On January 20, Donald J. Trump completed his third year in office. I predicted in 2016, in a blog post that received considerable traction on social media, that Trump would lose his bid for America’s highest office. I was spectacularly wrong but not alone. Even the Las Vegas bookies thought Clinton was a shoo-in with her unbeatable two-punch knockout. The first punch: I’m not Trump, the second: World War III with the Russians would be peachy at least until the bombs start falling. What could possibly have gone wrong?
More to the point, the unexpected victory of Trump was the historical reaction to the bankruptcy of the neoliberalism so prevalent in the Clinton, Bush and Obama eras. Now after three years of Mr. Trump, what’s left?
When President George W. (Dubya) Bush, who is now viewed favorably by a majority of Democrats, was in office, Democrats could wring their tied hands to the accolades of their base. My own Democrat Representative Lynn Woolsey stood up daily in the House and denounced Bush’s Iraq war. For a while, there was a resurgent peace movement against U.S. military adventures in the Middle East, which was even backed by some left-leaning liberals.
But the moment that Obama ascended to the Oval Office, the Iraq War became Obama’s war, Bush’s secretary of war Gates was carried over to administer it, and Woolsey forgot she was for peace. No matter, Obama, the peace candidate, would fix it. Just give him a chance. For eight years, Obama was given a chance and the peace movement went quiescent.
Trump takes office
Surely a Republican president, I thought, would harken a rebirth of the peace movement given the ever-inflated war budget and the proliferation of U.S. wars. The United States is officially at war with Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Niger. Add to that list a number of other states subject to U.S. drone attacks such as Iran, Pakistan, and Mali, and some 30 countries are currently being targeted with illegal unilateral coercive measures as a form of economic warfare.
With Republicans in control of both Congress and the White House, my expectation was that Democrats would safely take a giant step to the right in accordance with their Wall Street funders, while safely keeping a baby step to the left of Republicans in order to appease their liberal-leaning base. To a certain extent, this is what happened with Trump’s tax cut for the wealthy. Democrats could, and did, claim that their hands were once again tied (wink, wink to their Wall Street handlers).
Yet on more fundamental issues, Democrats did not pay lip service to their base’s economic priorities, instead, they attacked Republicans on their weak left flank. The assault on Republicans came from the right with what The Hill called Pelosi’s “fiscally hawkish pay-as-you-go rules,” increasing the war budget and launching Russiagate instead of appealing to working people on bread and butter issues.
While Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders did raise genuine issues regarding runaway income inequality and plutocratic politics, he was suppressed by a hostile corporate press and an antagonistic Democratic Party establishment, which arguably preferred to risk a Republican victory in 2016 than to support anyone who dare question neoliberal orthodoxy.
Sanders’ issues got asphyxiated in the juggernaut of Russiagate. His legacy – so far – has been to help contain a progressive insurgency within the Democratic Party, the perennial graveyard of social movements. Had Mr. Sanders not come along, the Democrats – now the full-throated party of neoliberal austerity at home and imperial war abroad – would have needed to invent a leftish Pied Piper to keep their base in the fold.
So, after three years of Trump, the mass movement against militarism that is needed now more than ever has yet to resurrect in force, notwithstanding promising demonstrations in immediate response to Trump’s assassination of Iran’s Major General Soleimani on January 3 with more demonstrations to come.
Imperialism and neoliberalism
Dubya proved his imperialist mettle with the second Iraq war; Obama with the destruction of Libya. But Trump has yet to start a war of his own. Though, in the case of Iran, it was not due to a lack of trying. The last U.S. president that failed to hold true to an imperialist legacy was the one-term Jimmy Carter. But Trump has 12, and possibly 60, more months to go.
In his short time in office, Trump has packed his administration with former war industry executives, increased troops in Afghanistan, approved the sale of weapons to the post-coup government of Ukraine, made the largest weapons deal in U.S. history with Saudi Arabia, supported the Saudi war against Yemen, recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and killed more civilians in drone strikes than “Obomber.” In the empire’s own “backyard,” Trump has tightened the blockade on Cuba, intensified Obama’s sanctions on Venezuela, oversaw the devastation of Puerto Rico, and backed a bloody right-wing coup in Bolivia. The Venezuelan Embassy Protectors, a group of American peace activists, are fighting the U.S. government for a fair trial, while whistleblower Julian Assange faces extradition to the U.S.
Now that Trump has declared the defeat of ISIS, the official U.S. National Defense Strategy has shifted to focus on “interstate strategic competition” with Russia and China. The strategy, based on the official guiding document of the US foreign policy, explicitly calls for “build[ing] a more lethal force” for world domination. Giving credit where it is due, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama had presciently decreed a “pivot to Asia” back in 2011.
Closer to home Trump has been busy deregulating environmental protections, dismantling the National Park system, weaponizing social media, undoing net neutrality and withdrawing from the Paris Agreement on climate change. What’s not to despise?
Russiagate and impeachment
Russiagate, in case you are not totally absorbed in mass media, is about a conspiracy that Russia, not the U.S. Electoral College, is responsible for Hillary Clinton not getting her rightful turn to be President of the United States.
For the better part of the last three years under the shadow of the Trump White House, a spook emerged from the netherworld of the deep state and has toiled mightily to expose wrongdoers. This man, former head of the FBI Robert Mueller, we are told, is only one miracle short of being canonized in blue state heaven. Yet even he failed to indict a single American for colluding with Russia, though he was able to hand out indictments to Americans for other wrongdoings unrelated to Russia.
Undeterred by this investigation to nowhere, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi initiated impeachment proceedings against the sitting president in the Democrat’s first successful step to promote Mike Pence as the next POTUS.
When an unelected and unaccountable CIA operative colluding with opposition politicians and with backing from his agency, seeks to take down a constitutionally elected president, there is cause for concern. Operating under the cloak of anonymity and with privileged access to information, national security operatives skilled in the craft of espionage have the undemocratic means to manipulate and even depose elected officials.
What has arisen is an emboldened national security state. The CIA, lest we forget, is the clandestine agency whose mission is to use any means necessary to effect “regime change” in countries that dare to buck empire. Latin American leftists used to quip that the U.S. has never suffered a coup because there is no U.S. embassy in Washington. There may not be a U.S. embassy there, but the CIA and the rest of the security establishment are now more present than ever and pose an impending danger to democracy.
Now, Obama’s former Director of National Intelligence and serial perjurer James Clapper holds the conflicted role of CNN pundit while still retaining top security clearance. Likewise, former CIA director, torture apologist, and fellow perjurer John Brennan holds forth on NBC News and MSNBC with his security clearance intact.
Class trumps partisan differences
While both Democrats and Republicans engage in mortal combat on the superficial, they remain united in their bedrock loyalty to the rule of capital and U.S. military and economic dominance. The first article of the Democrat-backed impeachment against Trump is his “abuse of power.” Yet, amidst the heat of the House impeachment hearings, Democrats helped renew the Patriot Act by an overwhelming majority, which gives the president wartime authority to shred the constitution.
Contrary to the utterances of the Democratic presidential candidates on the campaign trail about limiting U.S. military spending, the latest $738 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is $22 billion more than the last. The Democratic Progressive Caucus didn’t even bother to whip members to oppose the bill. On December 11, in an orgy of bi-partisan love, the NDAA bill passed by a landslide vote of 377-48.
President Trump tweeted “Wow!” Democratic Party leader and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith called the bill “the most progressive defense bill we have passed in decades.”
The bill gifts twelve more Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets than Trump requested and greenlights funding of Trump’s border wall with Mexico. Stripped from the bipartisan NDAA “compromise” bill were provisions to prohibit Trump from launching a war on Iran without Congressional authorization. Similarly dropped were limits to U.S. participation in the genocidal war in Yemen.
A new Space Force was authorized to militarize the heavens. Meanwhile, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has set the doomsday clock at 2 minutes before midnight. Unfortunately, the Democrat’s concern about Trump’s abuse of power does not extend to such existential matters as nuclear war.
Trump’s renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement (i.e., USMCA), an acknowledged disaster, was renewed with bipartisan support and on the domestic front, Trump’s cuts to food stamps, Medicaid, and reproductive health services, barely registered audible demurs of the supine Democrats.
Revolt of the dispossessed
Behind the façade of the impeachment spectacle (Ken Starr and Alan Dershowitz are now on Trump’s legal team), is a ruling class consensus that trumps partisan differences. As political economist Rob Urie perceptively observed:
The American obsession with electoral politics is odd in that ‘the people’ have so little say in electoral outcomes and that the outcomes only dance around the edges of most people’s lives. It isn’t so much that the actions of elected leaders are inconsequential as that other factors— economic, historical, structural and institutional, do more to determine ‘politics.’
In the highly contested 2016 presidential contest, nearly half the eligible U.S. voters opted out, not finding enough difference among the contenders to leave home. 2020 may be an opportunity; an opening for an alternative to neoliberal austerity at home and imperial wars abroad lurching to an increasingly oppressive national security state. The campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Tulsi Gabbard. and before them the Occupy Wall Street movement, point to a brewing popular insurgency. Mass protests of the dispossessed are rocking France, India, Colombia, Chile, and soon, perhaps, the United States.
Main Image: U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders speaking with attendees at the 2019 California Democratic Party State Convention at the George R. Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco, California. | Gage Skidmore