The Songs of Angry Men

Alastair Crooke, Comment, 22 December 2017

This last week has seen –not one, but two – highly significant portents:  Taken together, they speak of the coming American crisis – One part of it is fairly clear: sooner or later, the massive virtual, financial liquidity flow, will go into reverse: with consequences that are not easily foreseen.  For, this is an experiment in financial policy never before attempted (except perhaps, with the splurge of spurious Assignat liquidity, issued by the French Revolutionaries, between 1789 – 1796, which ended with the collapse of the currency). 

The second aspect, concerns the impact on the divided, and angrily mobilised, two, unbridgeable American ‘camps’. The cover has been stripped away; the swamp exposed, in all its partisan hatreds; and its contempt for the Flyover ‘other’, has been laid bare.  President Trump has already succeeded, beyond most expectations, in showing up the reeking core in governance – and the falsity of mainstream media. 

But now, with both camps duly fired-up, they both seek, and demand, radical change: for one camp, President Trump’s undignified haul out from his office; and for the other, the take-down of a system that they feel has betrayed them.  But what happens if neither has its hope is fulfilled?

The two symbolic episodes, to which we refer, consisted of the publication of the US National Security Statement, and Congress’s passing of the tax bill this week.

The first, was widely viewed to be rather underwhelming. It was. Its’ principles remain largely in keeping with the 1992 Defence Policy Guidance document, authored by Paul Wolfowitz and which later were incorporated into the US National Security Strategy document of September 2002 (ref 1). The objectives it set were: to assure access to Persian Gulf oil, to prevent proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and to combat threats of terrorism. The document called for pre-emptive attacks on actual, or would-be, rivals and – that is, any nation that could challenge American pre-eminence — with the United States ready to act alone if “collective action cannot be orchestrated.”

The language has been adjusted, of course, to reflect Trump’s campaign themes of putting America First, and would-be peer powers are now described in terms of a great power competition; but in essence the objective of maintaining America’s commanding position (in terms of economics, defence capabilities, in space, and in the projection of values and influence) is preserved.  Russia and China become ‘revisionist’ powers because the assertion of their national interests, inevitably limits Washington’s commanding position; and the assertion of its interests.

Thus the statement notes (ref 2) “rival states modernize and build up their conventional and nuclear forces. Many actors can now field a broad arsenal of advanced missiles, including variants that can reach the American homeland…”, and proposes in response, a layered missile defense, including the capability to destroy enemy ICBM’s before launch

The Security Statement is interesting therefore, primordially in how conventional it is (albeit, carefully crafted to appear a contrast to that of Obama).  In all respects, but one, the foreign policy element, has been aligned with the foregoing foreign policy Establishment consensus.  It is a natural successor to the 2002 Statement. It offers little scope for détente with Russia, and repeats Washington’s prejudices against the Shi’a.

Its difference rests rather, on the centrality of the domestic situation: US geo-political strength in the world, qua Trump, is made contingent on domestic prosperity: “An America that successfully competes, is the best way to prevent conflict. Just as American weakness invites challenge, American strength and confidence deters war and promotes peace,” the document states.  In short, Trump’s whole strategy (internal and external), hangs on the recovery of America’s manufacturing base and in regaining its former commanding position in technology.

Laudable sentiments.  But the loss of America’s manufacturing base (i.e. offshoring and the advent of long, overseas supply lines to manufacturing) and its technological lead, cannot so simplistically be attributed to past negligence.  It ‘came with the territory’ as much as anything – of America playing as Imperial Power; of America as the global financial hegemon; and of America insisting that the dollar be the global reserve currency.  These were dynamics voluntarily entered into; and now not easily reversed.  Can the advent of international supply lines – now embedded deeply into the infrastructure of trade – really be somehow undone?

Which brings us to the second ‘portend’ – the Republican tax bill.  This will be great for GOP donors (one important consideration in its framing), for the banks, real estate investors and for corporate America; but will do zilch for the 60%, whose real incomes have been lagging prices for some years.  The American economy has divaricated into two quite separate economies: the ‘asset-based economy’, which is inflating away nicely, and the sixty-percent economy, which is constricted and shrinking.  America has real structural problems: far too much debt; an aging population, too few well-paid jobs for the middle classes, prospective robotisation of those that remain, and underfunded pensions.

Celebrate the rising stock-market, by all means; but understand that this does not address the problem of a hollowed out real economy.  It will not, per se, MAGA. Nor will it recover long-lost manufacturing industry jobs.

Yes, the tax bill is conventional Establishment boilerplate (largely cooked up by Trump’s Goldman Sachs posse). It cannot be said to be in anyway ‘radical’ in terms of the aspirations of the now bellicose deplorable base.  Is Trump then in the process of coming to terms with the Deep State: is a ‘deal’ emerging?

Or, is Trump (as David Stockman postulates, ref 3), a skin-deep, ‘accidental’ populist, who is destined to disappoint – and who ultimately will bring down the financial crisis as the likely USG $1.25 Trillion borrowing requirement (for 2019), collides with a Federal Reserve, shrinking its balance sheet by $600 billion dollars per year (in 2019): A crisis for which Trump will be blamed?

The point here, is that America’s economic problems – but particularly the asphyxiating debt – will not be easily resolved by whomsoever is US President. Trump’s radical quality (as Stockman points out), the reason that he is loathed by the élites: is not so much about policy; but because he plays the boy calling out that the Emperor is wearing no clothes, and is ridiculous:

“What sent the Imperial City establishment into a fit of apoplexy [over Tump’s election] was exactly two things that struck at the core of its raison d’être.

First, was Trump’s stated intentions to seek rapprochement with Putin’s Russia…and even more importantly, was his very persona.

That is to say, the role of today’s president is to function as the suave, reliable maître d’ of the Imperial City, and [be] the lead spokesman for Washington’s purported good works at home and abroad. And for that role…Donald Trump was utterly unqualified.

Stated differently…the Oval Office is the bully pulpit from which its catechisms, bromides and self-justifications are propagandized to the unwashed masses – the tax-and-debt-slaves of Flyover America, who bear the burden of its continuation.

Needless to say, the ‘Never Trumpers’ were eminently correct in their worry that Trump would sully, degrade and weaken the Imperial Presidency. That he has done in spades, with his endless tweet storms that consist mainly of petty score settling, self-justification, unseemly boasting and shrill partisanship; and on top of that, you can pile his impetuous attacks on friend, foe and bystanders (e.g. NFL kneelers) alike.

Yet, that is exactly what has the Deep State and its media collaborators running scared. To wit, Trump’s entire modus operandi is not about governing or a serious policy agenda—and most certainly not about Making America’s Economy Great Again.” 

Here we have it: Trump’s radicalism lies in exposing Washington’s cant, and not espousing it.  It is his nature; his persona.  He will not change; and he will persist with it.  The dilemma it presents, is that President Trump precisely is good at energising and inciting the 60 percenters.  He is an instinctive agitator. But he cannot deliver the radical change for which they now yearn. For how long will his deplorables content themselves with just enjoying observing the élites squirm? 

And what then? For, it is now too late to restore the cant: the beguilement is broken.

Do you hear the people sing? Singing the songs of angry men…?  (Les Misérables).