Trump’s Corporatism Is Not New

Donald Trump as president is promoting corporatism, if not corporatocracy. It is the same old corporate welfare and corporate socialism, but even greater. He did promise to make America great again. His supporters forgot to ask about the details, though.

He is giving out subsidies and bailouts to particular companies and sectors, which means picking the winners and losers. It doesn’t even follow an ideological pattern, as he has simultaneously criticized wind energy while quietly subsidizing it. On top of that, he is using tariffs and trade war as economic protectionism, more akin to how the old empires used to operate — with about 12 percent of US imports during 2018 having fallen under Trump’s trade protectionism. Nor did Trump eliminate any of the subsidies and tariffs he inherited. He even had the audacity to present adding even more farm subsidies as if they were his own original idea, never before tried.

If a Democratic president did a fraction of this, Republicans would call it communism, although it would be more fair to call it fascism or well down that path. Instead, some supposed “fiscal conservatives” (a meaningless term even at the best of times) are proclaiming Trump’s policies as defending “free trade” (which in turn demonstrates how meaningless that is as well) — not unlike how constitutional conservatives will complain about Democrats for judicial activism and so use that complaint as a justification to vote for Republican politicians who promote their own preferred judicial activism. This psychotic disconnection from reality is impressive, to say the least.

I’m neither for nor against government regulation on principle, and so I’m not critical of Trump for being an economic interventionist — the entire system is the problem from my perspective. But I do like to label things correctly, in order to promote rational and fair debate (such intellectual ideals sound quaint these days). It is dishonest and plain depressing to call Trump’s policies anti-regulatory because he has helped further empower corporate rule within the political system and has attempted to use the US government to enforce US economic might throughout the world. If this is deregulation, I wonder what regulation looks like?

In the end, the rhetoric of neoliberalism always translates as the policies of neoconservatism. Something like NAFTA, for example, was always intended as economic interventionism and corporate protectionism — actual free trade would disallow corporate charters and international trade agreements militarily enforced by imperial-style governments, instead requiring each business to freely determine its own trade relations. It is why the rhetoric of “free trade” always goes hand in hand with trade sanctions, wars of aggression, CIA covert operations, etc — along with the numerous forms of corporate welfare (e.g., natural resources on public lands being sold at below market prices). That is to say it is about the wealthy and powerful maintaining and extending their wealth and power by any means necessary. This form of nationalism is what tends to get ramped up more overtly before major international conflicts, maybe at present indicating the early stages of World War III. I don’t doubt that Trump wants to be a war president with war powers.

Trump doesn’t care about economics, much less the American people. He is a narcissist. It’s a power game to him. He has threatened other countries to do what he wants and when they refused his ego was hurt and so he is retaliating. As president, he now sees the US government and economy as an extension of himself. And he has never experienced real consequences for any action he has taken in his entire life. It’s all a game, until it suddenly becomes real. After everything goes to hell, I wouldn’t mind seeing footage of Trump being pulled out of a hiding hole like Saddam Hussein.

It’s not really about Trump, though. He isn’t doing anything now that Republicans and right-wingers haven’t been supporting and inciting for decades. Trump is simply a version of Ronald Reagan in having began his presidency already in a state of dementia — one might call it late stage Reaganism. Even Trump’s bigotry is simply a more open expression of the dog whistle rhetoric that got so many Republicans elected over American history. Democrat’s have played their role as well with Jimmy Carter’s fiscal policies and anti-labor stance and later Bill Clinton’s corporatist ‘deregulation’ and racist crime bill (a speech about which Clinton gave in front of a KKK memorial with black prisoners chained behind him). Worse still, executive power has been increasing in every administration for decades with full support of Congress, and Barack Obama could have reversed this course but he didn’t and so opened the door for Trump.

This situation has been a long time coming. Trump is simply the fruit of bipartisan corruption and corporatism. This is the American Empire, what it always has been and becoming worse (inverted totalitarianism is what America will likely become, assuming we aren’t already there). The sad state of affairs only stands out for what it is because of the distorting lens of Trump’s personality, his unintentional way of speaking bluntly that almost approximates honesty on occasion. He has revealed what for so long remained hidden in the mainstream mind. But now that we have been forced to see what so many of us didn’t want to see and can’t unsee, what should we do as a society?

* * *

Protectionism was threatening global supply chains before Trump
by Chad Bown

Trump’s Protectionist Con Is Not New: Remembering The Bush Steel Tariff
by Bill Scher

Trump’s Allies Say He Really Wants Free Trade. Fat Chance.
by Ramesh Ponnuru

Trump Is a Protectionist — But Who Is He Protecting?
by Robert A. Blecker

Steel Profits Gain, but Steel Users Pay, under Trump’s Protectionism
by Gary Clyde Hufbauer (PIIE) and Euijin Jung

Trump’s corporate welfare problem
by Timothy P. Carney

Measuring Trump’s 2018 Trade Protection: Five Takeaways
by Chad P. Bown and Eva (Yiwen) Zhang

The High Price of High Tariffs
by Tori K. Whiting

Trump’s Tariffs Grow Government
by Jordan Bruneau

Trump Administration Issues 30% Solar Panel Import Tariff
by Julia Pyper

Trump’s $12 Billion Bailout Is No Remedy for Farmers Caught in Trade War
by Keith Johnson


8 thoughts on “Trump’s Corporatism Is Not New

  1. Rhetorical and point by point home run.

    There’s of course been a total disregard for how Trump is both a monster and a symptom of a larger disease which is the system as a whole going back decades if not centuries.
    There’s a great line from Walter Benjamin that behind every fascist there is a failed left wing revolution. One could make the case that the failure of “’68” led to Trump.

    That of course requires an honest and rationale excavation of how Reagan was the sock puppet of a counter revolutionary corporate/cultural clique etc.

    But we don’t have honest and authentic public discourse because of course the corporate echo chamber wont allow.

    It would be bad for business;-)

    • I’ve been trying to ignore Trump as much as possible. But something about portraying him as a defender of free trade pushed me over the edge. I heard an otherwise intelligent person claim Trump’s deregulations are a great success, supposedly according to certain economists.

      Sure, some companies have done well under Trump, at the cost of other companies — that is how subsidies and tariffs work. I get it that the US economy is overall doing well for the super rich, but that was also true of the super rich under the British Empire with colonial exploitation. This is hardly a moral argument and has little to do with laissez-faire idealism.

      All the bull shit gets tiresome. Still, it is amusing in a way watching some people tie themselves in contortions trying to rationalize it all.

      • It’s a dilemma exacerbated by being a one man band playing against a chorus of hysterics and moronic hysterics screaming at you.

        Specifically of course you’re correct.

        It reminds me of how the “news” repeats the mantra that the stock market is booming – ignoring exactly what that really means and creating the idea that the market is like gravity – a function of the natural order that fluctuates regardless of action by individuals buying and selling souls or factories.

    • It comes down to stories. The facts don’t matter much. Rather, it’s who can tell the best story can manipulate their way into power. A story doesn’t need to be told well or be interesting. The more simplistic and unoriginal it is the more compelling it will be. Suspension of disbelief can be stretched amazing distances, as long as the desire to believe is strong enough. The story simply has to be comforting and confirming, telling people what they already feel is true or else telling people a nice fantasy.

      It really is amazing. No matter what Trump does or doesn’t do, it is irrelevant to a certain portion of the population, even now after the failure keeps piling up. That is always true to a large extent. But Trump so clearly demonstrates the authoritarian rule about political lies, the bigger the better and then repeat them often. Trump doesn’t even need to be particularly consistent in the story he tells. Just as long as he tells it with enough audacity, as if he were challenging anyone to attempt to defy him — such social dominator behavior makes authoritarian followers cream their panties.

      As I said in the post, none of this is new. What is interesting is how Trump shows it in such raw form. And he gets away with it, despite how pathetic he is. He barely has to try at all to rile up his base and the corporate media mostly goes along with it. Neither being a decent speaker nor being able to express a coherent thought is required. It’s an extremely low bar to be reached, not that it doesn’t require some talent. Trump does have an intuitive skill with media, but it isn’t all that impressive. He doesn’t have even a fraction of the charisma, talent, or vision to make the list of great authoritarian leaders. Still, he is capable enough to manipulate the system to his egotistic ends.

      Trump is only meaningful in the context of all that went before him, in the context of the entire economic and political system. Having been born into wealth, he is a creature of the mediocre plutocracy that rules our society. But other than the narcissism that is extreme even by the standards of the ruling elite, there isn’t anything about him that makes him stand out. He wouldn’t have been elected in the first place without the promotion of his campaign by the DNC and corporate media.

      • I don’t disagree but we can’t lose sight of how if not for McConnell as Trump’s heat shield, he would be in a cage or a comfortable room at Saint Elizabeth.

        Emphasis though on not disagreeing with you.

        One of the many defects in the “resistance” is a failure to point out the cult of Trump who as you say don’t care about lies or logic or facts or contradictions – it’s all blind rage and obedience to the Great Leader and the cult.

        Disenfranchised paranoid, delusional, insecure, enraged and confused by the complexity of the rapid fire scene they can’t wait for the next torch lit ceremony.

        “Are you not entertained”

        But then there are the college “educated” ones who are just as nasty but like traditional bourgeoise reactionaries they see Trump as their cudgel.

        Traditional of course – Hitler had the support of the reactionary industrialists and the military aristocrats, Mussolini had the Vatican and so on – all united in fear of the left.

        Blah blah – I’m preaching to the choir.

        But you’re absolutely correct – the DNC – establishment liberals are as to blame as the goons. We’re capitalists get used to it is a Trump esque slogan and the liberals should be politically hung for it and for not calling out NP Inc for it but that means political suicide as they would have to admit they created Trump and that he is capitalism.

        • I know of Republicans who hate Trump and who didn’t vote for him. But these same people fear the left enough that they could come to support Trump and might vote for him in the next election.

          A combination of the Cold War fear-mongering about commies and the endless lesser evilism somehow makes Trump less hideous and evil in their mind. Some of these people, although otherwise intelligent and informed, see Bernie Sanders as a potential new Stalin or at least a fellow traveler paving the way for such an authoritarian.

          I suspect even many Democrats might not vote Democrat if the only choice was a genuine progressive or social democrat and hell no if the candidate were a socialist. They’d rather let Republicans win again. In a way, they fear socialism more than do the conservatives since they are fighting over not only control of the country but control of their party.

          At times like these, reactionaries begin showing their true colors. The on-the-fence reactionaries can quickly become full-fledged reactionaries in a blink of an eye. And the reactionary movement can just as quickly turn into unabashed totalitarianism.

          • am just reading your piece on “boredom” and think it’s very good and prompts several observations I’ll share asap.

            I agree generally with this point and it reminds me that a few months back one of the establish sock puppets on MSNBC/Morning Joe who has been a vociferous anti-Trump critic erupted about some AOC/Sanders moment and said they would vote for Trump before they ever voted for a “socialist.”

            That’s right out of the 1900-1930s and a perfect example of the psychology of the issue and of course absent Art/Philosophy as tools of contextualization the reactionary establishment media is incapable of excavating the issue in any but the most superficial manner – which of course just pours more gas on the fire.

      • There is a particular pattern seen on the political right. They’ll blame big gov, regulations, subsidies, spending, judicial activism, etc on the left while being just as complicit. They simply want a different kinds of these.

        I already used the example of activist judges in the post, but it is important to emphasize it in our present situation since this was the single remaining rationalization some on the political right could come up in voting for or supporting Trump. The others I mention above are even more important in terms of rhetoric.

        They want a big gov that is more overtly authoritarian or inverted authoritarian, more overtly theocratic or corporatist. They want regulations and subsidies that tilt the playing field to big biz or to particular sectors, such as the largest part of the economy being the military-industrial complex or such as big ag, both of these in turn being highly dependent on and so highly profitable to big oil.

        And they don’t mind massive government spending, although they love to say how they are cutting taxes, but all this means is that they are benefiting themselves and their cronies by making future generations pay for it. After all, the permanent debt was created by Republicans and has grown the most under Republican administrations. This is Starve the Beast combined with the Two Santa Claus theory, not that the beast really is ever starved, even when some of the world that is harmed through neoliberalism is literally starving.

        This same pattern is seen in other areas of rhetoric as well. They attack the ideological “-isms” of the political left, a counter-revolutionary and reactionary criticism that goes back to the early 1800s. It is only other people’s beliefs, values, and ideals that are ideologies, not their own. This is related to the other post-revolutionary criticism of the left being “nihilists”.

        It is so inherently dishonest and ignorant, but they never tire of it and the average conservative/right-winger never seems to catch on to how they are being manipulated. Even well-educated, intelligent individuals fall for it. It’s so blatant and yet even pointing out obvious examples of it in no way lessens its power. It’s impervious to all factual evidence and rational thought.

        This isn’t seen to the same degree on the left. There is no equal guilt. But to be fair, once this rhetoric is promoted by the right, there aren’t plenty of those on the left (especially the liberal class) who will embrace it and promote it. There are reactionary elements on the left. The difference is that they lag behind. It’s the political right that are the greatest innovators of rhetoric, only later to be adapted by liberals turned reactionaries.

        The reason for this is that reactionaries are so brilliant in co-opting anything and everything. They know how to tell a lie well. Once co-opted, the liberal mind so easily falls in line. The political left is often powerless in defense against this. Reactionaries are so often several steps ahead. There methods are simplistic, but highly effective.

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