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In a May 6th article in Roar magazine, entitled “What Are the Real Reasons Behind the New Cold War,” William I. Robinson, professor of sociology, global studies, and Latin American studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara, cites the Biden administration’s recent expulsion of 10 Kremlin diplomats and new sanctions for alleged Russian interference in the 2020 US elections, “just days after the Pentagon conducted military drills in the South China Sea” as “just the latest escalation of aggressive posturing in Washington’s new Cold War against Russia and China.” Robinson believes that behind the usual conflict “over hegemony and international economic control,” actions like these are driven by “the crisis of global capitalism.” Economically, this a result of chronic economic stagnation; politically, it’s a result of states and capitalism in general increasingly being seen as illegitimate by people suffering under the current system. “All around the world a ‘people’s spring’ has taken off. From Chile to Lebanon, Iraq to India, France to the United States, Haiti to Nigeria, and South Africa to Colombia, waves of strikes and mass protests have proliferated and, in many instances, appear to be acquiring a radical anti-capitalist character.
Economically, global capitalism faces a crisis of “overaccumulation”: a situation in which the economy has produced – or has the capacity to produce” products that few can afford to buy “because of escalating inequality. Capitalism by its very nature will produce abundant wealth yet polarize that wealth and generate ever greater levels of social inequality unless offset by redistributive policies. The level of global social polarization and inequality now experienced is without precedent. In 2018, the richest 1% of humanity controlled more than half of the world’s wealth while the bottom 80% had to make do with just 5% of it. These inequalities undermine the stability of the system, resulting, if left unchecked, in recessions, depressions, social upheavals, and war – exactly what we’re now experiencing.
Contrary to mainstream accounts, the coronavirus pandemic didn’t cause the crisis of global capitalism; it was already upon us. On the eve of the pandemic, growth in the EU countries had already shrunk to zero, much of Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa was in recession, growth rates in Asia were steadily declining, and North America faced a slowdown. The pandemic merely hastened the crisis of a global economy that never fully recovered from the 2008 financial collapse. Even if there’s a momentary recovery as the world emerges from the pandemic, global capitalism will remain mired in this structural crisis of overaccumulation.
As I showed in my 2020 book, The Global Police State, the global economy has become ever more dependent on the development and deployment of systems of warfare, social control and repression as a means of making profit and continuing to accumulate capital in the face of chronic stagnation and saturation of global markets. This is known as “militarized accumulation” and refers to a situation in which a global war economy relies on perpetual state organized war making, social control and repression to sustain the process of capital accumulation.
The events of September 11, 2001 marked the start of a permanent global war in which logistics, warfare, intelligence, repression, surveillance, and even military personnel are more and more the privatized domain of transnational capital. The Pentagon budget increased 91% between 1998 and 2011, while worldwide, total state military budgets outlays grew by 50% from 2006 to 2015, from $1.4 trillion to more than $2 trillion, not including the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on intelligence; contingency operations; policing; bogus wars against immigrants, terrorism, and drugs; and ‘homeland security.’ During this time, military-industrial complex profits quadrupled.
The various wars, conflicts and campaigns of social control and repression around the world involve the fusion of private accumulation with state militarization. In this relationship, the state facilitates the expansion of opportunities for private capital to accumulate through militarization, such as by facilitating global weapons sales by military-industrial-security firms, the amounts of which have reached unprecedented levels. Global weapons sales by the top 100 weapons manufacturers and military service companies increased by 38% between 2002 and 2016.
By 2018, private for-profit military companies employed some 15 million people around the world, while another 20 million people worked in private security worldwide. The private security (policing) business is one of the fastest growing economic sectors in many countries and has come to dwarf public security around the world. The amount spent on private security in 2003, the year of the invasion of Iraq, was 73% higher than that spent in the public sphere, and three times as many persons were employed in private forces as in official law enforcement agencies. In half of the world’s countries, private security agents outnumber police officers. These corporate soldiers and police were deployed to guard corporate property; provide personal security for executives and their families; collect data; conduct police, paramilitary, counterinsurgency and surveillance operations; carry out mass crowd control and repression of protesters; run private detention and interrogation facilities; manage prisons; and participate in outright warfare.
In 2018, President Trump announced with much fanfare the creation of a sixth military service, the “space force.” The corporate media duly toed the official line that this force was needed to face expanding threats to the United States. Less reported was the fact that a small group of former government officials with deep ties to the aerospace industry had pushed behind the scenes for its creation as a way to hype military spending on satellites and other space systems.
In February of this year, the Federation of American Scientists reported that military-industrial complex lobbying is responsible for the decision by the US government to invest at least $100 billion to beef up its nuclear stockpile. The Biden administration announced in early April to much acclaim that it would pull all US troops out of Afghanistan. While US service troops in that country number 2,500, these pale in comparison with the more than 18,000 contractors that US government has hired to do its bidding in the country, including at least 5,000 corporate soldiers that will remain.
The so-called wars on drugs and terrorism; the undeclared wars on immigrants, refugees, gangs, and poor, dark-skinned and working-class youth generally; the construction of border walls, immigrant detention centers, prison-industrial complexes, systems of mass surveillance; and the spread of private security guard and mercenary companies, have all become major sources of profit-making and they’ll become more important to the system as economic stagnation becomes the new normal.
But if corporate profit, and not an external threat, is the reason for expanding the US state and corporate war machine and the global police state, this must still be justified to the public. The official state propaganda narrative about the new Cold War serves this purpose.
Global capitalism operates within a nation-state-based system of political authority, and in order to attract transnational corporate and financial investments states must keep wages low, regulations few, give corporations subsidies, etc. The result is rising inequality, impoverishment, and insecurity for the working class – precisely the conditions that throw states into crises of legitimacy and jeopardize elite control. International frictions escalate as states, in their efforts to retain legitimacy, seek to sublimate social and political tensions. In the US, this has involved channeling social unrest towards scapegoated communities such as immigrants (one key function of racism ), or towards an external enemy such as China or Russia, which is clearly becoming a cornerstone of the Biden government’s strategy. The drive by the capitalist state to externalize the political fallout of the crisis increases the danger that international tensions will lead to war. Historically wars have pulled the capitalist system out of crisis while serving to deflect attention from political tensions and problems of legitimacy.
Capitalist crises are times of intense social and class struggles. There has been a rapid political polarization in global society since 2008 between an insurgent left and a newly insurgent far-right that includes neofascist movements and authoritarian and dictatorial regimes. The contradictions of the system have reached the breaking point, placing the world into a perilous situation bordering on global civil war.
William I. Robinson is Distinguished Professor of Sociology, Global Studies and Latin American Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara. His book, Global Civil War: Repression and Rebellion in the Post-Pandemic World, will be released by PM Press early next year.
In his book Fulfillment: Winning and Losing in One-Click America (2021), Alec MacGillis uses the example of Amazon to illustrate the growing divide between rich and poor areas of the country, in addition to the widening income gap between individuals and races. “The country had always had richer and poorer places,” MacGillis says, but the gaps have been growing wider. “In 1980 almost every area of the country had mean incomes within 20% of the national average. Only metro New York and Washington, D.C., were above that band, and only parts of the rural south and southwest were below it. But by 2013 the northeast corridor from Boston to Washington and the northern California coast had incomes more than 20% above average, and a huge swath of the country’s interior had incomes more than 20% below average.To the extent that the problem was noticed, it was often described as an urban-rural divide, and rural America was in crisis,” but more than that was going on.
“The divide was also between cities – between a handful of winner-take-all metropolises and a much larger number of left-behind rivals. In the first six years after the Great Recession of 2008, job growth was almost twice as fast in large metro areas as in small ones, and income grew 50% faster. In the 1960s, the 25 cities with the highest median income included Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Des Moines; now the richest cities were on the coasts. By 2019, more than 70% of all venture capital was flowing to just three states: California, New York, and Massachusetts. As this regional inequality grew, so did its consequences. There was, above all, the political cost: a rising resentment in the left-behind places that made voters susceptible to racist and nativist appeals. Regional inequality was making parts of the country incomprehensible to one another.
At the same time, whole sectors of the economy were being taken over by certain companies. This trend had been underway for decades as the federal government relaxed its opposition to corporate consolidation, and it caused regional imbalance in all sorts of ways. Airline mergers led to less service in smaller cities, which made it harder for them to attract businesses. Consolidation in agriculture meant that less of the money spent on food ended up with those who’d produced it. Mergers in sectors like banking and insurance meant that many small and midsize cities lost corporate headquarters and the economic and civic benefits that came with them. Put simply, business activity that used to be dispersed across hundreds of companies large and small, whether in media, retail, or finance, was increasingly dominated by a handful of giant firms. As a result, profits and growth opportunities once spread across the country were increasingly flowing to the places where the dominant companies were based.
Having played an outsized role in this zero-sum sorting, Amazon provides an ideal frame for understanding all of this, including the extreme inequality between its founder’s outlandish personal fortune and the modest wages of the majority of its employees; the nature of the work most of them are engaged in: rudimentary and isolating, out on the edge of town, often with unreliable hours and schedules; the immense influence the company’s amassed over both the state and federal government; and the unraveling of the civic fabric the company contributes to, through its undermining of face-to-face commercial activity and the tax base of countless communities.”
MacGillis describes how Seattle, Washington became a “hyper-prosperous city” by attracting tech entreprenurs and workers “in the decade since the Great Recession, adding 220,000 jobs, and engineering or research and development branches for more than twenty Fortune 500 companies, including Facebook, Google, and Apple. By 2018, per capita income in metropolitan Seattle had grown to nearly $75,000, but this rising wealth wasn’t spread evenly. By 2016, a city once known for its lack of extreme poverty and wealth, had matched San Francisco for high levels of income inequality. By 2018, the median cost of buying a home ($754,000) was higher in Seattle than anywhere in the country except the Bay Area. Rent, which had been on par with the national average before 2010, had also increased by 57% in only five years to an amount three times higher than in the rest of the country. This hyper-prosperity had many corporate fathers, among them Starbucks, Nordstrom, and Microsoft, but one loomed far above them. There were now 53,000 people working at Amazon in Seattle and its suburbs, earning an average of $150,000 a year.
Amazon began with no more than ten warehouses scattered around the country. By 2017, it was up to more than a hundred. It needed more dispersed capacity because it was now handling 40% of all e-commerce sales in the country, double its next nine rivals combined. In 2016, the company trained its sights on the Dayton, Ohio area, picking a site for a new giant warehouse south of the city on I-75, one of the country’s biggest freight highways. As was typical for it, it sought incentives from both the state and the local community (Monroe). It insisted on total secrecy, to keep the negotiations from attracting public attention until the deal – a ten-year state tax credit worth $3.8 million and an exemption from local property taxes for fifteen years – was done. Monroe wasn’t alone in its magnanimity – in 2017 alone, Amazon collected well over $100 million in subsidies to open fulfillment centers around the country.”
MacGillis says that “nationwide, the poorest 10% were earning only 4% more an hour, adjusted for inflation, than they’d earned 40 years earlier. A third of all U.S. jobs paid less than $15 per hour, and the bottom half in income had less wealth, adjusting for inflation, than it had 30 years earlier.”
Turning to Washington, D.C., MacGillis describes how, after 9-11, “a metropolitan area already made prosperous by the governmental lobbying industry was lifted to a whole new level of wealth by the national security industry.” Between 2008 and 2012, while the country was struggling to recover from the Great Recession, “the area’s high-net-worth households increased by 30%, and real estate prices in metro Washington increased more than prices in any other city. As wealth flowed into Washington, so did the media. Newspapers were in rapid decline in cities large and small across the country, their business model devastated by the triple whammy of Craigslist offering classified ads for free, Amazon eviscerating the department stores that bought many newspaper print ads, and Google and Facebook siphoning off the digital ad revenue that replaced print ads. From 2005 to 2015, 12,000 reporting jobs (one out of every four) vanished across the country. City councils, school boards, and major trials went barely covered, and candidates for state and local office un-vetted. But in Washington over that same period, the number of reporters doubled. It was easier to make digital journalism work at national rather than regional scale. When the economy collapsed in 2008, this meant that the national media was concentrated in a place where things were going much better than average, and so could be mistaken about the country’s real condition.”
MacGillis notes that a revolving door between political and economic power had turned in Washington from the start, but it had usually just spun treasury secretaries back and forth from Wall Street. Goldman Sachs CEO Henry Paulson was George W. Bush’s treasury secretary, and another Goldman Sachs exec, Robert Rubin, was Bill Clinton’s. Rubin and his successor, Lawrence Summers, thwarted an attempt to regulate financial derivatives and pushed to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act, which separated commercial and investment banking, moves later implicated in the financial collapse. The movement continued under Barack Obama, who failed to hold accountable the bankers most responsible for the collapse.
As tech companies expanded their influence operations in Washington, they started using the revolving door, too. Facebook hired Joel Kaplan, George W. Bush’s former deputy chief of staff. Google hired Susan Molinari, a former Republican congresswoman. She was one of more than 400 former members of Congress employed as lobbyists, earning as much as tenfold their $174,000 congressional salary. In 1970, only 3% of members of Congress became lobbyists on leaving office; three decades later, more than 40% did.
In 2013 Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post, abetting his rapidly growing interests in the capital. Between 2012 and 2017, Amazon’s spending on lobbying quintupled; by 2018, it had the largest lobbying office of any tech firm in Washington, with 28 people, in addition to more than 100 lobbyists on contract at a dozen firms around the city. The company lobbied more federal agencies than any other tech company. It lobbied on the sales tax, which it still didn’t assess on most of the third-party sales that now made up more than half of its U.S. retail business; against regulations for drones, which it wanted to use to deliver packages; to maintain the discounted delivery rates it enjoyed with the Post Office; on government procurement, seeking to become the one-stop shop for federal purchasing; and against any effort to bring antitrust scrutiny to the company.”
Throughout the book, MacGillis gives us examples of the lack of workplace safety at Amazon’s blue-collar job sites, one of the most dramatic being the death of 52-year-old Jody Rhoads in 2014 in a forklift accident at a warehouse in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Exhausted from working 10½ hour shifts, she’d crashed into some shelving at neck-level.” Amazon employees represented Rhoads’ death to OSHA, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, as having occurred from natural causes, because “there wasn’t any blood or anything,” but an autopsy revealed “multiple traumatic injuries due to a pallet truck accident,” including “intestinal bleeding, a lacerated liver, and a bruised heart.”
The next city that MacGillis focuses on is Baltimore, Maryland, a major port and site of steel production, and “the country’s sixth-largest city – larger than Washington, Boston, San Francisco, or Houston in 1950.” He notes, however, that even then “decline was quietly underway, in the steady leakage of white residents for the suburbs. In 1940, even before the flood of workers that arrived later in the war years, Baltimore had the highest proportion of Black people of the country’s ten biggest cities: a fifth of the city, 168,000 people. Initially constrained to slices of the city’s east and west side, in homes packed to the point of squalor, they sought more humane conditions, and the more prosperous – those with union jobs – advanced into new neighborhoods.” MacGillis adds that the steel industry in Baltimore and all over the country eventually declined due to failure to modernize and compete with Japan. “Faring no better was shipbuilding – the Arab oil embargo had devastated an over-capacity tanker business, and by 1978, employment at the shipyard had dropped below 4,000, half its peak…The white flight that had started stealthily a few decades earlier was now a rush. There had been a riot in 1968, in the days after Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, which claimed six lives and resulted in more than 5,000 arrests; there was crime and drugs; and there was now deindustrialization. The city’s population fell by 119,000 over the 1970s. By 2012, Baltimore’s population had fallen to 621,000, placing it 26th in the country. Only its harbor, which handled coal headed to Europe and cars arriving from Germany; the biomedical empire of Johns Hopkins; and its location on the northeast corridor spared it the isolation of postindustrial cousins like St. Louis, Buffalo, Cleveland, and Detroit.”
In September 2015, the top elected officials from metropolitan Baltimore gathered at the site of the former General Motors plant for the official opening of an Amazon “fulfillment” warehouse as big eighteen football fields. “GM jobs at Broening Highway had paid an average of $27 per hour, plus generous benefits. Now, a decade later, the jobs at the same site paid $12 or $13 per hour and came with much thinner benefits. This hadn’t kept local and state leaders from showering Amazon with incentives to open the warehouse here – $43 million in all.
There was growing agitation nationwide about the company’s wages and working conditions. Most notorious had been the 2011 episode at a warehouse near Allentown, Pennsylvania, where the company had stationed medics outside to handle workers fainting from the heat instead of paying for air-conditioning. Median pay across the company was only about $13 an hour, $28,000 a year. As recently as 2012, the company had had only 88,000 employees worldwide. But over the rest of the decade, it would grow with astonishing speed, making it the second-largest private-sector employer in the country after Walmart. By late 2019, it had more than 750,000 employees worldwide and 400,000 employees in the United States, the overwhelming majority of them in the company’s more than 200 fulfillment centers, sortation centers, and other delivery facilities.
Warehousing and distribution used to be considered somewhat higher-skilled jobs: one could make over $20 per hour and stay years at a time. At Amazon, it was a more fleeting existence. Workers tended to be younger, turnover was high, and the seasonal workforce was often transient in the form of retirees traveling the country in vans and RVs. So much impermanence came with a major benefit for the company: it made it easier to stamp out union efforts to organize workers. Also deterring solidarity was the atomization of the warehouses themselves, where the layout and algorithms seemed almost designed to isolate employees from one another. Where organizing efforts managed to gain traction anyway, the company deployed tried-and-true defenses, hiring law firms that specialized in blocking unions and fomenting fears about union greed and corruption – the sort of tactics that had helped drive union representation to only 6% of the private-sector workforce nationwide.” When Amazon opened a second huge warehouse in the Baltimore area in 2017, “it got $19 million in state and local tax incentives. The company put out the word that it was hiring in August 2018, at a starting rate of $13.75 an hour. Those who passed the test got an email: ‘Congratulations on your offer of employment with Amazon.com Services, Inc.’ Before they could click to accept, they had to e-sign an agreement never to disclose anything about their work.”
Next, MacGillis describes what happens to businesses that sell products on the Amazon website, using examples of office suppliers in El Paso, Texas. “One day in 2017, Sandy Grodin, owner of an office supply business, got a call from one of his largest customers, El Paso Independent School District, informing him that it might be shifting its purchasing to Amazon. Around the same time, Amazon itself reached out to him, inviting him to start selling through Amazon Marketplace, with Amazon getting a 15% commission on every sale. While on the phone with Amazon, Grodin had his purchasing director, Heidi Silva, see what a type of Avery address labels were selling for on Amazon. They were $15.25 a box, below the $18 Grodin got them for from the wholesaler. He then had Heidi call Avery to ask for a pallet of them at the Amazon price. The guy at Avery, confused, came back a few minutes later, and told Heidi that the product on Amazon was counterfeit. By this time, the Amazon pitchmen were asking Grodin if he had any questions. Grodin asked if they could recommend another independent dealer who’d joined the Marketplace, so he could get a reference. They refused, saying the identity of Marketplace members was proprietary and confidential. Grodin then asked about counterfeiting on the site. When the Amazon reps asked what he meant, he said he’d come across an item selling well below the usual cost and checked with the manufacturer, who’d said it was counterfeit. Flustered, they asked Grodin what the item was. ‘That’s proprietary and confidential,’ he said, hanging up. Grodin asked Silva to track the prices on Amazon, every hour for a week, for the top 20 office-supply items ordered by El Paso Independent and compile them in a spreadsheet. The prices were fluctuating wildly, hour by hour. He then showed school district repesentatives the spreadsheet, told them about the 15% cut, and used his 2016 profit and loss statement to demonstrate the effect that selling on Amazon would have on his business. The district’s purchasing director shook his hand, thanked him for being so transparent, and said his recommendation to the superintendent would be that the district move cautiously with Amazon and only use it for items the district couldn’t buy locally.”
Amazon was also trying to get Teresa Gandara, co-owner of another El Paso office supply company, to sell her products on its website. At a 2018 trade show, she attended a workshop entitled ‘Amazon, the Invisible Competitor: Does Your Business Have a Plan?’ presented by Mike Tucker, onetime pen salesman to the federal government. He explained that Anne Rung, a former head of the General Services Agency, the purchaser of goods for the federal government, had taken a high-level job with Amazon and met with a top GSA official to discuss a shift toward the e-commerce portal during the one-year ‘cooling off’ period during which former government officials aren’t allowed to lobby former colleagues. This had led him to conclude that it was time to sound the alarm. Tucker sketched Amazon’s famous ‘flywheel’ of success: use customer service and Prime’s free delivery to capture online traffic, use high traffic to compel other firms to join the Marketplace, then draw on those sellers’ expertise and the stream of data their transactions generate to see which of their products sell well, and start selling near-copies of those goods under Amazon’s name. For many merchants, Amazon could collect more than 30 cents of every dollar spent, once you added up commissions, fulfillment fees, advertising on the site, and account management deals, some of which were optional for selling on the site, but hard to avoid for sellers hoping to succeed. It was making a 20% margin on third-party sales, compared with only a 5% margin on its regular retail sales. In 2013 the number of third-party vendors selling via Amazon’s warehouses jumped by two-thirds in a single year. By 2017, the company’s cut of third-party sales was up to $32 billion, then $42.7 billion in 2018, a fifth of the company’s total revenue.
Amazon had eliminated twice as many jobs at independent retailers as it had created, Tucker said – in 2014, it had sold $2 billion worth of goods in Illinois and $1 billion in Missouri without employing a single person in either state. (All told, only a quarter of all retail shopping now took place in independent stores, down from a half in the 1980s.) By driving out so many local businesses, it was devastating local and state property tax collection, and that was before factoring in the hundreds of millions it had received in tax subsidies for warehouses. There were also intangible costs: reduced street life, civic engagement, and social capital. The problem was, these costs weren’t perceptible to the average American. ‘The damage Amazon is doing is nearly impossible for consumers to detect in real time. It appears so consumer-friendly, it’s hard to see them as a monopoly. Its placelessness contributes to its invisibility, and makes it harder to fight.’ The Independent Office Products and Furniture Dealers Association (of which he was the director) was doing its best to fight back at the national level, Tucker said, but it was up to local dealers to resist in their own towns and cities, where it mattered most. They needed to urge local elected officials to reject the federal U.S. Communities contract Anne Rung had helped negotiate, by showing them how its model cost them money, and reminding them how much the local tax base depended on prospering small businesses. Tucker then turned the stage over Sandy Grodin, who told his story of successful resistance.
Teresa Gandara left the session on fire. When she got home and learned that Amazon would be a special guest at the annual expo for vendors with whom El Paso did business, she asked for an appointment with Bruce Collins, the city’s purchasing director, who was managing the event. She showed him the information she’d gotten at Tucker’s workshop about Amazon’s effect on local businesses and tax revenue, and asked him to cancel Amazon Day at the expo. Learning that that would be up to his boss, retired army colonel Cary Westin, Gandara met with him, too, but not long into her presentation, he cut her off and told her the city of El Paso wasn’t interested in ‘protectionism for small businesses.’ On the evening before Amazon Day, Gandara appeared on the local TV news, saying that the city was sending ‘our tax dollars’ out of the local economy.’”
At this point in the book, MacGillis says that Amazon “allows its third-party sellers, a third of whom are based in China, to sell counterfeit goods, along with clothes made in dangerous Bangladeshi factories that other retailers had stopped buying from, and toys, infant sleeping mats, and other products that had been declared unsafe by regulators.” He then tackles the subject of Amazon’s data centers. “The cloud lives in data centers, vast windowless structures that started proliferating in certain corners of the American landscape at the close of the 20th century as communications and commercial life moved online. In theory, data centers can be anywhere with proximity to fiber-optic cable, plentiful water, and cheap electricity. In reality, they cluster together in a handful of locations. Even more so than other aspects of the digital landscape, the cloud is dominated by a few places and a few companies – those with the most capacity and connections. The biggest cluster by far is in northern Virginia, where commercial internet providers are drawn by the area’s concentration of military contractors, high-tech companies, plentiful land, and cheap, coal-fired electricity.
Amazon created Amazon Web Services, its cloud-computing branch, in 2003, and began offering its first data storage service in 2006. By 2017, AWS was providing cloud services to, among others, GE, Capital One, News Corp, Verizon, Airbnb, Slack, Coca-Cola, and even direct rivals like Apple and Netflix, bringing in more than $17 billion in revenue, a tenth of Amazon’s total. Between its dominance of the cloud and its dominance of online sales, Amazon has positioned itself as a gatekeeper extracting fees – what economists call ‘rent’ – on two of the biggest realms of digital commercial activity: data storage and e-commerce. You could almost compare it to a tax, except this tax was being collected by a corporation, not by a duly elected government.
Each data center consumes as much energy as 5,000 homes.
MacGillis relates how Amazon added a second data center in northern Virginia and a second data center hub in the metropolitan area of non-industrial Columbus, Ohio. It demanded and got the usual large incentives there, “including a 15-year exemption from property taxes, which, for a standard data center, would be worth $5.4 million, and insisted on special treatment at every step: accelerated building permit approvals, waivers of routine fees, and total secrecy. Three Columbus suburbs rushed to comply, also agreeing to credit back to the company 10% of the payroll taxes it would be paying on its employees, which would number only 25 at each center. This was on top of another tax break the company negotiated with the Ohio Tax Credit Authority, a sales tax exemption for equipment worth $77 million. The town of Dublin went yet further, giving the company 69 acres of farmland appraised at $6.75 million on which to build the center.”
MacGillis describes how Elena Schlossberg and other residents of Haymarket, Virginia fought successfully against Amazon’s effort to site its new data there at the community’s expense. “The thought of a new 100-foot-tall power line line cutting through Haymarket on a 120-foot-wide right-of-way at a cost of $65 million for the sake of serving Amazon alone irked Schlossberg, who organized a meeting at the local high school and filled it to capacity with 1,200 people. In January 2015, she fired off an email to Jeff Bezos, urging him to put the data center in the area that the county had set aside for the purpose, further east, or at the very least to run the power lines along the I-66 right-of-way, a route that would leave the lines partially buried and be less disruptive, though it would cost Dominion Power more. She concluded: ‘The community would be happy to welcome you, but what we won’t do is sacrifice our homes and our unique resources for your gain alone.’ She received no response to the email, nor to subsequent hard copy letters, so she and her fellow activists took the fight to the legislature in Richmond, pushing for a bill to encourage Dominion to take the mostly buried route. FInally, Dominion removed the Rural Crescent route from consideration. In June 2017, the hearing examiner overseeing the case for the utility commission ruled that the line would instead go through an historic African American community on Carver Road, the only place Blacks had been allowed to buy land in the county after emancipation. Those who’d opposed the earlier routes, led by Schlossberg, could have sat back now that their upscale homes and subdivisions had been spared, but they didn’t. A multiracial assortment of 70 people turned out to protest at Dominion’s regional headquarters and at the entrance to the data center itself, where security guards stood watch and signs warned of attack dogs. The pressure grew so great that in late 2017 county legislators announced that they were refusing to grant Dominion an easement needed to build the Carver Road route. Finally, Dominion announced that it would adopt the more expensive, less disruptive route that Schlossberg and her allies had been urging, along the interstate and partly buried below ground. Two months after the route reversal, however, the Virginia House of Delegates approved Dominion’s proposal to pay for the line with a monthly fee on all ratepayers. Meanwhile, Amazon filed a 78-page application to state regulators seeking a special discounted rate for the power it would be using at its data centers. There was no way of knowing exactly what the terms of the discount were: one version of its application sat under seal with state regulators, and the public version was heavily redacted.
In September 2017, Amazon announced that it would be opening a second headquarters somewhere in North America. The new headquarters would house 50,000 employees making an average salary of $150,000 and involve a total investment of $5 billion. To select the lucky city, the company threw open the selection process to all comers. The second-highest-valued company in the world after Apple, Amazon had other offices scattered around the country – San Francisco, Washington, New York, Boston, Los Angeles, and Austin all had at least 1,000 Amazonians, but its growth demanded a full second headquarters, not mere satellites…
Amazon would spend $4 billion on films and TV shows in 2018 and soon control a third of the market for streaming video…
A survey done in June and July of 2018 found that Amazon was the most trusted institution in the country among Democrats – ahead of government, universities, unions, and the press, and the third most respected among Republicans, ahead of only the military and police…
In January 2018, the company announced the 20 finalists for its second headquarters, and they were skewed toward BosWash hubs and creative-class boomtowns, the sorts of places already overflowing with high-tech talent and likely to be most appealing to recruits. On the list: Boston, Washington, New York, and Austin. Not on the list: Detroit, Baltimore, Cleveland, and St. Louis. What few Middle American cities made the cut were those that had already established themselves as winner-take-all cities within their regions, such as Columbus and Nashville.
Nick Hanauer, the early investor who’d helped bring Bezos to Seattle, had since grown critical of the company and was unsurprised that Amazon wasn’t going to use the HQ2 process to lift up a struggling city. ‘Right a social wrong? Are you fucking kidding me? Jeff Bezos is a straight-up libertarian. Those people believe that the only important thing is how well Amazon does, at the exclusion of everything else. They’re going to go where it’s best for Amazon. How that impacts the place? Other than how the place impacts Amazon is not in consideration for them.’
For years, Amazon had been strikingly unengaged in politics and civic affairs in Seattle, an absence that grew all the stranger the more it expanded. This was a reflection of the libertarian politics of its founder, who saw government not only a hindrance, but as irrelevant. Mike McGinn, the mayor from 2010 to 2013, hadn’t met Bezos once while leading the city. This lack of engagement stood in contrast with Microsoft, which had long been involved in local schools, even urging its engineers to teach computer science classes. Amazon’s disassociation extended to philanthropy: Bezos had given away conspicuously little wealth, locally or otherwise. In April 2018, he made headlines by saying that he viewed his space-exploration company, Blue Origin, as more worthwhile than anything else he could do with his money.
Historically, Amazon had kept keep its tax bill down by claiming few profits. Now that it was finally racking up profits, it was funneling them through an office in Luxembourg, avoiding paying the federal government $1.5 billion, according to the IRS. In 2018, it paid zero corporate income taxes for the second straight year, despite doubling its profits to more than $11 billion. In fact, it so successfully gamed the tax code that it received a $129 million rebate. Overall, from 2009 to 2018, the company paid an effective tax rate of 3% on profits totaling $26.5 billion. Its success in avoiding taxes made it all the more remarkable that the company was making so much money from government contracts from federal agencies and the military to school districts.
Socialist Kshama Sawant had come to Seattle from India with her husband, a Microsoft engineer. Having won election in 2013 to represent the city council’s Third District, which included the Central District, she argued for a larger tax on big business than what the council’s liberal wing was proposing, and she believed in giving the target of the tax a clear face. “TAX BEZOS,” signs said. Amazon announced that it was so opposed to the $75 million tax legislation that it was pausing construction on its next big tower, a 17-story building that was to accommodate an expansion of 7,000 to 8,000 jobs, and reconsidering its lease of 700,000 square feet in another tower, space for up to 5,000 jobs. Mayor Durkan met with the bill’s council supporters, Amazon officials, and others to produce a Mother’s Day compromise: the tax would be shrunk by more than a third, to $275 per employee, collecting only $47 million a year. Amazon’s share would be about $12 million, at a time when its revenue exceeded $230 billion. With the compromise in hand, the council voted unanimously on May 14th in favor of the new tax. Two days later, opponents announced that they were gathering signatures to put a referendum question on that fall’s ballot to repeal it. The No Tax on Jobs referendum push would be heavily funded: by Vulcan, a development company; Starbucks; and Amazon. On June 12th, less than a month after voting unanimously to pass the tax, the council voted 7 to 2 to repeal it. A month later, the city’s median home price would hit $805,000, and by the end of the year, Seattle would post the largest increase in homelessness of any city in the country. Amazon, meanwhile, would reach $2 billion in quarterly profit for the first time a couple weeks after the vote; that year’s Prime Day, the annual summer shopping extravaganza, would surpass even Cyber Monday and Black Friday in sales. Its market capitalization would break the $1 trillion mark a few weeks after that, on September 4th.
The first Amazon Fulfillment warehouses in Ohio opened late in the summer of 2016. Like the data centers, they were in the Columbus area, but in a different part of it – not in the more upscale exurbs on the city’s northern edge, but in the humbler outlying areas to the south and east, close to I-270, the beltway, and I-70. Calls started coming right away for nearby EMTs. West Licking Fire Station 3, three miles from the Etna warehouse was getting one emergency call a day at first, then several a day once the holiday season ramped up, with workers pressed to work up to 60 hours a week to get deliveries out in time. The calls ran the gamut: shortness of breath, chest pains, cuts, and fractures, but some were more serious. On April 7, 2017, there was a crash involving a forklift at the Obetz warehouse. There were no serious injuries, but a worker alerted OSHA a few weeks later that the forklift was being driven by someone who was legally blind. OSHA investigated, and indeed, Amazon had assigned forklift-driving to someone who had failed the vision test for an Ohio driver’s license – and it had another forklift driver in training who was also legally blind. It was nothing the local EMS and fire departments couldn’t handle, but it rankled them was that they were providing their services for free while Amazon would pay no local property taxes – the taxes that paid for the functions of local government, from the schools to the police and fire departments – for fifteen years. The warehouses were in Licking and Franklin Counties, but they were not really of them. They drew many hundreds of cars and trucks onto local roads every day, and they put out the emergency calls, but Amazon paid for neither snowplows nor ambulances. The basic social compact applied to others, but not to them. In 2017, voters in the area served by West Licking Fire Station 3 would be asked to approve a five-year, $6.5 million property tax levy to keep the fire department going, making up what the company withheld. The taxpayer would have to make up for what the company didn’t provide in other ways, too. In 2018, it emerged that one in ten Amazon employees in Ohio was making so little on the job that they were receiving food stamps. Nationwide, the company was one of the top employers of food-stamp recipients in at least five states.
With more than 110 fulfillment centers around the country, Amazon now had warehouses within 25 miles of about half of the U.S. population, in virtually every state, and it was delivering half its orders. It leased 60 planes, and contracted with freight airlines for use of many more. Pilots complained of having to work 18-hour days (one plane contracted by Amazon crashed near Houston in February 2019, killing all three onboard), and it was planning a 100-plane hub at the Cincinnati airport. It had started handling some of the shipping from China itself, sending more than 4.7 million cartons of consumer goods in 5,300 containers in 2018 alone. It was setting up almost 200 delivery stations around the country, in addition to the fulfillment centers, to get packages closer to buyers’ homes. It had bought a fleet of 20,000 diesel vans and 7,500 trailers, and was about to order 100,000 electric vans for its drivers. Except they weren’t Amazon’s drivers, technically – they worked for contractors who, while they might deliver exclusively for Amazon, were separate entities. This meant drivers were denied whatever benefits Amazon provided employees. It also meant Amazon could avoid liability if the drivers got in accidents, as was happening with increasing frequency as time pressures mounted with the shift to one-day delivery.
On November 13, 2018, Amazon announced that Washington, DC – or to be precise, a northern Virginia suburb across the Potomac – had won the competition to be its second headquarters. At first, it looked as if the Washington area – specifically, the inner suburb of Arlington, Virginia – would share the prize of the second headquarters with another city. After all the drama about seeking one city for 50,000 jobs and $5 billion investment, the company had decided to split the loot, concluding that it would be easier to find the requisite space and workers in two cities than one. This lent the whole sweepstakes a bait-and-switch aspect – the prize, it turned out, wasn’t as grand as advertised. More upsetting to many of the contestants, though, was the identity of the two winners. After all the hype about a nationwide search, about scouring every corner of the land for a second home and encouraging cities far and wide to spend countless hours assembling bids, the company had chosen the two most obvious candidates: the two wealthiest and most influential cities on the east coast: New York and Washington. (Nashville would get the consolation prize of a new satellite campus with 5,000 jobs.) It was hard to avoid the conclusion that everyone else had fallen victim to a giant ruse. They’d generated free publicity for the company, handed over reams of information about their city (useful for the company’s future expansion calculations), and ramped up the bidding, all so that the company could extract a bigger price from the cities it was likely headed to all along: the seat of the federal government and the center of global finance.
In picking the east coast’s two winner-take-all cities, though, the company miscalculated. New York had reached a point of such hyper-prosperity that it had given rise to a vocal minority recognizing that there could be too much of a good thing. There were streets so congested that bicyclist deaths were rising sharply, with much of the congestion due to the growing numbers of trucks and vans delivering boxes. The city was becoming a parody of the plutocratic metropolis, so when word emerged of yet more towers to accommodate the company led by the greatest plutocrat of them all – subsidized by nearly $3 billion in taxpayer incentives, a newly energized minority, led by tribunes like newly elected U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, rose up and said ‘no.’ SCAMAZON read the graffiti sprayed on an abandoned restaurant near the chosen site in Long Island City. The company was stunned by the ingratitude and effrontery, and pleaded its case at one city council hearing after another. It didn’t help that the city was getting warnings from Seattle. Teresa Mosqueda, the council member who thought she had a compromise agreement with Amazon, came to New York and told them to get everything in writing. “That type of bad behavior when it comes to public policy making shouldn’t be replicated in another city,” she said later. A few weeks later, it was over. One day, the company was negotiating with the critics over the treatment of the 5,000 workers at its mammoth Staten Island warehouse, and there was talk of allowing them to organize freely in exchange for approval of the subsidies for the new headquarters. This was a bridge too far for Amazon. A day later, the company pulled out. Not entirely – there would still be several thousand white-collar Amazonians in the city, mostly at Hudson Yards, the giant new development on the west side of Manhattan. But there would be no HQ2 extravaganza.
So there was one lone winner after all. Washington and northern Virginia had mustered nothing close to the resistance of New York. With 25,000 employees, Amazon would be the area’s largest private-sector employer. The area offered the technical talent the company was looking for – there would be easy recruiting amid all the homeland security IT contractors and rival cloud providers. Other cities, such as Boston and Austin, could have offered that, too, but what they couldn’t offer was proximity to power. The company would soon pass the $4 million mark in quarterly spending on lobbying, nearly five times what it had spent five years earlier and second only to Facebook among tech giants. All told, Amazon had spent $80 million over the course of the decade on seeking to influence the federal government.
On July 16, 2019, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on antitrust, commercial, and administrative law convened a hearing to address “online platforms and market power.” It was a remarkable moment: after years of watching as a small handful of companies grew to dominate life and commerce online, members of Congress in both parties were all of a sudden showing concern about the extent of that dominance. Their concern had been stoked by a small but effective cadre of thinkers and activists articulating the nature and costs of the companies’ dominance. These included Stacy Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, who documented the companies’ effect on smaller businesses, local communities, and democracy in general: “These companies,” she wrote, “have created a form of private government – autocratic regimes that are tightening their control over our main arteries of commerce and information.” They also included Lina Khan, who while still in law school had written a groundbreaking paper showing how antitrust enforcement had failed to address the threat of the new monopolies, Amazon in particular. Regulators had erred, she argued, in focusing only on the question of whether companies were raising prices for consumers, not on whether they were causing broader distortions in the marketplace and society in general. Amazon, she argued, was stifling competition through predatory pricing and the structural advantages that came with being a dominant online platform in ways that over time would leave consumers with lower-quality products and less choice and innovation, even if they seemed to be benefiting from lower prices today. Her arguments were being wielded by a new coalition, dubbed Athena, that included dozens of unions and activist groups, such as the Warehouse Worker Resource Center, which had long fought on behalf of the thousands of Amazon workers in the San Bernardino Valley. Even some of Amazon’s founding employees had started to have grave misgivings. ‘I think the characterization of Amazon as being a ruthless competitor is true,’ said Shel Kaphan, a programmer who’d worked with Bezos at the time of the company’s founding. ‘Under the flag of customer service they can do a lot of things that might not be good for people who aren’t their customers.’
The Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Justice, several state governments, and the European Commission had all launched investigations into the company’s practices. Now executives from four giants – Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Apple – had been called to testify on the question of whether they’d gotten too big for the country’s good. The subcommittee’s chairman, David Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat, noted that Amazon controlled nearly half of all online commerce in the United States; that half of American families now had an Amazon Prime account; and that Amazon’s closest competitor, eBay, controlled less than 6% of the market for online commerce. ‘This hearing isn’t just about the companies before us today,’ he said. ‘It’s about ensuring that we have the conditions for the next Google, the next Amazon, the next Facebook, and the next Apple to grow and prosper.’ Committee members asked Amazon’s legal representative whether third-party sellers had any viable alternatives for selling their goods online other than Amazon. They asked about the rising fees that Amazon was charging them to sell on the site – an average of 27 cents on each dollar of sales, a 42% increase over five years. They asked about the company’s punishment of sellers that violate its terms by suspending their accounts and shutting down their product pages, freezing them out of the marketplace. And they zeroed in on the inherent conflict between Amazon both controlling the platform on which nearly half of all online sales were made and selling its own products on that platform. They asked whether the company privileged its own products by promoting them higher on the page or pricing them below cost to drive competitors out of business, and whether it used sales data to come up with its own versions of hot-selling items. In October 2020, the Democratic staff of the House subcommittee released a 449-page report on its investigation into the tech giants’ dominance, calling on Congress to take action to break up the companies. ‘To put it simply, companies that once were scrappy, underdog startups that challenged the status quo have become the kinds of monopolies we last saw in the era of oil barons and railroad tycoons,’ the report stated. ‘These firms have too much power, and that power must be reined in and subject to appropriate oversight and enforcement. Our economy and democracy are at stake.’
The corona virus pandemic took a series of related developments in American life and accelerated them. The news organizations that had already lost the majority of their advertising revenue to Silicon Valley were now losing what little remained as a result of the halt in commerce, and the legacy retail companies that had survived the upheaval of the prior two decades were careening toward extinction. JCPenney, Neiman Marcus, and J.Crew filed for bankruptcy. Macy’s temporarily shuttered all 775 of its stores and furloughed nearly all of its 125,000 workers; its stock fell by 75% in two months. Amazon’s Seattle neighbor, Nordstrom, announced it was laying off thousands. The toll was no less widespread among the country’s small independent businesses. All told, 25,000 retail stores were expected to go out of business by the end of 2020, a figure that nearly tripled the mass closure figures of recent years. Meanwhile, the companies that had for several decades been capitalizing on the trends reshaping the economy were growing larger and more successful. By late May 2020, the five biggest tech companies – Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, and Google’s Alphabet – had added a stunning $1.7 trillion to their combined market cap in just two months, a rise of 43%. The combined value of these five companies was now a fifth of the S&P 500, and, collectively sitting on $557 billion in cash, they were only going to grow larger. They used it to finance new acquisitions and to raise their spending on research and development to nearly $30 billion – more than NASA’s entire budget – even as their smaller rivals retrenched.
The biggest winner was Amazon. Its first-quarter sales were up by more than a quarter over those the year prior, at a time when overall retail sales were plunging. Its stock surged so much in mid-April 2020 – up by more than 30% on the year before, as the pandemic was nearing its deadliest period – that Jeff Bezos’s net worth increased by $24 billion in the span of two months. In late July, Amazon announced that its profit had doubled in the second quarter, with sales up by a stunning 40% from those a year earlier. On the news, its share price surged even higher; by early September, it was up by 84% on the year, more than double the rise of the other tech giants. To handle the surge in business, the company had, between January and October, added more than 425,000 employees worldwide, bringing its total number of non-seasonal employees in the U.S. to 800,000 and its global total to more than 1.2 million, up by half from a year earlier and now behind only Walmart and China National Petroleum, and that tally didn’t even include the 500,000 drivers who were delivering its packages. To house these workers, the company went on a building and leasing spree, opening 100 buildings in September, on its way to occupying nearly 100 million additional square feet of warehouse space by the end of 2020, a roughly 50% increase. Its warehouses weren’t the only part of the company in high demand: its data centers were ramping up capacity for customers like Zoom, as hundreds of millions of daily human interactions shifted online. The midsummer announcement of Amazon’s massive pandemic profits had come on the same day that the Commerce Department reported that the U.S. economy had shrunk by nearly 10%, the largest quarterly drop on record. In other words, Amazon was flourishing more than ever at one of the lowest moments for the country as a whole.
Even as the pandemic accelerated the concentration of wealth and power within some of the most dominant companies, it was possible to imagine ways that it might disperse prosperity and dynamism more broadly across the country. Some of the many New Yorkers who’d fled the city (there were upscale apartment buildings in Manhattan left almost entirely vacant) were considering permanent relocation. There was talk that the pandemic might spell the end of the office, that we would, at long last, be free to work from anywhere. While rents and condo prices started to retreat from their stratospheric highs in the wealthiest cities, the rising demand for suburban New York office parks and bedroom communities, Western ski-resort real estate, and Hamptons school districts suggested, however, that the benefits of any dispersal would remain well within the bounds of the winner-take-all metropolis and its satellites, and wouldn’t trickle out to smaller cities farther afield. Meanwhile, those same smaller cities were poised to suffer deep cuts as the federal pandemic rescue package targeted municipal aid only to cities with populations over 500,000. By August, American Airlines was announcing it was ending flights to fifteen small and midsize cities, making it more likely that their isolation and decline would accelerate. The pandemic’s toll was going to fall hardest on the places that had the least cushion to fall back on.
The same was true of the impact on individuals. Nationwide, people who earned more than $28 per hour had seen their employment levels return to pre-pandemic levels by the fall of 2020, while those who made less than $16 per hour had seen more than a quarter of their jobs wiped out. At Amazon’s warehouses in France, union demands over safety measures had forced a weeks-long shutdown and an eventual deal that included a reduction of shifts by 15 minutes, without a reduction to pay, to allow for more social distancing at crowded shift changes. In the absence of unions at the U.S. warehouses, discontent took other forms. WELCOME TO HELL read the graffiti inside truck trailers, out of sight of warehouse cameras. FUCK BEZOS. Workers began sharing their disquiet in online back channels, and at some warehouses, they organized protests, signaling that the pandemic might set in motion a new era of workplace activism.”
MacGillis concludes by saying that “federal action is needed to provide a check on so vast and powerful a company, along with fellow industry giants.”
An analysis of the 2020 election published this morning (22-6-20) on the World Socialist website (wsws.org), based on exit polls and projected votes, shows that even though the majority of whites (57%) continued to support Trump, the pandemic and resulting economic crisis led “a substantial section of working-class whites” to vote for Biden. Because of higher overall voter turnout, the highest since 1900, “Biden won the votes of an estimated 8.6 million more men of all races than Clinton did in 2016, while Trump’s vote among men increased by roughly 2.2 million. Biden won 42% of white voters, an increase from the 37% won by Clinton in 2016. Overall, an estimated 6.4 million more white people voted for the Democrat in 2020 than in 2016, including roughly 5.4 million more votes from white men than Clinton won in 2016. Both Trump and Biden received increased votes from white people without college degrees: 3.1 million more than in 2016 for Trump and 5 million more than Clinton for Biden. Biden won the votes of ‘new’ voters in this category by a 60-40 margin. Trump’s share of the vote fell slightly from 2016 while the Democratic share increased from 29 to 35%.
The 2020 results show a shift against Trump in the working class (people with annual incomes of less than $100,000). There were roughly 23 million more votes overall from this group than in 2016, and Biden won more of them than Trump. Among workers with family incomes under $50,000, Trump won an estimated 2.1 million more votes than he did in 2016, but Biden won 4.9 million more than Clinton.” Trump received increased support from the wealthy (those with family incomes over $100,000). In 2016, Clinton and Trump tied here, with each winning roughly 21.8 million votes. In 2020, several million affluent people switched to Trump, probably because “his pandemic policy of ‘herd immunity’ has fed the rising stock market and further enriched them. As a share of the electorate, however, voters with family incomes over $100,000 declined by an estimated 3 million votes (from 34% to 28%), because substantial sections fell into the $50,000-$100,000 range, at least partially because of the pandemic. “Of these ‘new’ voters in the $50,000-$100,000 category (those who either were in the higher bracket in 2016 or didn’t vote for either of the two main parties in 2016) cast an estimated 14.1 million votes for Biden versus 5.2 million for Trump. While Trump won this category by a 49-46% margin in 2016, Biden won it in 2020 by a 56-43% margin.
Among African-American men, Trump increased his share of the vote from 13% in 2016 to 18% in 2020, accounting for an increase of roughly 500,000 overall votes. Democrats only increased black male turnout by some 600,000, meaning that Trump and the Democrats split ‘new’ African-American male votes almost 50-50. Among African-American women, Trump more than doubled both his vote total and his share of the vote. Trump won just 4% of African-American women in 2016, a total of about 383,000 votes. In 2020, Trump won 8%, or 868,000 votes. While exit polls don’t break down the African-American vote by income category, they do show the overall ‘nonwhite’ vote by education, the closest proxy for income available. Trump won an estimated 1.5 million more votes from this generally wealthier section of the population – a total of 5.4 million – than in 2016, going from 22% to 27%. The figures among Latino voters are similar to those for African-Americans and Asian-Americans.
Among LGBT voters, Trump tripled his total votes and doubled his percentage. In 2016, Trump won roughly 950,000 votes from LGBT people – 14% of the total to the Democrats’ 77%. In 2020, Trump won about 3 million votes in this category, or 28% of the total to the Democrats’ 61%.
Although there wasn’t an increase in turnout among young voters (aged 18-29), Trump lost 600,000 votes from this cohort compared with 2016, while the Democrats gained nearly two million.”
Go to the wsws.org website to see great graphics showing votes by gender (men favoring Trump in 2016 and close to tied between Biden and Trump in 2020, women significantly in favor of the Democratic candidate both times); by gender and race (white men and women favoring Trump both times, men by less in 2020 and women by a bit more; black men and women both increasing their votes for Trump in 2020, but also showing more overall votes, so that the percentages don’t change that much – 2% down in the blue column for men, 3% down for women); by income level (under $50,000 blue in both elections, 53% in 2016, 57% in 2020; between $50,000 and $100,000 narrowly favoring Trump in 2016, but 56% blue in 2020; and over $100,000 even in 2016 and favoring Trump by 54% in 2020); and by education (white college graduates slightly favoring Trump in 2016, even in 2020; white non-college grads favoring Trump both times, but less so by 6 percentage points in 2020; non-white college grads overwhelmingly favoring the Democrat both times, but less so by 5 percentage points in 2020; and non-white non-college grads also favoring the Democrat both times but by 6% less in 2020 out of a much larger voter turnout).
I still don’t understand why so many people continue to vote for Trump, especially women, people of color, and gay men. I think Christian fundamentalism and the pervasive racism in this country are responsible. The racism makes me unutterably sad, and the Christian fundamentalism makes me angry, because (a) Trump isn’t really a Christian, and (b) what the fundamentalists believe is pretty much the opposite of what I believe Jesus taught. Anyway…this gives you a breakdown of what happened.
Are you, like me, wondering why so many people have voted for four more years of Trump’s immoral and dangerous “leadership”? Black columnist Charles M. Blow thinks it’s because “some people who’ve been historically oppressed,” weirdly, want to be like their oppressors. In “Exit Polls Point to the Power of White Patriarchy,” published in today’s New York Times (11-5-20), Blow says, “It’s obscene that the presidential race is too close to call at the time this column is published: Wednesday at 6:30 PM Eastern Standard Time. After all that Donald Trump’s done, all the misery he’s caused, all the racism he’s aroused, all the immigrant families he’s destroyed, all the people who’ve left this life because of his mismanagement of a pandemic, still roughly half of the country voted to extend his horror show.
White people – men and women – were the only group in which a majority voted for Trump, according to exit polls. Not only did a majority of white men vote for Trump this year, so did a majority of white women (more than in 2016), despite the fact that Trump has spent his first term, indeed his whole life, denigrating women. It’s unsettling that so many of our fellow countrymen and women are either racists or accommodate or acquiesce to racists. But, that’s only part of what was shocking to me about the preliminary exit polls (that don’t include people who voted early or by mail). Compared to 2016, a larger percentage of every racial minority voted for Trump this year. Among Blacks and Hispanics, this percentage grew among both men and women, although men were more likely to vote for Trump than women. Only 3 or 4% of Black women voted for the Republican candidate in 2008, 2012 and 2016. However, Donald Trump doubled that number this year, winning 8% of Black women’s votes. In 2008, 5% of Black men voted for John McCain; in 2012, 11% voted for Mitt Romney; in 2016, 13% voted for Trump; and, this year 18% voted for Trump.
The percentage of L.G.B.T. people voting for Trump doubled from 2016, moving from 14% to 28%. In Georgia the number was 33%. This for a president who’s attacked trans people in every way imaginable. As the Human Rights Campaign president, Alphonso David, pointed out in June, “The Trump-Pence administration is the most virulently anti-LGBTQ administration in decades.” This strong move toward Trump may be driven by men. In September, the gay social network Hornet published the result of a survey of 10,000 of its users that found that 45% of the gay men on it planned to vote for Trump. As the company wrote on its blog, ‘The idea that gay men, a demographic that typically skews left, would vote for Donald Trump at a higher percentage than U.S. citizens overall would no doubt be very surprising were it to happen. And another surprise: 10% of the American gay men who took Hornet’s survey say they “do not support [Donald Trump] at all,” but will vote for him nonetheless.’
All of this to me points to the power of the white patriarchy and the coattail it has for those who depend on or aspire to it. Trump’s privileged chest thumping, alpha-male dismissiveness, and in-your-face rudeness are aspirational to some men and appealing to some women. Some people who have historically been oppressed will stand with the oppressors, and will aspire to power by proximity.”
This is as sick as sick can be. I’m beginning to want to get away from this kind of insanity so much that I’d be willing to move to a another country (except that no countries will accept Americans right now because of Trump’s mishandling of the corona virus). Or, split the U.S. into two or more independent parts, so that I could live in a country dominated by sane, blue-state people, so that I’d never have to see another monster pickup truck flying Trump (or other fascist) flags again. I try not to be close-minded or discriminatory, but Trump and his supporters horrify and disgust me.
Jeremy Scahill, an investigative journalist, founding editor of the online news journal “The Intercept,” and author of books on Blackwater and the America’s drone wars, has posted “American Mythology,” a seven-part assessment of the Trump administration on the Intercept’s website, theintercept.com. Its basic conclusion is that Trump, an aspiring dictator and a blatant racist, is guilty of excesses, but most of what he’s done is built on a foundation laid by his predecessors and has been approved by both his own party and that of the Democrats. The details and analysis are important to review, however, both because we’re on the eve of a presidential election (or reelection) and because in order to make desired changes in the future, we need to understand that Trump is a product of our twisted history rather than something out of the blue. We need to grapple with that, no matter who’s president, no matter which party controls Congress, and no matter how many conservatives sit on the Supreme Court.
Below is my edited (and much shortened) version of “American Mythology.” It’s still long, but I think worth reading.
Part 1: Manufacturing the Carnage
In the premiere episode of “American Mythology,” we examine the ways in which Donald Trump has proven to be a dangerous autocrat who doesn’t believe in any semblance of a democratic process. But that story can’t be told without also exploring how various U.S. systems and the policies of Trump’s predecessors paved the way for many of his actions. Featuring interviews with lawmakers, journalists, and others who’ve battled the Trump administration, this episode offers an overview of how the Republican Party embraced Trump as a Trojan horse to ram through its most extreme – and long-standing – policy agendas. It also probes the role of Democratic Party leaders in facilitating some of Trump and the GOP’s most dangerous policies and lays out the stakes of the 2020 presidential election.
The Trump presidency began on January 20, 2017, when he gave his infamous American Carnage inauguration speech in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. But the story of his presidency doesn’t begin on that day, with the 2016 campaign, or even with Trump’s offhand threats to run for president over the decades. Beyond his inflammatory rhetoric, his systematic lying, and crude nature, Trump is most relevant because of the incredible opportunities he gave to some of the most radical right wing forces in U.S. politics. As Naomi has said, “Trump ran as the champion of the working man, saying he would stand up to the corruption and billionaires in Washington. And then he filled his administration with them. What scares me is that as the economic facade falls away, the racism, the weaponizing of race and gender become more important, because that’s all they have to offer their base.”
The policies the administration began fast-tracking from its first moments in power had long been high on the wish list of the leaders of the Republican Party, and Trump — more than any of his predecessors — dared to shout the quiet parts out loud, broadcast them on Twitter, and proudly embrace them at every opportunity. As Princeton University professor Eddie Glaude Jr. put it, “Donald Trump represents an exaggerated version of the rot that’s at the heart of this country; he’s a reflection of something that was already here. The contradictions of our economic order, a deepening sense of precarity, and the exploitation of white fear made Trump possible.”
In assessing the Trump presidency, we’ll explore two tracks. The first covers the ways in which Trump is a particularly dangerous autocrat who doesn’t believe in any semblance of a democratic process, and the second deals with the ways in which various U.S. systems and the policies of Trump’s predecessors paved the way for many of his most dangerous actions. NYU Professor Nikhil Pal Singh argued early on that understanding these dynamics was essential to confronting what was to come: “The idea that we somehow kind of flipped a switch and got Trump doesn’t address a longer story taking us through some of the failure of reckoning of the Obama years, and the pathway that the Iraq war put the country on. Even before the Iraq war, the pathway that the Clinton-era mass incarceration project put us on helps us understand the forces Trump’s has been able to mobilize.”
Journalist and writer Chris Hedges agrees: “We’ve personalized the problem we face in Trump, not realizing that he’s the product of a failed democracy. You can get rid of Trump, but you’re not going to get rid of what the sociologist Émile Durkheim called the ‘anomie’ that propels societies to engage in deeply self-destructive behavior.”
Upon taking office, the Trump administration immediately dispensed with any effort to make serious legal or moral arguments when issuing policy edicts. It was also clear that Trump and his team intended to assert sweeping executive powers while at the same time subverting Congressional oversight in every way. Employing this strategy, Trump has proven remarkably effective at ramming through an extremist agenda – one developed for generations by powerful factions within the Republican party, even though from the beginning of Trump’s presidential run, many establishment Republicans laughed at and denounced him, failing to take his prospects for winning the nomination of their party seriously. Trump defeated the establishment elite of the Republican Party though, from the dynasty candidate Jeb Bush, to popular Republican governors and senators, enabling him to claim that he wasn’t of the establishment or a typical corrupt politician.
As journalist Allan Nairn pointed out, “Trump dragged a rightist revolution into power – the Paul Ryan agenda that could never have gotten elected in its own right because it’s anathema to most Americans. But Trump, with his genius for unleashing the beast in white America, touching deep chords of racism, succeeded in turning a crucial number of previous white Obama voters into Trump voters, and now this is a Republican Party that’s one of the most radical mainstream political parties in American history, with control of Congress and the Supreme Court. They’ve rigged the system so that a diminishing minority can hold power and continue to govern, just as Trump was elected with a minority of the votes. They’re setting it up so that through a long list of tactics, including purging voter rolls, voter suppression shortly before Election Day, gerrymandering, et cetera, et cetera, smaller and smaller numbers of people can win elections and retain power.”
While Trump overtly appeared incompetent and boorish, consumer advocate and former independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader warned that it was a mistake to underestimate the way his strengths work in concert with the radical GOP agenda: “People who think Trump is stupid may be right in terms of his understanding reality and history and the things we’d like presidents to be alert and smart about, but when it comes to street smarts and timing and the jugular? You can’t find anybody more proficient.”
It’s difficult to overstate what’s been accomplished during this presidency. The consequences of the sweeping re-molding of the federal courts with hundreds of lifetime appointments and the extreme right-wing stacking of the U.S. Supreme Court under Trump will reverberate for generations to come…At this moment, the most lethal aspect of Trump’s presidency has been his colossal mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic…
Trump’s financial policies and tax cuts have showered money and profits on powerful corporate interests and the wealthy, while the already abysmal U.S. healthcare system has been further gutted and simultaneously oiled up for record profits, as millions suffer from inadequate or no health coverage and massive health-related debt. Journalist Juan Gonzalez said Trump had kindled a small-business movement already developing within the country before his election: “I look at Trump as one of the biggest small businessmen in America. Because the right-wing populism always comes out of the small business community. Trump as a protectionist represents the small business groups within the society, except that he’s a billionaire small businessman. He’s tapped into the tremendous insecurity among the great sectors of the American population over the impact of unfettered globalism on their lives. This is how he’s created his form of populism and ‘America first’ policies, and in that sense, he’s been able to use patriotism as a way to further ensnare some sectors of the working class as well.” Another significant sector of Trump’s base was inspired by his nativist rhetoric and the causes he claimed to be championing – all the greatest hits from locking up Hillary Clinton to the birther conspiracy to old fashioned racism. He depicted America as a place that undocumented immigrants, Muslims, liberals, and Black people have ruined, promising to end all that and “Make America Great Again.”
Yale historian and fascism scholar Jason Stanley said Trump’s embrace of the police and law enforcement as a class, while also cultivating support among militia-type groups, is a common tactic in authoritarian political movements: “The fascist state’s refusal to condemn extrajudicial violence licenses it by not explicitly condemning it. At the same time, the state uses its extrajudicial nature to say, ‘Look, we’re not the extremists. The extremists are out there.’” It’s important to the white nationalist movement to have people in ties and suits in government. You can spot the links because of the clear overlap in language, minus a few words. Instead of “white nationalist,” the suits say “nationalist.” Instead of adding “Jew” to “globalist,” or saying, “It’s the Jews that control the press,” they say it’s “the globalists.”
Trump’s administration has taken a chainsaw to the very concept of the rule of law. Under Jeff Sessions, and even more so under William Barr, the Justice Department has simultaneously served as Trump’s private law firm and been wielded as a judicial howitzer aimed at weakening and ultimately destroying the notion of checks and balances at the core of constitutional democracy. This is how Representative Barbara Lee described the threats when I spoke to her days into Trump’s administration: “I’m terrified with regard to what we see taking place: shutting down the media, putting out alternative ‘facts,’ banning dissent and opposition, criticizing people exercising their First Amendment rights, and trying to get people to believe the distortions they’re putting out.”
Trump’s war against journalism began on the 2016 campaign trail, as he railed against “fake news” and sought to stir up anger and potentially violence against journalists. His rhetoric was a dangerous escalation, but at the same time there was a tendency in media coverage of these attacks on the press, to ignore the records of Trump’s predecessors. Pulitzer Prize winning journalist James Risen fought a multi-year battle with the Bush and Obama Justice Departments, which sought to force him to testify against an alleged source. “The Obama administration was by far the most anti-press administration we’ve had since Nixon. They conducted more leak investigations and did more leak prosecutions than all the previous administrations combined, and they targeted journalists in ways that no other administration ever has. What Obama did makes it easier for Trump to do what he wants on leaks. Trump can now subpoena a reporter and force him to testify. All a reporter can do now to protect his sources is go to jail.”
On questions of war and national security, Trump has often spoken in contradictory directions: On the one hand, he lambasted the Iraq war and the unending nature of the so-called war on terror. DJT: “The Iraq war was a disaster, a mistake. We spent $2 trillion and thousands of lives, and what do we have? Nothing. Iran is taking over Iraq as sure as you’re sitting there.” On the other, Trump vowed to bring back torture, murder the families of suspected terrorists, steal the natural resources of other countries, and ignore international law. DJT: “Bomb the oil, take the oil. Just take it. We should have kept the oil.” When he took power, Trump inherited a multi-decade, at times bipartisan, campaign to undermine Congressional oversight of the executive branch while expanding the unilateral powers of the presidency. This was one of the major career missions of people like Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and Henry Kissinger. It’s also true for the current attorney general, William Barr. Building on the programs of his predecessors, Trump gave the U.S. military and the CIA expanded and secretive lethal authorities across the globe, while loosening or removing the minimal restraints that existed, including the killing of civilians. He placed at the helm of the CIA Gina Haspel, a key player in the CIA’s secret black site torture program. Democrats have voted to give Trump sweeping powers of war and surveillance while simultaneously calling him the most dangerous president in history, accusing him of being a Russian asset, and claiming that he’s destroying democracy as we know it.
For most of Trump’s time in office, Democrats prioritized the Trump-Russia investigation over anything else, even while New Yorker journalist Masha Gessen consistently warned that this strategy was distracting from other dangers and would likely backfire. “My basic problem with the Russia conspiracy theory,” Gessen said, “is that it’s a one-size-fits-all theory that tells us that we got Trump because he’s a Russian agent. That gets us out of the frightening and complicated task of understanding how Americans voted for Trump, and creates the idea that we can get rid of him by impeaching him on charges of collusion with Russia.” The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives under Nancy Pelosi ultimately did impeach Trump, but only on a narrow set of charges related to Ukraine. As Shahid Buttar, a progressive constitutional law advocate and attorney, said, “Pelosi took all the strongest charges against the president – his human rights abuses, incitements to violence, lies, andself-enrichment at public expense – off the table. Why? Because many of these are bipartisan offenses.”
Democrats often blame Ralph Nader for George W. Bush’s victory in 2000, and the same thing happened to Green Party Candidate Jill Stein in 2016. Nader, a tenacious Trump critic, argues that the Democrats must be held responsible for Trump’s ascent. He asks why the Democratic Party “couldn’t landslide the the most ignorant, corporate-indentured, warlike, corporate welfare supportive, bailout-prone, anti-worker, anti-consumer, and anti-environment Republican Party in history. The Democratic Party is the main scapegoater in American politics. It’s never their fault. It’s never Hillary’s fault. It’s always the Green Party’s fault. It’s always an independent candidate’s fault. They’ve lost two presidential elections since 2000, even though they won the popular vote, because each time the Electoral College took victory away from them. There’s a major national citizen effort to ablish the Electoral College, but the Democratic Party doesn’t support it.” [Rather than a two-party system, we have a one-party corporate system of “good cop/bad cop.” We need one or more third parties to challenge this system, as has happened historically, changing the dominant two parties.]
It’s easy, and these days accepted as common sense, to view Trump as an aberration of U.S. history: an uninvited guest who somehow cheated everyone to take power from the real adults. But it’s a mistake to divorce the ascent of Trump and the policies of his administration from the corporate-dominated electoral process in the U.S. and the myths of American exceptionalism. Historian Greg Grandin notes that “Trump talks about Andrew Jackson as his favorite politician, and he echoes Jackson’s settler colonial racism. But Trump’s presiding over a country turned inward. Andrew Jackson came to power as the United States was moving out into the world on the back of Indian removal, the expansion of chattel slavery, war with Spain and Mexico, and an enormous amount of violence. Trump’s presiding over, in some ways, the end of the project.” In other words, Trump’s presidency has its roots in the unvarnished story of United States empire, and is the product of that history.
As election day draws near, Trump’s taken his attacks on the democratic process to unprecedented levels – calling the election results a fraud, waging a voter disenfranchisement campaign, and openly encouraging violence from neo-Nazi and white supremacist paramilitaries and official law enforcement. He’s openly threatened to remain in office even if he loses the election, suggesting he might even “negotiate” a third term. But dire threats to the democratic process weren’t invented by Trump; nor are they just the results of Russian interference. As constitutional law expert Shahid Buttar has said, the groundwork for this has been laid over many years. “You don’t need a computer or a Russian state intelligence agency to hack an election. All you need is a right-wing Supreme Court inviting right-wing state legislatures around the country to start attacking voting rights, and that happened in 2013 when the Supreme Court struck down the enforcement provisions of the Voting Rights Act.”
Part 2: Administration of Xenophobia
In the nearly four years that Trump has been in office, his administration has transformed U.S. immigration at a breakneck pace, governing with an overtly xenophobic posture toward immigrants. But to portray the extremism of this administration on immigration as an entirely radical departure from decades of policy under Democrats and Republicans is inaccurate. While Trump’s new policies and their implementation express his signature cruelty, they’re just extremes of the agendas of his predecessors: Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, who constructed an authoritarian deportation machine.
Trump’s xenophobia began with his being the most famous so-called “birther,” staging publicity stunts purporting to prove that Barack Obama wasn’t actually born in Hawaii, wasn’t a “real” American, and was possibly some sort of Muslim Manchurian Candidate. He clearly viewed the fact that a Black man had ascended to the presidency as an abomination and rightly assessed that there were a lot of other racists who saw the eight years the Obamas spent living in the White House as a crime against the real, white America.
As far back as 2016, Trump was also focusing xenophobically on international trade, saying that various countries to whom the US had lost its “manufacturing base” were also “ripping the U.S. off” trade-wise. By his seventh day in power, he’d also issued an executive order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries, claiming he was “keeping radical Islamic terrorists out of the U.S.” By February 2017, the Trump administration had issued memorandums to increase expedited removal proceedings, expand detention, and broaden who qualifies for priority deportation. Journalist Aura Bogado says that “now, anyone who’s not only been convicted, but done something for which they could be convicted, falls under the category of a person who’s detainable and deportable. This is nothing short of a war on immigrants. You can be picked up in your home, near your church, or in a hospital. I can definitely critique the Obama administration, but the hatred with which some of this is being thought out and implemented, is scary. It’s different.”
Under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an Obama-era program that shielded about 700,000 young undocumented immigrants from deportation was rescinded, and under “zero tolerance,” the Department of Homeland Security began separating thousands of families seeking asylum in the U.S. According to the ACLU, the Trump administration has separated more than 4,200 families, but the true number remains unknown and the administration has found loopholes to continue the practice. The Intercept’s Ryan Devereaux said border patrol agents are given a lot of discretion, deporting parents before the process of reunification can be initiated. “The parents are gone, and there are kids – I mean, little kids; I’m talking about a six-year-old blind girl separated from her mother, preverbal kids, nonverbal kids, indigenous kids – who suddenly are on their own legally, completely overwhelmed and terrified.” Journalist Juan Gonzalez has written several books dealing with the history of U.S. immigration policy, and he says, “They want a whole different type of migration into the United States – a whiter and more affluent migration.”
Trump’s cruel policies have been constructed on the foundation laid by President Bill Clinton, who ushered in a new era of border militarization. Clinton’s “prevention through deterrence” didn’t address the reasons people might be trying to cross the border or sway people from coming; it just made their journeys more dangerous. According to data from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), more than 7,000 people died trying to cross the border in remote locations between the years 1998 and 2017. Advocacy groups say the real number is much higher.
In 2008 President George W. Bush increased the number of border patrol officers by 6,000, more than doubling the force. He also ordered the construction of “high tech” fences in urban corridors and new patrol roads and barriers in rural areas. Trump has also utilized and expanded the architecture of repressive agencies created under Bush, among them the Department of Homeland Security and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE).
Under Clinton, 800,000 people were formally deported, while Bush deported more than two million. During Obama’s two terms in office the number of deportations soared to more than three million. Obama said his administration’s policy was focused on “felons, not families,” but the Marshall Project examined more than 300,000 of his deportations and found that roughly 60% either had no criminal conviction, or their only crime was immigration-related. In 2014, the Obama administration also expanded the use of family detention to deter an increasing number of women and children arriving at the border, including unaccompanied minors.
Since the implementation of “prevention through deterrence” in the 1990s, border patrol spending has increased from $363 million to more than $4 billion annually. Since the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2003, ICE’s budget has grown from $3.3 billion to $8.4 billion. The number of immigration enforcement officers has also spiked over the decades, from around 4,000 border patrol agents in the 1990s to more than 19,000 in 2019. Trump has used this growing immigration apparatus to not only increase the powers of agents to target not only migrants at the border, but also undocumented immigrants in the U.S., many of whom have long-standing ties in their communities, including children who are citizens. His administration has also taken actions to decrease legal immigration while narrowing humanitarian relief for refugees and asylum seekers. In early September of this year, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Trump administration’s termination of Temporary Protected Status (TPS). Some 300,000 immigrants in the U.S. can now be deported – people from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan, people who came here after experiencing civil unrest, violence, natural disasters, and other humanitarian crises. Many people with TPS status have been in the U.S. for years, some of them decades, without the ability to apply for green cards or citizenship.
U.S. authorities are now processing less than a hundred asylum applications a day, and the Trump administration is mandating that asylum applicants remain outside the country, most of them in squalid and dangerous refugee camps near the Mexican border. Suyapa Portillo Villeda, a Pitzer College Professor of Chicano/Latino Transitional Studies, characterizes this assault on asylum as “a violation of international rights under the Refugee Convention of 1961. People have a right to ask for asylum. This’s not something that’s up for grabs. If people come to our borders and seek asylum, they have a right to do that, as they do anywhere else.” In 2019 the Supreme Court upheld the Trump administration’s rule that bars asylum seekers from traveling through another country to apply for asylum in the U.S. – effectively disqualifying Central American asylum seekers. The Trump administration has used the Covid-19 pandemic to further limit immigration. DJT: “It would be wrong and unjust for Americans laid off by the virus to be replaced with new immigrant labor.” Trump has effectively ended asylum at the southern border. Despite federal laws requiring acceptance of children there, Customs and Border Protection turned away more than 2,000 unaccompanied child migrants between March and June of this year.
Trump and his senior advisor Stephen Miller, the architect behind the administration’s immigration policies, often frame their anti-immigration rhetoric around protecting American workers, claiming that immigrants depress wages. However, there are conflicting studies on the effects immigration influxes have on wages, and the decline in unionization, globalization, automation, and the erosion of workers’ rights and bargaining power have had a tremendous effect on wages, particularly for blue-collar jobs. Also, from day one, according to analysis from the Economic Policy Institute, Trump has rolled back worker protections and rights. This includes preventing workers from earning overtime, attempting to take away workers health care, and stacking agencies and the Supreme Court with anti-worker appointees.
Trump’s “America first” rhetoric and attacks on immigrants are a racist shield that enthralls Trump’s base by signaling that he’ll end immigration from non-white or Muslim countries. At this moment, tens of thousands of migrants, many who are asylum seekers, remain in ICE custody in jails, prisons, and detention centers across the country, with the pandemic adding another layer of inhumanity. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has called for abolishing ICE, reminding us that beginning with “the Chinese Exclusion Act in the 1800s, the very seed, the bedrock, of U.S. immigration policy, was based on racial exclusion.”
Part 3: The Neo-Confederate-in-Chief
On the campaign trail and as president, Donald Trump has worked hard to resurrect the George Wallace strand of U.S. politics, consistently using racist and bigoted language. In part three of “American Mythology,” we examine the ways Trump has used racialized fearmongering and incitement in both word and deed, from his Muslim ban to his denigration of immigrants to his attacks on the Black Lives Matter movement. Trump has openly encouraged police to act extrajudicially, brutally, and with impunity, while simultaneously emboldening violent white nationalists and militias.
From calling for the execution of the Central Park Five, to sparking a crazy right-wing troll operation dedicated to claiming that Barack Obama wasn’t really an American, Trump’s racism and targeting of Black people have been publicly documented. DJT: “I think today that a well-educated Black person, male or female, has a tremendous advantage over a well-educated white person…Of course I hate these people. And let’s all hate these people. Because maybe hate is what we need if we’re going to get something done.” After Trump’s election as president, white nationalist groups, militias, and everyday racist Americans felt emboldened to act out in the open, with more impunity. Hate crimes spiked, and anti-immigrant rhetoric led to attacks against minority groups. One gunman massacred 11 Jewish worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh because of its support for Central American migrants. Trump had previously stated that “No nation can allow its borders to be overrun. That’s an invasion. I don’t care what the fake media says. That’s an invasion of our country.”
Trump’s narrative about the Obama era was often fired off like buckshot, with an array of fallacy-laced pellets. Obama was corrupt. He wasn’t a real American. He depleted the U.S. military. He wanted to take away the guns of white people while offering support for “Black Identity Extremists.” Trump also frequently used Obama’s home city of Chicago in his speeches in order to attack Black Americans as violent criminals who needed to be put in their place. DJT: “What the hell is going on in Chicago? It’s embarrassing to us as a nation. All over the world they’re talking about Chicago. Afghanistan is a safe place by comparison.” Chicago-born educator and author Eve Ewing saw this rhetoric from Trump as preparing the battlefield for justifying state-sanctioned violence wrapped in the cloak of restoring law and order. She said, “It’s convenient to use Chicago as a dog whistle, like ‘welfare queens’ and ‘crack babies’ – racialized images meant to inspire fear and loathing in the hearts of Americans and to make them feel as though there’s justification for any kind of extreme crackdown that might happen. It has nothing to do with an actual desire to help or care for, uplift or support or nurture or even listen to people who actually live here.”
This year, the brutal killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis ignited a new and revolutionary chapter in the Black Lives Matter movement. Millions of Americans, Black and white, have taken to the streets to protest across the country, from major cities to rural towns.
Trump has used his massive online platform and the office of the presidency to make the situation as incendiary and violent as possible. DJT: “Every night we’re going to get tougher and tougher. And at some point there’s going to be retribution, because there has to be. These people are vandals, they’re agitators, they’re terrorists. These are professional anarchists, people that hate our country.” Instead of recognizing the validity of what so many activists and ordinary citizens have been saying about the state of racial injustice in this country, Trump’s done what he’s always done: appealed to so-called “real” [white] Americans with the language of hate, violence, threats, and historical revisionism. DJT: “The radical left wants to uproot and demolish every American value. They want to wipe away every trace of religion from national life. They want to indoctrinate our children, defund our police, abolish the suburbs, incite riots, and leave every city at their mercy.”
Trump’s reelection campaign includes the notion of a civil race war trumpets law and order against socialism. He’s regularly encouraged brutality and extrajudicial action among police and law enforcement agencies, as well as actions by indivduals and fringe paramilitary groups. Princeton Professor Eddie Glaude, Jr., who saw Trump’s rise as a victorious revival of the George Wallace strand of U.S. politics, says, “That particular strand of politics has become mainstream. The fringe, white identity nationalists living in the mountains in Washington and western Pennsylvania are now at the the center of the political party controlling the country. I grew up when dog whistles, racial code words, had to be use politically. Now it’s foghorns. People just say it, activating all sorts of fears.” DJT: “You’re going to see a backlash the likes of which you haven’t seen in many years. Because people aren’t going to take it. A lot of people on the right are sitting home watching a television set looking at Kenosha and looking at Chicago where they shoot people and kill people by the dozens every week. They look at it and say, ‘I’m not going to allow that to happen in my country.’” Having railed against self-identified anti-fascists, Trump has presided over kidnappings and even killings of activists, including a Portland man connected with the shooting of a white supremacist gunned down by U.S. Marshals at the request of the president.
Racial opportunism in presidential politics isn’t unique to Donald Trump – it’s been deployed by Democrats and Republicans alike throughout U.S. history. It was used effectively by people now denouncing Trump, including Bill and Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and the so-called New Democrats, all of whom have used racialized propaganda and attacks to appear tough on crime. It was a favorite tactic of Ronald Reagan. Donald Trump is just a lot more intense and much less subtle about it. Eve Ewing: “In no way do I want to undercut what I think have been some of the uniquely awful aspects of this administration, but I think it’s important for folks to remember that Trump isn’t like the man in a laboratory conjuring up these racist people like Frankensteins, who had never existed before. Rather it’s him giving a voice and a platform for an energy behind white supremacy and hatred that has a long history in America and that actually, in my opinion, constitutes the very fabric of the nation. I think that’s important to realize, because it makes you understand that in order to conquer or change or transform the kind of hatred and vile evil that we’re seeing right now, it’s not just about these particular voters, and it’s not just about this particular election – we have to be brave enough to confront and understand a history that’s much deeper.” [And, if we do, hopefully, we can finally make “Black lives matter.”]
At the height of the Black Lives Matter protests earlier this year, the esteemed UCLA historian Robin D.G. Kelley addressed this history and sought to give context to the destruction of property during times of rebellion: “What the police do is protect capital – property, including, historically, slaves. Similarly, jails were designed to hold runaways slaves until the master could come and get them. If the whole system of policing is organized around property, we shouldn’t be surprised that qualified immunity and violent acts by the police are supported by capital. Capital needs a force that can terrify people, and that’s what the police do.”
Trump has used his attacks on the Black Lives Matter protests and antifa as a distraction from his colossally incompetent and cold-hearted response to the Covid-19 pandemic, a crisis that’s disproportionately impacted Black, Latino, and Native American people, as well as the poor and workers. Native American historian Nick Estes is a citizen of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe. He writes, “When somebody like Trump says, ‘We’re here to protect our national monuments,’ he’s invoking the language of heritage, like the ‘it’s heritage, not hate’ speech around Confederate monuments and the Confederate flag. He’s not including indigenous people in this rhetoric, because our monuments, our history as Indigenous people, is under constant erasure.”
As in Charlottesville, cars have emerged as one of the preferred weapons of white supremacists. This summer, there were at least 104 incidents of people driving vehicles into protestors – 96 of those drivers were civilians, and eight were cops. Trump’s rhetoric once again manifested into real world violence, as armed militias took to the streets, looking to commit violence under the banner of “Making America Great Again.” Historian Dr. Keisha Blain, author of Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom, explained the roots of this well-worn authoritarian strategy of using both official and unofficial forces to terrorize already victimized and vulnerable populations. “I think about the era of lynching and the reasons why we saw, in the late 19th century, even in the early 20th century, so many lynchings taking place across the country. People asked at the time, as we’re asking now about police violence, why are so many Black people being lynched? One of the answers to that question is that white racists were emboldened by the state and by the support of local police. They recognized that they could do it and they could get away with it. Already there are videos of groups of white men, some carrying bats, walking through the streets, emboldened and encouraged to harm protestors, because they feel like Trump gave them the green light.”
Part 4: “You Think Our Country’s So Innocent?”
On war policy, Trump has so far proven both less murderous than George W. Bush and more of a war criminal than Jimmy Carter. On matters of war, he’s consistently spoken and acted in contradictory and unorthodox ways. He campaigned in 2016 with a mixed message of attacking the legacy of the Iraq War and U.S. military adventurism, while simultaneously pledging to commit war crimes and promote imperialism as a matter of policy. He escalated drone strikes in Somalia and Afghanistan, authorized troop surges and massive bombings in Iraq, launched cruise missile strikes in Syria, and threatened to “totally destroy North Korea.” On the other hand, he signed a deal with the Taliban to withdraw U.S. forces, negotiated with Kim Jong Un of North Korea, and claims to have fired John Bolton to avoid starting “World War 6.” In many ways, Trump has represented a continuity of U.S. policy with tactical differences from his predecessors.
From the beginning of his campaign and throughout his presidency, Trump’s rhetoric on war would weave between denouncing past U.S. military operations and vowing to end wars with an occasional tweet threatening nuclear war or the wiping out of a country’s cultural heritage sites. Mohammad Javad Zarif: “He is showing to the international community that he has no respect for international law, that he is prepared to commit war crimes, because attacking cultural sites is a war crime, and disproportionate response is a war crime.”
Even as Trump authorized the expansion of some wars and the continuation of others, as president he suggested that he was weighing the toll of the nation’s foreign wars. DJT: “Nearly 16 years after September 11th attacks, after an extraordinary sacrifice of blood and treasure, the American people are weary of war without victory. Nowhere is this more evident than with the war in Afghanistan, the longest war in American history – 17 years. I share the American people’s frustration. I also share their frustration over a foreign policy that has spent too much time, energy, money, and most importantly, lives trying to rebuild countries in our own image instead of pursuing our security interests above all other considerations.”
Less than a month into his presidency, in a Fox News interview with Bill O’Reilly before the Super Bowl, Trump revealed a truth about the nature of the American Empire. “Will I get along with him? I have no idea.”
Bill O’Reilly: “He’s a killer though. Putin’s a killer.”
DJT: “There are a lot of killers. We got a lot of killers. What, you think our country is so innocent?”
While what Trump said is indisputably true, he had just taken the helm of that U.S. killing machine. Just three months into his presidency, Trump launched 59 cruise missiles in Syria, in retaliation for an alleged chemical weapons attack that reportedly killed 70 civilians. That same month, he authorized a massive strike in Afghanistan using a 20,000-pound munition known as the Mother of All Bombs. That strike was supposedly aimed at Islamic State fighters, but mostly it seemed that Trump just wanted to show off his war toys. In August of 2017, Trump announced a new strategy for ending the war in Afghanistan: escalate the killing. In 2018, documented civilian casualties in Afghanistan continued to top over 10,000 for a fifth year in a row, according to the United Nations, which reported more than 3,000 deaths and 7,000 injured. 2018 saw the largest increase in airstrikes since the U.N. began documenting civilian deaths in 2009, and again in 2019, airstrikes accounted for 10% of civilian casualties. DJT: “We’re not nation-building. We’re killing terrorists.” While Trump expanded air-strikes in Afghanistan and the civilian death toll skyrocketed, the administration simultaneously opened direct negotiations with the Taliban. And on February 29th, the Trump administration signed a deal with the Taliban to begin withdrawing significant numbers of U.S. troops from the country.
Earlier this month, as Trump returned to the White House after his hospitalization at Walter Reed following his coronavirus diagnosis, Trump tweeted that he would be bringing almost all U.S. troops from Afghanistan home by Christmas. The announcement seemed to take even his own military advisors by surprise, including the chair of the Joint Chiefs, General Mark Milley.
In other wars started by his predecessors, Trump authorized a series of both covert and overt military operations that would endure throughout his presidential term. Among the first was a deadly military raid in Yemen just nine days into his presidency that resulted in the deaths of several dozen people, among them ten children and a U.S. Navy SEAL. Trump portrayed it as a leftover operation from Obama’s presidency. As under Obama, it isn’t possible to tally the number of drone strikes carried out by the CIA under Trump, but one drone war specialist told us Agency strikes have been significant. In terms of military operations, Trump expanded drone strikes in both Somalia and Afghanistan. Amy Goodman: “A U.S. drone strike killed five people after it struck a car that was rushing a mother to the hospital after she experienced complications from a home birth. The strike killed the 25-year-old mother Malana, three of her relative’s and the car’s driver in southeastern Afghanistan.” Hina Shamsi of the ACLU spent eight years fighting the Obama administration over its drone strikes and excessive secrecy. “It’s no longer in the front pages the way it used to be and still should be. The lethal strikes are happening under Trump without even the kind of weak safeguards that Obama put in place at the end of his administration, and with ever greater secrecy.”
In Iraq and Syria, Trump authorized scorched earth bombing runs and troop surges in the name of defeating ISIS. When Trump entered office, there were already sizable numbers of U.S. Special Operations Forces on the ground battling ISIS in Mosul and other cities. War reporter Mike Giglio said that by the time Trump took the oath of office, half of Mosul was already under the control of Iraqi forces backed by U.S. Special Operations teams. “Trump followed the blueprint that the Obama administration had set out for him, but loosened rules and restrictions intended to prevent civilian casualties. For that and other reasons, including the fact that western Mosul is a much denser terrain, and had been a stronghold for ISIS and al-Qaeda, it was a hellscape. They were pulling the bodies out of the rubble for months after victory had been declared. And the rebuilding efforts there have been halting. I think when we look at Trump’s imprint on the war, the most obvious one is the level of destruction that came with it.”
Trump has consistently spoken threateningly about Iran, and proudly pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal, a pledge he’d discussed obsessively on the campaign trail. But beyond the rhetoric, in terms of policy, Trump essentially picked up the mantle of the neocons from the immediate aftermath of 9/11, when George W. Bush accused Iran of being in a terrorist partnership with Iraq and North Korea. The Obama-era nuclear deal represented the most significant steps toward normalizing relations with Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, a fact that enraged neocons and other hawks advocating regime change. Days into Trump’s presidency, his National Security Advisor, General Mike Flynn, fired from a previous post by Obama, significantly escalated threats toward Iran, accusing it of facilitating attacks against US-backed forces in the Persian Gulf. But Flynn was forced to resign a month into his tenure after lying to the FBI and Vice President Pence about his contacts with Russian officials. A year later, in March 2018, Trump named John Bolton, one of the most belligerent figures in U.S. politics, to the post. Two months later, he not only pulled out of the Iran deal, but increased economic sanctions on the country. As Iranian author and analyst Hooman Majd pointed out, these had an immediate impact on the civilian population, “cutting Iran’s oil exports down to zero, which it relies on to feed its people and import medicine.” The Intercept’s Murtaza Hussain said, “If we see a second Trump administration, I think that the odds of a military confrontation with Iran are very high.”
In September of 2019, Bolton was ousted from his post, reportedly because he was too much of a warmonger, even for Trump, who said if he’d listened to Bolton, “We’d be in World War 6 by now.” Even with Bolton gone, by late 2019, it seemed as though the Iran hawks might get their war. On January 3, 2020, in one of Trump’s single most dangerous acts as commander-in-chief, he authorized the assassination of top Iranian general, Qassim Suleimani, a man Trump described as “the world’s top terrorist.” The strike against Suleimani had reportedly been authorized months earlier when John Bolton was still Trump’s National Security Advisor. And Bolton cheered on the strike from the sidelines, calling it “the first step toward regime change in Iran.” But legal scholars had a different label for the strike: war crime. Law professor Marjorie Cohn said authorizing a state-sponsored murder of a high-ranking official of another country is a crime under both U.S. and international law. “What Trump did was to mount a crime of aggression, as defined by the International Criminal Court. There are two different ways that someone can commit the crime of aggression: first, by bombarding another state, and second by using its armed forces within the territory of another state without its agreement. Iraq and the United States have a joint military agreement that governs the stationing of U.S. troops in Iraq, and Iraq’s acting prime minister called the U.S. bombing a flagrant violation of the conditions of that agreement. In fact, the Iraqi parliament voted that the U.S. forces must leave. The U.S. refused, and that, in my book, is an illegal occupation. Congress could do its job using the war crimes statute, but guess how many times the war crimes statute has been used. Zero times.” If history and longstanding U.S. policy is any indication, however, Trump isn’t going to end up on trial at the Hague. In Washington, the Sulemani assassination was met with widespread support, if not celebration, among prominent Republicans. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: “President Trump’s decision to remove Qassim Suleimani from the battlefield saved American lives.” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham: “We killed the most powerful man in Iran short of the Ayatollah.” The Democratic reaction was a mixed bag. Senator Bernie Sanders labeled the strike an “assassination,” while other Democrats took a position that they didn’t like the strike but that they were glad that Suleimani was gone.
Much of the analysis of Trump’s most dangerous policies and actions have portrayed them as being uniquely Trumpian. And while some of them may be, failing to recognize the frightening and deadly powers built into the presidency by both Democrats and Republicans is not only dishonest, it leaves the door open for even greater abuses by future U.S. presidents. The U.S.-sponsored Saudi war against Yemen, for example, started under President Obama and is the product of decades of bipartisan U.S. support for the Saudi regime. As’ad AbuKhalil, professor of political science at the University of California-Stanislaus, says, “I’ve always emphasized to my students that the ability of one man to make changes in the foreign policy direction of an empire is extremely small. They can only make stylistic changes here and there.” Only after the brutal murder of Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Turkey and Trump’s refusal to acknowledge or condemn the role of the Saudi government or Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman in it, did a popular mobilization against Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen gain momentum in the U.S. Congress. The effort to cut the Saudis off was spearheaded in the House by Representative Ro Khanna of California, a Democrat who’d long advocated ending U.S. military sales and support for the Saudi regime. Legislation to cut off some military sales to Saudi Arabia passed the Senate in March of 2019, but Trump rejected it.
On Trump’s negotiations with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, journalist Allan Nairn has said, “he was willing to contemplate anything to seize the photo op and glorify his ego. It was nuts in terms of the motivation, but actually the right thing to do to avert a nuclear holocaust and work toward peace on the Korean peninsula. [It didn’t really accomplish anything, but a Biden administration will have our government resuming the ineffective, threatening stance of the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations.]
Donald Trump has been a militaristic president who has presided over the killing of civilians and has proudly celebrated and at times exonerated war criminals. His reckless public threats and open coddling of dictators and thugs is disturbing, but isn’t a presidential anomaly. The U.S. is the only nation on earth to use a nuclear weapon, twice. It’s waged wars that have killed millions of civilians across the world, backed genocidal death squads, and armed and funded ruthless human rights abusers and murderers. It’s engaged in coups and regime change the world over. It’s assassinated its own citizens, run secret prisons, and tortured detainees. These haven’t been Democratic or Republican policies. They’ve been the American way for a long time. Trump hasn’t fundamentally altered the trend, except perhaps in regard to Russia.
Part 5: Courting Corporate Theocracy
While all eyes remain on the presidential election in November, Donald Trump has already secured a multigenerational victory with his radical reshaping of the judicial branch of government. In part five of “American Mythology,” we look at how the Trump administration has outsourced hundreds of federal judicial appointments to the right-wing Federalist Society and Heritage Foundation. The appointments made during the past four years will impact almost every aspect of life in the U.S.: health care, marriage equality, worker’s rights, freedom of speech and press, guns, racism, women’s rights, war powers, and others. We dig into the ideologies and organizations at the center of Trump’s judicial strategy, the influence of the Koch brothers, and the corporate and social agenda the GOP wants new judges to impose. The stakes go well beyond the 2020 election: The impact of an extreme right-wing Supreme Court majority not only threatens reproductive rights, it could shut down any progressive attempts at lawmaking for decades to come. In some ways, confirming Judge Amy Coney Barrett is more important to the GOP than Trump winning reelection.
When campaigning for president in 2016, Donald Trump vowed that if he won the presidency, he’d appoint judges to the courts who were staunchly pro-gun and anti-abortion, judges approved by the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation. And once elected, he kept that promise. The Federalist Society was established in 1982 by conservative law school students at Yale and the University of Chicago. It subscribes to a judicial philosophy of originalism and textualism, meaning that it’s the role of judges to interpret the Constitution only in its plain text, no more or less than those who originally wrote and ratified it. UC Berkeley Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky once wrote, “Never in American history, thankfully, have a majority of the justices accepted originalism. If that were to happen, there would be a radical change in constitutional law. No longer would the Bill of Rights apply to state and local governments. No longer would there be protection of rights not mentioned in the text of the Constitution, such as the right to travel, freedom of association, and the right to privacy.”
In 2017 White House Counsel Don McGahn in keynote remarks at the Federalist Society’s National Lawyers Convention in Washington, D.C., said, “The greatest threat to the rule of law in our modern society is the ever-expanding regulatory state, and the most effective bulwark against that threat is a strong judiciary. The edifice of the modern administrative state was constructed in the 20th century on the misguided notion that independent experts, rather than our elected representatives, are best suited to govern the nation’s affairs.” In the view of McGahn and his cohort, federal agencies have become an unaccountable, out of control “administrative state.” In other words, federal agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control, or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration don’t have the authority to interpret what are often ambiguous statutes unless Congress explicitly mandates it. This kind of libertarian commitment is what reportedly shot Neil Gorsuch to the top of the Federalist Society’s list of prospective nominees to replace arch-conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. Gorsuch gained initial attention after publishing two judicial opinions that staked out radical originalist positions seeking to undermine federal agencies. In another notable appellate decision, Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius, Gorsuch argued that an individual’s faith could exempt them from Affordable Care Act mandates. Since joining the Supreme Court, Justice Gorsuch has been a reliable conservative. In Epic Systems v. Lewis, Gorsuch joined the conservative court majority to make it harder for victims of wage theft to sue employers collectively. He’s ruled in favor of a baker’s right to discriminate against a same-sex couple, and joined the conservative majority in allowing Ohio to purge its voter rolls of so-called “infrequent voters.” He upheld Trump’s Muslim ban, helped weaken labor unions, and favored allowing North Dakota to make it harder for Native Americans to use a P.O. Box to vote.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh was recommended by the Heritage Foundation, another conservative think-tank that believes judges shouldn’t attempt to interpret the Constitution beyond what the original drafters intended. When he was nominated to the Supreme Court, the White House wrote a one-page brief extolling his record of overruling “federal regulators 75 times on cases involving clean air, consumer protections, net neutrality and other issues.” In short, Kavanaugh views independent agencies as a threat to individual liberty and executive authority. That includes regulations intended to protect individuals from corporations. In gripping congressional testimony, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford alleged that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her 30 years ago. Despite her incendiary testimony and Kavanaugh’s behavior at the hearing, he was confirmed, 50 to 48.
Justices Kavanaugh and Gorsuch have already helped roll back hard-won rights protecting workers, consumers, women, immigrants, LGBTQ people, and voters. Now Trump and the GOP are trying to rush through a third Supreme Court Justice, wanting to make sure the court is stacked in their favor in the event of a contested election and that it’s dominated by radical right-wing ideologues if a Democrat becomes president. Just 45 days before the 2020 election, and one day after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, Donald Trump announced plans to replace the liberal justice with an arch conservative. In the mad rush to fill Ginsburg’s seat, Trump held a gathering of more than 100 people in the White House Rose Garden to celebrate the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett. The gathering would turn into a Covid super-spreader event, but, undeterred, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “We’re full steam ahead with the fair, thorough, and timely confirmation process that Judge Barrett, the Court, and the nation deserves.” This is the same McConnell, who eight months before the 2016 election, successfully blocked President Obama’s nomination of the moderate Judge Merrick Garland after Justice Scalia died. If Barrett is confirmed, the Supreme Court would be solidified as a right-wing entity, with conservative justices holding a decisive 6-3 majority. Barrett could provide a crucial vote on cases winding their way up to the Supreme Court, including those on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act and Roe v. Wade.
Part 6: The Looting of the Nation
Donald Trump has run the White House like his family business with one primary aim: to enrich his brand, his family, and his cronies. In part six of “American Mythology,” we examine how Trump and the GOP, at times with help from the Democrats, have widened the gates to the federal feeding trough for corporate greed and unaccountability. Throughout the 2016 campaign Trump claimed that, unlike Hillary Clinton, he was not beholden to corporate or special interests and that he would uplift the working class. Once in power, he appointed record numbers of Goldman Sachs veterans to his administration, passed sweeping tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, attacked organized labor, and chiseled away at an already abysmal health care system. Unprecedented inequality and stagnant wages have persisted. Fewer Americans currently have health insurance than when Trump was sworn into office. These sharp economic injustices have come into clear focus during the Covid-19 pandemic: corporate robber barons like Jeff Bezos have increased their wealth by billions while 40% of Americans say they couldn’t withdraw $400 in the event of an unexpected emergency. Eight million more people have descended into poverty in recent months, as the wealth of billionaires grew by $845 billion.
During his campaign, Trump claimed that unlike Clinton he was not beholden to corporate or special interests, and that he’d wouldn’t abandon the working class. In his inaugural address, reportedly written by Steve Bannon, Trump described an economic hellscape that, for many Americans, was a reality. DJT: “Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation. This American carnage stops right here, and stops right now. America will start winning again, winning like never before. We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth. And we will bring back our dreams. We will build new roads, and highways, and bridges, and airports, and tunnels, and railways all across our wonderful nation. We will get our people off of welfare and back to work – rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor.” Claiming he would spur economic growth and bring back manufacturing jobs, Trump promised to end NAFTA, pull out of the TPP, close trade deficits, pass a massive tax cut, and invest in the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. But the looting began on day one.
In November 2017, Trump signed into law the innocuously-named Tax Cut and Jobs Act. The largest tax overhaul in three decades, it cut the corporate tax rate from 35 to 21%. While Republicans claimed that this $1.9 trillion cut would “pay for itself,” the Congressional Research Service has found that it had “a relatively small (if any) first-year effect on the economy,” other than, according to the Congressional Budget Office, worsening economic inequality. Job and wage growth have plateaued, and when some cuts expire in 2025, the poorest Americans will see an increase in their taxes. Meanwhile, 91 of the top Fortune 500 companies paid $0 in corporate income tax in 2018.
Donald Trump has presided over the worst job losses in U.S. history, and only about half of the 22 million jobs lost are because of coronavirus. Countries that were better able to control their outbreaks haven’t suffered as much economic pain, according to analysis by the Financial Times. Former Goldman Sachs executive Nomi Prins says, “Trump connects everything to the stock market because it’s the one thing with a number that’s gone up. Why? Companies have been able to receive cheap money, because interest rates have been close to zero since the 2008 financial crisis, in order to subsidize the money that was lacking at the time for the banking system. Well, that money’s gone to the banks, the banks have bought back their own shares, and they pay themselves dividends on those shares, pumping the stock market up.”
Many of these factors, while intensified during this administration, have persisted through both Democratic and Republican administrations. Both parties are beholden to corporate interests, even if one’s more brazen and successful at producing dividends for the ultra-rich. The hard truth is that the political and economic system Trump has exploited and utilized will continue on in perpetuity unless the people of this country muster the collective will to challenge its existence. [Capitalism, baby.]
Part 7: Climate Carnage
In his denial of science, Donald Trump has guided the U.S. far past the tipping point of mitigating the existential threat of the climate crisis. Under both Democratic and Republican administrations over decades, U.S. climate policy has fallen far short of the urgent action scientists have demanded. But in crucial ways, Trump’s been more dangerous than his predecessors, seeming to revel in his denial of fundamental and scientifically indisputable realities. In part seven of “American Mythology,” we examine how the Trump administration has catapulted the corporate-fueled deregulation crusade dramatically forward. In the past four years, Trump has undone or weakened up to 70 rules and regulations aimed at protecting the environment, while another 30 policy changes are still underway. The majority of these 100 changes are happening at the Environmental Protection Agency, currently headed by a former lobbyist for the coal industry who fought the Obama administration’s attempts at environmental regulations. Trump’s overseen the largest rollback of federal land protection in U.S. history, opening environmentally-sensitive areas for corporate and industrial development (mining and extraction freeing of government protections).
As he campaigned for president, Trump often celebrated his vow to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord as part of his broader onslaught on the record and person of Barack Obama. Set aside the fact that the Paris agreement falls far short of what the scientific community believes is urgently needed. On a strictly policy level, Trump has made it very clear that his decision wasn’t motivated by concern for the planet or because he had an alternative plan. It was singularly focused on ripping up what he believed was an impediment to the rights of corporations to pillage and pollute the earth for profit. Political dissident Noam Chomsky says, “Trump’s pulling out of the Paris negotiations leaves the United States as the only country in the world officially refusing to take even small steps towards dealing with the climate crisis, and that’s combined with domestic programs rapidly increasing the use of the most dangerous fossil fuels, cutting back regulations on economy for automobiles, eliminating safety protections for workers, and so on. All of that is a race to disaster.”
A recent New York Times analysis found that up to 70 rules and regulations aimed at protecting the environment have been officially undone or weakened by the Trump administration, and another 30 policy changes are underway. The majority of these 100 changes are being made at the Environmental Protection Agency, currently headed by Andrew Wheeler, a former lobbyist for the coal industry who fought Obama’s attempts at environmental regulations. What Trump’s done at the EPA represents a committment to destroy rather than protect the environment. It’s deregulation, supposedly in order to create more jobs, but really to increase corporate profits.
Peter Wright, a lawyer who represented Dow Chemical in the cleanup of toxic Superfund sites, and “repeatedly failed to hold polluters accountable for the damage they’ve done to the drinking water across the country,” according to Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown (Ohio), now oversees the EPA’s Superfund cleanup program. David Fischer, who helped chemical companies circumvent chemical safety laws, now oversees federal implementation of those laws. [The tradition of placing the wolf in charge of the hen house goes back decades in both Republican and Democratic administrations, but, as is so often the case with Trump, his actions are more open and glaring.]
According to the Center for American Progress, the Trump administration has removed, or attempted to remove, protections from nearly 35 million acres of public lands. Stripping protections from Bears Ears National Monument, along with the Grand Staircase-Escalante amounted to what CAP called the largest rollback of federal land protection in US history.
The Trump administration has opened up federally-protected lands for development in 12 states, and at this point, Alaska’s long-preserved lands have taken the biggest hit. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR, has been opened for oil extraction. Trump openly bragged about rolling back protections that not even Ronald Reagan could achieve.
When Trump took office, the environmental protection wins of the Obama administration were systematically dismantled. Trump reversed the hard-fought pipeline victories during the Obama era, backing private companies to resume construction of both the Dakota Access pipeline and the Keystone XL pipeline. (The former is going ahead, despite court challenges, and the latter is still pending.)
In the big picture in the U.S., corporate negligence and greed, cultivated by corporate-friendly bi-partisan policy-making and Republican-led deregulation is to blame for polluting our air, water, land, and food, as our earth becomes uninhabitable. A national conversation around the Green New Deal was begun by first term Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but the Green New Deal is hardly being enthusiastically embraced by the elite rulers of the Democratic Party – not Joe Biden, not Nancy Pelosi, and, famously, not longtime Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California. Besides, even a Green New Deal enacted under a Democratic administration with a Democratic-controlled Congress, wouldn’t resolve decades of inaction about mitigating global warming or addressing issues of climate justice for Black and indigenous people in the US and poor countries that don’t emit carbon at high levels but are disproportionately affected by climate change.