Kleptocracy Rising: The Short Eventful Life of the Corporate State of Trumplandia

Just about every Trumpeted nominee for high office has obvious conflicts of interest with upholding the public trust, no less the United States Constitution. At the core of the problem is their basic attitude toward government itself. They furtively frame their intentions in the most patriotic sounding rhetoric they can muster. However, they are corporatists; they would prefer that corporations run the country, not heaven forbid the people or our representatives. Don’t get me wrong; we have plenty of problems with our “representative democracy” itself.

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Trump Orders Greatness

As it is, the corporations pay our legislative representatives to work for them, not for us. We pay their comfortable salaries, generous health insurance and pensions, but the corporations pay for what really counts – the right to write or at least dictate the writing of laws. Corporatists are inherently anti-democratic. They want the government to work in their interests alone, thereby maximizing their power. They used to call that fascism, which is synonymous with corporate tyranny.

Simply put, the Trumpeted nominees oppose the fundamental purposes for which the institutions they want to administer were established. Moreover, their core values directly contradict the very concept of public service. The obvious analogy to these Trumpist Trolls running the government would be putting the fox in charge of the henhouse. They want to eat the hens and tear down the henhouse. Plunder is their preference.

Most entrepreneurs are at least somewhat predatory. They seek opportunities to profit from the conditions around them. In doing so, they often build great companies providing great products to the public, or perhaps to the Defense Department – because it is profitable. Trump’s Trolls are a cut below…

The Trumpeting of Inauthenticity

Predatory corporatists are a different breed. They want a stable system that they can control. They have no interest in producing anything other than greater power for themselves – certainly not the public interest. Nothing is sacred to them, including ethics, other than acquiring more money and power. Only their self-righteousness matches their evil. These highly skilled opportunists are super-predators.

As if that were not enough, most of these Trumpists are corporate crooks or shills, with an occasional congressional bribe-taker or self-dealer thrown in. Of course, their outlook fits perfectly with that of their new boss. Their Trumpery is nearly transparent. I need not go into much detail here; they are all over the nomination-hearings news. The shortest way to summarize this attempted robbery of the commonwealth is this:

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Trumpery Defined

In each case, one form or another of the protection of the public from corporate predators is now under direct attack by the corporate kleptocracy itself, by Trump assigning activist predators the task of blatantly taking over – in order to disempower or destroy them – the institutions that were put in place to protect us from them. An anti-environmental activist will oversee environmental protection. A billionaire fundamentalist privatizer will oversee public education. The long-term CEO of Exxon-Mobile, poised to cut deals for petroleum profits at the expense of the health of the people and planet, will run the State Department. Rick Perry is to head the Department of Energy, which, although he could not remember its name at the time, he wanted to abolish, until nominated to direct it. The list goes on.

From One Great Transformation to Another

In 1944, Karl Polanyi explained in his now classic economic history of the rise of industrial capitalism, that the industrial revolution constituted a Great Transformation of society. A fundamental transformation of the relationship between society and economic activity was central to the process of industrialization.

Industrial capitalists invested large amounts in building factories in towns and cities. Industrial capital financed the “enclosure” of small traditional farms in the British Isles, combining them into larger tracts for the new industrialized agricultural operations, much of which would produce wool and other products for export. They simply evicted people who had worked the land for many generations under relations of mutual obligation with their land owners. People would have to buy the food they had formerly produced for themselves. The enclosures destroyed landed communities, their culture and traditions, along with their means of livelihood. Seeking new work to survive forced them to migrate near the new factories. This transformed society and caused great suffering along with increased production.

Polanyi pointed out that from the beginning, governments made efforts to protect society and its people from the damaging effects of predatory capital, beginning with the British poor laws. Later, in the U.S., the classic defense of the people against predatory capital was the New Deal and its legal protections from destructive speculation by the financial elites, which had crashed both the stock market and the economy with it. Those protections lasted until repealed by corporatist politicians like Clinton and Bush, who brought in Wall Street executives to run the U.S. Treasury and direct government economic policy. When it all collapsed in the Great Recession of 2008, their first and only impulse was to bail out the banks and other financial manipulators, not their victims, who were mere citizens.

It took a couple of centuries of the growth of industrial capital, but now we are at the culmination of the first Great Transformation, even as we feel the beginnings of a New Great Transformation that we have yet to properly recognize no less try to control. The system of predatory extractive capital driving an industrial-consumer society has reached its peak. Its sources of power are beginning to fade as resources deplete and the climate destabilizes. The industrial-consumer economy will either fade away or go out with a flash, in an accelerated race for what’s left of the planet’s resources, leaving its accumulated electronic funny-money increasingly worthless.

The Narcissist and the Other

It is perversely fitting, though tragic, that a narcissistic sociopathic predatory capitalist with pretentions of royalty should take the helm of the political system at this critical juncture in history. In the U.S., politics once formed the bulwark of protection of citizens and their land from the damage caused by the predations of extractive-industrial capital. That is what the New Deal, the poverty programs and the environmental protection laws were all about. However, the ascendancy of Trump and his Trolls does suggest that the financialized system of predatory corporate economic growth will more likely go out in a flash than simply fade away.

As Polanyi pointed out, economic activity had always conformed to cultural norms until the industrial revolution inverted the relationship between economy and society. Human values constrained economic behavior until the industrial revolution. The rule of industrial capital over society has grown stronger ever since. Now, the predatory economic system dominates even more powerfully, distorting culture and suppressing human rights. The corporate state compels society to fit its interests and its illusion of endless growth and power, bolstered by the fake science of mainstream economics. The utopian dreams of neoliberal economic theory, promoted in academia and the mass media, and funded by corporate benefactors, have penetrated the thinking of many people today. Such are the dreams of narcissistic sociopathy.

In the eyes of the Great Narcissist, we are all the Other; we are the Muslim, we are the immigrant, we are the racial or gender minority, we are the presumptively dangerous refugee, we are the Other America, we are the evil journalist who would dare to challenge “alternative facts.” We are all the Stranger, the Outsider, because we are merely the people. Remember, narcissism involves lack of empathy. Insensitivity to the needs of others breeds paranoia.

But a New Great Transformation has already begun. The damage done by the omnipresent economic machine has already reached proportions that make the continuation of that leviathan impossible beyond just a few more decades. Climate destabilization, along with financial crises, armed conflicts around the world, crop failures, droughts, floods, forced migrations of a magnitude unimagined by the xenophobic anti-refugee Trumpeteers of today, will bring it all down rather soon. Either the New Great Transformation will produce a new form of ecological human communities or it will spiral down into chaos and societal collapse. Right now, the odds are not looking good.

All the immigrant hating, racist, sexist, homophobic, disability-ridiculing, xenophobic, misogynistic, violence-encouraging demagoguery, we have seen before. It did not end well then and with the addition of the perverse denial of global warming and its imminent catastrophic consequences made into public policy, it will not end well now. Unless, of course, citizens everywhere rise up as they have in recent days at airports across the U.S. in outrage against persecutory anti-immigrant policies of disturbingly indecent and unconstitutional character.

The current kleptocracy will not likely survive very long. But will chaos and societal collapse be its legacy? Only if we let it.

State Secrecy: Collapse or Transformation

A number of books and articles have appeared over the past few years raising the specter of societal collapse. The crises of climate disruption and hyper-inequality in an increasingly unstable U.S. and global economy are converging toward destabilization. These converging destabilizing forces will likely produce some form of radical change –like it or not. But what will it look like? That will depend on us.

Societal Collapse
One of the most comprehensive works on historical cases of societal collapse is Jared Diamond’s book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Focused entirely on how and why things happened in the societies he studied, Diamond cautiously avoids any direct contemporary predictions. He steadfastly avoids inferences from the catastrophic collapses of Mayan civilization, the Easter Islander society, or several others he studied. But a number of implications seem obvious. For example, in each case, when confronted with ecological crises, elites squandered declining resources on self-aggrandizing displays of wealth or power, accelerating the approach of collapse. These were all societies dependant on irreplaceable local or regional ecological resources. Today, we arguably face the same kind of problems, but at a planetary scale. Only a massive “Great Transformation” has any likelihood of staving off a global collapse of both economy and ecology. We are used to moving on to the next land to plunder. No more.

Like the examples Jared Diamond describes, our power elites engage in denial and projection as they busily accumulate more and more phantom wealth and power. They entrench themselves in an increasingly totalitarian security state they think will insulate them from the world. Their state benefactors, obsessed with a perceived need for secrecy and military control of everything, give them a false sense of security. The corporate-state response to almost any problem is violent repression. From 9-11 to Gaza, from Viet Nam to Ukraine, each power elite, whether here or there, acts in the same way. It posits an all-powerful enemy – the evil Other – who can only be defended against by overwhelming superiority of weaponry and violence.

The Secrecy of the Surveillance State
Robert David Steele’s book, The Open-Source Everything Manifesto, is striking because it proposes a radically different framework for “intelligence,” and for avoiding societal collapse. It identifies massive systemic fraud and corruption in the secretive ‘top-down’ violence-driven intelligence establishment and he calls for its abandonment. But what is most stunning is that Steele is a respected and accomplished member of the military and intelligence communities. Steele would abolish and replace those institutions. Based on his extensive professional experience, Steele argues that “intelligence” produced by secret agencies is mostly dysfunctional and often just wrong. Steele’s take on the modern form of totalitarianism with a democratic façade is grounded in the insider perspective of a professional spy. In contrast, Sheldon Wolin’s Democracy, Inc. describes a creeping “inverted totalitarianism,” from a political scientist’s outsider viewpoint. But the implications for democracy and its survival are remarkably similar.

Steele’s case for universal “open source intelligence” rests on a model of shared information in which the ever-growing secrecy establishment would be counter-productive. After all, the more secrecy in a system, the more opportunity corrupt elites have to “manage democracy” in their own interests. To the extent that society’s major institutions are shrouded in secrecy, democracy is destined to become a façade for totalitarianism. The evidence is overwhelming that both state and corporate secrecy and unrestricted spying are seriously dysfunctional and lead to oppression. Open source intelligence demands an entirely new way of thinking about nation states and various social formations. Effective human systems operate as whole systems and whole systems require whole-systems thinking and participation – by everyone, not just elites.

The combination of predatory capital and power technology operated by a secretive military-industrial corporate state destroys true democratic processes. The secrecy based intelligence establishment inevitably further concentrates power and wealth in the institutions that are controlled by the less-than-1%. These trends have reached their breaking point.

The Unknown Transformation
No, the center will not hold – it’s not even the center anymore. Internal contradictions quite different than Marx predicted are driving the social hierarchy to a chaotic collapse. With all the inter-dependencies of Big-System Society and its global reach, collapse may well spread broadly. The big question is what will replace the corporate state and how. A great transformation is inevitable, but how it occurs and with what result is not. Hierarchical information control has so far assured elite dominance, but dysfunction is accelerating; it cannot be sustained. We seem to be headed for widespread political and economic chaos. One plausible result may be massive breakdowns of systems of supply of industrial and consumer products, even the very necessities of life.

Then, there is the Achilles heel of the so called “global economy.” Complex systems have internal vulnerabilities. Moreover, both climate chaos and the limits of the growth economy predict the end of the corporate state – it just can’t cope. Allies such as the World Trade Association and the International Monetary Fund, have no value other than to the failing system they attempt to support. Nor does the array of military alliances that support global empire.

Very little serious work has been done on the question of how a viable transformation can be accomplished without high levels of chaos and damage to both people and environments. The works of Diamond and Steele provide two hard sources (and there are others) for beginning to shape a new social intelligence that can help transform the old institutions to meet the needs of the post-industrial era.