The “grace period” of the new administration’s proverbial first 100 days in office is far from over, but there is no relenting in the controversy, acrimony and political turmoil. Events are unfolding fast, and some observations might be in order.
Let’s cut to the chase and repeat an important axiom – not necessarily original here, but often overlooked: Trump is not the problem, but merely the symptom of a (deeper) problem. Sure (and apart from the obvious reality-show antics) – there are plenty of easy targets: the ridiculous wall proposal, dismantling Obamacare safety net provisions, ineffective passport profiling, sundry “alternative facts”… But US immigration policy – along with trade and foreign policies it stems from – have long been broken. American health care even under ACA remains the most inefficient among developed nations, and lack of both government transparency and honesty has been an American staple even long before Wikileaks or the infamous Clinton perjury. Put another way – in a society where (no pun intended) the adjective “social” is just as likely to be completed with the noun “media” as with “justice”, where collective amnesia all too often obscures the connection between nouveau constructs like “fake news” and traditional brain-washing propaganda, and where infatuation with quasi-artificial intelligence comes at the expense of the natural – it is rather easy for elites to manufacture consent or ever so slightly guide the rage of the system’s discontents, who will thus miss the proverbial forest for the trees.
As the nonsensical math of the administration’s neo-“voodoo economics” becomes clearer – so will the search for debtors, scapegoats and a broader state of exception accelerate. Once the current War on Terror runs its course and with most liberal gazes fixed on traditionally oppressed groups – there is always room for finding the Subaltern Other. Many troubling indications of old tropes resurrecting from the mothballs are already evident – most notably, the “Red Russian” scare of decades past – except this time, with much of the red gone, leaving mostly pure racist stereotypes.
Above all, mortgaging livelihoods outside of the narrow space-time zone of corporate quarterly profits has always been a standard play. The present exuberance of Wall Street is plainly based on the promised unholy trinity of lower corporate taxes, emaciated regulation and increased military spending. Even mainstream commentators (NYT’s D. Brooks) have astutely observed this trend of “privatizing compassion and nationalizing repression”. But this is just an extension of the bipartisan “privatizing profit and socializing risk” that characterized the previous government’s Great Recession response. Knee-jerk reactions to the most egregious excesses of this regime – sometimes topped with inane attempts to trump Trump in his own game – blunt a clear understanding of the deleterious trends this administration is merely ratcheting up.
Therefore, thinking outside the elite-mandated boxes is always good advice for a progressive movement. For one thing, waiting for the Democratic Party to internally reform into an agent of real change is a non-starter – as the recent DNC chair (s)election amply confirmed. The persistent popularity of Sen. Sanders’ message continuously clashes with his puzzling attempts to reform a party he is not even affiliated with, leaving him vulnerable to cheap but discrediting goading by the likes of Giuliani and Trump. There has not been a better time in decades to get outside of the damaging straight jacket of one-dimensional two-party American politics. The next US election cycle is never too far away, and ground for it is prepared now.
“Big data analytics” has recently claimed a surge in public interest for Orwell’s classic ‘1984’. Quite encouraging, if true – all the more so as this time the paradigm is no longer singularly associated with communist excesses. But many other worthy tomes in recent years (often very serious non-fiction – e.g. Piketty’s “Capital in the 21st century”) have also allegedly topped bestseller charts, with little visible effect. Real progress will require a real awareness by the “99%” of broader historical realities, in order to avoid the continuous traps set by the “1%”. For starters – remembering the lessons of Jack London’s mostly forgotten, but arguably most relevant today, “The Iron Heel”.