Is Donald Trump's presidency strange
The incumbent US president is nearing the end of the first half of his first term and the Party of Appeasers in the US and Europe think Trump and Trumpism will inevitably go away sooner or later. The judiciary, special investigator Robert Mueller, the president's insanity, or at least the interaction of all of these, would ensure his departure. By 2020 at the latest, a partly angry, partly sobered, partly frightened electorate will refuse to re-elect him. It would be nice. Trump came to stay. He has a very good chance of being re-elected, and there is no foreseeable opposition majority in Congress that could initiate impeachment proceedings. His supporters, around forty percent of the electorate, stand by him and have nothing in common with the culture and politics of his opponents. Even if Trump were to be overthrown, the deep divisions in the country guarantee the continuation of Trumpism, perhaps under a different name and with slightly different rhetoric, but with the same moral and social substance.
Certainly, the way the president behaves and in view of the ethical wasteland his administration presents itself, it seems more than strange to speak of morality with a view to Trumpism. But his followers firmly believe that they are defending a threatened idea of the nation. They see themselves as truth-plates, as people who say how it really is and stand up against the falsehood of selfish elites who look down on them. They are generally older and whiter than other segments of the political spectrum, but they also include large numbers of young people who have never entered a university campus. In addition, there are women who are traditionalist, frustrated by alcoholism, infidelity and violence by their husbands. To them all, the reports in the New York Times or the Washington Post and their criticism of Trump sound like coded messages from another social star - a strange place where even the air smells different. The crowds at Trump's election rallies and during his presidential flying visits to the vast expanses of the country, on the other hand, do not spring from the imagination of a socially critical film buff. Rather, there are ordinary people from real life there. Their political vote confronts us with truths about our country and its trauma, which we simply defined away, belittled or comfortably dismissed as disappearing remnants of an outdated past. But we were wrong. Whether as (self-) isolated intellectuals in campus cultures, whether as politicians in the service of specific groups of voters or as citizens of metropolitan areas with an urban lifestyle - we were wrong.
Trump's success and his good prospects of surviving politically are not only explained by the fact that he pleases the Party of Resentment, that is, the many who are looking for explanations for their unsuccessfulness in today's business world. No, when evangelical Protestants and conservative Catholics take Trump's side, for example, they follow a very realistic calculation. He gives them what they want above all: a government that combats abortion, homosexuality and cultural pluralism in general. As for Trump's weaknesses and shortcomings, these people are used to adulterous pastors and pedophile priests. Looking the other way again is not too high a price to pay for returning to the center of American politics. Prior to Trump's election, both Catholicism and Protestantism in the United States had gone through a period of political and social retreat. After the struggles of the past century (civil rights, women's rights, homosexuality, anti-imperialism, economic inequality), the churches found no new sources of energy, preferred to look back on previous victories and concentrated on defending societal land gains. However, there has always been another doctrine in America, and Trump celebrates it as a prophet. I am speaking of the doctrine of market sovereignty cultivated in financially well-equipped think tanks, disseminated by old and new media and widely obligatory for careerists in public life, which is omnipresent today. It seems like the two Roosevelts belong to it Progressivism and later that New Deal as well as a distant, fabled past like Kennedy and Johnson, the heirs of a constructive understanding of government and the belief of their great predecessors in continuous reform work. As the union movement is shrinking, there are few unionized families left as places of day-to-day political education. While they were once able to register a third of the working population as members and also speak for large parts of the unorganized, the unions are now struggling to survive with an organization rate of ten percent. The Democrats who came after the New Deal and the Great Society, while largely defending Roosevelt's and Johnson's achievements, hardly added any of their own. Even Obama's bitterly contested healthcare reform was a compromise that made major concessions to insurance companies. Larger projects of social transformation fell under the jurisdiction of historians, while contemporaries striving to modernize these traditions were and continue to be treated as sectarians.
Trump himself regards his tax “reform” (“the biggest tax cut of all time”) and the systematic attack on the welfare state and state regulation as his most significant achievements to date. When it comes to environmental protection, public education, health care, consumer protection, and labor rights, Trump and his administration are handing over achievements of over a hundred years. The tax law is a model for class struggle: banks and corporations, the haves and the wealthy are well served, while two thirds of the population have to pay more sooner or later.
The fragmented resistance and the lack of vision
Of course there is resistance to this. Democratic governors and mostly democratic parliaments of the states, but also Democrats in Congress and interest groups of all kinds are fighting back. But they are in the minority, unlike in reform periods, when Democratic presidents could rely on congressional majorities and a dominance of their party in two-thirds of the states. Even the federal judges appointed by democratic presidents resist, firmly and persistently. But Trump and the Republicans are systematically limiting their influence by placing their own people everywhere in the legal system. Democratically ruled states, led by California and New York, try to take action against it, but could fail against Republican judges. Nonetheless, large numbers of women and young people are involved in the election campaigns, fighting for local, state and federal office. A bright future was sung about during the French Revolution, les lendemains qui chantent. And if you believe the optimists in the Democratic Party, America's future lies in an even more powerful chorale - theirs. At least ten Democrats are currently considering running for the 2020 presidency. However, the party is deeply divided. It is divided into several factions and demographic groups, and although it has a shopping cart full of various projects for different groups of voters, it does not offer a unified vision of the American future.
Trump's ignorance, arrogance, and unpredictability have also forged a front of the "disinherited" from both major parties: the humiliated American foreign policy elite who, since the outbreak of the Cold War and beyond, had decided what the United States could do and what the world over Not. These people are right when they complain about the weakening of the State Department, the nomination of the proven torture protagonist Gina Haspel as head of the CIA and the transfer of her predecessor Mike Pompeo, an incorrigible supporter of the US hegemony, to the State Department. Or the appointment of John Bolton as National Security Advisor, a man whose political debut in 2000 was to sabotage the Florida vote recount with a gang of Republicans. However, Trump sometimes speaks bluntly truths that others prefer to swallow: We spent trillions of dollars in the Middle East, but our enemies have only become more bitter and dangerous. Meanwhile, the foreign policy elite - locked out of the offices that their assiduous conformism once guaranteed them - steadfastly refuses to accept that Trump is now vocalizing the myths of America's power and virtue, which they themselves propagated in a more nuanced form, to absurdity.
The ideology of the state of siege
On the other hand, Trump finds considerable support in the military. He indulges in arms spending. Ever since the mutiny of a conscript army made the continuation of the Vietnam War impossible, the armed forces have relied on increasingly complex weapon systems. But a lot of young people cannot cope with them due to a lack of education; Therefore, the US military is now more of a kind of hereditary nobility who thinks the country owes its debt. Having served shorter or longer periods of time opens up career opportunities in the police and judiciary for the lower ranks, and for the higher ranks in the upper echelons of the private sector or the public service. The transformation of the US military into a world police force allows Trump to practice the invocation of deep-seated and permanent threats, which is practiced domestically in matters of immigration and crime, in his foreign policy as well. Now the slain elite are lamenting his vulgar simplifications. In doing so, however, she ignores the fact that she herself is responsible for having cultivated an ideology of the state of siege for decades - since 1945 - and for having painted an uninterrupted sequence of threats on the wall: from communism to Islamism and ultimately all forces that seize power oppose the US, be it blocs, countries or movements.
The patriotism, which is obligatory on public occasions, and the ritual bowing of political representatives to the military (which even Obama did not resist) are pathological in a clandestine way. The remorse of a population that is unwilling to send their sons and daughters to remote countries to fight enemies, whose resistance obviously cannot be broken, is reflected in such a quasi-vicarious approach to dangers. This phenomenon resembles Trump's request to the police not to be too squeamish with prisoners (which even some hardened police officers were probably too open and actually met with opposition). The state and local police force is already excessively brutal - especially towards Afro-Americans, Latinos and the poor. She hardly had to be encouraged by Trump to do so. Their behavior reflects an aggressive streak in the lives of ordinary Americans that few in the country are willing to admit. He certainly played a part in the fact that nearly half of the population accepted, and even approved, Trump's bellicose rhetoric in foreign affairs, as much as the academically educated in the higher echelons of the armed forces may sincerely regret it. That being said, there are very mundane material reasons for the militarization of American politics. Military facilities and arms production are indispensable sources of economic existence in many parts of the country. One often hears about admirals and generals when they submit their budgets to Congress sotto voce the lawsuit that they must advocate the continued production of what they consider obsolete weapons systems because of the economic benefits they bring to the constituencies of Congressmen.
I mentioned the foreign policy elite's displeasure (across all of their sometimes sizeable internal divisions) with Trump's ignorance. Its open disregard for the experiences it has accumulated since the Spanish-American War of 1898 shocked all its representatives in academia, government, journalism, and the military. These people assumed that a grateful country would appreciate their services and that no president could do without them. Trump may risk catastrophes, but those responsible for the Vietnam and Iraq wars, for their part, have hardly withdrawn. They also avoid wondering whether the Cold War could not have ended much sooner or whether the resources devoured by their policies had not been better invested in the internal reconstruction of America and a different approach to the “rest of the world” would be. Some of them (including three Catholic generals who probably learned from the Church to think in terms of longer terms) saw their duty in serving Trump. Most of them, however, simply cannot believe that their sudden loss of influence is indifferent to the public: The idiosyncratic way in which this president conducts foreign and military policy has so far been well received by the population, regardless of the unmistakable objections of his internal critics. like outside of Congress.
Elites flying blind and the corruption of US democracy
Many members of our elite have now understood that something far more serious has happened than the election of a morally and intellectually incompetent president. They find that they no longer understand the country they believed they were ruling. And they are by no means alone in this. It is amazing how the services our universities render to the foreign policy and military apparatus suddenly meet with such contemptuous disregard. The professors, still completely dazed by suddenly losing access to the government, are flying blind.
Worse still, American democracy as a whole is increasingly parodying our own imperfect past. “One Man, One Vote” - the principle of universal and equal choice - required independent individuals who make political decisions after a shorter or longer period of reflection. Certainly, abstaining from voting is also a way of choosing - but how can you explain why six out of ten citizens did not vote in the last presidential election? Turnout in the mid-term congressional elections, which take place midway through the presidential term, is usually even lower. And when it comes to electing local and national officials, even that is undercut, even though such decisions have an enormous impact on the everyday life of citizens. It is true that the regulation of the electoral procedure is incumbent on the individual states, and the large proportion of non-voters is partly explained by restrictions on the right to vote, especially that of minorities, by biased and cynical state parliaments. But the fact remains that the low turnout is largely due to a lack of citizenship.
Today our political landscape is also flooded with money. This has a lot to do with the dynamic of a bribery practice, which in view of the increasingly expensive election campaigns make incumbents and applicants increasingly dependent on funding from interested parties who know exactly what consideration they are betting on. The congressional committees, in which the regulation of specific industries is overseen by the relevant ministries and federal offices, and of course the committees responsible for tax issues, serve those who pay for the election campaigns of their members. Determined opponents of capital such as Senators Bernie Sanders and Elisabeth Warren stand out because they reject the rambling excuses with which many congressional colleagues justify their compromises.
The MPs are at least equally concerned with the benevolence of various groups that pursue special interests in a well-organized manner. Churches, for example, do not need a lot of money to exert influence because of their local roots. Its members are a reserve army of volunteers who are only too happy to endeavor to win politics for the protection of family and neighborly values. The more mixed, fragmented, and indeterminate in their preferences the electorate a candidate wants to win over, the more dependent he is on external sources of finance. On the other hand, the more coherent and organized the target group, the more emphatically other constraints become valid and thus the need to follow their respective cultural, ideological or religious commands.In many areas, for example, psychosexual obsessions about abortion or homosexuality (one of Vice President Mike Pence's obsessions) or the rejection of women's rights seem to outweigh material problems and interests politically.
But the situation is more complicated. People who get upset about these sociocultural issues generally accept the supremacy of capital without complaint, provided that their social guarantees are preserved (i.e. the pension system Social securitywho have favourited Health Insurance for Seniors Medicare and state health insurance for the lower income groups Medicaid). And Trump was prudent enough to assure that he intended to stick to Social Security and Medicare. Like his Republican predecessors, he can rely on the widespread ignorance of his electorate. Very few have any idea how the Federal Reserve, the US central banking system, works, or even what it is. Few are able to provide any coherent picture of the effects of public spending, and few understand how the world economy works. Economics classes are virtually non-existent in US education, and the local school authorities act as ideology police when in doubt, always ready to shut up critical teachers. There used to be correctives, such as trade unions, who criticized all too stupid ideas of the benign nature of American capitalism. And there were Democratic presidents like Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy and Johnson who used the potential of their office to educate. Their democratic successors were decidedly less eager to act in this way.
The self-proclaimed victim of a "witch hunt"
In addition, the fragmentation of what could once be called public space is well advanced. Today we have different media communities with separate publics and each with its own truth criteria. Trump's falsifications of reality are particularly well received by that large section of the population who have long believed in conspiracies, in the manipulation of the economy and society by dark forces. If you add a strong pinch of racism and xenophobia, Trump's claim to speak as a kind of tribune for the common people is quite consistent. He has fused a large part of the traditional distrust that Republicans have in state action with primitive fantasies and protests against current material and moral experiences of loss. His incessant internet and TV presence reveals that we are indeed dealing with a man possessed. There is something shamanic about his charisma.
Trump's voters, meanwhile, still have to primarily grapple with somehow making a living. While he is benefiting politically from sustained employment growth, labor incomes are growing slowly, which does not make life any easier for everyone in the low-wage sector. The rise in interest rates is affecting mortgages, car purchases, and small business finance options, but it is rarely the subject of political debate. The drastic social cuts will also only show visible effects over time - and since they are widespread, a concentrated counterattack by the Democrats will in any case be difficult to wage. So far, there is little evidence that the social imbalance of Trump's economic and social policy is noticeably weakening his support among those hardest hit by it.
Trump is vulnerable due to his private financial behavior and his numerous affairs, but his supporters have so far taken away the allegation that the allegations are part of a “witch hunt” by his political opponents. As long as the protracted investigation by Special Counsel Mueller is not completed, it is impossible to say what legal problems the President could face. Even the grave allegation that Trump and his team actively conspired with the Russian government to thwart Hillary Clinton's election has so far failed to steal his audience from the president, who vehemently denies all of this. These people have little knowledge of the US Constitution. They hardly know how the state works, and they have no idea what a president is and what is not. Trump enthusiastically takes up the only constitutional argument that interests them: that the Second Amendment gives US citizens unlimited rights to acquire and use firearms. This reading of the constitution is obviously wrong, but it is ardently championed by the very groups that support Trump for other reasons.
Should Trump actually be charged with criminal acts, he would probably provoke a constitutional crisis and mobilize his supporters. Richard Nixon's appeal to "the streets" was one of the reasons the Republicans withdrew their support in Congress in the final months of his presidency. Today's Republican Party, its officers and voters, however, certainly do not have the scruples of their 1974 predecessors. In addition, the current Republican majority in the Supreme Court will most likely find ways to come to Trump's aid. At a hearing on the entry ban for citizens of a number of Muslim countries, the majority of judges made it clear that they approved an extremely broad interpretation of the presidential powers. Of course, the allegation that the president actively colluded with a foreign government to distort a US election is of a different caliber. However, as its history shows, the Supreme Court is anything but politically neutral.
There are still a good five months until the November elections, in which the entire House of Representatives and a third of the Senate will be filled. A lot can - and will - happen in the meantime. Democrats expect these elections to bring them significant energy boosts and, more importantly, a boost in votes - by mobilizing the educated, women and younger people, as well as the African-Americans and Latinos who recently voted in so many Democrats. But skepticism remains appropriate. Because as much as Trump often gives the impression of a killer: He is still followed by large and often well-organized supporters - and their “morals” are unbroken.
The translation from English is by Karl D. Bredthauer.
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