American “democracy” is a machine that has been perfected over centuries to ensure that no matter who is elected, the interests of the banks and billionaires are well represented. How then has Donald Trump, a man who seemingly refuses to play by the rules of the powers that be, ended up as the 45th president of the USA?
Since World War Two, when the USA overtook Britain to become the world’s number one capitalist power, it has built up an enormous system of institutions and treaties designed to protect American supremacy.
Central to these was the imposition of ‘free trade’ on weaker economies as a means to flood the world market with American goods.
Throughout Trump’s election campaign, he promised to undo decades’ worth of these policies and diplomacy designed to further US imperialism’s interests.
Multilateral free trade agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) would be ripped up. In their place, Trump promised to negotiate better bilateral deals that would put “America first”.
The USA would no longer play the role of “global policeman” – traditional American allies would be forced to “pay up” for the pleasure of hosting US military outposts.
Many in the ruling class hoped that this was just bluster, and that Trump would backtrack once in office.
They hoped in vain. Since his election, Trump has taken a wrecking ball to the established order of world relations.
In the past few months alone Trump has:
- pulled out of the delicately crafted nuclear deal with Iran;
- provocatively moved the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem;
- started a trade war with China that threatens the whole world economy;
- upset the USA’s G7 allies by imposing heavy tariffs on their steel and aluminium exports, in violation of World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules;
- angered its South Korean ally by unilaterally promising to end their joint military exercises, in exchange for meaningless promises from North Korea to “denuclearise”; and
- withdrawn from the UN Human Rights Commission, calling it “hypocritical and self serving” (which it is!)
All of these measures have exasperated the serious strategists of capital. Nicholas Burns, a former US ambassador to NATO stated: “He’s the weakest president in my lifetime, and the most dangerous. I’m not alone. These are mainstream views.”
Hence the moves by a section of the US ruling class to try to remove Trump through any means possible, including the investigation into alleged Russian interference in the election.
In return, Trump has hit back at the investigation as evidence of the “criminal deep state” in the FBI and regularly denounces the media as “fake”. The result is a weakening of the authority of key pillars of the establishment, which are increasingly at war with one another.
Decline and fall
So how has all this happened? According to a layer of liberals, it is simply due to shadowy meddling from Moscow, which is now their answer to anything they don’t understand. They are unable to comprehend the much deeper processes taking place below the surface, which are the result of the worldwide crisis of capitalism over a whole period.
In the 1950s, the US accounted for 50% of world GDP (it now accounts for just 20%). Its manufacturing base was the most advanced in the world. With order books bursting and full employment, US workers were able to obtain major concessions from the bosses. Many enjoyed a decent standard of living.
Since the crisis of capitalism in the 1970s, American manufacturing entered into decline. Whole industries were closed down in the search for cheaper labour abroad. The gains of the working class came under attack, as the capitalists sought to restore profitability.
The result has been huge areas of unemployment, poverty, and decay, side by side with some of the richest neighbourhoods in the world.
This social crisis, brewing for decades, has now been translated into a political crisis for the establishment. Faced with a candidate like Trump, the 2016 election should have been a walkover for the Democrats. Yet millions of Americans have grown weary of smiling politicians, who promise everything but deliver nothing.
Despite all the hopes in Obama, living standards for many had actually declined. Millions refused to be fooled by the Democrats again. Turnout at the election was an abysmal 56% - a reflection of the lack of confidence in either candidate to change anything.
In a demagogic way, Trump presented himself as an anti-establishment figure, who promised to fight on the side of the American working class against a corrupt elite.
Trump’s promise to “Make America Great Again” tapped into a widespread mood that something needed to change. All Clinton could say was that America is “already great”!
The relative decline of the USA as the world's number one imperialist power is therefore at the root of the Trump phenomena. With US manufacturing being outcompeted by production elsewhere (such as China and Germany), a growing layer in America increasingly feel that ‘free trade’ is working against them.
Similarly, following the $1 trillion debacle in Iraq and Afghanistan, American workers are weary of further wars. The US military, still the strongest in the world, is unable to throw its weight around as it did in the past. Hence a growing mood that the US should no longer spend billions policing faraway lands.
These moods are not just present amongst the working class but are increasingly felt by the more short-sighted section of the capitalists. When the world economy is booming, they were prepared to underwrite the global system of free trade so that they could share in the loot. With the system stagnating or in decline, they want other countries to pick up the losses.
Trump reflects these growing pressures, which has brought him into collision with the traditional US establishment.
With the world changing around it, the US ruling class is unable to rule in the old way. The rise of China to become an economic powerhouse is upsetting the traditional balance of forces.
Rather than outcompete China by investing to improve manufacturing productivity, a layer of the US ruling class is seeking to export unemployment through protectionist measures. This trend was developed under Obama, Trump is merely taking it to the next level.
Deal or no deal
Being a self-proclaimed “expert negotiator”, Trump thinks that by making lots of bluster and opening with aggressive attacks, he can force other countries to meet his demands. This might work well for him in the real-estate business. Yet when it comes to trade and world relations, this approach could easily backfire.
Hence the debacle of pulling out of the nuclear deal with Iran. Trump thinks that he can extract even greater concessions from the clerics. This is a gamble that looks likely to have backfired.
Similarly, by threatening a trade war with China and his allies, Trump thinks he can negotiate deals to the advantage of the USA. Yet in reality, the logic of protectionist measures risks plunging the whole world into another slump – the USA included.
The real significance of Trump is the fact that the American ruling class are no longer able to rule using their traditional methods.
With America no longer the power it once was, splits are developing between different sections of the ruling class, who have different ideas of how to arrest this decline. With capitalism in crisis however, nothing any of them propose will be up to the task.
The convulsions in foreign policy that we have witnessed recently are just the beginnings therefore of what promises to be an extremely turbulent period.
All of this will seep into the consciousness of the working class, which when it moves into activity will sweep away all the rottenness of Trump and the system he represents.