The Frankenstein candidacy of Donald Trump has been brought to life by neoliberal economic policies pursued by Republicans and Democrats alike. To be sure, Trump’s rise is predicated on his appeal to racial resentments and xenophobia. Normally this racism and xenophobia would not resonate but these bi-partisan neoliberal policies have resulted in widespread suffering among middle and working-class Americans, pushing these voters towards Trump, who has promised to overturn the neoliberal status quo.
During the Great Depression, America was lucky to get President Roosevelt and his New Deal reforms, when it could have easily gotten a Mussolini or Hitler. Economic insecurity does strange things to a society.
The neoliberal value system was on display last night at the Democratic debate in Flint, Michigan, where Republican governor Rick Snyder cut costs by switching to a polluted water source, in an effort to run government like a business. A good question for the Democratic contenders would have been–where was Obama’s EPA while this poisoning was going on? It’s not like poisoning of Flint was unknown. The dirty little secret of stories like Flint, is that neoliberal Democrats like Obama and Clinton agree with the Republicans that the government should be run like a business, citizens be damned.
The neoliberal economic system that both parties ascribe to values profit over citizens. It values the rich and powerful over those most vulnerable. It stirs up hatred through appeals to race, class and xenophobia. Divide and rule.
Writer and political philosopher Ian Welsh describes this as the culture of meanness. “One of the most striking things about much of American culture is the simple meanness of it. The cruelty. Most of this seems to come down to three feelings:
- My life sucks. I have to work a terrible job I hate in order to survive. I have to bow and scrape and do shit I don’t want to do. You should have to as well.
- Anyone who doesn’t make it must not be willing to suffer as I do, therefore anyone who doesn’t make it deserves to be homeless, go without food, and so on.
- Anybody who is against us needs to be hurt and humiliated, because that’s how I see my superiors deal with people who go against them.”
This culture of meanness helps explain the appeal of Trump.
In this milieu where Americans are pitted against each other in a savage race to the bottom, kindness is a revolutionary act of resistance.
The New Deal reforms initiated by FDR created a much more egalitarian country, where the gains of capitalism were shared broadly. A single wage earner could support a family leaving the other spouse to raise and care for children, volunteer for Scouts, Little League, and church groups, thus maintaining a much more caring and vibrant community.
Today, both husband and wife are required to work long hours, in a desperate effort to maintain a middle-class lifestyle, leaving no time to properly raise and nurture their children, volunteer, or do all those little things that maintain a sense of community. While at work, employees are pitted against each other, and warned against unionizing.
This atomization of American society is by design. The savagely unequal world the neoliberal’s have created requires every American to be on their own. Neoliberal principles state that only the market confers value, and there can be no community. Community and concern for our fellow Americans is threatening to this market based system. Instead you’re encouraged to blame yourself for you own failures rather than realizing that the problems are systemic.
Neoliberalism was the cover story that enabled the American elite to finally drive a stake through New Deal reforms. The problem for the ruling elite was that the reforms threatened their hierarchical system of control. If American citizens were given enough to eat and security, with time for study and leisure, they might learn to think for themselves, and come to the realization that the privileged elite had no real function. The reality is that a hierarchical society is only possible when the average citizens are poor, divided and uneducated.
As they say–mission accomplished.
If we want a different society where monsters like Trump have limited appeal we must reject the values of neoliberalism that encourage selfishness and cruelty.
Kindness is a revolutionary act.
Likewise, creating and sustaining community is a revolutionary act.
Let’s start a revolution.