The recent missile alert scare in Hawaii has far larger significance than its immediate cause, a glitch in the warning system plus the absence of a quick way of correcting and reversing the alert. For at no time since the Cold War have U.S. citizens felt so vulnerable to nuclear attack. This is not only because, as we are told daily, North Korea may already have nuclear tipped missiles within range of the Hawaii (and soon the US mainland) and because its leader, Kim Jong-Un, is volatile and aggressive. Also, and more importantly, mass panic broke out today because the possibility of nuclear war from the US side seems more real than at any time since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.
In fact, the US has for the first time in its history a president, Donald Trump, who gives every impression of itching to start a nuclear war, who openly states that he may destroy an entire country of 25 million. Therefore, the biggest danger today was that Trump might also have been fooled by the Hawaii alert and launched the kind of “fire and fury” on North Korea he has been threatening for months, and which as president he has the power to do, on a moment’s notice. That is the hair-trigger world in which the so-called civilized United States finds itself, especially the White House. Let us not hesitate to call that place under Trump what it is, a shithole reeking of militarism, sexism, racism, and nativism.
Nor is North Korea Trump’s only target in terms of nuclear threats. He has issued equally bellicose verbal attacks against the Islamic Republic of Iran, most dramatically last year from Saudi Arabia, just across the water. Trump’s hypocritical and disgusting expressions of support for the January uprising of Iran’s poor, is of course belied by his Muslim ban, with Iranians as particularly targets. Such support also gave a lifeline to the reactionary clerical regime, allowing it more latitude to claim that the protests were the product of US manipulation. Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, another nail in the coffin of a Palestinian state, will also have long-term deleterious effects on the region and beyond. In addition, US political and military support for the genocidal Saudi air war against Yemen, where a record number are infected with cholera as a result of the destruction of the healthcare and sanitation systems in that already impoverished country, is one of the most callous and destructive actions of our time, and that is saying a lot.
But it would be wrong to place these problems at the door of Trump alone, in kind of a reverse Great Man theory of history and society. For Trump has grown strong in soil tilled by both Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives. After all, Obama deported more immigrants than did Bush, while the Clintons helped to pioneer the type of money politics that has increasing shown democratic elections to be a sham and a snare. All US administrations have whitewashed Israel’s occupation and encroachments upon Palestinian land. Automated production, the greatest cause of unemployment in US manufacturing, far greater than the effects of globalization, has continued unabated under liberals and conservatives ever since the 1950s.
This kind of society, where economic polarization has reached heights not seen in a century, where young people face crushing debt and low-wage jobs, and where the rate of profit has been declining, portending more great recessions down the road, is the soil on which Trump grew strong.
When a Walmart gets good press for its “generosity” in taking part of Trump’s obscene tax cut for corporations and the wealthy to raise its workers wages to a whopping $11 per hour, it is one more sign that the era of Fordism, with relatively high wages in manufacturing, although in return for utterly alienating and body-destroying assembly line work, is definitely over. This kind of society, where economic polarization has reached heights not seen in a century, where young people face crushing debt and low-wage jobs, and where the rate of profit has been declining, portending more great recessions down the road, is the soil on which Trump grew strong, with his demagogic promises to bring back high-wage manufacturing jobs while expelling immigrants.
While Trump can certainly be compared to other strongmen like China’s Xi Jinping, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, or Russia’s Vladimir Putin, these leaders, for all their crimes against their own people, talk the talk of progress and development for their countries, while Trump encourages the people of the US to wallow in nostalgia, to dream of making America “great” again by taking it back to the 1950s, or even the 1920s, when whites of northern European origin ruled the roost. Passed in the 1920s, the kind of restrictions on immigration Trump yearns for, with Norwegians at other Northern Europeans getting preference among a very small number allowed in yearly, were the very laws that kept Jews fleeing Nazism from receiving refuge in the U.S. in very large numbers.
Of course, the continuous and principal chord in all of Trump’s demagogy is a coded and not-so-coded anti-Black racism, as seen in Trump’s own career from the 1970s onward, most dramatically in his call for the execution of the 5 African-American youths in the 1989 Central Park jogger case, and his subsequent refusal to acknowledge their innocence even after they were exonerated and freed. In this sense, his “shithole” remarks about Haiti and Africa last week, or his sympathy last summer for the “good people” among the Charlottesville neo-Nazis, are of a piece. For are not Iran and N. Korea also populated by people of color outside Europe, the very kind of people Trump and his ilk regard as less than human? And what will Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America also be facing from this hate-filled administration?
Yet here too, Trump feeds on a half century of the Southern strategy by US politicians, pioneered by Nixon in 1968, but echoed not only by Reagan and Bush, but also by Carter and Clinton among the Democrats. What distinguishes Trump is an open rather than a veiled racism.
This kind of open racism and rightwing populist demagogy is hardly a sign of strength in terms of the future of US capitalism. It is one particularly reactionary expression of the fact that, objectively speaking, the US economy has been in a slow decline at least since the 1970s. If present trends continue, the US will be displaced by China as the leading capitalist power.
This is not something that should make us on the left rejoice, however, and I don’t say that because we are living in the US, but in terms of the world’s people as a whole. For the US’s rivals show no sign of more human policies, either at home or abroad. China crushes internal dissent and labor and minority rights, while bullying its neighbors. China also protects and sustains economically the genocidal Myanmar regime, which has expelled most an entire people, the Rohingya Muslim minority. The North Korean regime is a form of ultra-totalitarianism that would make Stalin blush, plus it threatens both South Korea and Japan with nuclear destruction. Iran backs financially and militarily the Assad regime, responsible for killings of civilians on a par with the US invasion and occupation of Iraq. Russia also supports Assad with murderous airstrikes against civilians, while attempting to strangle Ukraine as an independent state and threatening the independence of the Eastern European countries.
But none of these regimes are on a par with Trump’s USA in terms of their danger to humanity. First, Trump possesses the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, one that could level the entire planet. Second, the US economy and US technology, while losing ground, still remain number one, whether in control of other societies through domination of the world’s economic institutions and of their capacity to enact economic sanctions, or in electronic spying. Third, Trump’s politics and policies are even more reactionary than those of his rivals, and that is saying a lot.
For all these reasons, we in the Coalition for Peace, Revolution, and Social Justice will be targeting the reactionary character of the US and Trump, while not forgetting that Trump is not the world’s only source of military aggression or internal oppression.
Kevin B. Anderson
Coalition for Peace, Revolution, and Social Justice