Many atop the United States’ corporate and imperial “deep state” are disquieted by the early Donald Trump presidency. They should be. On his first full day in office, the 70-year-old man-child went to the CIA’s headquarters to ramble about the media’s supposed under-estimation of the crowds at his inauguration speech. Senior CIA officials sat stone-faced while he said the U.S. might get “another chance” to take Iraq’s oil.
Trump has insulted Mexico and nauseated the world by moving ahead with his plan to “build a wall and make Mexico pay for it.” He has deepened hatred of the United States in the Middle East and North Africa by slapping a poorly-vetted travel ban on people from seven Muslim-majority nations. He fired the acting attorney general who refused to implement his order. He called the federal magistrate who held up the unconstitutional ban a “so-called judge.” He absurdly claimed, without evidence, that some Muslim nations support his travel ban.
Trump has installed his crypto-fascist top political adviser, Steve Bannon, as a member of the National Security Council Principals Committee. Bannon is certainly itching for a war to help boost the record-low approval numbers with which Trump has come into the White House.
Trump and his minions have made blustering war threats against China, Iran and North Korea. And the beast with orange hair has drawn his first imperial blood. While dining, he approved a subsequently botched U.S. commando raid that killed 31 one people, including an 8-year-old girl, in Yemen (the royal brute couldn’t be bothered to follow the normal presidential practice of entering the White House Situation Room to review the operation’s plans and weigh risks and options).
Trump had a “rough” phone call with the prime minister of Australia. The call ended with Trump hanging up and then complaining about the Australian head of state in public.
Meanwhile, Trump has continued to advance the Big Lie that he won the popular vote in the presidential election. The charge is straight out of Nazi propaganda chief Goebbels' playbook, who sought to make lies into a material force in history through simple repetition.
Most dangerously of all, the climate change-denier Trump’s anti-environmental appointments and orders show that he is moving full speed ahead with his Koch brothers-driven promise to “deregulate energy” – that is, greenlight the full-bore greenhouse gassing-to-death of life on Earth.
The president remains childishly addicted to his sociopathic Twitter account and cable news television.
Trump is very bad for Brand USA. The New York Times worried in a Feb. 5 editorial that “Mr. Trump’s pugnacious approach to foreign affairs and his first executive orders ... have already undermined America’s standing.” Millions have already marched against this vicious and dangerous president at home and abroad.
You can see the establishment’s unease with Trump in the editorial pages of the nation’s leading newspapers and on the cable news, except at FOX. Per centrist Republican Times columnist David Brooks, “this is not a normal administration. It is a problem that demands a response. It is a callous, bumbling group that demands either personal loyalty or the ax.” Brooks calls Trump’s presidency “a danger to the (Republican) party and the nation in its existential nature.”
Back to US War Mongering
You don’t have to be part of the liberal or center wings of the establishment to fret. The leading Neoconservative, Eliot Cohen (a high-level deep state player in the foreign policy of George W. Bush), recently wrote this in The Atlantic: “as power intoxicates Trump and those around him… (his presidency) will probably end in calamity — substantial domestic protest and violence, a breakdown of international economic relationships, the collapse of major alliances, or perhaps one or more new wars (even with China) …”
American elites are right to be concerned. Worried as the nation’s real rulers may be, however, Trump is their handiwork in at least four ways.
First, the nation’s Republican Party leadership has long cultivated the racism, nativism, sexism, evangelism, militarism, and Know-Nothing-ism that Trump exploited on his path to power.
Second, the nation’s corporate and financial ruling class has long been feeding the mass irrationalism, celebrity addiction, mindlessness, historical amnesia, anti-intellectualism, and amoral narcissism that allowed a pre-fascist lizard like Trump to leap from reality show buffoon to “commander-in-chief.” Under corporate control, the nation’s mass-mediated politics and entertainment culture has been turned into a soulless, power-serving wasteland. It glorifies war and the police state, devalues social justice, demeans the poor, mocks democracy, degrades government’s positive roles, worships violence, and the elevates wealth and self over the common good.
Third, the Deep State long ago turned the Democratic Party, the nominal party of workers and the poor, into a socially and democratically useless lap-dog of the leading financial institutions, top multinational corporations, and the military empire. This depresses and demobilizes much of the nation’s poor and working-class citizenry (or ex-citizenry), turning millions into non-voters and others into supporters of the ever-more-rightward, white nationalist Republican Party.
Fourth, the reigning bipartisan neoliberal and imperial doctrines shared by the wealth and power elite have stripped American government of much of its capacity and willpower to carry out positive social and democratic functions like guaranteeing basic incomes, living standards, environmental safety for the nation’s shockingly poor and precariously situated working-class majority. The corporate-neoliberal “Washington consensus” – “financialization, outsourcing, privatization, deregulation, and the commodification of labor,” as Mike Lofgren defined it – is joined at the not-so-"free market" hip with a giant interventionist military empire that swallows up more than half of U.S. military spending along with 37% of the world’s military spending (no small feat for a nation that comprises 4.4% of world population) and a mass incarceration state that accounts for 22% of the world’s prisoners (a great achievement for “the land of the liberty”). Neoliberalism starves what the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu called “the left hand of the state” – the parts of the public sector that serve the social and democratic needs of the non-affluent majority. At the same time, it feeds the regressive and repressive “right hand of the state,” the parts of government that distribute wealth and power upward while punishing the working and lower classes and all who resist the unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money and empire.
It’s a deadly process. With government paralyzed when it comes to meeting the needs of any but the wealthy few, the way is open for a demagogue to seize upon popular resentments and come in claiming that he and he alone can fix the nation’s problems and make it “great again.” When the normal bourgeois institutions and liberal elites are perceived (all too accurately in many cases) as pathetic and nefarious failures, the charismatic, populism-manipulating bully steps into the vacuum promising a restoration of lost national greatness. That’s what Hitler did in Germany in the 1930s.
Smart elites atop the American deep state would do well to work to crash the Bannon-TrumPence administration as soon as possible or face (yes, Eliot Cohen) disaster. If they can’t bring themselves to kill their own Frankenstein, the American people themselves must bring this government down before it’s too late.
Paul Street is the author of many books, including They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm-Routledge, 2014).