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

 

What do beads tell us about the past?

One common find are ancient beads. A friend of mine found a Native American stone bead nearby. It wasn’t necessarily ancient, considering Black Hawk didn’t surrender in Iowa until 1832. That was an end of an era, the defeat of the last major Native American uprising.

The bead she found was, according to her, in an area that “was the safe place camp for Poweshiek’s women, children, and elderly when the men left to fight in the Indian Wars.” Poweshiek was of a separate tribe from Black Hawk, but Black Hawk’s medicine man also had a village on the Iowa River close to Poweshiek’s village, the location not being far from where I live. The two tribes were allied at times.

(As a side note, Poweshiek was born after the American Revolution and died decades after the Black Hawk War, not too long before the Civil War began. His son, James Poweshiek, gave an interview about his father about the time my own father was born. Not exactly ancient history.)

I mention that bead because there is something compelling about a concrete piece of the past. Jewelry, in particular, is special. It is a personal item and yet serves no practical purpose other than as a trade good, maybe some symbolic significance as well in terms of culture and religion. It is strange what immense value such simple things had for people in the past. These kinds of trade goods made their way across continents, even from one continent to another, heck sometimes even across oceans. Ancient trade routes were vast.

I came across an amazing example of this. It is described in a Haaretz newspaper article by Philippe Bohstrom, Beads Found in 3,400-year-old Nordic Graves Were Made by King Tut’s Glassmaker.

The bead my friend found is probably not that old, but this bead found in Northern Europe is truly ancient. Talk about trade routes. I knew so-called Vikings had trade routes that went around much of Eurasia, included the North Atlantic, and down into the Levant and North Africa. I just had no idea that these trade routes would have existed as far back as some of the earliest civilizations. This Nordic grave bead is seriously old—from the article:

The analysis showed that the blue beads buried with the women turned out to have originated from the same glass workshop in Amarna that adorned King Tutankhamun at his funeral in 1323 BCE. King Tut´s golden deathmask contains stripes of blue glass in the headdress, as well as in the inlay of his false beard.

The date caught my attention. That was during the height of early civilization. A little over a century later, there was a mass collapse. Only Egypt survived and even it wasn’t the same afterward. Those early civilizations were fairly advanced and connected by trade. Different material goods were found in different places and trade was the solution. It’s amazing that this included the Nordic world, an area at that time not known for having any great empires.

Just paragraphs later, the author noted the same thing:

However the glass exchange almost stops around 1177 BCE – probably due to attacks by the Sea Peoples.

I would point out, though, that there isn’t agreement about the cause. The Sea Peoples were involved, but they might have been a result of other changes. In the region of these early civilizations, there was also decades of earthquakes, volcanoes, flooding, and changing weather patterns. More likely than not, the Sea Peoples had societies that also were disrupted which sent them out marauding. They took advantage of already weakened empires.

By the way, these civilizations are what Julian Jaynes considered to be bicameral. It was during this era that nearly all of the Egyptian pyramids were built. Of eighteen pyramids, only two were built after the collapse of the other civilizations. And those two pyramids came five centuries after the collapse when entirely new societies were forming—during the early Axial Age. The kind of society that built those earliest pyramids was entirely different than the world we know—from Harvard Magazine (Who Built the Pyramids? by Jonathan Shaw):

If not slaves, then who were these workers? Lehner’s friend Zahi Hawass, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, who has been excavating a “workers’ cemetery” just above Lehner’s city on the plateau, sees forensic evidence in the remains of those buried there that pyramid building was hazardous business. Why would anyone choose to perform such hard labor? The answer, says Lehner, lies in understanding obligatory labor in the premodern world. “People were not atomized, separate, individuals with the political and economic freedom that we take for granted. Obligatory labor ranges from slavery all the way to, say, the Amish, where you have elders and a strong sense of community obligations, and a barn raising is a religious event and a feasting event. If you are a young man in a traditional setting like that, you may not have a choice.” Plug that into the pyramid context, says Lehner, “and you have to say, ‘This is a hell of a barn!'”

Lehner currently thinks Egyptian society was organized somewhat like a feudal system, in which almost everyone owed service to a lord. The Egyptians called this “bak.” Everybody owed bak of some kind to people above them in the social hierarchy. “But it doesn’t really work as a word for slavery,” he says. “Even the highest officials owed bak.”

It’s hard for us to imagine that world. It seems bizarre to us that there would be such massive, difficult trade going on involving the large-scale movement of gems and beads that served absolutely freaking no practical purpose. A single trade item could travel for thousands of miles and the world was an extremely dangerous place back then. The motivations of ancient people are obscure to us. Why were so many people willing to risk their lives for what to us seems like a mere personal decoration?