Apart from his xenophobic agenda and announcements, now backed by stark rhetoric and ill-conceived executive orders – which is Donald Trump theatre at its most potent – the new president has betrayed working and middle-class Americans and those expecting a significant reduction in the US’s global military footprint. He has let down those expecting a reduced US role in the world, less interventionism, reduction of US commitments to other world regions (NATO, East Asia, the Middle East), the prospect of bringing home US troops and reducing the number of air, naval and military bases.
On the other hand, the people he campaigned against as the friends of Hillary Clinton – Wall Street banks, corporations and special interests corrupting politics – are being rewarded with jobs in the administration and tantalising promises of massive infrastructure contracts, tax cuts and deregulation of banks and energy corporations.
No wonder the Dow Jones index is breaking all records. Trump, the billionaire man of the people, has lined up behind him latter-day robber barons ready to devour the public purse, cutting public services to the bone and leaving the US’s most vulnerable to enjoy laissez-faire government.
But all this is hidden in plain sight by the dramatic televisual tragedy of media conferences focused on Russia. Meanwhile, the promise of taking on corporate elite power which catapulted Trump to the presidency and saw Democrat Bernie Sanders win 13 million votes in the primaries has almost disappeared from view.
Foreign policy: ‘Isolationist’ Trump plans increased military intervention
There is now talk about deploying US ground troops in Syria. It seems that war is central to the presidency, reflecting a military definition of reality that continues to hold sway in the White House and across the military-industrial complex. A macho rite of passage.
This could be another disaster like Libya and Iraq, not to mention Afghanistan.
Yet, there is also a difference here, in my view, given the nature of ISIS: ISIS, initially backed by the US and Gulf allies against the Assad regime, has wreaked havoc across the region. It is now in retreat. Any American intervention on the ground, as opposed to already massive airstrikes, would require agreement of the Syrian administration and acting in coordination with it. But Trump would also need Russian support, and to stop alienating Iran and its allies in the Syrian civil war.
But US motives at this stage of the war on ISIS must be open to question – possibly to limit Iranian influence, not to mention Russian.
Russia, no longer a ‘red threat’ (was it ever?) remains a red herring in US politics, especially in media and intelligence-military community opposition to Trump’s apparent overtures to Vladimir Putin. There is just a hint of ‘deep state’ politics about this matter which is not a little disturbing in principle, despite the repugnance of the cultural-racial agenda of this unorthodox administration.
This unorthodoxy is nowhere more apparent than in the sleight of hand and smoke and mirrors routines at Trump’s media conferences – full-blooded brawls with allegations of fake news and Russian linkage politics.
Corporate money and special interests
But meanwhile, in plain view of all the world, but hardly raised by the media pack, Trump has appointed the richest cabinet in US history, openly plans a bonanza for the banks and corporations, along with a massive attacks on medicare, social security, healthcare and welfare spending, promising greater inequality as a result for all those millions who believed him when he promised to give power back to the people.
Trump’s treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin – former partner at Goldman Sachs, member of the elitist semi-secret Yale society ‘Skull and Bones’ like his father before him – has a record of 36,000 home-loan foreclosures in the wake of the Wall Street-induced subprime mortgage crisis of 2008. His investment firm, Dune Capital Management, of which Mnuchin is CEO and chairman, is anchored offshore in the Cayman Islands, evading scrutiny and taxes.
Mnuchin is hardly alone as a financial magnate in an administration sworn to ‘drain the swamp’ of big money corruption in the Washington establishment. Wilbur Ross, Steve Bannon, Gary Cohn, Todd Ricketts, among others, are banking alumni, speeding through the revolving door between the financial elite and political power.
Yet, Trump has partly courted but also helpfully fallen into the arms of the best-prepared right-wing think tank in Washington, DC. The Heritage Foundation has helped appoint people to the administration and prepared the document that might yield the ideas and policies that govern the US for the next several years – from taxes to markets to crime to national security. Heritage also represents the conservative-nationalist world-view currently animating the Trump administration, backed by his defence secretary, James Mattis.
This is not what Trump promised to millions of Americans.
This places the Russian and ‘Muslim ban’ issues in context. This is either incompetence or an extremely sophisticated diversion strategy. Or both. Does it matter? The consequence is intense and heated ‘debate’ between the ‘fake media’ and Trump while the big ticket items on the administration’s political-economic agenda pass under the radar of significant mass-media scrutiny.
This is, ironically, functional for Trump and the broadly pro-Clinton media and intelligence communities. Trump can pose as the champion of oppressed Republican voters against the liberal establishment, explaining why 84% of GOP voters continue to approve of him. So long as that level of support continues, the GOP in congress is unlikely to challenge Trump on anything but the most extreme cases of incompetence or unconstitutionality. Trump is delivering the psychological wage of white power in the White House to the self-ascribed victims of the 1960s rights revolution and tangible financial rewards to the corporate class.
For the Clinton support community, who have no new political-economic ideas to offer other than the intellectually-bankrupt ‘third way’ championed by Wall Street, scrutinising Russia’s role in their downfall and Trump’s alleged pro-Russian/anti-American tendencies, the current political theatre of Trump’s shambolic media events shores up their core voters horrified by Trump’s xenophobia.
Combined, the Trump-media circus has effects similar to the Colosseum in imperial Rome – distracting people from the major sources of the problems of American society.