Capitalism, Donald Trump’s Presidency, and American Society
“America's first businessperson in the White House is doing more to destroy the American capitalist system than any previous president” - Al Jazeera 2017
For decades the US has been on the forefront in promoting capitalism and neoliberal policies. Both domestically and globally, the United States government advocates capitalism as the only path forward. It is the economic ideology to which we strictly adhere, it is how we promote development in nations throughout the world, it is how we determine friend and foe- us and them, it is the foundation upon which we build international institutions and domestic services, it has formatively defined the way that we have constructed the America we know today.
Capitalism gives economic agency to make some people very, very rich-- the so-called “American dream” that anyone has the capacity to earn a lot of money. Neoliberalism is capitalism’s political counterpart. It institutionalizes policies to keep those in the capitalist class very very rich. It also seeks to keep those at the socio-economic bottom sources of cheap labor, without political power, and does so by creating artificial divides by pitting them against each other. “So pervasive has neoliberalism become that we seldom even recognize it as an ideology”. The problem with the free market, however, is that it does not incentivize solutions to a great number of the political social problems affecting Americans right now.
Much of the country has become disillusioned with the idea that politicians often do not represent the wills of their constituency. This idea: “the swamp” or “Washington insider” is frequently referenced, but it is embedded in a much larger discourse -- American political power’s ability to act over its society. Donald Trump, a mascot of capitalism, has done what many scholars could not: start a real conversation in America on the problematic traits of neoliberalism. Now before I get to carried away, let me be realistic about this. This is not a universal discussion in bipartisan America by any means. We are talking more of a whisper than a roar. But given the context of American identity and how formative capitalism has been in creating its imprint, it is really worth analyzing. Donald Trump could be the catalyst for an economic and social awakening in the United States.
It is evident to many Americans, whether they identify this phenomenon as a sign of capitalism or not, that Trump (and many other politicians) seek to protect those in the capitalist class. Fulfilling promises he made during the campaign, 45 has continued to funnel political and economic power to those already at the top. Many on his staff have ties to Goldman-Sachs-- more so than any presidency. For the first time ever, there is a billionaire on the presidential staff—and not just one but two. Trump has turned his back on the middle class—the carriers of capitalism. The new tax plan that Trump fervently defends, will do little to help the working class, especially those without 401(k)’s or pension plans (most of whom do not).
The politics of this era alienate, create divisions, strip labels to make new ones to further divide this country as a tool to make people believe that they have no power-- political, social or economic. Many people are beginning to discuss and identify this political tool. Creating divisions, for example, between “shithole” countries and *whatever-the-opposite-of-shithole* countries. One finds this strategy used very crudely with Trump’s tweets which seek to divide American society by name-calling.
In 2018 I am curious to see if these cracks in this political/economic model continue to be exposed to the American public. A major aspect of a capitalist system is that those on the bottom feel that they have no power, which we saw as a major discourse of the election. However, people are starting to slowly take back some of that power. The #MeToo movement has really made its way into public discourse, bringing a voice to those who really did not have one a year ago. The Women's March, focusing on electing more women in the 2018 midterms, saw a much more intersectional focus by the constituency to include more voices. I am optimistic that, while Trump is an epitomic symbol of capitalism, he is actually exposing the failure of its economic policies and the divisiveness of its politics.
(Published February 1, 2018 - View Full Newsletter Here)