Several components of the project were articulated by Trump in his State of the Union address before the U.S. Congress on January 30, 2018. They include, first, creating jobs and expanding employment through (1) reduction of taxes for corporations, small businesses, and middle and working class families, thus stimulating consumption and investment; (2) reducing regulations on industries, so that corporations will have more incentive to expand production and to enlarge and build new plants in the United States; and (3) rebuilding the transportation infrastructure, a labor-intensive project. Secondly, the renegotiation of trade agreements so that they are more beneficial to U.S. economic interests. Thirdly, expanding military spending, on the assumption that this will increase the U.S. capacity to defend its interests in the world. The military increase is accompanied by rhetoric that repeatedly lavishes praise on military and police personnel. Fourthly, defending “American values” and the U.S. concept of democracy, portraying nations that defend their sovereignty against U.S. interests as tyrannical, thus providing a pretext for sanctions. Fifthly, enforcing immigration laws and curtailing illegal immigration, and developing a new system of merit-based immigration that favors individuals with more education and training. The project is presented to the people as a revitalization of the American spirit and a renewal of the American Dream, making America great again. He proclaimed:
Less than one year has passed since I first stood at this podium, in this majestic chamber, to speak on behalf of the American People — and to address their concerns, their hopes, and their dreams. . . . Each day since, we have gone forward with a clear vision and a righteous mission — to make America great again for all Americans. . . . Over the last year, the world has seen what we always knew: that no people on Earth are so fearless, or daring, or determined as Americans. If there is a mountain, we climb it. If there is a frontier, we cross it. If there is a challenge, we tame it. If there is an opportunity, we seize it. . . . This is our new American moment. There has never been a better time to start living the American Dream. So to every citizen watching at home tonight — no matter where you have been, or where you come from, this is your time. If you work hard, if you believe in yourself, if you believe in America, then you can dream anything, you can be anything, and together, we can achieve anything.
In the first place, Trump’s economic nationalism and “America First” philosophy ignore the fundamental structural problems of the world-system, and the imperative need for all nations, especially the more powerful, to participate in the forging of fundamental structural reforms of the world-system. The colonized and neocolonized peoples of the world have consistently maintained since the 1950s that to be sustainable, the world-system has to be just, respecting the true sovereignty of all the nations of the world, regardless of their size or power. And they have maintained that to be sustainable, the world-system must be fully democratic, respecting not only political and civil rights but also social and economic rights. Taking into account these historic claims of political leaders that represent the majority of humanity, the most advanced historical social science of our time recognizes that the neocolonial world-system, constructed on a colonial foundation, systemically denies the sovereign rights of nations and the basic human needs of millions of persons. Such knowledge implies that enlightened and politically effective leadership in the world today involves not the aggressive application of military force in defense of nationalist economic interests, but forging cooperation among nations, working together on the basis of scientific knowledge in the construction of an alternative more sustainable world-system that respects the rights of all nations and persons.
In addition, Trump’s view of the central role of the American spirit of determination overlooks the actual economic and social dynamics that fed the U.S. ascent from the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries. As the most advanced historical social science of our time recognizes, the spectacular US ascent was fueled by economic and political factors that provided an economic and social context for the American spirit of determination to express itself. First, the conquest of the indigenous nations and Mexico and the expansion of U.S. territory to the Pacific Ocean. Secondly, the U.S. insertion into the world-economy under favorable terms, in which middle class New England and mid-Atlantic farmers sold food and animal products to slave plantations in the Caribbean and in the Southern slave states, enabling the accumulation of capital, during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Thirdly, the investment of the accumulating capital in the development of the highly profitable textile industry during the nineteenth century, with the U.S. South functioning as supplier of raw materials and as purchaser of manufactured goods. Fourthly, the concentration of capital during the nineteenth century, a process forged by the “Robber Barons,” who used ethically and legally questionable methods to advance the national economy to a stage of monopoly capital. Fifthly, the turn to imperialist policies at the beginning the twentieth century, establishing access to the raw materials, labor, and markets of Latin America and the Caribbean. Sixth, war profits from commerce related to the First World War. Seventh, investment in highly profitable industries, like auto and steel. Eighth, the conversion of peacetime industries into military industries during the Second World War, establishing the foundation for a military-industrial complex. Ninth, the permanent militarization of the economy and the society, justified by the Cold War ideology, following the Second World War; and by the War on Terrorism, following the collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern European socialism.
Moreover, the Trump project makes the classic mistake of falling great powers, which simplistically believed that they could restore their former glory through military power. Trump’s militarization of the economy and society is not new, for it has been an ongoing trend since the Second World War, except for the period 1973 to 1979, in the aftermath of the tragic and politically disastrous U.S. colonialist war in Vietnam. But a stronger military does not always make for a stronger nation. As advanced historical social science understands, excessive military spending has been an important factor in the relative economic decline of the United States since the 1960s. In the first place, it reduced the possibilities for investment in new products, new industries, and new forms of production that would maintain U.S. competitiveness in the world-economy. Secondly, the military expenditures have been and continue to be financed through government deficit spending that is excessive in relation to the productive capacity of the nation. Foreign entities, including the government of China, are among those who purchase U.S. government bonds, raising doubts about the sovereignty and independence of the United States in the long term. To make the nation stronger, it would be better to pursue a policy of expanding investment in productivity and competitiveness, and seeking to restrain consumption, including certain types of military expenditures. And it would be better for the nation to diversify its investments and to reduce the dependence of the economy on the arms industry, taking into account that the governments and peoples of the world are increasingly recognizing the need to find peaceful solutions to conflicts. As things now stand, the United States is emerging as the single nation in the world with a vested economic interest in promoting conflicts in the various areas of the world.
Because of such limitations, the Trump project is not able to overcome the national polarization and forge a popular consensus in support of its project. There is a significant sector of the people with a degree of political consciousness and a partial understanding, a legacy of the student anti-war movement of the period 1967 to 1972 and a consequence of the influence on popular consciousness of the African-American, women’s, and ecology movements. This sector of the people senses that there are challenging global problems that the nation has a responsibility to address; that a focus on the American spirit of determination is a simplistic reading of American history; and that serious national and global problems cannot be resolved by increasing military expenditures.
So there has emerged a significant anti-Trump sector among the people. However, like the Trump project, the anti-Trump forces do not have sufficient maturity to overcome the polarizations of the society and to lead the people in an alternative direction on the basis of a popular consensus. The liberals of the establishment focus on questions such as whether or not Trump is mentally unstable, or if there was some obstruction of justice related to allegations with respect to the 2016 presidential elections. On the other hand, “direct action” and protest-oriented liberals are more inclined to address issues, but they do so in a fragmented way, focusing on issues such as the rights of immigrants, police violence, environmental degradation, etc., without formulating a comprehensive frame of reference. There has not been articulated an alternative, comprehensive, and politically intelligent national project that is rooted in advanced historical social scientific knowledge. Such an alternative political project would seek to educate the people concerning the reasons for the spectacular ascent and subsequent relative decline of the United States. It would promote popular consciousness of Third World movements, which are seeking to construct a more just, democratic, and sustainable world-system. It would advocate a foreign policy that leaves imperialism behind and that is based on cooperation with the nations and peoples of the earth, seeking to develop mutually beneficial trade and cultural interchanges. It would explain the necessary role of the government in defending the social and economic rights of the people. And the alternative political formation would seek to take political power, and to subsequently use the powers of the state to defend the people, the nation, humanity, and nature.
The Trump project, although not based in scientific knowledge, possesses necessary characteristics, including a coherent vision and an emotional connection to the people. Inasmuch as an alternative comprehensive visionary project connected to the people has not been formulated, the Trump project stands unopposed. In this context, the Left has the responsibility to examine critically its discourse and its strategies and to formulate an alternative project for the nation.