The Trump administration is like a cross between the declining Roman Empire and a reality show that has gone wrong
The Trump White House is becoming even a parody of itself. A former general, John Kelly, who spent 45 years in the Marines has been appointed chief of staff to replace Reince Priebus. The first act of Kelly was to sack the newly appointed head of communications, Anthony Scaramucci. While it's tempting to just laugh at all this, it's a reflection of some more serious and intractable issues.
Trump's supposed skills as a businessman/entrepreneur do not extend to having the most basic abilities. The West Wing is like a cross between the court in the declining Roman Empire and a reality show which has gone wrong. All the stories suggest intrigue and backstabbing, not least from Trumps own family. The news that Scaramucci was escorted from the White House reads like a scene from a bank during the crash of 2008.
Unfortunately, the trials and tribulations of this particularly unpleasant group of people are not without cost to the rest of us. While they play out their grotesque rivalries, they are imposing policy which is making the situation of ordinary working people more difficult and dangerous.
Despite their failure on repealing Obama care they have tried repeatedly to force higher health insurance premiums for millions, while taking away healthcare altogether for others. They continue to scapegoat migrants and Muslims. In the last week alone they have imposed sanctions on Iran and Venezuela, in the arrogant assumption that the U.S. can police the world. And tensions are escalating with North Korea.
We are meant to feel assured that a former general now runs the White House. As always, the military are seen as the best solution when things go bad in the U.S. and Trumps knee-jerk response is to send for the Marines. But Kelly will need more than a bit of military discipline to sort this lot out - assuming of course that he has any more idea than them what to do. Certainly, the U.S. record of invading and occupying countries in the past few decades would suggest not.
Trump's presidency symbolises an America in decline. His solutions to that decline - protectionism and narrow nationalism, and promises to make America great again - had some appeal to some sections of society, especially those who have lost jobs over the past 20 years. But none of the slogans will reverse the policies. The old rust belt industries aren't coming back to Ohio and Pennsylvania. Competition with China, already decisive economically, is also increasingly taking a military form. If those closest to Trump are fiddling while Washington burns, they are doing so because the problems of the world's largest empire are insoluble within the bounds of capitalism and imperialism.
Why we can't be left to the mercy of the market
Here in Britain, the government is barely in a better condition than across the Atlantic. Yet again the problem is a Brexit which the Tories seem incapable of delivering in any form. Fierce rows, manoeuvring while Theresa May is on holiday, and beneath it all, a paralysis about what can and can't be done. This state of affairs has emboldened the Remainers who are a big majority in parliament and who are doing everything they can to reverse the referendum decision.
They are, it has to be said, a miserable bunch, who spout about democracy but are prepared to ignore the results of a democratic vote. There is no evidence of any fundamental difference in voting if another referendum took place now, but they want to put aside, ignore or reverse a decision. This tells us a lot about the contempt, for ordinary people and their views, held by the assembled great and good in the Mother of Parliaments.
Chuka Umunna is continuing his alliance with Tories and Lib Dems to try to force staying in the single market. There is no advantage for working people in doing so. It is a capitalist market geared to capitalist production and trade, on the most favourable terms for it, not for us. They attack Jeremy Corbyn because he will not commit to it, although the way the debate in Labour is going he may be under a lot of pressure to give way. Particularly despicable is the role of Lib Dem leader Vince Cable who has accused Corbyn of siding with a right-wing Tory government, as did Ramsay McDonald in 1931. This from a man who was in coalition with a right-wing Tory government for five years!
On the left, much of this argument focuses on the question of immigration and free movement of labour. I think this is a principle the Left should adhere to, but it doesn't have to be tied to the single market. A British government outside the EU can have any immigration policy it wants. I would like to see a policy which allows movement for people not just from Europe but from India and Africa and the rest of the world as well. This is rather different from the pro single market politicians, none of whom take this approach, with some wanting regional immigration controls!
The language of the unheard
I came back from holiday to (rather alarmist) news of riots on Dalston. Actually, it wasn't a riot at all, despite deployment of riot police, but a political protest. Numbers of young people had blocked the Kingsland Road (one of the main A roads out of London) in protest at the death of Rashan Charles last week. Charles was pronounced dead at the London Hosptial after being attacked and detained by police in a Dalston shop. There have also been several vigils and demos demanding justice over his killing.
There have been many commentaries pointing to the issues here: the number of black deaths in police custody, the lack of media focus, the role of the police in racism here, accounts of previous such deaths. There have also been predictable criticisms not just from the Right but from liberals about the counter-productive nature of rioting. In addition, I have seen some racist commentary along the lines that this guy lived in subsidised housing and never worked!
This is, of course, the narrative put by much of the right wing about working class people in places like Hackney. Somehow, they all live by various illicit means, thieving or drug dealing, living in council houses paid for by long suffering tax payers. Incredible really that the same right wingers don't notice that this working class staffs the shops and offices in the city. Or that any subsidy from state spending on housing for the poor has long been paid back in the form of rent over decades. Indeed, the only state subsidy for housing today is the benefit which goes straight into the pockets of private landlords.
There are two questions - as well as the others above - that I think are worth asking here. The first is why Afro-Caribbeans are so frequently the victims of police abuse, including deaths? I know the area very well, and lived down the other end of Middleton Road for several years. When I first came to Hackney in 1973 it already had a strong and relatively settled Afro-Caribbean community, which must have started arriving in the late 50s and early 60s. Why has this abuse continued to happen across generations, and why is there no sign that the young people growing up today are treated any differently from their grandparents in this regard? This raises questions of racism at institutional level which have never seriously been acknowledged, let alone dealt with.
The second issue is why the police and media so fear rioting, that they talk it up? I guess they realise the very deep anger in society, crystallised by Grenfell. They know that levels of inequality are producing much discontent. Martin Luther King called it the language of the unheard. Working class people in Hackney are right to feel unheard. I also have no doubt that the events surrounding Grenfell will have fed into this feeling: that nothing is too shoddy or bad for the London poor and that no one cares about them. The truth is, they are right, and there has to be a fight-back to deal with this inequality.
Banking on change
On which note, good luck to Bank of England workers on strike today. I hope Threadneedle Street rocks and that all those who depend on our labour recognise that this is the source of wealth, not their gambling on money markets.
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
More articles from this author
- No one likes neoliberalism: the year that the mask slipped – weekly briefing
- The Irish Question, the EU and the debate about borders - weekly briefing
- Today’s fringe is tomorrow’s respectable racism - weekly briefing
- A life sentence of low wages and public sector cuts - weekly briefing
- A Scrooge Christmas on the cards - weekly briefing
- Taking sides in the next major Middle East war - weekly briefing
- A government that is not fit to govern at home or abroad