work for a living, but instead depend on the accumulation of wealth and a positive return on investments? The availability and quality of work is an integral part, in my mind, of a good economy. But, I’m guessing that ‘a good economy’ means something altogether different for investors than it does for me.

Notice that how well Wall Street is doing doesn’t factor into my thinking about the economy, but it would be perhaps the single most important factor for someone with a huge accumulation of wealth. For me, I’d like to do something I enjoy doing, and pay the bills doing it. For a person who doesn’t need to work, doing what he wants to do and paying the bills while doing it is a foregone conclusion; what he wants is something completely different from what I want – and thus his idea of what is ‘good for the economy’ probably doesn’t line up with mine.

He wants a good return on his investment. I want a good return for my labor. He might be able to win some, lose some; I cannot afford to work at something that doesn’t pay.

So, when conservatives tell us that tax cuts for the rich are good for the economy, we need to ask, “Which economy?” When the rich have more cash, they invariably invest more into the stock market. As more money pours in, stock prices rise – whether the companies selling shares perform better or not, more buyers than sellers creates an influx of cash for a finite number of shares, causing  prices to rise. Therefore, tax cuts are good for the stock market and those who invest in it. If this is your measure of ‘a good economy’, then saying that cutting taxes for the rich is good for the economy is true.

However, if your idea of a good economy looks like mine, then tax cuts are counter-productive. Teachers, policeman, firemen, and other government employees get axed when taxes are cut, which sends most communities into a downward spiral. Those who lose their jobs can no longer shop or buy, meaning that local businesses lose income as well, meaning they may have to lay off employees as well. All those folks without jobs means lower tax revenues next year, which necessitates even further job cuts.

Depending on how it’s managed, this can still be good news for shareholders. Those redundant employees might be forced to take lower-paying jobs than they had before, and low wages increase the bottom line for big business.

But notice the big difference – the investor class can do well in either type of ‘good economy’, when companies are expanding and adding employees or when they are cutting costs by letting them go. If he’s savvy, the investor can make even more money when stock prices go down.

The man who depends on his labor for his living is not in the same predicament. When the economy is bad, he suffers. Some may find a way to start a new business in bad times, but most end up making less money than they did before. There’s no upside to a downturn for the working man.

I think this is one of the reasons Donald Trump is now POTUS. While I think the man is abhorrent, there are a great number of people who voted for him because they haven’t seen their personal economies improve in decades, despite watching the stock market double in the last 20 years. I don’t see how cancelling trade agreements like TPP and NAFTA are going to reverse that trend – what I really think is that, while people have had stagnant wages, they’ve enjoyed cheaper prices on goods. ‘Renegotiating’ trade agreements will do little to bring back jobs or raise wages, but will certainly raise prices on everything from computers to shoes to vegetables. So, the working man will lose again.

I certainly do NOT see how more tax cuts for the rich will create those jobs or raise wages – not in the US anyway. And I’m afraid I don’t have much sympathy for what ails the rich, nor am I concerned about what benefits that class without benefiting others. A guy like Mitt Romney pays 15% in taxes on his millions, which grow while he sleeps, while I pay 30% on what I earn by the sweat of my brow. He can adjust his investment strategy to incorporate a downturn; I’m left with the ultimate tax break – I get to pay 0% if I have no income at all.

Can Trump improve the middle-class economy while slashing taxes for the rich? It hasn’t worked in my lifetime – but I’m guessing we’ll know the outcome soon enough.