Tag Archives: Trump supporters

Understanding Trump’s Rise, Presidency — and a Positive Resolution to the Crisis

This is the final post in the series covering Nancy Fraser’s article, “From Progressive Neoliberalism to Trump—and Beyond” that was published in the American Affairs Journal in 2017. Previous posts so far:

We concluded post #4 on the depressing note that the most logical solution to address the failures of both Obama and Trump is for the mainstream working and middle classes to unite against their real enemy, the powers that are responsible for their current plights of home losses, job losses, insecure and low paid work, ballooning debts of all kinds, . . . , to unite: but currently they are divided between the populists on the Bernie Sanders side of the fence and the populists backing Trump and the two sides hate each other.

So, what does Nancy Fraser suggest?

Her most critical message is for the progressives. Stop being so damn moralizing and condescending to the Trump-ists. Acknowledge that the problems are systemic. Once you start from the position that racist attitudes are genetic and that the only proper response is to condemn the attitudes of “the deplorables” then you start from a losing position.

The message, rather, is to keep one’s eyes on the real enemy, on those who are primarily responsible for the current plight of us all who subsist and struggle beneath the corporate elites.

If that doesn’t satisfy your moral instincts then try to understand that the racist issues are bound up with the class issues and a bit of clarity as to causes and background will help heal wounds or at least lower barriers sufficiently to form some type of alliance against the real cause of what we (globalization means the problem extends beyond the U.S.) are facing.

The first thing that needs to be done is to recognize what the ruling progressive neoliberal economic elite forces have done. Recall Gramsci (see posts 1 and 4). They have used the rhetoric of feminism, anti-racism, green-causes, to win recognition for themselves as the saviours of all that is good. What is needed, Nancy Fraser says, is a “strategy of separation”. Acknowledge the seduction of the corporate powers and make a clean break.

First, less-privileged women, immigrants, and people of color have to be wooed away from the lean-in feminists, the meritocratic anti-racists and anti-homophobes, and the corporate diversity and green-capitalism shills who hijacked their concerns, inflecting them in terms consistent with neoliberalism. This is the aim of a recent feminist initiative, which seeks to replace “lean in” with a “feminism for the 99 percent.” Other emancipatory movements should copy that strategy.

That’s the first. There’s a second. Certainly there are down-to-the-core ethnonationalists and racists. But does that core really represent all in that orbit? Or at least, at least, are not many of those Trump-ists still open to joining forces with those in the camp from which many of them defected in 2015 — disillusioned Sanders’ supporters?

Second, Rust Belt, southern, and rural working-class communities have to be persuaded to desert their current crypto-neoliberal allies. The trick is to convince them that the forces promoting militarism, xenophobia, and ethnonationalism cannot and will not provide them with the essential material prerequisites for good lives, whereas a progressive-populist bloc just might. In that way, one might separate those Trump voters who could and should be responsive to such an appeal from the card-carrying racists and alt-right ethnonationalists who are not. To say that the former outnumber the latter by a wide margin is not to deny that reactionary populist movements draw heavily on loaded rhetoric and have emboldened formerly fringe groups of real white supremacists. But it does refute the hasty conclusion that the overwhelming majority of reactionary-populist voters are forever closed to appeals on behalf of an expanded working class of the sort evoked by Bernie Sanders. That view is not only empirically wrong but counterproductive, likely to be self-fulfilling.

Moral condemnation is counter-productive

Recall that it is “progressive neoliberalism” that the Trump supporters have opposed. That

Moral condemnation of racists, homophobes, climate change deniers, the anti-abortionists and Christian fundamentalists, of those on the “regressive populist” side, is bound up with the recognition values of the corporate elites of the progressive neoliberals. Recall the Gramscian analysis in posts one and four. By pitting one group against the other they effectively deflect attention from their own role in the real problems inflicted on both sides.

[I]t is counterproductive to address [concerns about racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, and transphobia] through moralizing condescension, in the mode of progressive neoliberalism. That approach assumes a shallow and inadequate view of these injustices, grossly exaggerating the extent to which the trouble is inside people’s heads and missing the depth of the structural-institutional forces that undergird them.

Fraser addresses race in a little detail to illustrate the point. Yes, hating blacks is bad, of course. But notice, think, recall . . .

In this period, black and brown Americans who had long been denied credit, confined to inferior segregated housing, and paid too little to accumulate savings, were systematically targeted by purveyors of subprime loans and consequently experienced the highest rates of home foreclosures in the country.

In this period, too, minority towns and neighborhoods that had long been systematically starved of public resources were clobbered by plant closings in declining manufacturing centers; their losses were reckoned not only in jobs but also in tax revenues, which deprived them of funds for schools, hospitals, and basic infrastructure maintenance, leading eventually to debacles like Flint — and, in a different context, the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans.

Finally, black men long subject to differential sentencing and harsh imprisonment, coerced labor and socially tolerated violence, including at the hands of police, were in this period massively conscripted into a “prison-industrial complex,” kept full to capacity by a “war on drugs” that targeted possession of crack cocaine and by disproportionately high rates of minority unemployment, all courtesy of bipartisan legislative “achievements,” orchestrated largely by Bill Clinton.

We get the picture. The race problem is an institutional problem. We need to target the real causes. Don’t fall back on the losing strategy of moralizing our would-be allies.

Renouncing the progressive neoliberal stress on personal attitudes, a progressive populist bloc must focus its efforts on the structural-institutional bases of contemporary society.

The focus, the slogans, the memes etc,

must highlight the shared roots of class and status injustices in financialized capitalism.

It’s a conceptual change that’s needed:

Conceiving of that system as a single, integrated social totality, it must link the harms suffered by women, immigrants, people of color, and LGBTQ persons to those experienced by working-class strata now drawn to rightwing populism. In that way, it can lay the foundation for a powerful new coalition among all whom Trump and his counterparts elsewhere are now betraying — not just the immigrants, feminists, and people of color who already oppose his hyper-reactionary neoliberalism, but also the white working-class strata who have so far supported it. 

The entire working class must be brought together as a counter to the forces currently exploiting and bleeding them. Fraser sees the initiative for such a shift coming from the progressive populists, those who are currently alienating their potential allies by subjective moralizing instead of targeting the objective causes of their shared problems.

The capitalist system is like a tiger eating its own tail, Fraser suggests. It is destroying the environment on which it depends, it is withering the working and middle class base on which it also depends, . . . it cannot continue. But before it ruins us all a new counter-weight, a new hegemonic bloc needs to challenge it — for the sake of all.

Nancy Fraser’s article can be read in full at https://americanaffairsjournal.org/2017/11/progressive-neoliberalism-trump-beyond/

I have tried to make some of its key points clear, hopefully without sacrificing too much of the original.


Fraser, Nancy. 2017. “From Progressive Neoliberalism to Trump—and Beyond.” American Affairs Journal 1 (4): 46–64. https://americanaffairsjournal.org/2017/11/progressive-neoliberalism-trump-beyond/


 

“Deplorables” Losing Hope in Trump

An article by a Trump supporting “deplorable” caught my attention today because it made the same point as Nancy Fraser made about Trump’s betrayal of his populist base by giving in to the “Neocons” — and it was written over two years ago.

Yesterday I posted Nancy Fraser’s analysis of Trump’s betrayal of his populist base by siding with the neoliberal forces responsible for the globalization, financialization, rising debt, manufacturing decline, and on and on, instead of taking them on as he had promised in his election campaign. Well, today while cleaning out some files I had saved over two years ago by “The Saker”. He says he had real hopes (not expectations, he insists, just hopes) that Trump would do as he promised and break those who are bleeding and punishing the working classes suffering the pain of the “rigged economy”.

The moment of realization for him was not the range of crony-capitalist and self-dealing betrayals Trump quickly ensconced himself in soon after his election, but it was Trump’s caving into the Neocons by accepting the setting aside of Flynn as National Security Advisor. That was in February 2017.

Flynn, The Saker points out, was Trump’s hope to carry out his election promises in international affairs: cooperation with Russia, getting out of “endless wars”, even not being so toady to Israel, but also focusing on the real enemy, the Wahabi extremists of Saudi Arabia. With Flynn gone — under pressure from FBI, CIA and NSA — those itching to push back on Russia, to further Israel’s interests in the Occupied Territories, to wage war on Iran, these would be the ones who would control Trump. (And that monstrous war on Iran appears to be drawing ominously close, now.)

Flynn was hardly a saint or a perfect wise man who would single handedly saved the world. That he was not. However, what Flynn was is the cornerstone of Trump’s national security policy. For one thing, Flynn dared the unthinkable: he dared to declare that the bloated US intelligence community had to be reformed. Flynn also tried to subordinate the CIA and the Joint Chiefs to the President via the National Security Council. Put differently, Flynn tried to wrestle the ultimate power and authority from the CIA and the Pentagon and subordinate them back to the White House. Flynn also wanted to work with Russia. Not because he was a Russia lover, the notion of a Director of the DIA as a Putin-fan is ridiculous, but Flynn was rational, he understood that Russia was no threat to the USA or to Europe and that Russia had the West had common interests. That is another absolutely unforgivable crimethink in Washington DC.

The Neocon run ‘deep state’ has now forced Flynn to resign under the idiotic pretext that he had a telephone conversation, on an open, insecure and clearly monitored, line with the Russian ambassador.

And Trump accepted this resignation.

The title of The Saker’s article claims It’s Over, Folks! The Neocons have “neutered the Trump presidency“.

That’s what Nancy Fraser was saying in addressing the domestic front. For others, it was Trump’s weakness in giving in over America’s role in the world that caused the scales to fall from their eyes.

It’s not looking good, at all. On so many fronts, both in the next few years and the long term, globally.

For the most recent post on Nancy Fraser’s analysis see Understanding Trump’s Rise, Presidency – and Beyond (4)

 

Understanding Trump’s Rise, Presidency – and Beyond (4)

The old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear. — Gramsci

We now come to Nancy Fraser’s analysis (Gramchi) of Trump as President, hence the title adjustment. Previous posts in the series:

Gramsci’s theory of hegemony

Nancy Fraser’s perspective builds on the concept of hegemony as developed by Antonio Gramsci, an Italian Marxist who died in a Mussolini prison. Put simply, hopefully not too simply, the idea of hegemony is that a ruling class needs to make its worldview and values the worldview and values of the groups it dominates. Simply owning the wealth and all the businesses and factories etc is not enough to maintain control. The subordinate classes must accept the belief systems of their rulers for the system to work smoothly. The ruled must accept that their world and their place in it is only natural and commonsensical.

Fraser identifies two types of common sense values that the upper classes expect those they dominate to accept:

  1. they must share a common belief in what is right and fair regarding wages, wealth and ability to get ahead, job status and opportunities, or in other words, a common belief in what is fair and right concerning the distribution of the wealth accumulated within the society;
  2. they must share a common belief in what is right and fair regarding respect and status, personal recognition and esteem, and who has a right to be a part of recognized elites.

That Election

The progressive populist movement led by Bernie Sanders was desperately knocked out of the race by the establishment elites in the Democratic Party. Rules changes, finding ways to ensure the populist leader’s superior popular support did not win the day, enabled the party machine to position a comparatively unpopular leader who represented the prevailing neoliberal establishment to take on Trump.

As we saw in the previous post significant segments of Sander’s supporters felt the other populist leader was preferable to Hillary Clinton. The reactionary populist victory surprised many though not all observers.

Bait and Switch

Just as Obama had disappointed his voters by failing to capitalize on his Occupy Wall Street popularity and begin to turn the nation’s back on neoliberalism as we covered in the previous post, Trump also did what so many politicians do: he turned his back on his promises to take on the big business powers who were hurting the ordinary person and to undertake programs to restore employment and job security. In Gramsci’s terms, he abandoned the populist distributive policies (wealth distribution) he had promised. He added insult to injury open displays of “crony capitalism and self-dealing”.

Granted, he canceled the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But he has temporized on NAFTA and failed to lift a finger to rein in Wall Street.

Nor has Trump taken a single serious step to implement large-scale, job-creating public infrastructure projects; his efforts to encourage manufacturing were confined instead to symbolic displays of jawboning and regulatory relief for coal, whose gains have proved largely fictitious.

And far from proposing a tax code reform whose principal beneficiaries would be working-class and middle-class families, he signed on to the boilerplate Republican version, designed to funnel more wealth to the one percent (including the Trump family).

As this last point attests, the president’s actions on the distributive front have included a heavy dose of crony capitalism and self-dealing. But if Trump himself has fallen short of Hayekian ideals of economic reason, the appointment of yet another Goldman Sachs alumnus to the Treasury ensures that neoliberalism will continue where it counts.

(my formatting and bolding in all quotations of Nancy Fraser)

But why didn’t his backers rise up in protest over such a blatant betrayal? It is as if they didn’t even notice what he’d done. But as we shall see some are beginning to notice and realize that their conditions are not improving.

That’s where the second half of Gramsci’s analysis, the rhetoric of recognition values, enters.

Having abandoned the populist politics of distribution, Trump proceeded to double down on the reactionary politics of recognition, hugely intensified and ever more vicious.
On sincerity, we know Trump is aware of the reality of climate change because he is building a wall around his golf course in Ireland to protect it from rising sea levels.

I’m reminded of the tired old countless “classic” cases throughout history and the world today of political leaders raging and foaming bile against outsiders or minorities within to deflect attention from their own failings or ineptitude. No doubt they are sincere. They have to believe their own rhetoric, at least at the time they are saying it, to impress their audience with their “sincerity”.

Having abandoned the populist politics of distribution, Trump proceeded to double down on the reactionary politics of recognition, hugely intensified and ever more vicious. The list of his provocations and actions in support of invidious hierarchies of status is long and chilling:

  • the travel ban in its various versions, all targeting Muslim-majority countries, ill disguised by the cynical late addition of Venezuela;
  • the gutting of civil rights at Justice (which has abandoned the use of consent decrees) and at Labor (which has stopped policing discrimination by federal contractors);
  • the refusal to defend court cases on LGBTQ rights;
  • the rollback of mandated insurance coverage of contraception;
  • the retrenchment of Title IX protections for women and girls through cuts in enforcement staff;
  • public pronouncements in support of rougher police handling of suspects, of “Sheriff Joe’s” contempt for the rule of law, and of the “very fine people” among the white-supremacists who ran amok at Charlottesville.

The result is no mere garden-variety Republican conservatism, but a hyper-reactionary politics of recognition.

Examples, as we know, have multiplied since Fraser’s article was sent to the publisher.

Altogether, the policies of President Trump have diverged from the campaign promises of candidate Trump. Not only has his economic populism vanished, but his scapegoating has grown ever more vicious. What his supporters voted for, in short, is not what they got. The upshot is not reactionary populism, but hyper-reactionary neoliberalism.

New evidence that Trump is losing support even among his base: Trump Fires His Pollster After Polls Show Him Losing In Every Critical State

Since Nancy Fraser’s article was published we have seen further tensions between Trump and his supporters, both business and some of the working class, over his tariff war with China. Tariffs, of course, hurt both businesses and consumers, contrary to Trump’s rhetoric.

Trump is now “ruling” (an appropriate word, I think, given his defiance of Congress — and Congress’s failing to seriously challenge him — in recent weeks) without a coherent or stable hegemonic bloc. His hyper-reactionary neoliberalism does not allow for that. His personal manner does not allow him to work with a trusting and professionally minded team. He relies upon the Republican Party but the Republican Party is far from outspokenly unanimous in their support for him. It appears that many Republicans would like to take back control but are a loss to know how. What we have seen from the White House are chaos, contradictory comings and goings, statements and counter-statements.

Nancy Fraser admits that we have no way of knowing where all of this is going to lead and wonders if there will be a split in the Republican Party. The U.S. is now in a position of another hegemonic vacuum, or at least bereft of a secure one. Recall that it was the hegemonic vacuum — no-one in power to address the problems of declining incomes, joblessness, rise of debts — that led to Trump to begin with.

But there is also a deeper problem. By shutting down the economic-populist face of his campaign, Trump’s hyper-reactionary neoliberalism effectively seeks to reinstate the hegemonic gap he helped to explode in 2016. Except that it cannot now suture that gap. Now that the populist cat is out of the bag, it is doubtful that the working-class portion of Trump’s base will be satisfied to dine for long on (mis)recognition alone.

Back to the gap, the condition that led to Trump in the first place. Infrastructure spending and job creation, serious tax reform and healthcare . . .  the policies that were meant to seriously address the breakdown in living standards for his base and all the working and middle class are nowhere in sight. (Though he did say he would work on healthcare more in his next term, right?) Meanwhile, the rhetoric distracts from the wealth distribution failure.

Since the appearance of Fraser’s article the US economy has not significantly improved at all. His supporters have not benefited materially despite his boasts of “the greatest economy ever.” See Why Trump Gets a ‘C’ on the Economy: Forget His Boasts; Growth Is Just Average and Well Behind Reagan, Clinton, Even Carter on David Cay Johnston’s DCReport.

Preparing for More Dangerous Trumps

The potential opposition to Trump is divided. “Diehard Clintonites” remain as opposed to the progressive populist bloc marshalled in support of Sanders. And,

complicating the landscape is a raft of upstart groups whose militant postures have attracted big donors despite (or because of) the vagueness of their programmatic conceptions.

(Americans and others will be more aware of the groups Fraser refers to here than I am.)

Another serious rupture Fraser identifies is division among the Democrats over whether to dedicate themselves to policies framed around

  • class — that is, to concentrate on winning back the white working class vote that deserted to Trump after Sanders was set aside by Clinton

or

  • race — to fiercely oppose white supremacy and win the votes of blacks and Latinos.

The division is serious and agonizing insofar as the two problems really need to be addressed together, not either/or, as Fraser comments.

Fraser’s concern is that if the Democrats do focus on winning back the erstwhile working class Sanders’ supporters the real victor will be the traditional status quo, the same old distributive values of the neoliberals who have established the “regressive economy” in favour of the 1%. It will be a return in some form to the same old progressive liberalism: maintain the economic system and embrace the rhetoric of militant anti-racism.

In other words, the surely inevitable result of such a development would be to turn potential Democrat supporters to Trump instead.

Another dire consequence would be that the Democrats led by Clintonite neoliberals would

effectively join forces with [Trump] in suppressing alternatives to neoliberalism—and thus in reinstating the hegemonic gap.

As noted above, we then come circle back to the very conditions that created Trump. The “hegemonic gap”, with no-one in the political system addressing the “regressive economy”, with both sides entrenching the very problems that have led to both the progressive and regressive populist movements.

To reinstate progressive neoliberalism, on any basis, is to recreate—indeed, to exacerbate—the very conditions that created Trump. And that means preparing the ground for future Trumps—ever more vicious and dangerous. 

The Solution

working-class supporters of Trump and of Sanders would have to come to understand themselves as allies—differently situated victims of a single “rigged economy,” which they could jointly seek to transform

The solution is to organize a wide-based popular bloc that will oppose the neoliberal powers (global finance, responsible for the problems of financialization, deindustrialization and corporate globalization) that both the Clintonites and Trump serve. Currently, neither bloc of progressive or regressive populists

is currently in a position to shape a new common sense. Neither is able to offer an authoritative picture of social reality, a narrative in which a broad spectrum of social actors can find themselves. Equally important, neither variant of neoliberalism can successfully resolve the objective system blockages that underlie our hegemonic crisis.

So the crises of debts, climate change, stresses on community life continue.

A broad bloc cannot come from Trump’s reactionary populism. Its values of recognition exclude large sectors of the population. That movement is not going to attract those working and middle class families who rely upon service work, agriculture, domestic labour and the public sector. Those sectors employing large numbers of women, immigrants and people of colour are the ones Trump is targeting.

The recognition values of the progressive Sanders bloc are at least seek to be inclusive. Is it possible for them to win over Trump supporters in an anti-neoliberal alliance that targets the institutions responsible for their crises.

But They Hate Each Other

We know the obstacle to such an alliance:

the deepening divisions, even hatreds, long simmering but recently raised to a fever pitch by Trump, who, as David Brooks perceptively put it, has a “nose for every wound in the body politic” and no qualms about “stick[ing] a red-hot poker in [them] and rip[ping them] open.”

The result is a toxic environment that appears to validate the view, held by some progressives, that all Trump voters are “deplorables”—irredeemable racists, misogynists, and homophobes. Also reinforced is the converse view, held by many reactionary populists, that all progressives are incorrigible moralizers and smug elitists who look down on them while sipping lattes and raking in the bucks.

Continuing . . . .


Fraser, Nancy. 2017. “From Progressive Neoliberalism to Trump—and Beyond.” American Affairs Journal 1 (4): 46–64. https://americanaffairsjournal.org/2017/11/progressive-neoliberalism-trump-beyond/


Understanding the Rise of Trump (3)

Continuing the series based on the article by Nancy Fraser. Previous posts:

–o–

There was no force in politics to oppose the eroding of working and middle class standards of living. Anti-liberal voices were excluded from respectable public debate. Hence what Fraser terms “the hegemonic gap and the struggle to fill it”.


Only a matter of time

Given that neither of the two major blocs spoke for them, there was a gap in the American political universe: an empty, unoccupied zone, where anti-neoliberal, pro-working-family politics might have taken root. Given the accelerating pace of deindustrialization, the proliferation of precarious, low-wage McJobs, the rise of predatory debt, and the consequent decline in living standards for the bottom two-thirds of Americans, it was only a matter of time before someone would proceed to occupy that empty space and fill the gap.

Hope for change 1: Obama

2007: U.S. facing one of its worst ever foreign policy disasters (Iraq War); and worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, “and a near meltdown of the economy” — An African American speaking of hope and change, vowing to “transform not just policy but the entire ‘mindset’ of American politics became president.

But rather than mobilize his mass support to turn away from neoliberalism he entrusted economic recovery to the same Wall Street forces that had almost wrecked it. He gave cash bailouts to the banks but nothing comparable for the tens of millions of the banks’ victims who lost their homes.

The single genuine benefit he gave the working class was an expansion of Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act. But that was the exception.

All told, the overwhelming thrust of his presidency was to maintain the progressive neoliberal status quo despite its growing unpopularity.

Hope for change 2: Occupy Wall Street

2011: I got a frisson of excitement when these protests broke out. “Please let them spread!” Having given up hope that the political system was going to respond to the economic crisis without some prodding small groups throughout the U.S. seized control of public spaces “in the name of the 99%”. They were protesting against a system that “pillaged the vast majority in order to enrich the top one percent”. Some polls estimated that up to 60% of the American public came to sympathize with these protesters.

So what happened? Obama picked up on the rhetoric of the Occupy Wall Street movement, promising great change for his second term. But after winning the election of 2011 . . . .

Having won himself four more years, however, the president’s newfound class consciousness swiftly evaporated. Confining the pursuit of “change” to the issuing of executive orders, he neither prosecuted the malefactors of wealth nor used the bully pulpit to rally the American people against Wall Street. Assuming the storm had passed, the U.S. political classes barely missed a beat. Continuing to uphold the neoliberal consensus, they failed to see in Occupy the first rumblings of an earthquake to come.

read more »

Understanding the Rise of Trump (2)

This post continues with a discussion (begun here) of Nancy Fraser’s analysis,

I like to think in images so have prepared a few for this post. If you find them confusing then stick with the words. If they’re confusing then read the original article linked above.

Here is the essence of the previous post. The hegemon of the “progressive neoliberal bloc” is the “most dynamic, high-end “symbolic” and financial sectors of the U.S. economy”. It maintains its power by persuading the lower and middle classes that its values are the “common sense” view of the world. Gender and racial equality, for example, are promised to become the conditions for economic fairness and prosperity for all. That this message is a myth hiding a darker reality for most people was explained in the previous post.

This segment of economic rulers promoted the values of feminism, antiracism, etc, promising a more prosperous society for all but in fact delivering what was the inevitable result of their economic goals. They promised that progressive values were in sync with the new economy of deregulation and that everyone would prosper from deregulation all round. See the previous post for details. The reality was different, though, as per the diagram that shows the “values of recognition” on the left and the results of the other set of values, those of “distribution of wealth” on the right.

“The Progressive Liberals”

These were the winners under first Reagan, then especially under Clinton and Obama.

But there is always a but. Another sector of economic rulers, those who found the Republican Party to be more supportive of their interests, were not so coherent in their presentations at the time. They had pretty much the same values of distribution of wealth as the “progressive liberals” but a different set of values of recognition, or esteem, of who was worthy and deserving of recognition. Nancy Fraser calls these the “regressive neoliberals”.

Sectoral emphases aside, on the big questions of political economy, reactionary neoliberalism did not substantially differ from its progressive-neoliberal rival. Granted, the two parties argued some about “taxes on the rich,” with the Democrats usually caving. But both blocs supported “free trade,” low corporate taxes, curtailed labor rights, the primacy of shareholder interest, winner-takes- all compensation, and financial deregulation. Both blocs elected leaders who sought “grand bargains” aimed at cutting entitlements.

But the “regressive neoliberals” appealed to a different voting bloc. Their primary make-up consisted of the financial sector, the military manufacturing and extractive energy industries. But they usually spoke not directly as the weapons and oil and coal industries, but as supporters of “small business and manufacturing”. That front was far more appealing to a wider constituency. And as for their “recognition values”, these appealed to

  • Christian evangelicals,
  • southern whites,
  • rural and small-town Americans,
  • and disaffected white working-class

Nancy Fraser does not see the above constituency as necessarily natural allies with “libertarians, Tea Partiers, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Koch brothers, plus a smattering of bankers, real-estate tycoons, energy moguls, venture capitalists, and hedge-fund speculators”, but seems to think that the fact that they are all “bundled together” is, by and large, an “uneasy” alliance for now. In other words, Fraser sees hope for shifting the affections of the above four groups (evangelicals, southern whites, disaffected working class and small town Americans) into a more positive populist movement. But that’s getting way ahead of ourselves at this point in the discussion.

“The Regressive Neoliberals”

(The racism is, of course, flatly denied by most. See Strategies of Denial of Racism.)

Consequences of neoliberal politics (from Reagan to …)

I was about to conclude that heading with “Obama”, but then remembered that Trump himself has done a complete about face since his election and fully implemented (or simply allowed it to continue with even fewer restrictions) the neoliberal program himself.

Here is Fraser’s summary of the consequences:

Decaying manufacturing centers, especially the so-called Rust Belt, were sacrificed. That region, along with newer industrial centers in the South, took a major hit thanks to a triad of Bill Clinton’s policies: NAFTA, the accession of China to the WTO (justified, in part, as promoting democracy), and the repeal of Glass-Steagall. Together, those policies and their successors ravaged communities that had relied on manufacturing. In the course of two decades of progressive neoliberal hegemony, neither of the two major blocs made any serious effort to support those communities. To the neoliberals, their economies were uncompetitive and should be subject to “market correction.” To the progressives, their cultures were stuck in the past, tied to obsolete, parochial values that would soon disappear in a new cosmopolitan dispensation. On neither ground—distribution or recognition—could progressive neoliberals find any reason to defend Rust Belt and southern manufacturing communities. (my emphasis)

Thus far we have set out the scenario that is to usher in Trump.

Continuing . . . .


Fraser, Nancy. 2017. “From Progressive Neoliberalism to Trump—and Beyond.” American Affairs Journal 1 (4): 46–64. https://americanaffairsjournal.org/2017/11/progressive-neoliberalism-trump-beyond/


Understanding the Rise of Trump (1)

Nancy Fraser

I have belatedly caught up with some of Nancy Fraser‘s analysis of the current worldwide political condition that has seen Trump in the US and a rise in ethnocentric and authoritarian movements worldwide and I’d like to try to set out her ideas over a few posts here as I find opportunity. Above all, I’d like to try to simplify Nancy Fraser’s articles that come across to me at an overly high conceptual level. (If anything in this series of posts is not clear or accurate then I expect to be called to account.) Gramsci was criticized (while also being highly honoured) by Noam Chomsky for his obscure intellectual jargon. Given that Fraser acknowledges a debt to Gramsci it may not be surprising that she also writes above the level of everyday language that is always clear to all. I think Fraser’s analysis is correct, or at least among the most explanatory that I have heard for making sense of the situation of the world today and how someone like Trump is where he is now. These posts will be extracted from the points made by Nancy Fraser in . . .

The crisis is global

  • In the USA we see Trump
  • In the UK we have the Brexit debacle
  • In the European Union we have the disintegration of the social-democratic and centre-right parties that had been its mainstay
  • Throughout northern and east-central Europe we have been witnessing the rise of racist, anti-immigrant parties
  • In Latin America, Asia, the Pacific we have seen the rise of authoritarian (proto-fascist) forces.

The above changes all share one thing in common:

All involve a dramatic weakening, if not a simple breakdown, of the authority of the established political classes and political parties. It is as if masses of people throughout the world had stopped believing in the reigning common sense that underpinned political domination for the last several decades. It is as if they had lost confidence in the bona fides of the elites and were searching for new ideologies, organizations, and leadership. Given the scale of the breakdown, it’s unlikely that this is a coincidence. Let us assume, accordingly, that we face a global political crisis.

So it is fair to look for something that is happening on a global scale to explain the above retrograde shifts.

And it’s not just political. It involves serious ecological, social and economic stresses. Some of the major challenges within the US have been

  • the changing nature of the finance industry;
  • the proliferation of precarious service-sector McJobs;
  • ballooning consumer debt to enable the purchase of cheap stuff produced elsewhere;
  • conjoint increases in carbon emissions, extreme weather, and climate denialism;
  • racialized mass incarceration and systemic police violence;
  • and mounting stresses on family and community life thanks in part to lengthened working hours and diminished social supports.

It’s about time the above stresses had a serious impact on the politics of countries where they are found together. And we have seen the first political “blowback” of these stresses in the U.S. with the rise of Trump.

But how was it, exactly, out of all of the above, that the Trump presidency came about?

How the ruling class rules

Antonio Gramsci

Nancy Fraser’s perspective builds on the concept of hegemony as developed by Antonio Gramsci, an Italian Marxist who died in a Mussolini prison. Put simply, hopefully not too simply, the idea of hegemony is that a ruling class needs to make its worldview and values the worldview and values of the groups it dominates. Simply controlling the wealth and all the businesses and factories etc is not enough to maintain control. The subordinate classes must accept the belief systems of their rulers for the system to work smoothly. The ruled must accept that their world and their place in it is only natural and commonsensical. The term hegemony implies ruling by attaining the willing consent of the lesser powers. If there is consent then what is the problem? Read on to see.

Fraser identifies two types of common sense values that the upper classes expect those they dominate to accept:

  1. they must share a common belief in what is right and fair regarding wages, wealth and ability to get ahead, job status and opportunities, or in other words, a common belief in what is fair and right concerning the distribution of the wealth accumulated within the society;
  2. they must share a common belief in what is right and fair regarding respect and status, personal recognition and esteem, and who has a right to be a part of recognized elites.

In other words, the owners of the wealth, or the owners of all the businesses that produce that wealth (mining companies, service industries, etc) must form an “ideological” or “belief system” bond with those they wish to rule. Their position of power would not be very secure otherwise.

Values pertaining to Recognition

Leaders of a certain sector of the U.S. economy positioned themselves as promoters of human rights. The “most dynamic, high-end “symbolic” and financial sectors of the U.S. economy” — Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and Hollywood — embraced the values of feminism, antiracism, multiculturalism, environmentalism, and LGBTQ rights that had been emerging out of progressive liberal activist movements from the 1960s and 70s. These values served the interests of both classes: “Sure, we believe in equal opportunity rights for women, blacks, gays — we want the very best talent from any quarter to get to the top and make the most of their (not to mention our corporate) potential” (my paraphrase).

Anyone who was capable of doing a job should be given the opportunity to do that job regardless of their race, gender, etc. It was a subtle form of meritocracy to see who was worthy of class advancement.

And that ideal was inherently class specific: geared to ensuring that “deserving” individuals from “underrepresented groups” could attain positions and pay on a par with the straight white men of their own class.

The progressive-neoliberal bloc combined an expropriative, plutocratic economic program with a liberal-meritocratic politics of recognition.

Values pertaining to Distribution

Here is where the Left divided. Large sectors of the Left were seduced into supporting the other set of values (concerning distribution of wealth) of those economic leaders. read more »

Trump, Trump Supporters, and Cults

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Donald_Trump_supporters_(30018900853).jpg

As many readers know I was a member of a religious cult for too many years in a former life and have since delved into some of the specialist literature by psychologists, sociologists and historians to help me reflect on and understand that experience.

I have mentioned before how fascinated I was when once watching a TV interview with several former members of the Hitler Youth and how some of their accounts of their experiences in that movement echoed so very clearly my own experiences in a religious cult. More recently I have posted on certain strong similarities in the radicalization processes that draw people into radical extremist groups, in particular Islamists, and the gradual “conversion processes” of cult members.

Others have made similar comparisons between the Trump phenomenon and cults. I think there may be something to these comparisons.

The Leader

One of the more striking points in common is the devotion to a charismatic leader. Behaviour that in other persons would normally mean their condemnation and ostracism from society is forgiven and excused in the cult’s leader. Followers will even draw attention to those flaws to “prove” they do not “idolize” the man but “see him warts and all” and are therefore clear and rational in deciding to give him their loyalty. But that is an illusion. We know it is an illusion when we compare the process with the way religious cults will justify the most corrupt and hypocritical behaviour of their leaders by pointing to how God so loved great sinners like King David. Crimes, cruelty, hypocrisy, outright dishonesty are excused. Sometimes flatly denied even despite the clear evidence before everyone’s eyes.

The leader is admired for his “strength”. Such “strength” is contrasted with all who have gone before and all other “would-be leaders” he opposes today. Followers have lost their ability to discern the difference between “strength” per se and bigotry, intolerance and wilful ignorance. Indeed, those who speak up for compassion, for understanding, for tolerance and genuine democratic values are smeared as weak, fifth-columnists, subversives, wreckers of society and all that is good and pure.

Victimhood

And that leads us to the notion of a siege mentality. A persecution or victim syndrome. “Whites and Christians are the most disadvantaged groups in society”, we hear. The leader is speaking up to defend and promote what has been in real danger of being lost to “political correctness”, to “immigrants” — especially those from countries where people have a different religion and skin colour. Both the nature of these immigrants and the reasons for leaving their homelands are lied about to feed into popular (and the leader’s) prejudices. Political correctness is also misrepresented as a tyranny against free thought. There is a failure to distinguish between genuine wrongs and wrong ideas and those that are validly critical of society’s shortcomings. The leader represents a righteous push-back against all that is seen as corrosive of decent society.

“Truth”

And the leader is the primary source of truth. All criticism from the outside is “fake news”. The leader can flat-out lie and followers will remain wilfully unaware, refusing to seriously countenance exposure of his lies and reflexively justifying all his lies, distortions, anti-social bigotry and the rest. It is the critics who are considered extreme, fanatical, wild-eyed terrified of what their leader represents.

The Emotional Factor

And that brings us back to the emotional component. Emotion is unavoidable. It is part of being human. But a clear headed rational debate about political and social problems and solutions is not in the Trump cult agenda. Emotional commitment leads and buttresses the views and loyalties and ignorance and prejudices of the cult followers. Emotional commitment means defensiveness, and defensiveness too often calls for attack. The racism, the ignorant bigotry against those who have long stood for democratic values and a humane society, that attacks are directed against the weak and vulnerable, — all of these and what their true character are hidden from view by the righteous emotion of the cult loyalists. Civil debate, seriously honest and open discussion of the issues, becomes impossible with the loyal followers of someone like Trump.

What has led us to this type of society is also worth exploring. We know what “radicalizes” individuals to join extremist groups and cults. Are there valid wider social parallels? Another post for that one.

Trump Movement as a Cult / 2

Continuing from Towards Understanding . . .

It does feel like something to be wrong. It feels like being right. — Kathryn Schultz per J. Quinton

Fifth point. The sins, the flaws, the character defects in the leader make no difference to the “true believer”. They are forgiven or in some other way excused and overlooked. Recall the David analogy. Religious leaders in particular love to preach it. David was “beloved by God” and a “man after God’s own heart” despite his treachery, adultery and murders. He is God’s instrument and it is not our place to question God. The same principle holds for the nonreligious political “cults”. Followers may wish their leader would be more mature, grow up, or whatever, but the positives in the man will always outweigh and render negligible the negatives.

Sixth. One research finding seeking to understand why some people join cults or extremist groups is that prospective members have fewer social ties than “the norm”. They are feeling less connected, less attached. Their world feels to be “falling apart” in significant ways. One thinks of fears or worries about increasing financial tensions (living standards are in decline; there seems no way to ever approach their parents’ standards of living), health problems (costs put proper care out of reach), shifting social expectations (e.g. how men should treat women), leaving them frustrated especially if they feel they have to face these things essentially alone. We saw where horrendous changes in welfare and security in 1920s Germany led. We have seen what happens to too many rootless second generation young immigrants from very different cultural backgrounds and their propensity to join anti-social gangs or more dangerous extremist groups. It’s not hard to identify among “Trump followers” a sense that everything in society is “broken”, a sense of losing hope and no clear light at the end of it all.

Seventh. And the antidote to #six is finding a “home”, “like-minds” with “like feelings” among one’s companions in the new movement. One finds a new family of like minds who understand and who offer support or at least agree on the solution. There is strong sense, from this moment on, of the world divided into “them”, the outsiders in the lost world of darkness and confusion and wrongs, and “us”. The “thems” may sometimes offer very smart arguments against specific beliefs of the insider or proclamations by their leader, but smart arguments will only come across as threatening and “surely deceptive” if they come from those on the “outside” representing the world that the new “inner group family member” has found problematic and left behind.

Eighth. People are judged according to what they represent, and arguments are assessed on where they appear to be coming from and for what they represent, too. Hence any rationalization or refutation can be found for any facts or arguments that are critical of one’s new “family” or place where one feels a sense of belonging. The force and emotion behind the arguments can be far more persuasive than what outsiders might see as the “cold logic” alone. In fact, the arguments for one’s new family-movement are highly emotional, perhaps clearly logical but logical delivered with heated emotion. Ad hominem attacks are par for the course; scoffing and sneering at the competence or intelligence of key leading “outsiders” is also routine. Fear, anger, outrage, — one’s own logical arguments and handy bags of facts are riding the crests of these waves.

…..

And continuing . . . .

…..

Towards Understanding the Trump Movement as a Cult

Trump – Armstrong

I was dismayed after leaving a religious cult to discover that fallacious thinking that had led me into the cult was not restricted to cult members but was evident throughout society all around me. How I had been so shut off from “the world” not to have noticed how much we shared with “the world”. We always saw ourselves as “called out of this world” and as no longer a part of “this evil world”. We also thought of ourselves as a body, a gathering of converts, unlike any other in the world, so after I had left and reflected on what our operation was “really like” I was dumbstruck to read about how our cult’s M.O. was likewise characteristic of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Mormons, and others. Okay, so religious cults were bad news for this and that reason, but it was a real blow to my expectations of what I would find “in the world” after I began to observe the same thinking-gone-wrong among not only more benign churches but in society at large.

Then there was that TV documentary on the Hitler Youth. I listened most attentively to interviews with those who had been members before the war and was again struck with clear echoes of the experiences I had come to think, from both personal experience and wider learning, were seductive features of religious cults.

We know the jokes and sayings about the devil’s masterstroke being to convince his dupes that he doesn’t exist. The one sure constant among all cults is that cult members do not believe they belong to a “cult” — it’s all those other weirdos who are the cultists; we are not like them.

And one more thing. Too many of my friends in my old cult turned out to be friends only on condition I remained part of the collective. But there were others whom I saw as true friends, sticking with me even after I was “disfellowshipped” or “cast out into the bond of Satan”. But what a disappointment I felt as I watched so many of them merely gravitate to other cults, most often imitation breakaways from the parent church.

I think in some ways this Vridar blog is a result of those “coming out” experiences. If asked what was the biggest lesson I have taken away from my cult years it would have to be, surely: “I know only too, too well how easy it is for me to be so very wrong.” That’s why readers see so many references to the research, the evidence, the analysis of arguments, of specialists on this blog, and to the examination of common arguments and conclusions, even among other specialists, that we find to be without valid foundation. We try to be careful and get to the facts and analyse the intellectual foundations of what we think and everything is, essentially, provisional. If anything of my experience and subsequent learning can be of some use to anyone else at an appropriate point in their life’s journey I would be satisfied.

I have been saving up scores of online articles published by journalists, political scientists, sociologists, psychologists, historians, about the Trump phenomenon in the United States and only recently I have begun to return to them and read them one by one. There are a number of people in the United States I would consider good friends even though I have never met them face to face. Unfortunately, despite our friendship, I have never had any desire to visit the United States in the same way I like to visit other countries of the world. Perhaps it’s because I see too much of the U.S. here already: on TV and in movies, and especially in the news. Not that all my information has come through today’s mainstream media. I also took up a year’s course in United States history as an undergraduate, and I have followed up much of what I learned at that time by purchasing new books as they relate to special themes of interest from those student years. In our course we covered everything from the invention of the compass through to the confluence of the Kennedy assassination and Beatles Tour, from the Federalist Papers, to the judgments of John Marshall, “Manifest Destiny”, and the Civil Rights Movement. (I recall at one stage taking a special interest in the details of the history of the Rhode Island settlement, possibly at least partly because an American pastor who introduced me to “my cult” was named William Bradford.) Meanwhile, in our English literature courses, I can never remove from my mind novels and plays by William Faulkner, James Baldwin and Tennessee Williams. Then I taught To Kill a Mockingbird in high schools soon afterwards. And I have had a number of American friends, both face to face here in Australia and, of course, online even today. But I cannot presume to know more about what is happening in the United States than what I read and hear. I am always open to correction and learning.

So when I read articles by people-in-the-know comparing Trump supporters to “a cult” I cannot help but pause a moment and wonder.

The following is in no pre-planned order. It is pretty much stream-of-consciousness stuff. read more »