The Most Disturbing Fact About Donald Trump: He’s Right (Kind Of)
The Class Struggle Vs. Trumpian Populism
Reconciling the Marxist class struggle with Trumpian populism highlights the crucial difference between revolution and devolution.
Four words to make you cringe: Donald Trump is right. Not about everything. Just this one: the system is rigged. The elections are rigged. The economy is rigged. Law enforcement. Welfare. Insurance. Education. Taxes. Your neighborhood DMV. All rigged.
I’ve heard it called a conspiracy theory. And yet before the reactionaries rode to town, we used to call it something else: the class struggle. Never has something so manifest been so swiftly ushered into the land of conspiracy—and this in the year of WikiLeaks.
The problem is three-fold. Foremost, Trump is clearly unaware of the Marxist interpretation of that now-trite word: rigged. Elections are not fixed, but they are, as Bernie Sanders suggested, rigged against the oppressed classes. Choice has yet to become pure illusion; our democracy yet to be fully undermined—but be not allayed, for the ruling class have their neatly-manicured thumbs on the scale.
How do we know this? We have observed it. We have analyzed it. We have discussed it at length. We’re simply not always forthcoming about who is doing the “rigging” and why. We prefer to think in simpleton’s terms of race and tribalism, bizarrely blaming the wounds Lady Capitalism inflicts as the root cause of the oppression she has wrought; that cut will grow deeper and you are losing too much blood to walk, but mind not the whip nor its barbs.
And thus the second and third problems of Trumpian populism arise. Second: it relies on scapegoating the “other”, a hallmark of regressive governance. Third: Trump’s answer to the barbed whip is a dorkish and unwieldy club. In essence, Trump wishes to dismantle the establishment only insofar as it benefits the “pure” private sector—a kind of hyper-Reaganism which will only increase the proletariat’s burden.
It is a surreal exercise indeed to remind liberals of the many flaws in our public institutions—though perhaps not surprising given the bitter divorce from ideas to the Left of William Jefferson Clinton. These institutions of public necessity weren’t rigged by liberals, at least not exclusively. There is no social or political persuasion who may claim exemption; conservatives, homosexuals, the devout, the wholesome and charitable, the wicked or the devious—what drives the class struggle is capital and its enablers. And though identity and class division are inexorably linked, Our Foul Lady is an equal-opportunity employer—a large enough bribe will earn you clout with the bitterest ideological enemy.
The cycle escalates into unification of the poor as a single, demanding voice. The working class white and the urban minority have more in common than Our Foul Lady may safely admit. Donald Trump knows this and, in irony unpalatable to the bewhiskered-IPA-drinker, has used neoliberal-style identity politics to further obfuscate the class divide—suddenly the poor aren’t the poor, they’re “working class whites”. They’re “urban minorities”. Two sides of a wholly manufactured culture war. The failure of American conservatism is the simple failure to understand that racial divisions are not illusory but engineered by the ruling class to which Donald Trump has always belonged.
This is not to say the election of Donald Trump isn’t a significant moment in our nation’s history. Dangerous indeed are the dismissals of the Gentleman Moderate, those for whom politics is a mere struggle of intangible ideas. Donald Trump represents a clear, unique threat to liberal democracy, and those who deny the warning signs may be guests of honor at the eating of their own headwear.
The most important distinction between Marxism and Trumpian rhetoric is the ultimate aimlessness of the latter; while the class struggle must end in revolution, Trump’s brand of politics represents a dangerous merger of establishment power with unhinged discourse and regressive policy—a devolution of the American state.
Without the Marxist framework, without the rightful vilification of capital, any effort to overthrow the system will only succeed in molding it. And any effort to overthrow the system with yet more reckless and deregulated capitalism? With fascist scapegoating and promises to increase authoritarian law enforcement? With racial dogwhistles and appeals to a non-existent American Eden? Such an effort will only succeed in molding the system into a phallus large enough to fuck us all to death.
Featured photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images. H/T: Cecilia Darling, Raine Laurent. Cartoons based on images created by Donkey Hotey and Carlos Latuff.