Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Inauguration of President Trump: State Capture in the Age of Anxiety

As Donald Trump takes the oath of office and is sworn in as the 45th President of the United States, I am reminded of the words attributed to District Attorney Jim Garrison by Kevin Costner in the film JFK:  

"If you let yourself be too scared then you let the bad guys take over the country, don't you? And then everybody gets scared."

Trump's candidacy, campaign and eventual election have been critiqued endlessly over the months - on the grounds of his character and temperament, his lack of political experience, his outrageous statements, Trump's nativism and anti-immigration stance, and his populist rhetoric devoid of meaningful policy substance. 

Meanwhile, comparatively little attention has been paid by Trump's detractors to what may well prove to be the overwhelmingly significant issue of the 2016 election: the capture of the United States government by corporate forces bent on their own economic agenda. 

Of course, the powerful role of big business is nothing new in American elections. The influence of corporate-funded lobbies and the power of the military-industrial complex have been well-recognised elements in American political life since at least World War 2. The election of Donald Trump, however, has taken this trend to a new level of intensity, such that State Capture is not too extreme a term to describe the consolidation of the rule of corporate interests in the American political system. 

This underlying fact - the consolidation of an elected plutocracy in one of the world's historic democracies - will prove key to interpreting and understanding the policies of the Trump Administration in the coming months and years. Promises made during the election about immigration, trade deals and draining the swamp of Washington insiders were merely the rhetorical devices used by Trump to secure his election, aided by a virulent campaign against his main opponent - a campaign which may well have been supported by the Russian intelligence services. The actual substance of Donald Trump's rule will be pro-big-business activity that benefits him personally as well as other billionaires who have supported him. 

The new President's cabinet reflects this distortion towards super-rich corporate elites. With personal net worth greater than the GDP of over fifty smaller countries, the new executive team are estimated to own about $11 billion in personal assets. Writing in the Boston Globe, Matt Rocheleau notes that:

President-elect Donald Trump boasted about his wealth during his campaign. Now he’s surrounding himself with people who have similarly unimaginable riches.

Collectively, the wealth of his Cabinet choices so far is roughly four times greater than President Obama’s Cabinet and nearly 30 times greater than the one George W. Bush led at the end of his presidency.

In 1952, Charles E Wilson, former CEO of car giant General Motors and later Secretary of Defense under President Eisenhower, revealed the following belief:

For years I thought that what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa. The difference did not exist.

Replace General Motors with the name of their own corporations, and Wilson's statement would be a fair summary of the political paradigm of the new incumbent and his administration. Their agenda will be dominated by creating conditions for large businesses to prosper. This will be the thread that runs through domestic and foreign policy. Economic decisions, environmental regulations, healthcare, education policy and relations with China, Europe and Russia will be created, maintained or reformed according to the extent that they facilitate corporate deal-making.   

Against such a backdrop, we should expect little room for those areas of governmental activity that cannot be easily commodified - human rights, environmental protection, police reform or race relations. 

It is indeed a scary time. 

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