Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Historical Analysis of the Trump Phenomenon

My friend Dr. Paul Ten Have, retired professor of sociology at the University of Amsterdam, keeps sending me Dutch articles about the evils of Trumpism. For example Trump Plunders Public Property.

This article describes the damage done to our national parks and to the environment by the various measures introduced by the Trump administration to (re-)open many areas for industrial exploitation.

Much of what Paul sends me is old hat. Dutch intellectuals and the Dutch media are apparently unaware that there is a vast domestic resistance in America - one which I believe comprises a majority of Americans. Most of us have long been aware of the issues which Paul “brings to my attention” and we have been fighting Trump and his base tooth and nails for two years.

A more interesting recent Dutch article is Trump: Chaotic, Narcissistic and Effective: This article also provides a familiar litany of Trumpian horror stories: E.g. the evisceration of the environment, the Mafia-style corruption of everyone in and around the White House, the racism, the undermining of laws and courts, the rape of the economy by the kleptocracy, etc. But in addition, this article also dares to suggest that the Trumpites ARE in fact achieving many of their nefarious objectives. This is both alarming and refreshing.

So let me piggy-back and provide a historical analysis:

1. The US media, largely critical of Trump from the get-go, have been chattering, without significantly stopping the Trump juggernaut. Their effectiveness is questionable. Russiagate is gaining no traction, and I can see why. People are more concerned about the terrible damage done to the country by Trump’s disastrous policies than about Russia. The latter harks back to the Cold War. Been there, done that.

2. Only ONE thing matters: What happens at the ballot box in November.

3. Looking at America in a Manichean way, let’s say that the proportion of good and evil forces are, respectively, 60% and 40%. (60% of the public understands that Trumpism is a disaster, and 40% embraces it). If you are an optimist, the percentages may be 65% vs. 35%. However, it is also possible that 50% or even 55% of the public embraces Trumpism, many of them secretly. I am not sure. One problem is that many good people fail to vote. If the bad guys win in November, these “good people” will get what they deserve, i.e. continued terrible government.

4. Some of the damage done by Trumpism is no doubt long-lasting. For example, court appointments, especially those to the Supreme Court. Also, the huge tax cut for the rich is driving the budget deficit to heights which will paralyze the federal government.

5. However, many of Trump’s decisions have been mere executive orders, so they will be relatively easy to reverse, IF WE WIN in November.

6. As to my historical analysis. I am reminded of my political science classes in graduate school, for example the writings of William Kornhauser (The Politics of Mass Society).

What is happening in America at this time is a deja vu of 20th century (and earlier) history. Current trends are reminiscent of Germany, Russia, France and other European countries in the past.

Here is a political science generalization which seems almost a scientific law: When the bourgeoisie in mass societies becomes angry and alienated, it veers to the Right. When the proletariat does so, it veers to the Left. The Russian Revolution is an example of the latter. Nazi Germany the former. The Russians opted for Communism, the Germans for Fascism. Both populations were responding to crisis, including military defeat, economic depression and dysfunctional government. The difference was that a majority of Russians were proletarians, while most Germans were middle-class.

Of course, it is the German scenario which applies to the US today: After Germany’s defeat in World War One, that country was in turmoil. The population was polarized between Right and Left, both pulling towards extremes:  The 1918-1919 German Revolution led to the foundation of the German Communist Party and its attempt to take over the government. This was the Spartacist uprising, lead by Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. The Communists briefly seized power in Bavaria. However, Luxemburg and Liebknecht were murdered and the insurrection was put down. From 1919 to 1932/3, Germany recovered some political and economic stability. This was the era of the Weimar Republic. However, by 1932, the Great Depression once again began to roil the country. In the 1932 election, the electorate was polarized once again. Hitler’s Nazi Party received 13.5 million votes, while the Socialists and the Communists together garnered 13. 24 million. Thus, Far Left and (Far) Right were nearly equal. It was a nip-and-tuck, almost a stalemate.

There followed street violence, repression, foul play (e.g. the 1933 Reichstag fire) and the Nazi victory. The triumph of Right-wing totalitarianism over Left-wing totalitarianism is an example of what happens when a largely middle-class society goes berserk.

Today, America is undergoing a polarization similar to Germany’s during the 1920s and 1930s. The Tea Party has now existed for nearly 20 years. American racism, scapegoating and xenophobia are on the rise, as were anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudice in Germany during the 1930s. At the same time, there is also a radicalization on the Left. Sanders was more popular than Hillary Clinton, movements such as Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street and Me Too proliferate.

The question is: How popular will the Democratic Party remain, as it moves to the Left. America is largely a bourgeois society. The only group that fits Marx’s conception of the proletariat in this country are large segments of the black and Hispanic population.

Now don’t misunderstand me: I am not suggesting that a Bolshevik-style revolution would be desirable. I am merely explaining what tends to happen when different populations become alienated from and angry at their government. In the US, such rage is likely to turn Right, not Left, as it did in Germany but not in Russia.

And there is another dimension to this model: Historically, such polarizations have always been between an urban (and industrial) proletariat on the Left and a rural Right-wing class in the provinces:

Take France for instance: In 1871, the urban proletariat in Paris (largely the eastern part of the city) rose to establish a Communist regime. This uprising was viciously put down by President Thiers (about 10,000 killed). To do his dirty work, he brought in provincial troops.
During the French Revolution, some of the most conservative counter-revolutionaries and rabid royalists were folks living in the provinces, for example the Vendée.

The strategy of bringing in provincial forces to re-establish the power of the right over the revolutionary urban left has been used since ancient Rome.

We have today in America a Left urban proletariat in such places as California, New York and Massachusetts. And then there are the provinces - most of what lies in-between: Rural Ohio and Kentucky, most of the Midwest and the Deep South, etc.

As Marx said: History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.

© Tom Kando 2018;All Rights Reserved

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