06 November 2016

A brief, belated warning about Trumpism

This article comes late in the day – I think now perhaps too late. But it needs to be written, and it needs to be written before the election. Part of the reason that I hesitated in writing it is that Donald Trump gives voice to some very valid concerns and worries on behalf of his part of the electorate; another reason is that I genuinely like his stances on trade and (Atlantic) foreign policy. But even though I have discussed before the post-modernist reality-TV nature of Trump’s persona-driven politics, and even though I have likened him in a classical analogy to the Athenian politician Kleon (as opposed to Peisistratos) in the primary season, a blunter and more direct approach is needed.

First, I would still highly recommend the history, Democratic Promise, written by Lawrence Goodwyn about the Greenbackers, the Farmers’ Alliance, and the Populist movement in America. He is excellent at building some of the needed awareness of the bitter struggles of common farmers against bankers and furnishing merchants, and the relation of these struggles to the monetary politics of the time that characterises postbellum 19th-century rural American politics. He relates admirably how the farmers of the American interior were helped by Abraham Lincoln’s and Salmon P. Chase’s policy of providing government-issued credit to them in the form of ‘greenbacks’, and how the post-war decommission of the ‘greenbacks’ and return to the gold standard beggared many of these farmers, who were then forced to turn, hat-in-hand, to furnishing-merchants – essentially petty usurers and loan sharks – for seed, equipment and daily necessities, and who were forced to use their own future crops as collateral. Many of these farmers just picked up and moved west.

The People’s Party was built out of the Farmers’ Alliance – an organisation that was devoted to both educating farmers about economic and monetary issues, and building collective and cooperative ventures (producers’ unions, consumers’ unions, organised boycotts). The Party was a response, in part, to the failure of these collective ventures to bargain effectively with furnishing merchants, being thwarted by the big Eastern financiers who were bent on bringing the farmers in line with their modernis They were not averse to having a strong federal government discipline capital and bring infrastructure (like rail and telegraphs) under firm public control, but their primary concern was farmers’ self-help. They wanted to give farmers the collective and individual tools they needed to escape from the debt trap they were being kept in by the collaboration of both Northern and Southern economic élites. And to do so, they were willing to ally with the urban underclass (in particular the Catholic-inflected Knights of Labor) and with rural blacks, who were doubly oppressed by debt and by Jim Crow.

The growing power of the People’s Party in the American hinterland (and especially the American South) alarmed both the economic élites and the party duopoly. In the South, the Confederate-sympathetic Democratic Party – the party of the furnishing-merchants – took two different tactics. The first was intimidation, violence, property destruction and extrajudicial killing – the self-same ‘tool-kit’ the Democrats and the KKK used against the black Republican vote in the Deep South. The second was co-optation: and here is where the parallels with Trump begin to make themselves apparent.

The politician fielded by the Democrats specifically for the purpose of take the wind out of the Populist sails was ‘Pitchfork’ Ben Tillman, who managed to get himself elected governor of South Carolina in 1890 on a platform which spewed venom against (certain, individual) members of the élite class, but also against blacks. By using this form of demagoguery and directing it toward the members of the Farmers’ Alliance, directing political energy away from the Populist platform (in particular monetary reform and the Subtreasury Plan) and into hatred against specific members of the élite class, he managed to outperform the other high-profile members of his own notoriously racist party, and in addition pursued tactics of voter intimidation and persecution (speaking in defence of lynch mobs, for example) which guaranteed a Democratic victory and a diminished Populist presence in his state for the following decade. Another politician, East Texas’s James Hogg, used a similar tactic of Jim Crow demagoguery to sway potential Populist voters into the Democratic camp. In both instances (and in the election of 1896 as a whole on a larger scale), Populist goals were thwarted and third-party politics were actively crushed by major-party politicos who used populist-sounding language in an attempt to head off genuine organising.

The parallels between Tillman and Hogg on the one hand, and Trump on the other, should not be taken too far. For one thing, even though Hogg put on the same larger-than-life Barnum and Bailey act that Trump does, both Tillman and Hogg were essentially pro-establishment politicians who used fire-eater language to outflank and destroy a genuine third-party insurrection. Trump is a showman through-and-through. Also, Trump’s ‘racism’ (insofar as it exists) is not to be compared with that of Tillman or Hogg; Tillman and Hogg were true blue white-supremacist Dixiecrats, whereas Trump, I suspect, doesn’t have any such beliefs except insofar as they can benefit him politically.

But the danger of Trumpism is that it distracts and detracts, just as the Tillman and Hogg candidacies did back in the day, from genuine populist political goals and methods. The Populists of old wanted not just ‘clean government’, but also public ownership of infrastructure, a transparent and democratic fiat money system, a progressive income tax, a fully-funded pension system for veterans, the establishment of postal savings banks, and an end to large corporate ownership of land in favour of domestic smallholders and nuclear families: these goals were outlined explicitly in the 1896 Omaha platform. And to achieve these goals, they were willing to build a workingmen’s coalition of American small farmers with the urban, domestic working classes.

Trumpism, on the other hand, is a vague, mercurial and chimærical mix of amorphous nativist sentiments and personality-cult politics, and should not be confused with populism. Most distressingly as far as conscientious greenbackers and modern money advocates are concerned, Trump flirts with goldbuggery and has taken on at least one goldbug, (NED director) Judy Shelton, as an economic advisor – which fairly reliably rules him out as a voice of common sense (let alone advocacy for the vulnerable rural working class) on monetary issues. Even on finical issues, his instincts are very demonstrably not populist! Trump has taken stances on privatising pensions and on making income taxes more regressive, with the vast majority of the benefits of his tax plan accruing to the one-percenters. On the subject of infrastructure, the question Trump is tackling is one of spending rather than one of long-term management; and he’s not even talking about bringing telecom and rail back under direct federal control. On issues facing rural Americans in particular, Donald Trump is not a friend to the small family farmer. On the postal service and public credit, the one man who took a leaf straight from the 1896 Populist playbook was one Senator Bernard Sanders. And on more general cultural tactics, Trump is far from bridging the gulf between the urban and rural working classes, but is instead leveraging that gulf for electoral gain. Nothing could be further from the Populist spirit of 1896.

None of this is to say, of course, that Trump’s major-party opponent is much better from a populist standpoint. If the closest analogues to Trump (however imperfect) are to be found among the fire-eating Southern Dixiecrats, then Clinton represents, almost to a ‘T’, the meddling managerial and financier-friendly politics of Woodrow Wilson (the man responsible for the Fed and the First World War – or at least America’s part in it). And Clinton’s cultural politics are every bit as divisive and adversarial as Trump’s. Make no mistake: yours truly still plans to vote third-party.

And, as I said earlier, Trump’s overhauled the ‘free trade’ groupthink, and he’s stuck a thorn in NATO’s paw. That tickles me a bit. But, speaking as a Midwesterner and a populist, the pretense that Trump is ‘one of us’ is as unconvincing and as sickening now as Jim Hogg’s pretensions to the same, a century and a quarter previous. Honest-to-God prairie politics are not being represented in either major party in this election, and Trumpism is nowhere near close to the real McCoy.


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  2. Your mates over at Social Democracy take a slightly kinder line on Trump's economic platform. That's because they realize Trump represents a Nationalist Capitalism, which is inferior to National Third Way-ism, but superior to neoliberalism. Trump is going to try and bring industry back home, while engaging in Keynesian stimulus spending through tax cuts and public works. Insofar as Trump is a post-modernist, what else could we expect in an atomized, morally degenerate society? You have to meet the zeitgeist where its at before you start to change it. The left wasn't advocating fag marriage in the fifties for example.

    But at the end of the day, a nation can survive oligarchy. It cannot survive the annihilation of its demographic and cultural roots. Russia experienced robber baron capitalism during the nineties and the attendant privations. However, they remained Russians and the modern Russian state is still Russian. Clinton wants to legalize millions of illegals who are not Europeans. She will not restrict further immigration to reflect the interests of the Historic American Nation - the Angloceltic-Dutch of the New World.

    If one's sole criteria for the socio-political good is economic, then you are ignoring matters of superior import. Demographics are ALL that matter the current juncture. Otherwise the Historic American Nation will simply be implementing a sweet deal for the hordes of the global South. I'm going to fuse Paul's letter to Timothy and Charles De Gaulle here: 'he who does not love his own mother more than others is worse than an infidel.' I cannot imagine saying 'We're going to build an economic system that provides for the common good, BUT WAIT THERE'S MOAR! The people who enjoy the fruits of this political project will be 'the other'!

    If Bernie Sanders had had the stones to Build the Wall and Deport Them All, ending non-white immigration, and backing off the New Left's panoply of Poz (ie non historically normative 'identities' and bs deconstruction), I'd be encouraging my American friends to back his 'lefty' economic policy platform to the hilt. National Socialism (in the generic sense) works great in homogeneous, cohesive, high trust countries. Take a warning from a New Zealander. As soon as our traditional culture started collapsing in the sixties, and 'diversity' began to emerge in the demographics, we lost the will to resist the global usury scam and maintain our pro-traditional family, Labour-centric welfare state.

  3. Lemur, you've brought your message to the wrong crowd.

    I'm not a neopagan; I'm a Christian. Furthermore, ethnically I am only partially one of your Anglo-Celtic-Dutch Historic Americans. My father is Jewish and Slavic as well as Celtic, and (if it wasn't obvious from all the icons on my page) I hew far more closely to the tragic cultural worldview of the midland American Slavs and Jews, than to the crazy triumphalist millennialist Yankee Protestantism of my maternal kin. Furthermore, my wife is a first-generation Chinese immigrant and my children are Mandarin-speaking hapa haoles. Anyone who is their enemy (whether a geopolitical enemy like Clinton, or an economic-cultural enemy like Trump), is my enemy also.

    And no, my sole criterion for the socio-political good is not economic. But Trump is so clearly a cultural poison (i.e. both a living and an ideological repudiation of the stable, rooted nuclear family as an ideal) to the very demographic that he seeks to represent, that the economic critiques of his candidacy I've just listed here are not quite just icing on the cake, but almost. A sterile, divorced, auto-erotic, economically-bifurcated gerontocracy barricaded behind a wall, no matter how it's funded, cannot survive past the first generation.

    (For what it's worth, though, I agree with you about the New Left and the tucute-Tumblrinas, and why they have to go.)