In his address to the Congress on February 27, Donald Trump attacked the U.S. government. He maintained that it: imposes high taxes on corporations, restricting the capacity of corporations to invest in production, thus reducing their capacity to generate jobs for the people; regulates corporations excessively, limiting their capacity to produce goods and generate jobs; and demands high taxes of the middle class. But, according to Trump, even though the government does too much with respect to taxes and regulations, it does not do enough with respect to the application of force: the government has failed to enforce laws with respect to ordinary crime, international migration, and drug trafficking, thus creating insecurity for the communities of the nation; it does not have sufficient military expenditures; and it does not adequately support law enforcement officers.
The Trumpian critique, a state too strong with respect to the economy but too weak with respect to the application of force, has been a central motif of U.S. conservativism since the end of World War II. Support for a strong military has been constant since 1945, and it received a boost with the simplistic worldview of Reagan and the post-September 11 “war on terrorism.” With respect to the economy, the prevailing view from 1945 to 1979 was that government had an important role to play in regulating production and redistributing income; during this time, the conservative view a present in the public debate, but clearly a minority view. With the post-1980 turn to neoliberalism and the Washington consensus, the conservative view, with its orientation of reducing the role of the state in the economy, became ascendant.
So our people have been subjected to an ideological attack on the state for some time, and it has created much confusion among the people. As a result, the discourse of the Left ought to include an explanation of the function of the state in society.
We ought to understand that the true function of the state in a democracy is to represent to the interests of the people. But immediately there is a confused situation, because in representative democracies, the state pretends to represent the people, when in fact it represents the interests of corporations. This situation dates back to the Constitution of 1789, which established the substitution of the appearance for the essence of democracy. In those days, the central mechanisms for ensuring elite control were large-voting districts, restriction of the franchise, and a checking of the power of the democratically-elected congress by the senate and the judiciary, whose members were not elected; and by a president, elected indirectly. In our time, the substitution of the appearance for the essence of democracy is achieved through corporate campaign contributions, creating a situation of the dependency of elected officials on corporate support; and by corporate control of the media and think tanks, which more than shaping public opinion, frame the issues concerning which the public has opinion (see “The US popular movement of 1775-77” 11/1/13; “American counterrevolution, 1777-87” 11/4/13; “Balance of power” 11/5/13; “Popular democracy” 11/6/13).
So the Left must develop an effective discourse that exposes the essentially undemocratic character of the political process of representative democracy. And it must make specific proposals for a more genuinely democratic process that would make possible the control of the government by the people. The Green Party Platform, although characterized by the lack of historical consciousness and Eurocentrism, has good proposals with respect to the democratic reform of the electoral process in the United States (“The Green Party Platform” 8/26/2016; “Can the Green Party evolve?” 8/29/2016).
If we can envision a situation of power in the hands of the people, then we can envision what the state could be: a powerful collective force in defense of the interests of the people. Unlike the private sector, governments have the capacity to mobilize resources in defense of political goals. Governments can mobilize resources to build transportation and communication networks, to develop systems of education and health, and to invest in production and scientific development. To be sure, its legitimate functions will include the application of force, in order to ensure national defense and safe communities, but this function is one of many, and it must be fulfilled in ways that are integral to community and national development.
The Trump proposals give excessive emphasis on the application of force and insufficient attention to other functions, exploiting the confusions of the people that have resulted from years of ideological attack on the state. Some of the people sense that the Trump emphasis on force is not the right road, but they do not have sufficient understanding to formulate an alternative approach that is comprehensive and politically effective. The result is a divided people, with hostile and superficial debate.
So the Left must call people to unity, in a form that embraces the divisive rhetoric of neither side. It must call the people to the establishment of a government that faithfully fulfills its functions, under the direction of the people, and in accordance with the interests of the people. It must invoke a vision of a government of, by, and for the people, a government that would function as a political balance to the power of the corporations and the corporate elite, which has demonstrated, since the age of the robber barons in the second half of the nineteenth century, its indifference to fundamental ethical and moral values and to the good of the nation and humanity.