During his first one hundred days President Trump delivered on some of his ‘promises’, failed in others, and changed his mind in many instances. But, overall, he has promoted a politics of intolerance and authoritarianism while, at the same time, he has been ‘disciplined’ by US capitalism and its aggressive geopolitics that have been evident for some time now.
In evaluating Trump’s first 100 days it is important to recognize that he has given voice to some nativist elements within US politics that had hitherto been marginalized. But it is also important to underscore that he has given voice and a cover for even larger intolerant elements that have been integral parts of the Republican coalition for several decades.
Trump’s travel orders and immigration practices breed authoritarianism not only because they are taking place but, also because they are justified in nativist terms. The relevant state agencies have become more aggressive and, unfortunately, unions in the sector are supportive of such politics. The continued shift of some of these unions to the right is adding to the authoritarian wing of the US labor movement that includes substantial elements of the police and other law and order entities. It is not surprising that Republicans, in states where they have recently attacked public sector unions, have sought to treat law and order unions differently from other unions.
The Administration’s decisions regarding pipelines have reinforced the fossil fuel economy while Trump’s gestures towards the building and construction unions have found some willing responders and are reinforcing their business unionist tendencies. It is not likely that renewables will decline as a component of the US energy mix. In fact, they are likely to grow. For every California, however, there will be a Texas where the production of renewable energy is a purely economic act unassociated with a climate or broader environmental policy plan. We can well look down the road to another Superfund, except that the next time around it will involve abandoned solar and wind farms.
Trump’s health care proposals are drawing the line against any broadening of the public domain. His choice for Education Secretary deepens the parasitical privatization of the public sector that allows profiteers to have access to and benefit from the public budget while limiting their risks. In all these moves he continues to appeal to those elements of the working and lower middle classes who need someone to blame for their precarity –whether women, blacks or immigrants- other than the real culprits.
At the same time, however, the new president is contributing to the reassertion of US capitalism over US society and beyond. His claims about keeping jobs in the US are revealed to be empty public relations, while US capital and capitalists – and the associated geopolitics – are “disciplining” Trump. Increasingly his broad economic and strategic choices affirm the direction of US imperialism as it has unfolded over the last few administrations – from the pivot to East Asia to reorganizing West Asia.
Trump as cover for “crony capitalists”
But here it is important to understand that it is not just Trump that is moving the USA in an authoritarian direction. Rather, the intolerant, crony capitalist elements that have long controlled the Republican Party and the USA House and Senate can now use Trump as an excuse or a decoy for accomplishing what they have been seeking for decades.
If Trump is someone we can readily associate with regressive policies, we should not lose sight of the class-based and conservative social politics emanating from the rest of the Republican Party, as evident in the priorities of Vice-President Mike Pence, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The irony may be that by the time they are done hiding behind Trump they may discover that it is too late to reverse the road to a deeper authoritarianism that will devour them, as well.
Democrats struggle to respond
And, of course, Trump and his allies are successful because the dominant forces within the Democratic Party, in their obsessive determination for centrism, have allowed these reactionaries to move the center very far to the right. Moreover, they have resolutely resisted those elements of the Democratic Party that could, in fact, spearhead an alternative agenda.
This has not taken place simply because the Democrats are tactically forced to follow the Republicans in their rightward move. Rather, it is evidence that the dominant forces within the Democratic Party are themselves central elements of the capitalist alliance that rules the USA and which supports the privatization of the public domain and the atomization of society. President Obama’s decision to speak to a financial entity for $400,000 should not leave us with any doubts about who controls the Democratic Party at present and the long road facing those who want a more democratic and egalitarian USA.
Dimitris Stevis is Professor of the Department of Political Science at Colorado State University, and Co-investigator of the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change research programme.