Enter Trump: a boon to his corporate and billionaire supporters, no so good for most of us, Part 3
PART 3: Enter Trump
Backed by billionaire Robert Mercer
While Trump did not have to spend a lot of his own money on his presidential campaign due to the extensive media coverage of his rallies and reporting on his twitters, he did have significant support from wealthy and corporate backers. During his presidential campaign, for example, he received crucial financial support from billionaire hedge fund manager Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebecca. In a documentary on “The Real Story of How Bannon and Trump Got to the White House” this story is told. The documentary was created by The Real News Network and made available on August 18, 2017. (http://therealnews.com/t2/story:19811:TRNN-Documentary%3A-The-Real-Story-of-How-Bannon-and-Trump-Got-to-the-White-House).
Chris Hedges is interviewed in the above-mentioned documentary about the Trump-Mercer connections. Here’s some of what he said.
“HEDGES: The fuel behind Mercer’s influence are the absurd sums of money he approves at the investment company he runs, Renaissance Technologies, based on Long Island. Its famed Medallion Fund is one of the most successful hedge funds in investing history. Averaging 72% returns before fees, over more than 20 years. A statistic that baffles analysts, and outranks the profitability of other competing funds, like the ones George Soros and Warren Buffet run.
“In 2015, Mercer had single-handedly catapulted Cruz to the front of the Republican field. Throwing more than $13 million into a super PAC he created for the now failed candidate. But with the Trump campaign faltering, and struggling for support, there’s a second chance for the Mercers to make a big bet.
The Trump campaign is well aware of this, in fact, sources within Mercer’s super PAC would later tell Bloomberg News that shortly after Cruz drops out of the race, Ivanka Trump and her wealthy developer husband Jared Kushner, approach the Mercers, asking if they’d be willing to shift their support behind Trump. The answer is an eventual, but resounding yes.
“In the months leading up to Trump’s presidential win, the Mercers would prove a formidable force. Beginning after the disastrous Republican Convention in July, they would furnish the Trump campaign with millions of dollars, and new leadership, but they would also furnish it with something more — a vast network of non-profits, strategists, media companies, research institutions and super PACs that they themselves funded and largely controlled.”
The powerful Trumpian allies surface
Support for Trump’s transition team – and the inaugural
Carrie Levine and Michael Beckel report for the Center on Pubic Integrity on how billionaires, lobbyists, and corporations threw in money for Trump’s transition (https://www.publicintegrity.org/2017/02/23/20741/billionaires-and-corporations-helped-fund-donald-trumps-transition). Here are their examples of the corporations who gave financial support. “Among them: Arkansas poultry giant Mountainaire, AT&T, General Electric, Microsoft, Aflac, Devon Energy Corp., MetLife, Qualcomm, Exxon Mobil Corp., the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, JPMorgan Chase & Co., PepsiCo, Hilton, Aetna and Anthem. Some of those companies also gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to Trump’s inaugural committee.” The point is that corporations have cultivated a relationship with Trump since it became clear he would be president.
Trump’s cabinet and chief advisers
During his presidential campaign, Trump liked to say that, if elected, he “would drain the swamp” in Washington D.C. of Goldman Sachs and other big banks and corporations and make the country’s capitol honest again. Trump also claimed that Hillary Clinton was in the pocket of Goldman Sachs. Well, as it turns out again, Trump’s rhetoric is hollow and only meant apparently to give his rallies of core supporters something to shout about. Now by October 2017 Trump’s cabinet and notable key advisory positions are occupied by former Goldman Sachs’ executives and a lawyer who represented Goldman Sachs. Gary Rivlin and Michael Hudson write about how Trump’s administration has been infused by appointments from Goldman (https://theintercept.com/2017/09/17/goldman-sachs-cohn-donald-trump-administration). Here’s what we learn from Rivlin and Hudson.
Until his recent departure, Steven Bannon, a former vice president at Goldman, was Trump’s chief strategist. Steven Mnuchin, who spent 17 years at Goldman, is now Treasury secretary. Dina Powell, another Goldman partner, “joined the White House as a senior counselor for economic initiatives.” Jay Clayton represented Goldman after the financial crisis and now has be the head of the Security and Exchange Committee. And Gary Cohn, former president of Goldman Sachs, is [was] director of the president’s National Economic Council. Cohn is one of the very rich members of Trump’s top cabinet other high-level appointments. Rivlin and Hudson write: “At the end of 2016, he owned some 900,000 shares of Goldman Sachs stock, a stake worth around $220 million on the day Trump announced his appointment. Plus, he’d sold a million more Goldman shares over the previous half-dozen years. In 2007 alone, the year of the big short, Goldman Sachs paid him nearly $73 million — more than the firm paid CEO Lloyd Blankfein. The disclosure forms Cohn filled out to join the administration indicate he owned assets valued at $252 million to $611 million. That may or may not include the $65 million parting gift Goldman’s board of directors gave him for “outstanding leadership” just days before Trump was sworn in.” Cohn will play a central role in formulating Trump’s tax reform proposal and in supporting a big reduction in the corporate tax rate.
Russell Berman gives a full account of Trump’s cabinet in a piece written for The Atlantic magazine titled “The Donald Trump Cabinet Tracker” (https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/04/trump-cabinet-tracker/510527). There are former corporate executives, ex-generals, and rightwing ideologues, some with government experience, others with none – and some who are very wealthy.
Rex Tillerson [was] Secretary of State until early March 2018, had a long career at ExxonMobil. Owns $151 million in ExxonMobil stock. Steven Mnuchin, Secretary of the Treasury, we have already met. He’s a Goldman Sachs man. Owns $97 million in CIT stock. Jeff Sessions, Department of Justice, has extensive government experience, including 20 years in the Senate. He is hell bent on of deporting undocumented immigrants, likes voter-ID laws, and generally favors the whittling away of the freedom to protest government policies. General James Mattis, Secretary of Defense, a career extending 44-years in the military. with a record in the Senate of being “a staunch critic of illegal immigration and expanded legal immigration. He has “praised the KKK while criticizing the NAACP and the ACLU.” John Kelly was head of Homeland Security and is now Trump’s chief Whitehouse adviser. He has a career of more than 40 years in the Marine Corps. Trump likes his “deep knowledge of border security.” Tom Price, Secretary of Health and Human Services, has served 12 years in the Congress and 8 in the Georgia state Senate. He is leading critic of the Affordable Care Act. Dr. Ben Carson, Secretary of Housing and Urban Develop, has no prior government experience and wants to reduce government support for the poor. Rick Perry, Secretary of Energy, was governor of Texas for three-and-a-half terms. He goes along with Trump’s pro-fossil fuel agenda. Alexander Acosta, Secretary of Labor, played a variety of roles in the George W. Bush Administration and shares the Republican anti- or rather-not-have unions. Elaine Chao, Secretary of the Department of Transportation, has extensive government experience serving two terms as labor secretary under George W. Bush. She’ll push for Trump’s corporate-friendly infrastructure policy. Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education, is a “longtime philanthropist and Republican donor. No previous government experience. She is an advocate for expanding charter schools and private-school vouchers. Her family’s wealth is estimated to be $5.1 million. Ryan Zinke, Secretary of the Interior, served twenty years in the Navy Seals two years in congress, representing Montana. He is a strong supporter for mining and drilling interests and is skeptical of human-caused climate change. Wilbur Ross, Secretary of Commerce, is a billionaire (est $2.9 billion), has no previous government experience, who spent time in business outsourcing jobs and slashing benefits at companies he restructured. Scott Pruitt, head of EPA, has six years as Oklahoma attorney general and eight years in the Oklahoma state senate. He has been a leader in the fight against Obama’s agenda to combat climate change. Mick Mulvaney, Office of the Management and the Budget, has been “a hard-line conservative in the House and a founding member of the Freedom Caucus. He favors “steep spending cuts across the discretionary and entitlement spending programs, while favoring major increases in military spending. Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA [until being re-appointed Secretary of State in March 2018], spent six years in the U.S. House and served on the Intelligence Committee. Republican stalwart. Nikki Haley, Ambassador to the United Nations, was governor of South Carolina and served six years in the state legislature. She has no relevant experience for this job. She echoes Trump’s aggressive foreign policy proclamations.
Trump’s cabinet – the wealthiest ever
CBS News sums it up well.
“President-elect Donald Trump rode the winds of a populist movement into Washington, D.C., promising to root out money from politics. Yet when picking his Cabinet members, Mr. Trump is surrounding himself with a historic level of wealth that’s at least 50 times greater than the Cabinet that George W. Bush led” [and the wealtheist in personal wealth ever].
“So far, Mr. Trump’s Cabinet picks have a combined net worth of more than $14 billion, based on estimates from Forbes and other sources. Given that many positions have yet to be filled, it’s likely that total will increase in the coming weeks” (https://www.cbsnews.com/pictures/donald-trumps-14-billion-cabinet).
Using presidential power
So far, Trump has been unable to pass his health care reform bills, the courts have stymied his immigration ban of 7 Muslim countries. He had his first and only legislative victory in December of 2017 when he signed into law the Republican-tax reform bill. Be that as it may, Trump has been busy shaping government policy through executive orders. Avalon Zoppo and her colleagues at NBC News have compiled a list of all the executive orders enacted by Trump from January 20, 2017, through Oct 12, 2017 (https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/white-house/here-s-full-list-donald-trump-s-executive-orders-n720796).
In all, there were 51 executive orders. Wikipedia has this description of “executive orders”:
“Executive Orders are presidential directives issued by United States Presidents and are generally directed towards officers and agencies of the U.S. federal government. Executive orders may have the force of law, if based on the authority derived from statute or the Constitution itself. The ability to make such orders is also based on express or implied Acts of Congress that delegate to the President some degree of discretionary power (delegated legislation).
“Like both legislative statutes and regulations promulgated by government agencies, executive orders are subject to judicial review and may be overturned if the orders lack support by statute or the Constitution. Major policy initiatives require approval by the legislative branch, but executive orders have significant influence over the internal affairs of government, deciding how and to what degree legislation will be enforced, dealing with emergencies, waging wars, and in general fine-tuning policy choices in the implementation of broad statutes.
Here are some examples from the NBC News team’s compilation of Trump’s executive orders.
• January 25 – “The order strips federal money to so-called sanctuary cities.”
• January 30 – “executive departments and agencies must slash two regulations for every one new regulation proposed”
• April 28 – “reverses a ban on Arctic leasing put in place under the Obama administration in December and directs Secretary Ryan Zinke to review areas available for off-shore oil and gas exploration”
• May 4 – “eases IRS enforcement of the Johnson Amendment, which bans churches from engaging in political speech. It also gives relief to companies that disagree with the Affordable Care Act mandate on contraception in health care coverage.”
• August 15 – “aims to increase the efficiency of the Federal infrastructure permitting process and revokes an Obama-era Executive Order that created stricter environmental review standards for federal projects in flood-prone areas.”
• August 28 – “revokes Obama-era limits on repurposing military equipment for law enforcement purposes” – including armored vehicles and grenade launchers.
Benefits to the corporations
In an article for The Nation, November 2, 2017, Mike Konczal writes that “Trump is Creating a Grifter Economy,” by which he means an economy “filled with low-grade, penny-ante efforts to allow the scheming and powerful to swindle ordinary people” (https://www.thenation.com/article/trump-is-creating-a-grifter-economy). The Trump administration is doing this despite the promises he made during his presidential campaign at his many rallies where his core supporters turned out by the thousands. Bear in mind that 59,521,401 Americans voted for Trump. Most of them were not rich, though a majority had incomes above the median family income. About twenty-five percent of Trump’s vote came from people whose incomes were under the median. (See the attached item.) What did Trump promise? Konczal reminds us. “Trump sold voters on his promises to invest in massive public-infrastructure projects, take on bad trade deals, and generally fight for workers against the global elites. The pitch was a call to blue-collar nationalism.”
What is his administration delivering? Here are some telling examples on the evolving grifter economy, with handsome benefits for Trump’s growing number of corporate admirers – and beneficiaries. “On October 24,” Konczal writes, “Vice President Mike Pence joined 50 Senate Republicans and cast the tie-breaking vote to give Wall Street its biggest legislative victory in years. Together, they repealed a set of rules by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) that allowed consumers to sue their banks and credit-card companies instead of being required to go into arbitration. The financial industry desperately wanted this protection overturned, because it would again give banks control over handling complaints about their own impropriety.”
Konczal also points to And it’s not just the banks who are being showered with Trump policies. “Under the Obama administration, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services barred nursing homes that receive federal funding—which is almost all of them—from including mandatory-arbitration clauses in their contracts.” This means they those in long-term care could sue their nursing homes and take them to court. Now the Trump administration is in the process of revoking the rule” and allowing disputes to be resolved through mandatory-arbitration proceedings, which are likely to be highly influenced by nursing home operators.
Then there are the actions being taken Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who is in the process of ending Obama administration reforms were “designed to protect borrowers from the student-loan servicing industry.” There is more. “Devos is also rescinding debt forgiveness for students defrauded by for-profit colleges.” And:
“Worse, she has hinted that she will no longer cooperate with the CFPB [Consumer Financial Protection Bureau] to investigate wrongdoing in the student-loan industry. In the past, the CFPB has policed these markets, fining companies that were trying to improperly collect on debts. DeVos may be able to eliminate this crucial function of the CFPB.”
Trump advancing his fossil fuel agenda and fast
Of course, there is a lot more of involved in the Trump administration’s efforts to change and enhance the economic rules in favor of the mega-corporations, the private sector generally, and the rich, than Konczal’s examples. Michael Klare offers one of his provocative, in-depth articles in analyzing here how Trump “is not only trying to obliterate the existing world order, but also attempting to lay the foundations for a new one, a world in which fossil-fuel powers will contend for supremacy with post-carbon, green-energy states” (http://alternet.org/right-wing/trump-new-world-order-global-alliance-oil-and-gas-producers-and-hell-our-allies-green).” This is a course of action that will advance disruptive and catastrophic climate change and, at least for a time, further buttress the opportunities and profits of the mega oil and gas corporations, along with all participants in the fossil fuel industries. It’s basically an emerging struggle for the life or death of the planet. And Trump and his administration are the most powerful players, are at least among the most powerful. Klare sums up his thesis in these terms:
“Domestically, he’s pulled out all the stops in attempting to cripple the rise of alternative energy and ensure the perpetuation of a carbon-dominated economy. Abroad, he is seeking the formation of an alliance of fossil-fuel states led by the United States, Russia, and Saudi Arabia, while attempting to isolate emerging renewable-energy powers like Germany and China. If his project of global realignment proceeds as imagined, the world will soon enough be divided into two camps, each competing for power, wealth, and influence: the carbonites on one side and the post-carbon greens on the other.”
What has Trump and his administration done in pursuing this vision? Klare illuminates the central pieces of their strategy, as follows.
“The vigor with which Trump is pursuing this grand scheme was on full display during his recent visit to the Middle East and Europe, as well as in his decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord. In Saudi Arabia, he danced and dined with oil-drenched kings, emirs, and princes; in Europe, he dismissed and disrespected NATO and the green-leaning European Union; at home, he promised to eliminate any impediment to the expanded exploitation of fossil fuels, the planet be damned. To critics, these all appeared as separate manifestations of Trump’s destructive personality; but viewed another way, they can be seen as calculated steps aimed at bolstering the prospects of the carbonites in the forthcoming struggle for global mastery.”
While in Saudi Arabia, Trump signed a $110 billion arms sales agreement with the Saudis. And “Expected additional sales over the coming decade could bring the total to $350 billion.” And it is expected that “many of these arms, once delivered, will be used by the Saudis in their brutal air campaign against rebel factions in Yemen.” Among other actions, Trump “hectored them [NATO allies] about their failure to devote adequate resources to the common defense” and did so “in such a disdainful and dismissive manner.” French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel attempted “to convince him of the urgency of remaining in the Paris climate accord, stressing its importance to Euro-Atlantic solidarity, pointing out that pull out would leave the field to the Chinese.” But, Klare writes, “Trump proved unyielding, claiming job promotion at home outweighed environmental considerations.”
At home, Trump has repudiated President Obama pledge to constrain GHG emissions from electrical power generation through his Clean Power Plan and Obama’s “mandated improvements in the efficiency of petroleum-fueled vehicles. If his actions succeed, and this is what Trump hopes, the domestic coal industry will be revived and “the trend toward more fuel-efficient cars and trucks” reversed, in which case the demand for oil will go up.
The potential consequences of the Trump image of an unabated carbon-energy future are nightmarish. Klare concludes his analysis but sketching the two alternative energy futures that are increasingly in competition. The implication is grim, that is, that our president Trump, his administration, his corporate profiteers (especially in the fossil fuel industries), and his millions of hard-core supporters who are moved by misguided beliefs that climate change is a hoax, that Trump’s policies will create lots of good jobs, that right-wing radio and internet outlets tell the truth and the rest of the media are about “fake news,” that Democrats are only good for the educated and professional classes, and that shoveling money into programs for the “undeserving poor” and illegal immigrants should be sharply curtailed. Klare also sees opposition to Trump’s energy policy not only abroad but domestically as well, including even some mega-corporations and executives who are enlightened enough to recognize the impending catastrophes if we fail to rapidly shift away from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy. Here’s how Klare sums it up.
“One thing is clear: everyone on the planet will be affected by the ways in which such reshuffled alliances and rivalries will play out. A world dominated by petro-powers will be one in which oil is plentiful, the skies hidden by smog, weather patterns unpredictable, coastlines receding, and drought a recurring peril. The possibility of warfare is only likely to increase on such a planet, as nations and peoples fight over ever-diminishing supplies of vital resources, especially food, water, and arable land.
“A world dominated by green powers, on the other hand, is likely to be less ravaged by war and the depredations of extreme climate change as renewable energy becomes more affordable and available to all. Those, like Trump, who prefer an oil-drenched planet will fight to achieve their hellish vision, while those committed to a green future will work to reach and even exceed the goals of the Paris agreement. Even within the United States, an impressive lineup of cities, states, and corporations (including Apple, Google, Tesla, Target, eBay, Adidas, Facebook, and Nike) have banded together, in an effort dubbed ‘We Are Still In,’ to implement America’s commitment to the climate accord independently of what Washington says or does. The choice is ours: allow the dystopian vision of Donald Trump to prevail or join with those seeking a decent future for this and future generations.”
Just how far right will Trump and his corporate and rich allies take the country?
Author, writer, professor Henry A. Giroux addresses something like this question in his article “Dancing With the Devil: Trump’s Politics of Fascist Collaboration” (http://truth-out.org/news/item/40593-dancing-with-the-devil-trump-s-politics-of-fascist-collaboration). The following paragraph from his article provides a succinct framework for his analysis.
“Certainly, Trump is not Hitler, and the United States at the current historical moment is not the Weimar Republic. But it would be irresponsible to consider Trump to be either a clown or aberration given his hold on power and the ideologues who support him. What appears indisputable is that Trump’s election is part of a sustained effort over the last 40 years on the part of the financial elite [and the mega-corporations and rich in general] to undermine the democratic ethos and highjack the institutions that support it. Consequently, in the midst of the rising tyranny of totalitarian politics, democracy is on life support and its fate appears more uncertain than ever. Such an acknowledgment should make clear that the curse of totalitarianism is not a historical relic and that it is crucial that we learn something about the current political moment by examining how the spread of authoritarianism has become the crisis of our times, albeit in a form suited to the American context.”
When Giroux refers to tyranny and authoritarianism he is using them is aspects of fascism. He is careful to say that fascism is not one historical fixed doctrine but rather “an ideology that mutates and expresses itself in different forms around a number of commonalities.” He adds that there is “no exact blueprint for fascism, though echoes of its past haunt contemporary politics.” And fascism does not emerge all at once. There are variations historically. He quotes Adam Gopnick on this last point, as follows:
“[fascism is] an attenuated form of nationalism in its basic nature, it naturally takes on the colors and practices of each nation it infects. In Italy, it is bombastic and neoclassical in form; in Spain, Catholic and religious; in Germany, violent and romantic. It took forms still crazier and more feverishly sinister, if one can imagine, in Romania, whereas under Oswald Mosley, in England, its manner was predictably paternalistic and aristocratic. It is no surprise that the American face of fascism would take on the forms of celebrity television and the casino greeter’s come-on, since that is as much our symbolic scene as nostalgic re-creations of Roman splendors once were Italy’s.”
There is no doubt, though “that Trump is the product of an authoritarian movement and ideology with fascist overtones.” Giroux identifies some of the key characteristics, elements, or tendencies of fascism as they apply to Trump and right-wing politics today. There is not yet a full-fledged expression or manifestation of fascism in the U.S.
First, trust the leader. Trump and his advisers “don’t worry about the facts, don’t worry about logic, think instead in terms of mystical [or symbolic, or theatric] unities and direct connections between the mystical leader and the people.” In a word, Giroux argues, they want “to undo the Enlightenment,” as they attempt to advance policies and reconstitute societal institutions in authoritarian ways that protect, if not vastly improve, the situations of the corporate-dominated private sector of the economy and of the upper levels of the income and wealth distributions, especially of the rich.
Second, Trump’s rallies represent another element of fascism. Giroux refers to Steve Bannon’s “preoccupation” with Mussolini and the Italian fascists of the 1930s as part of the reason Trump held so many rallies during his presidential campaign and continues to do so under Trump’s presidency. The rallies contain a “mix of theater and violence” and a rhetoric “supportive of ultra-nationalism and racial [illegal immigrant] cleansing.” At the same time, the actual practice of Trump’s administration is to accommodate the global economic interests of his corporate backers. One message for his “core supporters,” another for his corporate and rich allies.
Third, the attacks on civil liberties. Giroux identifies how Trump and his administration are becoming increasingly authoritarian in how their policies are eroding civil liberties. He refers to the following examples: “the undermining of the separation of church and state, health care policies that reveal an egregious indifference to life and death, his manufactured spectacles of self-promotion, contempt for weakness and dissent, and his attempts to shape the political realm through a process of fear, if not tyranny itself, as Snyder insists in his book On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century.”
Fourth, those who fail to know history are in danger of repeating it. Trump is ignorant of history or makes up his own version. Giroux gives the following examples.
“Echoes of Trump’s fascist impulses have been well documented, but what has been overlooked is a sustained analysis of his abuse and disparagement of historical memory, particularly in light of his association with a range of current right-wing dictators and political demagogues across the globe. Trump’s ignorance of history was on full display with his misinformed comments about former president Andrew Jackson and nineteenth-century abolitionist Frederick Douglas. Trump’s comments about Jackson having strong views on the civil war were widely ridiculed, given that Jackson died 16 years before the war started. Trump was also criticized for comments he made during Black History Month when he spoke about Frederick Douglass as if he were still alive, though he died 120 years ago. For the mainstream press, these historical missteps largely reflect Trump’s ignorance of American history. But I think there is more at stake than simply ignorance, given the appeal of Trump’s comments to white nationalists.
Fifth, attacks on the media, “the fourth estate of democracy. Giroux refers to Trump’s continuing disparagement of the media in attempts to repudiate criticisms of him but also to assure his core supporters that he is the source of truth. Here’s how Giroux states it.
“His alleged ignorance is also a cover for enabling a post-truth culture in which dissent is reduced to ‘fake news,’ the press is dismissed as the enemy of the people and a mode of totalitarian education is enabled whose purpose, as Hannah Arendt wrote in The Origins of Totalitarianism, is ‘not to instill convictions but to destroy the capacity to form any.’ Trump may appear to be an ignoramus and a clown, but such behavior points to something more profound politically, such as an attack on any viable notion of thoughtfulness and moral agency. His forays into international politics offer another less remarked upon form of fascistic embrace.”
Sixth, Trump has an “affinity for indulging right-wing demagogues” and their admiration is reciprocated. Consider:
“…Donald Trump’s support from and for a number of ruthless dictators and political demagogues. Trump’s endorsements of and by a range of ruthless dictators are well-known and include Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and the [recently defeated] French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, the leader of the National Front party. All of these politicians have been condemned by a number of human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Freedom House. Less has been said about the support Trump has received from controversial right-wing bigots and politicians from around the world, such as Nigel Farage, the former leader of the right-wing UK Independence Party; Matteo Salvini, the right-wing Italian politician who heads the North League [Lega Nord]; Geert Wilders, the founder of the Dutch Party for Freedom; and Viktor Orbán, the reactionary prime minister of Hungary. All of these politicians share a mix of ultra-nationalism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, homophobia and transphobia…. In an age when totalitarian ideas and tendencies inhabit the everyday experiences of millions of people and create a formative culture for promoting massive human suffering and misery, Trump’s affinity for indulging right-wing demagogues becomes an important signpost for recognizing the totalitarian nightmare that marks a terrifying glimpse of the future.”
In short, when you put all these fascist tendencies together and combine them with the power of Trump’s office, his mega-corporate and rich allies, his attacks on all progressive aspects of the federal government, his authority as “commander in chief,” the Republican control of the U.S. Senate and U.S. House, the systematic efforts to suppress the vote of opponents, a Supreme Court dominated by “conservative” justices, and many millions of supporters in the general population who accept what Trump tells them with little regard for the facts and who seem to like his xenophobic, ultra-nationalistic, racist and sexist tinged bellicosity and braggadocio, then Giroux and other analysts who identify fascist tendencies in the contemporary United States seem to have a good, if very disturbing, argument.
Trump’s mental instability
But there is another consideration that makes the present situation even more dire. Bandy Lee, M.D., M.Div, edited a book that brings together a “compendium” of the writing of 27 psychiatrists and mental health experts to assess the president’s mental health. The title of the book is The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump. Lee also organized the Yale conference by the title, “Does Professional Responsibility Include a Duty to War.” There is now a national coalition, “Duty to Warn,” that has 55,000 signatures” (p. 13). Here’s an overview of the first part of this 360-page book, which captures the thrust of the book.
The first part is “devoted to describing Mr. Trump, with an understanding that no definitive diagnosis will be possible,” that is, without a direct psychiatric evaluation of Trump in a psychiatrist’s office. Still, there are disconcerting observations by psychiatrists and other experts based on relevant research and extensive observations and reading. One contributor argues that Trump “has proven himself unfit for duty by his extreme ties to the present moment, without much thought for the consequences of his actions or the future.” Another contributor argues that Trump is narcissistic and “that pathological levels in a leader can spiral into psychosis, impaired judgment, volatile decision making, and behavior called gaslighting.” A third contributor, who co-wrote Trump’s book, Art of the Deal, that Trump has “low self-worth, fact-free self-justification, and a compulsion to go to war with the world.” Others in this first part of the book develop the following observations on Trump’s behavior and apparent mental instability.
• “…Trump lacks trust in himself, which may lead him to take drastic actions to prove himself to himself and to the world.”
• “…someone who cons others, lies, cheats, and manipulates to get what he wants, and who doesn’t care whom he hurts may be not just repritively immorgal and also severely impaired, as sociopaths lack a central human characteristic, empathy.”
• “…Trump’s presentation “shows signs [of] hypomanic temperament that generates whirlwinds of activity and a constant need for stimulation.”
• “…Trump’s nearly outrageous lies may be explained by delusional disorder”
• “…more frightening are Trump’s attraction to brutal tyrants and also the prospect of nuclear war.”
In a “forward,” renowned psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton worries about the spread of “malignant normality, which has to do with the social actuality with which we are presented as normal, all-encompassing, and unalterable.” He fears that there can be “a process of adaptation to evil,” that is, if and when more and more people come to accept, tolerate, or quietly accommodate to Trump’s presidential practices and policies. Lifton warns that we must resist and oppose the tendency to view what Trump does as “simply a part of our democratic process – that is, as politically and even ethically normal.” With all the dangers to our democracy, including Trump’s mental instability, Lifton closes his statements with an optimistic line from the American poet Theodore Roethke: “In a dark time, the eye begins to see.”