Notes on Trump (by Arthur Dent)

“If there was a left, we would be in a good position to finally rid ourselves of the pseudo-left who can be shown to espouse essentially the same anti-globalist and isolationist ideas as Trump. But in order for there to be a left, we have to be able to present a coherent economic program that explains how to unleash the productive forces of a globalized world for the benefit of the majority who only work here rather than primarily for the owners”.

* * * *


Arthur Dent – Thursday 2017-01-19

Even if I had a deep understanding of US and world politics and economics I could not hope to figure out what’s happening at the moment. We are at an important turning point in multiple processes, many of them dependent on unknowable contingencies.

But here’s an outline of some aspects that mass media analysts don’t seem to get.

The big event was Trump beating the entire Republican establishment as a complete outsider in a hostile takeover. Most attention has been directed at the subsequent defeat of the Democrats and the wailing and gnashing of teeth from their celebrities and media. But the situation on the Republican side is far more interesting.

Instead of splitting they have jointly celebrated defeating the Democrats and appear to have successfully formed a united administration. Both sides are indeed glad to be rid of the Democrat administration and can work together for reduced taxes, less regulation and some other points of agreement. It is also quite traditional for Republicans to accept budget deficits as long as they are not funding a Democrat administration. But the fact remains, President Trump has no party in Congress. They despise him and are cooperating only because they fear him.

Trump’s focus is on building his own party. If he had lost the primaries he looked like running as a third party (which he tried to do decades ago). If he had won the primaries but lost the election he would still have been at war with the Republican establishment, who could reasonably be accused of having treacherously helped the Democrats to win by attacking their own candidate. Having won, without any help from most of the Republican establishment he is now in a much stronger position to actually take over their party. If he doesn’t, they will find a way to get rid of him.

All members of the House of Representatives and one third of Senators come up for election in two years, together with State legislatures and governors. The mid-term primaries start in a year. Trump’s campaign organization has databases with more than 10 million email addresses and 2 million donors. Trump’s campaign more than doubled the numbers voting in Republican primaries (many of them former Democrats). Usually only small numbers participate in mid-term primaries and they are mainly mobilized by actual party activists – especially cronies of the local incumbents.

If Trump can keep his base mobilized over the next two years he will end up with a large party in Congress (and in the States) whether or not the Democrats regain majorities.

The media and celebrities are still helping by denouncing him as a deplorable outsider. That’s exactly what he wants to keep his base mobilized. He won because so many people are utterly sick of politically correct plastic insiders.

As far as I can make out the media actually do not get this. It is plausible that when they gave him enormous amounts of free publicity in the primaries they were consciously intending to help him beat the other candidates so that the Republicans would nominate a grotesquely deplorable candidate who would lose the election. But they actually seem to think it really matters that he has become more unpopular since the election under their onslaught. His popularity among Republican voters is what matters for the primaries and he is not harmed at all by attacks from media and celebrities.

So here’s one possible sequence of events.

Congress approves a fairly large infrastructure stimulus program and deficit as well as funding construction of a secure southern border and improved healthcare. Republican defectors would be outnumbered by Democrat collaborators.

Together with tax cuts and deregulation this has the expected effect of increasing GDP growth and thus jobs and wages at least in the short term. If Trump actually launched trade wars that could produce the opposite effect, even in the short term. But he can start lots of trade disputes that build momentum against globalism without actually initiating a trade war.

So Trump will be seen as having delivered. Many of his opponents will be removed in the primaries.

Hispanic hostility and Democrat mobilization against Trump’s immigration program won’t have much impact on Republican primaries since few Hispanic voters would register as Republicans. But this issue could win seats for Democrats at the midterm elections.

Assuming the Democrats get their act together and stop carrying on the way they are at the moment, they should be able to mount a serious campaign to win back majorities in the House and Senate at the midterm elections. But to do so they would presumably go with Trump’s trade policies, denouncing him for having not gone far enough. After all Bernie Sanders was a serious challenger to Hilary Clinton with protectionist policies (and against open borders) and Clinton actually announced opposition to the TPP in response. Arguably he could have defeated Trump.

So the result in two years could be that the US has shifted from a two party system in which both parties support globalism to a two party system in which both parties oppose globalism. If there was a Democratic majority their obstruction could be blamed for any economic decline that set in after two years.

In three years or so Trump could announce that the border was now secure enough to offer a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants without risk of encouraging more. That could produce a significant hispanic vote for a President that had actually delivered rather than merely attempted comprehensive immigration reform.

A major world economic crisis could break out at any time. I would be surprised if it was postponed for another 8 years. So I would also be surprised if an authoritarian demagogue was not President of the USA when it does break out.

The collapse of the old parties and their plastic politicians extends far beyond the USA. Lots of people are being drawn into thinking about politics for the first time. Their first thoughts are abysmally stupid and make them vulnerable to demagogues spouting nationalism and nativism. But many will end up thinking more deeply now that they have begun thinking.

If there was a left, we would be in a good position to finally rid ourselves of the pseudo-left who can be shown to espouse essentially the same anti-globalist and isolationist ideas as Trump. But in order for there to be a left,we have to be able to present a coherent economic program that explains how to unleash the productive forces of a globalized world for the benefit of the majority who only work here rather than primarily for the owners.

61 thoughts on “Notes on Trump (by Arthur Dent)

  1. 102. Hi Dave, I haven’t been following Syria closely for a while, but since the gas attack was from regime air force rather than local militias I assume it had to require decision from the top.

    Despite the fall of Aleppo and the near universal “consensus” that regime has won I remain convinced that it has already lost the war and knows it (and that Russians are there to help a non-catastrophic transition). Ceasefire in most of the country means replacement government is being consolidated on the ground. No ceasefire in Idlib where Arar Al Sham is the (salafi) main opposition fighting force and has still not broken with Jabhat Al Nusra (Al Qaeda). I have the impression Turkey, Europe and USA don’t mind regime, Russians, Iranians etc fighting them while rest of opposition can stay out of it and protest. Being able to blame the Russians and Iranians without actually stopping them perhaps avoids complicating things with the rest of the opposition who are able to just get on with consolidating local government free of regime attacks. (I base this on belief, which I assume would also be held among US, Turkish and European policy makers that Al Qaeda is now the most dangerous force in Syria since both Daesh and regime are certain to be defeated and part of the danger is that they genuinely were part of the united opposition fighting both Daesh and the regime while West did nothing so most of the opposition is only able to stand aside while their former comrades are destroyed but not able to actually fight them.

    Could just be the sort of irrationality and miscalculation that tyrants in desperate situations are prone to. But its worth noting that nearby Homs really IS of enormous significance. Homs falling to salafi Al Qaeda alliance is the sort of catastrophic collapse likely to be followed by massacres that they are trying to avoid. The isolationist signals from Europe and USA that they wouldn’t do anything were pretty conviincing and there still isn’t a force in place that the regime could surrender to without getting massacred. Even conceivable that it wasn’t a “mistake” but intended to accelerate the arrival of forces they can surrender to without being massacred – it certainly does have that effect.

    BTW Scott “Dilbert” Adams argues for “false flag” and has confidently predicted what just didn’t happen on that basis:

    (Some of his other analysis has been MUCH sounder despite the twitchiness).

    The actual reaction so far is militarily as pointless as the Russians firing cruise missiles a while back. Those missiles are expensive and would not be used making potholes in deserted airport runways but to suppress anti-aircraft defences while fighter bombers incidentally dug much cheaper potholes and actually destroyed the aircraft – which is usually the main point of attacking an air base.

    It is particularly ludicrous to spend about $100 million on missiles after first notifying the target to evacuate so neither aircraft nor fighters would be destroyed!

    Politically however it is probably THE most effective way for Trump to “change” from his campaign remarks about allying with Assad and Russia against ISIS (while confronting Iran). It DOES end the “normalization” of both chemical warfare against civilians and expecting US military paralysis due to Congressional opposition.

    The MANY opponents both in Trump’s base and the establishment Republicans and the Democrats will find that objecting to that and insisting on a Congressional veto is the least favourable terrain they could fight on. Plus the absurdity creates an ambiguity that it really could be just a symbolic gesture so they can hope instead of confronting right now.

    Perhaps of greater military significance was the very recent announcement that in future the military will not announce or confirm troop movements to and from Iraq and Syria. There has been a significant buildup towards the end of the Obama administration without provoking much public debate. Many thousands, with heavy equipment will need to be sealifted for establishing safe zones. It is of course impossible to keep large scale deployments secret for long but I would not be surprised if the first few thousand could not be in the pipeline with only “fake news” rumours rather than a full public debate before they arrive.

    Also curious is the timing of Steve Bannon’s departure from the National Security Council between the gas attack and the tomahawk strike. I am inclined to believe the claim it was just the routine end of a temporary assignment to keep an eye on Mike Flynn – I mentioned in para 1 of these comments that Mike Flynn was too confusing/deranged for me to write on Trump’s likely foreign policy. So it’s probably just a coincidence. But the strike was so clearly oriented towards the domestic politics of shifting policy without alienating Trump’s base that it was at least serendipity for the main strategic consultant on such domestic politics NOT to be visibly “politicizing the National Security Council” at the time.


  2. 103. Whoops, I meant to say Hama, as mentioned in David’s link. Homs and Hama are two key strategic towns on the main regime supply line to Aleppo.


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  4. 104. This article has the usual litany of failures but mentions:

    “The president’s habit of tossing hornets into Republican policy picnics has hampered his agenda and demonstrated the lack of experience among his staff in working with Capitol Hill to get things done. His lack of early engagement on the health care bill helped lead to its demise, and his early efforts at a tax bill were disorganized — he announced he had one even though critical staff members and congressional leaders knew nothing of it. Those stumbles and his current flirtation with a government shutdown demonstrate <a continued pattern of playing to his base rather than governing.

    As I explained in this article, before inauguration, he can't get much done with no party in Congress . Playing to his base while illustrating the inability of his opponents in the Republican party to get things done is an obvious strategy to acquire a large party in Congress at the 2018 Republican primaries.

    My guess is that there will be no shut down. Leaving in the Obamacare funds and chopping out initial wall funding will be hailed as a victory by his opponents while confirming to his base that he did fight for what they want and they need to mobilie to get rid of his opponents at the primaries.

    At the same time he will have paid lip service to traditional Republican principles of "balanced budgets" while the Congress will deliver some of the deficit he actually needs to tighten the labor market and deliver actual short term benefits to his working class base.

    My guess is the tax reforms to be announced shortly will not reward high income earners as desired by Republicans and warned by Democrats but will be populist and aimed squarely at his base while stimulating business and repatriation of capital from abroad.

    The Democrats are on track to nominate candidates who will be demanding more infrastructure and deficits and not opposing immigration enforcement, especially in the marginally held Republican seats they hope to pick up. If they win a House majority in 2018 Trump has more chance of getting the rest of what he needs to ensure a second term, from 2020 including single payer health care superior to Obamacare as well as more chance to secure solid Trumpist House and Senate from 2020.

    Not having a wall, but still getting funds for immigration enforcement still leaves open the possibility of attracting a substantial hispanic vote by implementing comprehensive immigration reform with at least legal residence and hope of an eventual parth to citizenship for non-criminal undocumented immigrants.

    Liked by 1 person

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