So now the word in the mainstream media (MSM) is that Donald Trump has successfully co-opted the so-called “American left.” After all, they tell us, he’s implemented Universal Basic Income (UBI); he’s promised to set up government hospitals to treat COVID-19 patients; he’s proposed delayed foreclosures and evictions and has strengthened unemployment measures for laid-off workers. Unwittingly, we’re told, he has become a “socialist.” And worst of all (for his opponents) under that new identification, his approval ratings have risen.
Does this mean he’ll be reelected next fall even though his handling of the coronavirus crisis has been abysmal? Remember: he mocked it at first. The testing kits he promised still haven’t materialized. And, as usual, his pathological duplicity makes it impossible for anyone to know what’s really going on in the man’s little head. Do his promises mean anything, or will they be rescinded tomorrow?
Nonetheless, there’s a grain of truth in his latest manifestation as socialism’s champion.
Additionally, if we understand fascism as “capitalism in crisis”, Trump’s co-optations can be unmasked as mirroring faithfully those of his forebears in that system. And finally, there’s hope to be found in the president’s rising numbers.
To begin with, it must be acknowledged that all of the above (UBI, government-sponsored healthcare, policies preventing homelessness, and unemployment insurance) are indeed key planks in any socialist platform.
At the same time, it is also true to say that the president has very little choice in the matter. History has shown that in circumstances like these, heads of state interested in self-preservation and regardless of their ideological propensities, best serve their interests by intervening in the marketplace on behalf of their official constituents.
Put otherwise, the crisis at hand has once again exposed the fact that capitalism’s regular-as-clockwork systemic dysfunctions can only be remedied by socialist programs. (There are no exceptions to that rule.) That’s because government-coordinated socialism is far more efficient in addressing pressing crises than the necessarily disjointed, atomized and uncoordinated capitalist responses. This has been demonstrated most recently by China’s quick success in dealing with COVID-19.
In reality, however, Trump’s proposals are far from genuinely socialist. To begin with, ALL of them are emphatically temporary. His version of UBI are intended to last a month or two; his government hospitals are narrowly targeted at coronavirus patients (all others are still on their own and at the mercy of giant health insurance and pharmaceutical conglomerates); the evictions and foreclosures will resume when the current crisis has passed. Republicans will also reprise their attacks on unemployment insurance (and Social Security) when and if we return to “normal.”
By way of contrast, socialism’s remedies are permanent; they represent once-and-for-all transformations of the reigning economic system. Socialism is about Medicare for All, affordable housing, rent-control, job guarantees and adequate wages.
Moreover, socialism is an international movement of working-class people. Its philosophers — those who favor the working classes instead of their exploiters — are the ones our educational system of indoctrination has taught us to hate. We’ve been taught to despise Karl Marx, but to love Milton Friedman. Despite our ironic distaste for them, our class’ philosophers have always addressed themselves to “the workers of the world.”
Today’s socialists recognize what the coronavirus crisis has laid bare, viz. that even apart from present circumstances, we’re all in this together. Socialists also see clearly that our common enemy is the greed and self-centeredness that globalized capitalism itself has forced on our employers. Without heartless devotion to the “bottom line,” virtually none of those we work for would ever survive under free enterprise competition that rewards and necessitates starvation wages for so many and environmental devastation for us all. The system has made our employers our mortal but largely unrecognized enemies.
As opposed to socialism’s internationalism, Trump is a nationalist. Recall his inaugural proclamation, “From now on it’s only going to be America First, America First.” Nothing could be further from the ideals of citizens of the world. That is, insofar as circumstances have forced socialism upon him, Herr Trump is a National Socialist.
And that’s exactly what the fascists who came to power in the 1930s were. They were National Socialists in contrast to the international socialists and communists they hated so fiercely. In fact, Trump’s nationalism and his attempts at co-opting socialist policies to mollify a rebellious populace represents his tearing a page right out of Mein Kampf.
Think about it. As already mentioned, fascism is best defined as “capitalism in crisis.” Or as Benito Mussolini described it more exactly, fascism is corporate capitalism united with state power. In ultimate form, it enforces its order through a police state armed against its traditional enemies, viz. communists, socialists, labor organizers, Jews, non-whites, the disabled, immigrants, gypsies, etc. All those scapegoats receive blame for the inescapable inefficiencies and dysfunctions of the newly christened old system. All of them found places in fascism’s death camps.
Why then the name-change in the 1930s? Why the “National Socialist German Workers’ Party?” It’s because the Great Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the depression that followed had completely discredited capitalism. No one wanted to be associated with it any more than (until recently) people wanted to be associated with socialism and Marxism after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Following the Crash everyone, left and right, claimed to be some kind of socialist.
It’s similar today, even though the name itself is not yet so much in fashion. Still, socialist policies are much in favor among the American people. A solid majority wants Medicare for All. The Fight for $15.00 minimum wage is extremely popular among wage workers. In this age of climate chaos, environmental protection laws receive widespread approval. The same is true for free college education and forgiveness of student loans. And Social Security remains the most popular program ever instituted by the federal government.
More particularly, at this time of corona crisis, people need money to pay their bills. They want those monthly checks. Under the threat of COVID-19, they don’t want to worry about deductibles and co-pays. They need rent relief.
Hope behind Trump’s Ratings
All of that is hopeful. Any rise in Trump’s approval ratings because of the policies just reviewed reveal that Americans favor what the Republican Party is ideologically incapacitated to provide. Republicans will never permanentize the programs we all want.
And if they do, that’s o.k. too. Whether a red administration or a blue one meets genuinely human needs is beside the point.
More likely, however, the temporary programs currently receiving approval simply describe for true socialists (whether they embrace the name or not) the policy trajectories they must follow, propose, fight for and finally implement. Now’s the time to insist on a Green New Deal.