Pat Brown, the current California governor’s father, observed somewhere that in politics, the language always rides off in the opposite direction from the policy. So, if the policy promotes war, its advocates profess nothing but peaceful intentions, and if the policy gouges the poor, the language that wraps the package sparkles with phrases of equality and charity.
President Trump’s inaugural address can stand as a blue-ribbon model of this rule. The key phrases aim resentment against elites, express love for the common people, and lay out a vision — an unshakeable dedication — to enter “a new millennium” of greatness.
“Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth … The establishment protected itself but not the citizens of our country … there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our country … The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer … Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities, rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation … the crime and the gangs and the drugs … This American carnage stops right here and stops right now… From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land … America first, America first … We stand at the birth of a new millennium … You will never be ignored again. Your voice, our hopes and dreams will define our American destiny.”
It doesn’t quite have the revolutionary thunder of the Communist Manifesto, but if you read it out of context you might think that it came from the lips of some modern-day Spartacus, seething with rage against the machine and incandescent with a fever to turn the world right side up again.
Unfortunately, there is a context. There is the man from whose mouth it came, there is his history, and there is the crowd he is bringing into power with him. He’s no Spartacus. He’s the son of a rich man. In his own real estate holdings there has been “little to celebrate for struggling families,” especially not for those who are African-American.
He has made his reputation building palaces and clubs for the rich, forgetting entirely the “mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities.” He has invested nothing in reviving “rusted-out factories” here, preferring to have his branded commodities manufactured in Turkey and in China. Even the official inauguration caps with his name on them were made in China.
There has indeed been carnage in American cities, with hundreds of unarmed black and Latino men, women, and children murdered by men in uniform, who in some cities form the most dangerous of gangs. Has he spoken out against this carnage? Never. Does he show sympathy for the victims? On the contrary. He blesses the perpetrators, and throughout his campaign he has given aid and comfort to elements who emulate the Klan in all but the bedsheets.
He says, “For many decades we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry.” Who’s the “we” in this sentence? It’s not you and me but the owners and bankrollers of American industry who have moved millions of jobs abroad by outsourcing manufacturing to lower wage areas. The resulting super-profits have vastly enriched the American billionaires. Never in history have so few individuals owned so much as they do today.
The most effective way to stop outsourcing is to tax those profits, cutting them to the rate that would have come from American labor. Another cure is to tax the trillions in profits that American corporations stash abroad as if they were generated in America. Does the speaker have the courage to propose this kind of action? Only look around at the folks he is bringing with him to Washington. Never in American history has there been a cabinet so stunk up with billionaires. Nothing in the president’s history nor in his campaign statements hints at any intention to touch the golden river of profits that flows into their pockets. On the contrary, his proposals aim to widen and deepen that stream, on the pretense that jobs depend on it, even though American banks are already choked with trillions in corporate profits that nobody knows what to do with.
Patriotism, the English wit Samuel Johnson observed, is usually the last refuge of a scoundrel. Case in point: “America First.” By the sound of it, as patriotic a policy as could be imagined. But then consider not only the Trump merchandise manufactured abroad, but also the source of the man’s wealth. Because he burned most American banks with his bankruptcies and broken deals, much of his business financing has come from Russian sources. The hundreds of millions he spent to turn the old D.C. Post Office into his branded hotel came as a loan from Deutsche Bank. Deutsche Bank is a scandal-plagued foreign institution that has been accused, among other frauds, of acting as a pass-through for Russian capital. And Trump comes into office with the major US intelligence agencies having concluded that the Russian government actively intervened in the US election in his favor. Any scoundrel in his precarious position would need to thump the tin tub of patriotism very hard indeed.
“The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action.” So he said, and by his actions he will be judged. The first thing he did was to repeal an Obama executive order that eased the path to ownership for first-time home buyers. Next, he is dismantling the Affordable Care Act, which is providing health care coverage to more than 20 million Americans. On his early list is defunding Planned Parenthood, cutting services for victims of domestic violence, and a series of other attacks that will entail widespread suffering and loss of lives. Much worse is to come.
No shroud of inaugural rhetoric can mask the calculated evil of this new administration. In earlier administrations, a Marxist had to put in some effort to expose the hands of the billionaires who were directing the ship of state from behind the scenes. Now the manipulative moguls have stepped in front of the curtain and dispensed with the bother of using front men to do their bidding. They’ve little acquaintance and much contempt for government ethics. If they have to put their assets in trust, it’s with the assurance that they’ll take them back again, with tax-free gains, when their term is over. Their administration will be a carnival of corruption and corporate welfare. They’ll run a garage sales of public assets for favored private hands. No protection, no safety net for “the struggling families all across our land” will be safe. You’re talking carnage? You ain’t seen nothing yet.
(To be continued)