Tuesday, August 8, 2017

America's problems are just beginning. By Paul Mason

the modern right has this unresolved dilemma: the levels of economic freedom it wants always produce levels of discontent that require political freedom to be curtailed.

There are two distinct but overlapping right-wing projects in the US. One, most clearly associated with the Koch brothers, is best described by its adopted euphemism: “income defence”. It sees every dollar of the US’s $19tn debt as a future claim on the profits of private enterprise; it wants low taxation and – as Trump backer Robert Mercer is once reported to have said – a state “shrunken down to the size of a pinhead”. Above all, it wants the removal of regulations on big business, including the minimum wage, which denies the poorest people in America the “opportunity for earned success”, in the words of the Kochs’ top strategist.

The vast influence of the Kochs’ “dark money” has been documented in Jane Mayer’s 2016 book of the same name. It funds, among other things, nearly 300 academic courses at colleges and universities, where the syllabus is dictated by the right: students learn that Keynes is bad, sweatshops are good and climate change is a myth. The libertarian project is characterised by its relentless focus on economics. Just as neoliberal ideology reduces all humans to homo economicus, the Koch ideology does not really care about ethnicity, statehood or private vices. It can live with the rights of black people, prisoners, migrants and marijuana smokers.

The other side of far-right ideology, by contrast, wants a repressive state, imposed conservative social norms and – if necessary – an eviscerated constitution to achieve it. If we analyse Trump through his actions, rather than his garbled words, it is political illiberalism that has won out during the first seven months of his presidency. When a judge blocked his Muslim immigration ban, he attacked the judiciary’s constitutional role. When the press revealed malfeasance, he labelled them “enemies of the American people”. When James Comey refused Trump’s appeals for “loyalty”, he was sacked.

Before Christmas, it is likely the US ultra-right elite will be faced with a choice: stick with Trump, corralled behind a wall of former generals and hamstrung by a potential impeachment. Or switch to the plan as it was in early 2016 – a socially conservative, libertarian presidency headed by Pence.

As we watch it unfold from Britain, one parallel with our own situation becomes obvious. In both countries, an elite group has forced a proactive break with globalisation: “America first” and Brexit are both attempts to save national free-market projects at the expense of ditching multilateral systems and rules. But once the external constraint is ditched, the modern right has this unresolved dilemma: the levels of economic freedom it wants always produce levels of discontent that require political freedom to be curtailed. The Brexit-boosting types here and the Steve Bannon types in the US share a fantasy about the kind of market-driven society they want to live in, but can see no way to achieve it other than through a period of chaos.


What they created, between June and November 2016, was two unstable democracies – unstable not because their institutions are weak but because their elites are divided and political liberalism directionless. Neither impeaching Trump nor putting Brexit on the backburner solves this fundamental problem.
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/aug/07/trump-out-in-year-usa-problems-just-beginning-paul-mason