In his speech to the Congress on February 28, President Donald Trump proclaimed a renewal of the American spirit. The nation will be strong again, he affirmed, and it will once again assume a leadership role in the world. To this end, there will be a significant increase in the military budget. He declared that “all the nations of the world — friend or foe — will find that America is strong, America is proud, and America is free.”
It was a masterful speech. Trump portrayed his administration’s hardline policies on immigration as necessary for protecting hard-working, patriotic and family-loving Americans from criminals, terrorists, drug dealers and gangs, all of whom undermine the security of our nation and the safety of our communities. He maintained that what is needed is not the misguided compassion of liberals but a common-sense firm line: deport illegal immigrants, starting with criminals; establish a merit-based system of legal immigration, rather than one that favors the least educated; and give officials the necessary support for the enforcement of laws.
He also promised a firm line with respect to international commerce. His government will make trade deals that are fair and protect U.S. companies and workers.
The speech also attacked government regulations as restricting the productive capacity of American corporations, thereby reducing their capacity to generate jobs. It cited the Dakota Access pipeline as a case in point: government regulations had halted its construction, but Trump has taken decisive action and has issued executive orders to move the construction forward, ensuring more petroleum and more jobs for the people.
Thus Trump presented himself as a defender of the people against big government, one who can lead the people toward the restoration of American greatness. He framed the issues in ways that would generate positive popular response, as was reflected in the fact that three-quarters of respondents polled by CBS approved of Trump’s message.
Especially shrewd was the proposal for a merit-based system of immigration. In implying that lower-skilled immigrants are more inclined to crime or terrorism, the proposal was cleverly subtle in its scapegoating of legal immigrants to the United States.
In spite of its effectiveness in appealing to the people, the Trump project has two fundamental limitations. First, it is not a genuinely popular and patriotic project. It seeks to manipulate the people, in defense of the interests of corporations.
Secondly, as did neoliberal globalization, the Trump project ignores the Third World. It has no sense of the need for social justice for the peoples of the world, and thus it has no capacity to understand the sources of the structural crisis of the world-system nor to indicate the road to a politically, economically and ecologically stable world-system. From such an ethnocentric perspective, the problems of the United States cannot be addressed, since fate of the United States is inexorably tied to that of the world-system.
But these fundamental flaws of the Trump project should not cause us to underestimate Trump’s political capacities. He has had the political intelligence to formulate a discourse that connects to the frustrations, anxieties and resentments of the people; and to form a team highly capable of implementing the ambitious project that he has in mind. The capacity of the Trump team to influence the people and to restructure the state should not be taken lightly.
The politically intelligent but analytically weak project of Trump will not be deterred by superficial analysis or by shouting slogans in street demonstrations. The Left must formulate a politically and analytically intelligent alternative, effectively explaining to the people, as we will discuss in the next post.