The choice now facing the citizens of the United States is the same binary choice facing the citizens of every other polity on our planet: either revanchist self-destruction or progressive self-renewal, either the plutofascism of the 2,067 billionaires or the democracy of the 8 billion, either the planetary extinction of the human species or the planetary abolition of capitalism, writes Dennis Redmond.
On November 3, 2020, the citizens of the United States defeated Donald Trump by a decisive margin of 6 million votes. Since Trumpism has long been the single most powerful of the billionaire-financed political revanchisms which swept the globe since 2014, this was a victory for all 8 billion human beings on our planet.
This victory does not mean that the incoming Biden Administration will automatically institute progressive policies, or that the United States has suddenly become any less racist, less imperialist, or less violent to its own citizens. What it does mean is that a fundamental shift has occurred in American politics which will have seismic consequences over the next decade.
To understand this shift, it is important to understand that the real reason a majority of Americans voted against Trumpism in 2020 was never its violence, its criminality, or its authoritarianism. What could be more violent than George W. Bush’s unprovoked invasion of Iraq and subsequent Terror War, which murdered hundreds of thousands of innocent human beings in dozens of countries? What could be more criminal than Obama’s bailout of the Wall Street banksters who destroyed the world-economy in 2008 with trillion-dollar crimes? What could be more authoritarian than the institutions of the Electoral College and Senate which grant the voters of America’s tiniest, whitest states vastly more political power than those of the biggest and most diverse states?
No, American voters rejected Trumpism not because of its political presence, but because of a political absence. After decades of plutocratic despoliation, the core belief-system of Trumpism — the imperial white supremacy on which the American polity was founded as a constitutional empire in 1789, a supremacy modified but not abolished by the electoral watersheds of 1860 and 1932 — was no longer credible to a majority of Americans.
This loss of credibility did not occur overnight. It took place over the thirty-five years between the world-historical zenith of the US empire in 1973 and the end of its global hegemony in 2008. During this period, US plutocrats enriched themselves while ravaging the American industrial base, gorged on massively corrupt monopolies while wrecking America’s schools, hospitals, and public services, and used taxpayer funds to bail out their increasingly deranged financial speculations while reducing the living-standards of the American middle class to the parlous level of an advanced semi-periphery.
As the economic underpinnings of US hegemony crumbled, the plutocrats tried to shore up the increasingly hollow and unreal edifice of American imperial white supremacy by means of a massive consumer and credit bubble, and by successive waves of political revanchism — the neo-conservativism of the 1980s, the neoliberalism of the 1990s, the neo-imperialism of the 2000s, and finally the Trumpism of the 2010s.
The trajectory of these revanchisms is best grasped in the iconic figures of its beginning and its end, namely Reaganism and Trumpism. The key figure of Reaganism was a career actor who played-acted as the Commander-in-Chief of a fictitious Cold War, but who was genuinely popular among Americans at a time when the United States was still a world hegemon and accounted for a third of the global economy.
By contrast, Trumpism was led by a real estate huckster who play-acted as an evil game show host who scapegoated and brutalized contestants, who stole the 2016 Presidency despite losing the popular vote by 3 million, and who remained deeply unpopular in every national poll during a time when a post-hegemonic US had shrunk to 24% of the world economy.
In summary, where Reaganism was the financialized circus which rebranded the sunset of the American empire as morning, Trumpism was the negative carnival of its nightfall. This history helps to explain why the progressive critics who excoriated Trumpism and its social media manifestations for their clownishness and stupidity, as well as the conservative critics who lambasted Trumpism for its lack of a party platform or a coherent conservative agenda, were both missing the point.
Trumpism’s stupidity was a ruse of plutocratic reason. Its leader was the purest embodiment of imperial white supremacy in US history, whose political claim was the assertion that even the stupidest and most vile of white males had the exclusive right to control the single most powerful executive office on the planet forever.
But whereas Reaganism concealed the crimes of its plutocrats via the fig leaf of Cold War patriotism, Trumpism discarded this latter and adopted crime as its guiding principle. The single most characteristic cultural form of Trumpism was the rage-tweet, a.k.a. the digital spectacle of the imperial white supremacist assaulting other human beings.
This assault was not metaphorical or symbolic. It was criminal through and through, something captured perfectly by Mark Hamill’s nightmarishly accurate parody of a Trumpist tweet in the voice of the Joker. Trumpism was imperial white supremacy reduced to its most rudimentary form, namely a crime-cult which spent most of its time advertising its own criminality. US citizen journalist Sarah Kendzior has described the conglomeration of thieves, fraudsters and grifters behind the Trumpist crime-cult with clinical precision:
“He covers up crimes with scandal, and he’s been doing that for 40 years and it’s not just Trump,’ Kendzior told St. Louis on the Air host Sarah Fenske. ‘It’s not like Trump is some geopolitical mastermind. He’s backed by a large cohort of people who are using him as a vehicle for their own interests and that ranges from organized crime and kleptocrats to theocrats to ideological extremists to white supremacists — they have all seen Trump as a means to their own ends.”
Conversely, one of the most powerful tools to combat this crime-cult is the teaching of the history of imperial white supremacy. One of the genuine achievements of the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests was to create a mass audience for popular history campaigns such as the 1619 project, which discussed how reactionary Southern plantocrats dominated America’s Presidency, Senate and Supreme Court between 1789 and 1860 and committed genocide against indigenous Americans and wageless laborers. At the same time, popular historians such as Thomas Frank and economic activists such as Matthew Stoller have been helping Americans to rediscover the glorious heritage of the progressive and Populist movements of America’s late 19th century, when populists, farmers, union activists and muckrakers fought against what a famous dystopian science fiction novel by Jack London called the Iron Heel — the unholy alliance of southern white supremacists and northern white plutocrats which dominated American politics from the end of Reconstruction in 1877 until Roosevelt’s New Deal.
While the mass mobilizations of the Great Depression and WW II loosened the iron grip of that alliance somewhat, imperial white supremacy reconstituted itself after 1945 in the form of McCarthyism, most famously as the odious Roy Cohn. Cohn was Trumpism’s political mentor and one of the key architects of the post-1973 political revanchisms which replaced the open segregation of Jim Crow laws with the covert racism of mass incarceration, the open disenfranchisement of African Americans with the disenfranchisement of felons by the racist War on Drugs, and the open plundering of African American sharecroppers with the financialized plundering of students and the sick via educational and medical debt.
Yet if imperial white supremacy has been the single most powerful engine of political revanchism since the foundation of the US as a constitutional empire in 1789, the greatest moments of American democracy have always involved the defeat of that imperial white supremacy. Large numbers of North Americans resisted slavery during the two hundred and forty-six years between its colonial American foundation in 1619 and its Federal abolition in 1865. After this watershed, American citizens struggled for another one hundred years to abolish all official forms of racial segregation in education, housing and transportation, succeeding only in the mid-1960s. During the late 1960s and 1970s, anti-racist mobilizations, civil rights campaigns, and the work of progressive thinkers and artists compelled Hollywood films and US television series to diversify beyond all-white characters and storylines.
Collectively, these struggles changed US society. According to Gallup polling, whereas only 28% of Americans approved of interracial marriages in 1965, a slight majority approved by the mid-1990s, and 87% approved by 2013. By the late 1990s, millions of young white Americans were listening to African American hip hop artists denounce Wall Street plutocrats on digital cassette tapes. By 2008, it was possible for a majority of Americans to vote for an African American President (leaving aside the issue that Obama’s economic policies were 100% pro-plutocrat).
The almost unnoticed and yet steadily-growing mass rejection of imperial white supremacy was one of the little-known preconditions of the 2011-2012 Occupy protests. Following these protests, some of the most politically aware young working people of immigrant communities and communities of color began to mobilize and network with their counterparts in working-class white communities.
During 2015 and 2016, these networks catapulted Black Lives Matter from a hashtag into a national protest movement. They played an equally catalytic role in the anti-Trumpist protests of 2017-2018 and the Bernie Sanders insurrection of 2019-2020, helping to transform Medicare for All and the Green New Deal from marginal issues into the political mainstream.
The turning-point was reached during the summer of 2020, when Black Lives Matter protests against carceral racism swept every single American city and town. One in eight Americans directly participated in these protests, the highest mass participation in a protest movement in American history, while a majority of Americans approved of the basic demand of the protesters to defund the carceral state and reinvest in public education and healthcare.
While the battle to transform public policy has just begun — numerous mayors and city councils hastily approved of the Black Lives Matters protests during the summer, but have not changed a single item in their town or city budgets since — the activists and organizations generated by these mass protests were crucial to Biden’s electoral victories in the US states of Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Biden’s decisive victory does not mean that a majority of Americans have consciously rejected empire, or fully comprehend the toxicity of capitalism as a system. Rather, it means that a majority of Americans no longer believe in the single most powerful story peddled by the post-1973 political revanchisms — the fantasy that imperial whiteness could magically wish away the dismal reality of the ever-worsening living conditions and impending climate catastrophe of 330 million Americans.
Put bluntly, Americans did not vote for change, so much as they voted against imperial white supremacy. This seismic transformation was led by Americans younger than 30, the most progressive generation in modern American history. According to a post-election analysis conducted by researchers at Tufts, Biden’s margin of victory was 87% to 10% among young African Americans aged 18 to 29, 83%-14% among young Asian Americans, 73% among young LatinX Americans, and a remarkable 51%-45% among young white Americans (by contrast, 55% of all white Americans voted for Trumpism).
This shift is all the more striking considering the vast majority of the Democratic candidates running for office in local and state elections ran on revanchist platforms which did not offer Medicare for All, did not support a Green New Deal, and did not support the abolition of carceral racism. Those candidates paid for their revanchism by being trounced at the polls by the Republicans.
Despite record turnout, the Democrats won significantly less than half of all state elections, won only one additional Senate seat, and lost thirteen seats in the House of Representatives. By contrast, the vast majority of the progressive candidates who ran on a platform of Medicare for All, a Green New Deal and the abolition of carceral racism won their races.
The mass rejection of imperial white supremacy is also why the outcome of the upcoming January 5, 2021 election for Georgia’s two senate seats is less important than many political observers assume. It is true that if the two Democratic candidates, Jon Osoff and Reverend Raphael Warnock, win their respective elections, the Democrats will gain control of the Senate and the Biden Administration will have slightly more leeway to pass legislation.
What is far more important is the fact that America’s rejection of imperial white supremacy has created the political space to end the age of transnational plutocracy, and begin an age of democratic reform. Ironic as it sounds, the closest model for this realignment was Reaganism, which did not have a House majority in 1980 but nonetheless succeeded in setting the basic template of the plutocratic revanchism which looted America for the next forty years.
One of the most important tasks facing American citizens and social movements in 2021 is to prepare the ground for that realignment, by pushing Biden to implement the following three measures. None requires control of the Senate, and all can be carried out via a Presidential executive order.
- Break Up Big Tech. The root of the plutocracy’s economic power is monopoly. Biden must unleash serious anti-monopoly enforcement via the Federal Trade Commission and lawsuits by the Department of Justice against Big Tech (Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google), Big Media, Big Aerospace, Big Pharma, Big Medical, Big Banking, Big Energy, Big Agribiz and all the other monopoly scams which have literally promoted online fascism, caused planes to fall out of the sky, obstructed the production of medical protective equipment, and destroyed independent pharmacies, retailers, restaurants and other essential sectors of the economy.
- Declare War on Carbon Dioxide. Seventy percent of Americans want emergency action to stop the climate catastrophe which threatens to destroy our existence as a species. Biden must designate carbon dioxide an existential threat to the national security of the United States, and order the Army to install solar panels, the Navy to build offshore windmills, and the Marines to plant trees.
- Cancel Student Debt. The President has the authority to cancel $1.7 trillion of student debt by decree. This will create a massive economic stimulus, transforming loan repayments into a real wage increase for millions of citizens.
It does not matter in the slightest if the Trumpists try to block any or all of this in Congress or via the Supreme Court. All three policies are massively popular and will trigger a political cascade-effect, by opening the door to even more radical reforms. The first executive order will trigger a debate on ownership and the unaccountable power of billionaires, the second will trigger a discussion of just why the United States is spending well over $1 trillion on weapons of mass destruction against non-existent enemies instead of investing in science, education and renewable energy, while the third will open a debate on the cancellation of medical debt.
This unparalleled political opportunity also comes with an unparalleled danger. If popular movements fail to pressure Biden to do these three things, he will be a one-term President who will preside over an economic implosion and the triumph of a slicker, smarter version of Trumpism in 2024. This latter will not be led by an aging, incoherent game show host, but by a young, dynamic host of a streaming channel, who will retrofit the Trumpist crime-cult into a geopolitical suicide-cult. This suicide-cult will destroy America’s last competitive advantages in science, technology and openness to migration, turning it back into the semi-periphery it was prior to 1862 at a literally incalculable human and ecological cost.
The choice now facing the citizens of the United States is the same binary choice facing the citizens of every other polity on our planet: either revanchist self-destruction or progressive self-renewal, either the plutofascism of the 2,067 billionaires or the democracy of the 8 billion, either the planetary extinction of the human species or the planetary abolition of capitalism.
1The other transnational revanchisms include the financial services billionaires looting Britain, the soya billionaires plundering Brazil, the plutoklatura (state-connected billionaires) plundering China, the service-sector billionaires plundering India, the energy-rent billionaires plundering Russia, and the Erdoganist billionaires plundering Turkey.
2Seven of the ten most diverse US states are so-called Blue states, i.e. elect Democrats. Seven of the ten least diverse US states are so-called Red states, i.e. elect Republicans. https://www.high-profile.com/study-2020-most-and-least-diverse-states-in-america/.
3Yanis Varoufakis has provided the best single account of how the US hegemony of 1945-2008 powered the global economy, and why it had to end in precisely the manner it did. See: Yanis Varoufakis. The Global Minotaur: America, The True Causes of the Financial Crisis and the Future of the World Economy. London: Zed Books, 2015. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Global_Minotaur
4The terminology of core and semi-periphery was invented by world-systems sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein to describe one of the fundamental inequalities of the late 20th century world-system, namely the economic and technological dependence of late-industrializing polities such as Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan and Russia the early-industrializing polities of Australia, Canada, Britain, the twenty-seven polities of the European Union, Norway, Switzerland, the United States and Japan. Core polities are fully industrialized and fully self-financing, whereas semi-peripheries are partly industrialized and partly dependent on core finance and technology. At present, two-thirds of all US citizens have life expectancies, incomes, wealth, levels of education, and degrees of environmental and social protection comparable to those prevailing in heavily urbanized semi-peripheries such as Argentina, Brazil, Malaysia and Russia
5The real Cold War had ended in the mid-1970s with the US withdrawal from Vietnam, Soviet-American detente, and Nixon’s rapprochement with China. Far from engaging in aggressive external expansionism, the semi-peripheral Soviet empire of capital spent the 1980s transforming itself into the imperial national capitalisms of the 1990s. The 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was an act of regional imperialism comparable to China’s punitive invasion of Vietnam in 1979 or Iraq’s invasion of Iraq in 1980, not a bid to challenge US hegemony.
6The Joker, originally invented by a team of artists at DC Comics in 1940, has long been the Batman franchise’s most iconic antagonist. The Joker was a clownish super-villain who committed crimes not for power or wealth but to gain media attention, precisely where Batman was the brooding loner whose vigilante identity and ruling-class wealth were literally and figuratively masked in secrecy. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joker_(character).
7Alex Heuer. “A Kleptocratic Sadistic Federal Government’ — Sarah Kendzior On Trump’s Power, Coronavirus Response.” St. Louis Public Radio. April 6, 2020. https://news.stlpublicradio.org/show/st-louis-on-the-air/2020-04-06/a-kleptocratic-sadistic-federal-government-sarah-kendzior-on-trumps-power-coronavirus-response
8Marie Brenner. “How Donald Trump and Roy Cohn’s Ruthless Symbiosis Changed America Forever.” Vanity Fair. June 28, 2017.
9This victory opened the door for victories in many other struggles, e.g. Gallup polls show approval of same-sex marriages rose from 27% in 1996 to 44% in 2010, and 67% in 2020.
11The best single text on how the plutocrats use monopolies to loot the economy is Matthew Stoller’s indispensable Goliath: The 100-Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy.
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