Blog No. 119.
I have decided to add yet one more to the pile of commentaries on the growing turmoil in Washington.
President Trump certainly sees himself as a new broom. He has hit the Oval Office running, with a mass of executive orders, appointments, dismissals and other indicators of directions in which he intends to move. These are mainly, but not all, in line with the promises and warnings he issued prior to his election.
The possible longer term consequences and short term chaos produced by some of these actions are such that one has to question whether the signalman in the box fully understands the functions of the levers he is so busily pulling. I admit, that contrary to the flow of global opinion, I swam in the direction of preferring a Trump presidency to that of having yet another Clinton in office. I have yet to decide to regret that choice.
I had several reasons for my preference. Firstly, in marked contrast to Clinton, no one could claim that Trump was responsible for any of the other multiple disasters that American foreign policy has inflicted on the world in the past several decades. https://khakispecs.com/?p=2761 Secondly, though he might represent the interests of his plutocratic class when it suits him, Trump primarily owns himself, and would appear to be no more corrupt than the average American business tycoon. Clinton, on the other hand, is much more corrupt than that. She is the creature of the CIA, Wall Street and the deep state. She would work for them and under their control, while making money on the side by hiring herself out to any corporate, or other interest group, prepared to pay the tab. Thirdly, Clinton had declared her intent to replace the secular, Bashir Assad in Syria (with a regime that would have almost certainly been dominated by jihadist factions) and to expand hostilities toward Russia in line with the best Neocon ideology. Her election would to me, have represented a real possibility, or even likelihood of a nuclear war with Russia and thus, the worst possible outcome for mankind.
Trump, on the other hand, promised detente with Russia and a pragmatic acceptance of the Assad regime in Syria. He also promised to ditch the TPP (a neo-liberal vehicle for Wall Street’s domination of the global economy, which small nations, interested in maintaining their sovereignty, could well do without.) Furthermore, Trump promised to drain the Washington Swamp and curtail the US intelligence community’s (and in particular, the CIA’s) corrosive activities.
The prospect of a Trump presidency with his attitude of America first and his non-interventionist, “let other nations look after themselves,” augured a tendency towards isolationism. With it, came the hope that other nations could be relieved of Washington’s multifaceted military, financial and political meddling. This, in recent decades, has filled the world with armaments, distorted the economic and political progress of many countries and hampered communal attempts to develop the rule of international law through the United Nations and institutions such as the ICC.
On the negative side of the balance, and as an intimation of potential conflict to come, Trump claimed that man-made climate change was a hoax, that Israel should have free run of Palestinian territories, that the USA should reduce its commitment to the UN and that international treaties, involving the USA (and in particular with Iran and the trade relationships with China and Mexico) should be up for renegotiation.
As far as personalities went: one choice was for a corrupt, venal, vindictive and possibly murderous woman in declining health. The other was for a clever, self-opinionated, un-informed ignoramus with a bully-boy instinct and a flawed personality. Deciding which candidate to choose was a hard choice indeed. There is obviously something seriously, perhaps terminally, sick about a society that ends up offering its members such a repulsive choice of potential leaders.
I finally opted for Trump and for Hegel in that I believed that Trump would be an agent for change and that, even if many of the changes would be detrimental, at least the highly unsatisfactory, international status quo would be destabilised and a more benign synthesis might ultimately emerge from whatever chaos he created.
Now, writing a week after he assumed office, it is possibly too easy and too early to discern the nature and extent of the chaos starting to emerge. Trump’s boast is that he is, above all else, a businessman and the master of the deal. His political views are transactional rather than ideological and, given his nature and all the power the American electorate have now given him, his style will be bullying rather than accommodating. If this reading is correct, many of his initial, and to the other party seemingly intolerable demarches, will prove to have been his intentional setting of a high bar initially, from which he can negotiate concessions downwards. If he wants to negotiate a change in China’s currency policy, he will threaten to recognise Taiwan. If he wishes to negotiate an arms control deal with Russia, his first step will be to announce a massive increase in the US nuclear budget.
“My style of deal-making is quite simple and straightforward,” he writes. “I aim very high, and then I just keep pushing and pushing to get what I’m after. Sometimes I settle for less than I sought, but in most cases I still end up with what I want.”
“Think big. Most people think small, because most people are afraid of success, afraid of making decisions, afraid of winning, and that gives people like me a great advantage.”
The world should note that Trump is by nature, not a man inclined to be generous towards anyone other than himself. He is also a man utterly determined to achieve what he has set out to achieve. All obstacles encountered will be bulldozed aside. The time to watch out for, should it come, will be when he sees the possibility of achieving his goals diminishing. At that point constitutional restraints on executive power may also face the bulldozer.
In the meantime, while hoping for the best, the world should prepare for the worst. The consequences, should Trump’s first week of tweets, executive orders and announcements need to be read at face value and in accord with the vast majority of outraged media commentary, will be massive, global turmoil and disruption.
His first action has been to clear the decks of the neo-liberal heritage of the Obama Administration. All Obama’s appointed ambassadors were withdrawn from foreign countries by the day he took office and most will not be replaced for some weeks or months (and then, by goodness knows with what calibre of person.) At a time of developing international misunderstanding and crisis, communications between other governments and the USA will be impaired. To add to the confusion, within the first week, several of the senior ranks of career officials in the State Department also ‘resigned’ (or were pushed?)
Now comes the turn of the government agencies. The State Department was/is certainly a stable ripe for cleansing – but on a par with it are the CIA and the Pentagon. On his first day in office Trump visited the CIA HQ and assured the personnel gathered of his highest regard for them and his admiration of their good works. This runs so contrary to his electoral pronouncements and what must have been his feelings during the period of CIA orchestrated attacks on him on Hillary’s behalf, that one must suspect something is afoot. Is he keeping his friends close, but his enemies closer? Movements out of the senior ranks of the CIA will be worth watching for in the coming weeks. One can anticipate that the next months will see the FBI’s star in the ascendant as that of the CIA dips towards the horizon.
The Pentagon too seems to have been given a get-out-of-jail-free card. One of the first executive orders was a ban on all further hiring by the federal government – with the one exception of the military. It will be interesting to see how, as a businessman with a budget that is going to become excessively tight, he manages to discipline the profligate expenditure of the Pentagon and improve the unimpressive results it achieves with it. https://theduran.com/trump-us-military/
All together Trump issued fourteen executive orders in his first week. These include:
· An order to review all treaties with other nations to see which can be dispensed with and to cut funding to UN institutions and in particular, any international body that gives recognition to a Palestinian state or helps fund abortion. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/25/us/politics/united-nations-trump-administration.html?_r=0
· An order to reinstate the pipeline projects to bring oil extracted from Canadian tar sands to the American consumer.
· An order gagging the US government’s Environmental Protection Agency and telling it to remove from its website all reference to climate change. https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/01/trump-white-house-orders-epa-to-delete-climate-change-web-pages
· An order removing Obamacare health support from twenty million or so of the poorest American citizens. https://edition.cnn.com/2017/01/20/politics/trump-signs-executive-order-on-obamacare/
· An order killing the US participation in the TPP once and for all. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-38721056
· Orders clamping down on, and discriminating against, immigrants and visitors from an eccentric selection of Moslem countries (a great boost to ISIS recruitment!) https://www.informationclearinghouse.info/46315.htm and building a wall between the USA and Mexico. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/25/us/politics/refugees-immigrants-wall-trump.html?_r=0 The suggestion is the wall will be paid for by tariffs imposed on Mexican manufactures entering the USA. The cash for the barrier will therefore, in effect, have to come out of the pockets of American consumers. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/26/trump-calls-for-20-tax-on-mexican-imports-to-pay-for-border-wall
These rapid-fire executive orders are going to create a massive burden for the officials in the federal government, who are no longer allowed to recruit additional help. For a typical case in point, take the order instructing government agencies that for every new regulation they publish, they have to remove two old ones from their books. https://grist.org/briefly/trumps-latest-move-could-throw-environmental-rulemaking-into-chaos/?utm_campaign=weekly-static&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter Not only a recipe for administrative chaos, these too rapidly implemented orders will give rise to massive resentment both within and without the USA. Executive Orders might represent the cutting edge of the sword, but their issue has coincided with other demonstrations of disruptive intent. Salient among these are:
· The threat of a hot, as well as a trade war against China https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/donald-trump-latest-china-south-china-sea-white-house-sean-spicer-rex-tillerson-a7544251.html
· Threats to abrogate the nuclear deal with Iran and even a zany, ‘humourous’ tweeted threat to nuke it if it doesn’t change its government. https://www.thedailymash.co.uk/news/international/trump-threatens-iran-and-promotes-budweiser-in-single-tweet-20170113120120
· Giving Israel carte blanche to do as it will with the Palestinians and even to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Even a very, very ignorant person should realise this policy is in direct conflict with Trump’s other vowed policy of ending Islamic terrorism! https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/israel-plans-west-bank-settlement-expansion-amid-policy-shifts-in-washington/2017/01/24/a3899552-e243-11e6-ba11-63c4b4fb5a63_story.html?utm_term=.88a11f5ee583
· Threatening the EU with a trade war. https://fortune.com/2017/01/24/trump-is-doomed-to-fail-says-eu-trade-chief/ A consequence of such a war would be to speed up the probably already inevitable disintegration of the Eurozone. Germany, that holds the EU together, will not be able to survive tariffs against its exports to the USA, the maintenance, at US insistence, of sanctions against Russia as well as heightened expenditure, at Trump’ behest, on its contribution to NATO. A longer term consequence could well be a reorientation of Germany away from the Atlantic and towards enhanced trading ties with Russia, China and the SCO. Watch this space. The prevention of such an alignment has been the central theme of US foreign policy since WWII. Trump, advertently, or inadvertently, seems set to reverse it.
· Threatening to set up ‘safe havens’ in Syria, which would risk permanent commitment of US forces on the ground and kinetic conflict with Russia and Iran. https://www.informationclearinghouse.info/46311.htm
· Planning to massively boost defence spending. https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/politics/ct-donald-trump-navy-expansion-20170108-story.html . Does this give the lie to optimists, such as myself, who had hoped that Trump’s fortress America policies would involve a draw-down of US forces from overseas commitments? The question is whether this is a fast fix to boost employment and defence industry shareholders’ profits, or an indication of a bully’s ambition to boost his ability to improve his negotiating position, i.e. impose his will on other nations? The dilapidated US road and rail infrastructure is a more obvious and less controversial choice for investment to boost employment. Trump has committed to $3 trillion of such expenditure – but in the form of public/private projects in which local users are expected to pay the additional costs of funding the profits of the private investors. https://nsnbc.me/2017/01/27/how-to-cut-infrastructure-costs-in-half/
All the above is written at the end of the first week of Trump’s presidency. Multiple other executive orders are reported to be in the pipeline, some of which will have already been issued by the time this blog is read. Rumour has it that, these still-to-come orders, include one authorising torture and the reinstatement of ‘black hole’ sites for the internment of prisoners outside US jurisdiction. Another is rumoured to authorise a massive assassination program against ISIS leadership and its alleged wealthy funders, wherever they might be living. Erik Prince, the notorious founder of Blackwater, is reputed to have Trump’s ear on this programme. https://theintercept.com/2017/01/17/notorious-mercenary-erik-prince-is-advising-trump-from-the-shadows/
For balance, this is the analysis of a close Trump supporter who is utterly enthralled with Trump’s first week performance. https://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2017/01/27/newt-gingrich-left-should-be-scared-to-death-after-trumps-first-week.html?utm_source=Gingrich+Productions+List&utm_campaign=7f48c6efab-nosurprisestrump_2017_01_27&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_bd29bdc370-7f48c6efab-51776517
And here is another article, which I strongly recommend. It comments on Trump’s policies, as a nationalist capitalist, which is as I feel they deserve to be interpreted. It also outlines the serious flaws in his position and the opposition he is likely to engender. https://www.informationclearinghouse.info/46347.htm
So what is to be made of all this? On the balance of probabilities it would appear that the Trump presidency is poised to bring about a sea-change, both in the USA and in the way that the rest of the world interacts with it.
Within the USA, Trump’s proposed changes to the tax system https://fortune.com/2016/12/12/donald-trump-tax-plan-charts/ would seem designed to significantly increase the income of corporates and the top 1% while reducing that of large and single parent families. Fortune Magazine’s estimate is that the proposed changes will add another $6 trillion to the US national debt. Perhaps Trump envisages that the budget will be balanced by tariffs imposed on those who aspire to the privilege of being allowed to trade with the USA?
Trump’s electoral promise to ‘make America great again,’ is based on his declared intent to create well-paying jobs for the former blue-collar segment of the population, now floundering under a neo-liberal economy. This will be achieved by erecting tariff walls and making American companies’ offshore manufacturing operations uneconomic, thereby inducing an increase in domestic manufacturing activity.
Unfortunately, Trump has failed to take note that his is not the only disruption currently taking place. https://khakispecs.com/?p=2920 Not only is climate change due to disrupt his plans, but so too will the solar, agrarian and digital disruptions. With the solar disruption, his heightened investment in fossil fuels will be rendered uneconomic by the ever reducing cost of alternatives. With the fast progressing digital disruption, US manufacturers, persuaded to bring back their off-shore manufacturing onto their home turf, will prefer to employ robots than an American workforce so much more expensive than the workers they had to leave-behind in other countries. The probability is that for Americans, the price of goods will go up while, for the vast majority, their incomes and already scant state benefits will stay static or shrink.
At the same time, the complex eco-system that is the free-trading, neo-liberal, global economy is already under stress from multiple causes. The Trump disruption is likely to destabilise it further and produce a global economic meltdown. Should this happen, there is likely to be significant capital flight from the pockets of the international global elites into those of the USA’s 1%ers. A recent Oxfam report shows the wealthiest 1% of the global population as already owning 99% of the world’s assets. https://www.oxfam.org/en/pressroom/pressreleases/2015-01-19/richest-1-will-own-more-all-rest-2016 Under Trump, they may well end up owning more. If this flight occurs soon enough, foreign investors might be induced to pay for Trump’s spending programmes and give him the means to save himself from the wrath of his deceived electorate that he is likely otherwise to be forced to face.
The American constitution, however much degraded by the recent burgeoning of the power of the Executive, was nevertheless, designed to prevent executive power running amok to the extent that Trump might require, or already have in mind. Multiple legal and constitutional protests and obstacles are being readied by both the infuriated, ‘socialist’ Bernie Sanders wing of the Democrats and by the Party’s equally resentful, neo-liberal mainstream. Should these make common cause with the anger of what could become an increasingly disillusioned conservative work-force, Trump will have whistled up a storm.
The neo-liberal deep state sought to dominate international institutions and colonise the global economy for the benefit of the American elite. In this, it had the support of the neo-conservatives, who would support the establishment of the neo-liberal empire with armed force. With Trump’s ascent, that phase of history now appears to have reached the end of its use-by date. Trump, however flawed his appreciation of the situation, appears not to be interested in empire of any kind. He would abandon international institutions and ambitions. Instead, he is advocating that each nation look after its own knitting, thus letting the USA, with all its vast advantages, establish a separate, advantageous modus vivendi and trading relationship with whichever among them best suits its interests.
Of course, the above is all on the assumption that Trump is allowed both to stay in power and to put in place his chosen policies. The orchestrated, shrill cries of the western media are a clear indication that the neo-liberal and neo-con, deep state is already deploying for its counter-attack. If Trump is to hold onto power long enough to realise his attempted revolution, he will have to mount a preemptive strike against those players already planning his demise.
Putin managed successfully to avert the threat of the Russian oligarchs, but whether Trump is as sensitive to his peril and will prove as cunning in facing it as did Putin, is a moot point. His opponents already realise that they are dammed if they don’t bring his presidency to a premature end. They would be fools if they don’t realise that, given the 50% or so of the electorate who supported Trump into office, they’ll also be damned if they do.
Whatever happens, the American empire, as the outside world knows it, is about to face an existential crisis. If the neo-liberal, globalising regimes of the post-Reagan years were the thesis; the paleo-conservatism of Trump will be the antithesis. What the resulting synthesis might look like will be the subject of another and speculative blog. One can but reflect on the ancient Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.”