Wilhelm Reich, in both The Mass Psychology of Fascism and The Function of the Orgasm argued that socialists do not understand mass psychology. He said that the biggest problem in Germany was not Hitler or even the economic system of capitalism. Rather he asked what is it about the masses of people who supported Hitler? His answer was that Hitler wouldn’t have existed if there wasn’t a little bit of Hitler in a whole lot of people. The problem is why masses of people are so passive. He gave answers to these questions, but his answers aren’t as important to me as the question he posed. Even in his later books (Listen Little Man and The Murder of Christ), when Reich was clearly paranoid, he remained lucid when it came to insisting that masses of people are ultimately responsible for whatever political body has power.
In my experience teaching courses in group dynamics, I ask my students to discuss problems they are having in the groups they are members of outside of school. My greatest problem is to get them to go beyond
- blaming the leader of the group or
- identifying some jerk in the group who is obnoxious, crabby, recalcitrant, needy and then blaming them.
The assumptions of both blaming leaders and individual group members is that:
- if only we got a good group leader, everything would be fine;
- if only we could get rid of a couple of pain-in-the neck group members, the group would be fine; or
- the rest of the group members are neutral witnesses with little responsibility.
What this doesn’t take into account is that when the majority group members are passive, they are producing both bad group leaders and obnoxious individual members. Again, the most interesting question to me is the complicity of most group members.
Don’t follow the bouncing ball
Another way to describe this ignored perspective is to use an analogy from football. The easiest and most self-evident way to watch a football game is to follow the ball. The quarterback gives the ball to the running back, we follow the running back. The quarterback passes to the wide receiver, we follow the wide receiver. But what neither the cameraman nor the fans do is follow
- what is going in the offensive defensive lines away from the ball and
- what is going on between the defensive secondary and the offensive ends when they are not part of the immediate action.
What is going on away from the ball might hold the key to understanding which team may ultimately prevail.
But what does this mass and group complicity and watching football have to do with the subject of the relationship between the ruling class and the Idiot King?
The political economy of ruling class complicity
Blaming the Idiot King for the state of the political economy in Yankeedom is like blaming Hitler alone for fascism or blaming only the leader for problems in group dynamics.
My questions do not have to do with mass psychology, group dynamics or watching football. My question is why the ruling class in the United States is putting up with the Idiot King. To use the analogies in the previous sections, blaming the Idiot King for the state of the political economy in Yankeedom is like blaming Hitler alone for fascism or blaming only the leader for problems in group dynamics. In the football analogy, it is like following Trump’s tweets or actions (the ball in football) and thinking that counts as following politics. What is missing is why the ruling class, that has had power long before the Idiot King and will have power after he is gone, has put up with him for 2 ½ years.
In this article I ask some very simple questions. They are questions that have bothered me for over two years now. I have not found any articles that answer my questions, so I will pose them to you in the hopes you may have some answers. I am not an expert in ruling class machinations, though I have studied the work of William Domhoff, Robert Michaels and Gaetano Mosca. Hopefully a few good answers will lead us to deeper, more penetrating questions.
About three-quarters of the way through the great 1976 film “Network” by Paddy Chayefsky, there is a showdown between Mr. Jensen, representing the forces of global capitalism, and Howard Beale who in some ways resembles Trump in his instability and economic nationalism. Here is the exchange:
Jensen: You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Beale, and I won’t have it!! Is that clear? You think you’ve merely stopped a business deal. That is not the case. The Arabs have taken billions of dollars out of this country, and now they must put it back! It is ebb and flow, tidal gravity! It is ecological balance!
You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples. There are no nations. There are no peoples. There are no Russians. There are no Arabs. There are no third worlds. There is no west. There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and immanent, interwoven, interacting, multivariate, multinational dominion of dollars. Petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars, reichsmarks, rins, rubles, pounds, and shekels.
It is the international system of currency which determines the totality of life on this planet. That is the natural order of things today. That is the atomic and subatomic and galactic structure of things today! And YOU have meddled with the primal forces of nature, and YOU WILL ATONE!
Am I getting through to you, Mr. Beale?
You get up on your little twenty-one inch screen and howl about America and democracy. There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM and ITT and AT&T and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide, and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today.
What do you think the Russians talk about in their councils of state – Karl Marx? They get out their linear programming charts, statistical decision theories, minimax solutions, and compute the price-cost probabilities of their transactions and investments, just like we do.
We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies, Mr. Beale. The world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable bylaws of business. The world is a business,
Assuming that Mr. Jensen is the ruling class of today, how well have his predictions turned out? For well over two years, Howard Beale (Donald Trump) has gotten the better of the Mr. Jensen and the ruling class. The purpose of this article is to explore why.
The ruling class has no clothes
For the last two and a half years much has been written about the psychology of the Idiot King, his immorality, his crassness, his lack of impulse control, his political reversals and his inability to follow normal political procedures. Others have written about the failings of the capitalist economy and the rise of strikes. To write about those things make sense. But my purpose is to draw your attention to the absence of articles on how the ruling class has allowed the Idiot King to go on and on.
Why are the Christian Fundamentalists putting up with him?
Mike Pence, Christian fundamentalist must at least be partly sickened by Trump. Faithless in religion, patron of prostitutes, a squanderer of money, how can Pence stand next to this guy? He takes it – and he smiles. The Christian fundamentalists who are the base of Pence’s following must do cognitive compartmentalization handstands trying to square the Idiot King with their Christian beliefs. But they are managing. Why don’t they rebel?
Is Trump doing the will of the ruling class?
For some, the answer to my question is that the idiot king is simply doing the will of the ruling class. After all, some may say fascism is the last stage of capitalism. The ruling class is frightened that more people are calling the economic system “capitalism,” and a new generation is interested in socialism. They need fascism to rule by a visible fist rather than an invisible hand. I don’t buy this and I’ll explain why.
When I bring up the ruling class, I am talking about the Council of Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission and the whole Rockefeller apparatus. I am thinking about Kissinger, Brzezinski, the CIA, NSA and the military elites. I am talking about the liberal think tanks, the foundations and the media. I’m thinking of the New York Times, the Guardian , CNN, MSNBC. All these groups have a stake in the long-term success of capitalism and Yankee world domination. They all like to have a long-term plan and they don’t like surprises. Trump is full of surprises. Why are they putting up with him?
Maybe the Neocons have gained power at the expense of the Neoliberals?
It is a mistake to think that Trump was simply a creature of the neocons. Before the elections, the neocons, no more than anyone else, knew what Trump was going to do. It was only after the elections that they seized the opportunity. One possible exception to this is Steve Bannon who, even before the elections, saw the political possibilities. The presence of Tillerson, Bolton and Abrams affecting policy must have involved the hand of Bannon. The neocons can give the Rockefeller ruling class a run for its money. After all Cheney ruled for eight years. But so what?
A corresponding concern for the ruling class has to be Trump’s rabid followers. I suspect that many workers who voted for Trump might not vote for him again because he has not instituted policies that have improved their lives. We must remember the research done by labor historian Kim Moody, that many working-class people who voted for Trump in 2016 voted for Obama in 2008. They switched sides after they found out Obama didn’t give a hoot about the working class. They could shift again or simply not bother to vote at all. However, there are rabid racists among Trump supporters who will not go quietly if the Idiot King is not crowned. The ruling class does not want a civil war on their hands.
Ruling class incompetence before the elections
What is far more important than Trump winning the election is that Hillary Clinton lost. The queen of the Council of Foreign Relations, hand-picked, “It’s my-turn” Clinton, lost to a reality TV host and bad businessman. All the money of the ruling class was put on Clinton and she lost anyway. How can that be? What is the ruling class doing wrong?
Ruling class incompetence after the elections
As we know, the Idiot King is full of surprises. If you were a member of the ruling class would you be pleased with his performance? In the space of less than two years Trump has alienated Europe as Italy, Germany and even England are turning towards Russia and China for resources. He has wrecked relations with China. The Yankee ruling classes have Israel, Saudi Arabia, Australia, England and perhaps India on their side, along with assorted dictators they’ve installed on the periphery of the world-system. However, the number of countries they can count on is dwindling. Is this what Rockefeller and Kissinger wanted? Why hasn’t the Idiot King been stopped? The CIA has tried assassinations all over the world. The CIA works for the Rockefellers. Draw your own conclusions.
Look at the neoliberal press. They work for the ruling class. Yet day after day they respectfully report on his escapades, treat him with respect in public even though they loathe and despise him.
Look at the neoliberal press. They work for the ruling class. Yet day after day they respectfully report on his escapades, treat him with respect in public even though they loathe and despise him. Journalists are upper middle class people, many of whom have PhDs. Going toe-to-toe with the Idiot King, they could easily humiliate him in public. They are far more knowledgeable than Trump, yet they put up with him. There is no reason why journalists could not unite as a group, walk out of his press conferences and shout him down together publicly. But they don’t. The editors of most neoliberal newspapers probably hate Trump. But day after day, week after week Trump’s stupid opinions are trotted out and his moronic mug appears constantly in the news. These papers are the organs of the ruling class. Why don’t they refuse to print what he says?
The instability of capitalism
There is one other factor I want to consider and that is the instability of capitalism. The ruling class has never understood the system from which their wealth derives. Capitalism has been in a decedent phase since the 1880s or so. If we follow the work of Michael Roberts in his book, The Long Depression, capitalism is haunted by the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. In the last 150 years it has used investment in the military and finance to forestall this decline.
But now, all around the world the limits of the system are showing. Ecological forecasters say at this rate the earth will be unlivable in 30 years. Countries on the periphery of the world-system, taken as a whole, have been in hell for at least 50 years. Even Europe, the home of capitalism, is in big trouble. Southern Europe is swamped with debt. The EU is on its last legs and the centrist parties have taken a beating. Macron had been stung by Yellow Jackets for six months. Even Germany, the mighty jewel of Europe, has ceased to develop its manufacturing sector. World-systems theorists have said that relative to world-capitalism, the US has been in decline for 50 years. Strikes around the world have been increasing. Even the World Economic Forum has been worried about the potential for world rebellion.
The capitalists who run the world are cannibalizing their own infrastructures and their own working class and all they can do is invest in wars and finance capital. They have no answers. It used to be that a capitalist would say to a socialist, triumphantly, “name one country where socialism works?”. We can now say without any hyperbole or dogma “name one capitalist country that works”. You know – the way Adam Smith described it and the way economics professors in the United States teach it.
Is the ruling class finally drawing a line in the sand?
Up until now, the ruling class has benefited from Trump’s “policies” of tax cuts and deregulation. But these are both domestic policies. His relationship with the ruling class around international issues is another story. In his trade war with China and now Mexico, Trump has been disrupting supply chains all over the world. The companies affected include General Motors, Delphi, Constellation Brands, Cummins, Black & Decker and Fiat-Chrysler (partly American). Not exactly small potatoes. Some companies are switching suppliers to countries not affected by Trump’s tariffs like Vietnam, Taiwan and Korea, according to Capital Economics. The patience of the heads of these corporations with Trump must be wearing thin. There are the costs of pulling out and setting up shop in a new place with no guarantee of a better deal than China, and for what?
The Idiot King is allowing his hatred of CNN, the New York Times and the Washington Post to get in the way of international capital. He is on a collision course with the ruling class. He has encouraged a boycott of AT&T which owns CNN. He is considering antitrust proceedings against Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon - owner of the Washington Post.
Has the ruling class lost its capacity to rule?
Even if the ruling class finds a way to stop Trump, this doesn’t account for why it has taken them so long. The self-assured silkiness of Mr. Jensen of Network is gone. The calm inevitability of capitalism is gone. The ruling class the world over is fumbling. Their efforts seem to be focused on how to climb higher and higher up the mountain to avoid the rising flames below. The ruling class is lost.
For those of us who are revolutionaries, the most important question is to understand why the ruling class is so weak and how we can exploit those weaknesses. We cannot expect to overthrow capitalism if we don’t understand where the ruling classes are weakest and act accordingly. I welcome your thoughts.
Planning Beyond Capitalism