24 September, 2018

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Trump Without Bannon: A New Phase

By Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

America’s Alt-Right surges; Pax Americana erodes

“In essence populism believes that society is divided into two homogeneous but antagonistic groups, ordinary people and a corrupt elite. It argues that social change is possible only through a radical pruning of the power of the elite” ~ Monumental Populist by Ivan Krastev 

Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte is a homicidal thug but it is also true that the drug problem is out of control. Xi Jinping’s thoughts are famously unoriginal but, no worry, have been enshrined in the Party constitution. Trump is idiosyncratic, psychologically unstable and gaffe prone, but is there an inherent and unintended design to his insanity? These questions are asked because the faithful sustain apparently irrational enthusiasm and continue to resonate with their leader.

Trump’s appeal for those fed up-with the establishment is unsurprising. It is hopelessness and frustration that propelled him to power. To this America, the Democratic Party had, and has, nothing to offer. And it is Steve Bannon, not DJT, who is the authentic voice of angry far right populism. The ways of Bannon and Trump are now parting; this is a crucial watershed on the American right. DJT removed Bannon form the position of White House Chief Strategist under pressure from Chief of Staff John Kelly brought into to discipline a brawling White House mob and appease GOP leaders and the media. Bannon is now on a warpath against the ‘traitors’ surrounding DJT.

Bannon and Trump: In politics there are no permanent friends or foes | Photo courtesy http://datechguyblog.com/

Bannon (Virginia Tech, Bachelor in Urban Planning; Harvard Business School, MBA) is from a pro-Kennedy, pro-Union, working class family in Virginia. He is no clown like DJT but a visionary. Here is a sample beyond the reach of Trump’s intellectual prowess:

“This is a populist, nationalist, conservative revolt. It’s a revolt against the elites in this country. It’s a revolt against the globalists among those elites. It’s a revolt against the progressive agenda that is being jammed down the throat of the American people. Hard-working men and women of the world are tired of the global elites. They’re tired of being told what to do. This is a global revolution.”

Bannon has not yet denounced Trump as a sell-out who betrayed the base which elected him and aligned himself with the elitist swamp that he promised to drain. DJT is an opportunist dealmaker pure and simple whose lodestar is only DJT himself. Aware of the threat from a shifting base he is straining to sell his proposed tax-cuts as relief for low income earners; in truth it is pure gravy for the rich and for corporations. Trump has declared “Bannon cried when he got fired and begged for his job. Now Sloppy Steve has been dumped like a dog by almost everyone. Too bad!” Bannon, the prophet of Alt-Right neo-populism, may be playing a deeper waiting game. Nothing certain can be said yet.

The widely accepted view of the Republican Party is an oversimplification. Conventional wisdom has it that it is the party of big capital and hidebound conservatives while the ‘base’ is discounted as dumb frogs in the well. This is incorrect; it consists of two constituencies, big capital and the ‘Alt-Right’. The latter is an authentic social force; middlebrow, conservative, provincial, somewhat underprivileged and now includes recently alienated white workers. My thesis is that the social and class character of the GOP are more complex than the prevalent sanguine view.

For decades the ‘base’, did not shine independently and was taken for granted by the leadership till the Tea Party Movement surfaced. Liberals and left despised the ‘base’ and failed to understand its social rootedness. Why did it lie dormant for so long? Because America lived on borrowed time and money; for most folk, life was good enough. Now existential livelihoods are falling apart and at the same time US global economic influence is in decline and there are setbacks to its military reach. ‘Make America Great Again’ resonates with those who took ‘America is the Greatest’ for granted, but are now disoriented. The ‘base’, like DJT, inhabits a parallel universe of ethereal visions. The leadership in Congress is overawed by a President cum Alt-Right alliance, but the alliance is fraying, so enter Steve Bannon and such like voices.

Fire and Fury

A 336-page book released on 5 January (Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff) received extensive local and international coverage with the UK Times front page casting doubt on DJT’s mental health and Germany’s top conservative paper, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, asking “Is Trump still sane?”.  The book is about infighting in the White House and, inter alia, details Bannon’s moves to rebuild the neo-populist right because DJT has sold out to the “swamp”, the Republican upper class. Lawyers for the President demanded that Wolff and publisher desist from publication. The result, unprecedented demand and the release date advanced to 5 from 9 January. It sold out on the first day. Trump spent a day raging about the book and sent out a twitter message “Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind.”.

Wolff says Bannon, chief executive of the Trump election campaign, called DJT campaign-staff’s meetings with Russians “treasonous” and adds that DJT’s advisors tried to explain the constitution to him but “could not get past the Fourth Amendment”. Wolff also claims that daughter Ivanka and husband Jared Kushner discussed, in his presence, plans for the former to run as a future presidential candidate. Some of Wolff’s claims are odd, for example: a) Trump neither wanted nor expected to win. b) The family was alarmed when he won, fearing a cock-up of the presidency. c) Donald Jr. said his father looked as if he had “seen a ghost” when he realized he had won, and d) Melania Trump was in tears of despair. Wolff is a dicey character and how much of what he says to believe is open to question.

Two new books Alt-America by psychologist George Hawley and Making Sense of the Alt-Right by David Neiwert explore a world of white resentment. Neiwert scorns the media for failing to see the threat posed by neo-populism and the role of white nationalism in DJT’s victory. Hawley says the Alt-Right is difficult to classify; its core is racist but different from its white supremacist predecessors in that it is “atomised, amorphous and largely anonymous”. Far-right activist Hunter Wallace wrote on an Alt-Right website, “liberals share the blinkered world-view that more liberty and equality is the solution to every problem. We see something else. We don’t believe in any of the standard bullshit – nothing is less self-evident to us than the notion that all men are created equal”!

Alt-Right transcends conventional right-left divides and has no interest in conservative tenets such as tradition and liberty. It is not just racist, it is radical; its radicalism is the degree to which it rejects other values. Alt-Right people hold divergent views and combine different elements of left and right thought. Not only free marketers, but some socialists too denounce the ‘political class’, shun middle of the road parties and rely only on mass action; these are elements of neo-populism.

Which brings me to the quote from Ivan Kristev reproduced at the top. Kristev and the authors I have summarised above see neo-populism/Alt-Right in psychological and behavioural terms. Their analyses, though illuminating, lacks depth and scrutiny of systemic roots.  Sans a perspective of the life-cycle of capitalism and its stages of growth, prosperity, stasis and catastrophe, analytical rigour is superficial. It’s all about ‘who thought what’ and ‘who felt how’. A materialist social and economic perspective is absent. A bland sociological version, without the hard side, is tinsel.

What are the implications for social developments? DJT may be impeached, or quit, or cling on till the end of his term, but the misery of the neo-pops will not end and the effect of the changes he has wrought in US foreign policy will persist. The return of a sane president will not restore the status quo because, in a paradoxical way, the foreign policy fixes DJT has invoked fit America’s reduced global role and is better aligned to its weakened economic and military standing.

Sea changes in foreign policy

Consider the following roughly in order of importance. Recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, thus dismaying Muslim states, complicating relations with ally Saudi Arabia and invoking a UN General Assembly snub; losing global economic hegemony to China and impotent to prevent Chinese military parity within two decades; losing hegemony to Russia in the Syrian-Iraqi-Turkish theatre; further despoiling relations with Iran; confronting North Korea, shouting “I have a Bigger Button than you” and aggravating the potential for nuclear conflict; upsetting relations with Europe and putting NATO under stress; raising tensions with Pakistan, Venezuela, Mexico and Canada.

Partly this is just Trump, the bull in the China shop, but against a background of declining US wealth and power, those who may have read it are reminded of Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Insane Emperor Caligula appointed his horse as a Senator; DJT’s creature of choice is the pussy. However, it was not balmy emperors but hard facts that threw the Empire into tailspin. There was a fall in agricultural output in the surrounding countryside, Northern Italy was being increasingly settled by Germanic tribes (immigration; sic!) and the Legions were militarily overstretched across the vastness of the Empire. There were other factors as well; the split between Eastern (Constantinople) and Western (Rome) Empires was the most significant political factor.

I don’t want to overdraw parallels, but it is the decline of America’s material prowess, the weakening of its economy compared to Asia, the diminishing role of the dollar and petrodollar – I will discuss this in a future piece – and the erosion of military dominance, that underlie the change. We are passing through interesting times. Internally, America is becoming a different and diminished country, and overall, global balances are being restructured. The old status quo cannot be restored. The foreign policy changes that are being invoked, albeit by a nutter, are consonant with America’s weakened global economic and military capabilities.

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    How authentic is the version of Michael Wolff about the Trump White House.True, Trump unlike the previous occupants of the White House is rather controversial in his pronouncements.An enormously wealthy man that he is there is bound to be some degree of eccentricity as well. The son saying that the father looked like a Ghost when he had won the Presidency[ Perhaps a look of disbelief] and the wife crying[Perhaps,overjoyed with tears] are a bit off the mark!

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      Looks like MR: MY3 relationship. Saying goodbye after the hopper meal.

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        Election of DT is in according to Biblical prediction. How could you otherwise explain the meteoric rise of a relatively unknown person, throws his hat into the ring, then bulldozes his way to get Republican nomination and wins on a bizarre system of electoral college despite not having a numerical majority. Had any other joker been nominated by Republicans, Mrs Clinton would have won. Is this not a miracle. God has sent DT to deliver Jerusalem to Jews and he has done it, which despite being on the cards, four previous Presidents failed to do and Mrs. Clinton would not have done. With declaration of Jerusalem as the sole capital of Israel, DT has completed his mission and he may have to leave the scene. No force on earth can take Jerusalem away from Jews if Biblical predictions are to be correct. Turkey has told that it is recognising east Jerusalem as capital of Palestine, which is only an empty rhetoric as Turkey cannot taken even one step into Jerusalem without going to war and take it over from Israel. If Biblical prophesy is to come correct, a war will take place against Israel led by Turkey and joined by other Islamic fanatic states like Iran and Pakistan, and Israel supported by God, will prevail at the end, with the liberation of kingdom of David and destruction of Islamic states. If this happens, then credit for all these should go to DT who has fearlessly initiated the process. In governance there is something called right and politically right. Late Lee Kwan Yew said his success was because he did what is right and not what is politically right. DT is following the same policy. Sanctions against Iran is another such decision, which makes Biblical prophesy come true.

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          Dr. Sankaralingam,

          Biblical prophecy hasn’t stood the test of time, and is simply nonsense. What DJT has declared is that the American embassy in Israel will be moved to Jerusalem, but other countries won’t follow it. So, it simply inflames Palestinian and Arab passions, but is just a lot of hot air. By all accounts, DJT doesn’t have a steady or sane mind, and he is simply transactional, with no sense of morality or loyalty to others. It is folly expect such a man to do anything ‘right.’

          That such a man was elected by nearly 80% of evangelicals, shows the fundamental falsehoods and dishonesty of religions, especially the American version of Christianity.

          And that such a man, even with inherited wealth, was able to become a billionaire by declaring bankruptcy 6 times, impoverishing his creditors and workers, shows that modern capitalism in its current form is a fundamental fraud. But asking that it capitalism’s flaws be fixed, doesn’t endorse communism, as some people would have it.

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            Agnos: “[…] modern capitalism […] fundamental fraud[…] capitalism’s flaws be fixed…”
            Would be intrigued to know what frauds you have identified and what fixes you have in mind?

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              Travel Lounge,

              You will have to wait for me to write a book about it :-)

              But if you want to chew on it, I will give you some pointers. Capitalism hangs by the flimsy thread of ‘caveat emptor.’ Because the true cost of a product or service is not transparent, it gives some people license to charge exorbitant prices. Indeed, if someone has become a billionaire, it is evidence that consumers have paid too much. That is true even if the money is made by investments, because the companies in which the investment is made ultimately have consumers who pay out of their pocket.

              The fixes can be debated, but may include government establishing agencies that exercise vigilance over prices charged, limiting the ability to declare bankruptcy to deserving cases only, as well as limiting the maximum wealth a person may have to something like $300 million, not leaving it open ended to billions. Alternatively, tax any wealth above $300 m at a very high rate, say 90%. That is for the rich countries. Developing countries can have tighter limits on wealth. I know all the spiel about risk-taking and innovation coming from those who make counter-arguments, but they are invalid, and don’t deserve my time.

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    irrelevant to Sri Lanka ……

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    When I predicted a possible Trump victory intellectuals scoffed. I said expect seismic changes. They are coming. I cannot say whether they are all for the better or for worse. But the economy that Obama helped revived is thriving. Unemployment is down to 4.1% and there are signs of companies responding positively to the Corporate tax cuts. USA’s largest employer Walmart said it will raise minimum wage to $11.00 per hour and even give a $1000.00 bonuses. Why didn’t Democrats think of cutting Corporate tax rates? I may also be an immigrant from a shit-hole nation if he thinks all brownies and darkies like me are from such. But if there was a merit based immigration system like Canada and Australia on points, I know if I were back being 25 to 30 years I would get more points than Trump’s first and third wives(nude model with a few architecture classes).

    Reality is this sort of white resentment and anger was decades in the making fed by racist talk shows and radio shows.

    Reality is unless he is indicted or found directly involved in the Russian efforts to disrupt our elections, he will win re-election in 2020 if the economy keeps growing.

    I am not sure why Democrats never thought of reducing Corporate Tax rates. They do not have original solutions and keep playing the class and race warfare cards that ended up blowing in their faces.

    We expect to see more on our pay checks next month.

    No space here to talk about the Republican hypocrites and Teabaggers who said “Deficits matter; national debt matters” only when Obama was in charge. Green Card lottery will be done with or number admitted will be reduced too. This is now Make White America Great Again phase. Hope that phase is only for Trump’s 2 terms.

    Yes we are worried about more war too. But militarily no country can match the US unless it gets dragged into wars of attrition like in Afghanistan again.

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      Mano ~ “……….We expect to see more on our pay checks next month………”.
      What about hospitals wheeling patients unable to settle bills ditching them in bus stops to shiver in the cold cold…..?
      What if they do not make it to their shitholes?

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        Yep, Good point; 300 words are inadequate to talk about the other side of the same tax cut. Sam’s Club is closing over 250 stores and that means lot of unemployed people. So their bonuses and pay raise was a smokescreen. But I will get back to you once we see our paychecks and correct myself if I am wrong too. I do strongly feel if Bernie was the candidate he could have won. Hillary was part of the same corrupt establishment and also too linked to Obama: white underclass and working class hated Obama for many reasons; including his skin color. Also do not forget Russian involvement in the spread of divisive rhetoric via Social Media. That still continues with racist attacks purported to be from both sides being planted by Russian trolls. But eventually US will need universal healthcare or some sort of affordable care. Your point is well taken. CT will limit us to 300 words so we cannot respond. I proudly voted for Bernie in the primaries and then for Gary Johnson in the election.

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      White Anglo Saxon Protestants and Sinhalese Buddhists are in the same position. The majority that built the nation. Unfortunately for both alien forces seek their destruction. In USA- that would be the Jews, bankers and the Catholic Church.

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    The relevance to Sri Lanka is what you should talk about. That depends on Trade and Security strategies. Many have written already about what will happen if US imposes Tariffs on Apparel exports from Sri Lanka. It already did away with GSP for over 120 nations on some items. Items from Sri Lanka that are affected were estimated to be around $173 million annually.

    US seeks military partnerships for the long term. It eyes Trincomalee. Why do you think the USA helped create a Marine Corps in Sri Lanka when the war was over? Why does Sri Lanka need a Marine Corps? It cannot ever hope to fight India militarily.

    Long term US security policies and interests normally don’t change with every administration. It will like to partner with India and Sri Lanka to ward off China. But China is the short term winner because of Trumpisms. This man is more than eccentric; he is a thin skinned vindictive bully and a racist ignoramus suffering from Dunning-Kruger effect. So are tens of millions of White Christians who form his base. Wait for Pence to become President in 2024 and you will even see more repression of minorities and women and their rights. Trump is winning with his appointments of ultra right wing white judges to Federal Judgeships. They are gutting public education. They are out of TPP and Climate initiatives. He will renegotiate NAFTA. The wall is coming whether we like it or not. But those are not relevant to Sri Lanka.

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    One always suspected that recent US Presidents were puppets to an elitist group. Donald Trump thought he can have his way but he went too far as the intelligence services were concerned.
    Puppeteer Steve Bannon was not very successful and is now cooperating with…………??
    Trump without Bannon will be a Trump. But Bannon without Trump??

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    This guy is clueless. I’ve lived in Trump’ s new York city for over ten years.
    America is controled by Zionists, bankers and the Vatican.
    The White American majority hated the Obama years which meant the end of the White American male. Since the media is controled by the Jews A man named Andrew Breitbart started the alt right movement. Which focused on white male issues: stop immigrants, stop sending jobs overseas , get rid of Jews and gays. Breitbart was killed and bannon, was seen as his replacement. When Trump’ ran they knew Clinton was getting black, Latino and gay votes. So bannon come on to tap the White votes. After winning the alt right. Which means alternative to the Republicans understood that Trump’ was working for other people. Bannon left. The end

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    CNN quote
    Because the US largely shut off immigration between 1924 and 1965, today’s senior population is preponderantly white. Frey has calculated that three-fourths of all Americans 55 and older are white. Those older whites were the cornerstone of Trump’s coalition in the 2016 election: whites over 45 gave Trump over three-fifths of their votes, and provided a majority of all the votes he received, according to exit polls.
    White power will prevail in 2020 and 2024 as well. Democrats and their liberal side is doomed to keep losing. Trump will win in 2020 and then the Christian White Fanatic Pence will win in 2024.

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