The New Normal and the Boisterously Silent Coup

Is the rise of Trumplandia the reflection of a “new normal” in American politics? Or, does it rise, as Rebecca Solnit suggests in a remarkable new piece on the Literary Hub website, to the level of a de facto coup that has already occurred? Has the Trump gang already, if not so skillfully, moved to clandestinely transform our constitutionally framed effort at representative democracy into a de facto authoritarian regime? After all, this sitting president is now directly interfering with the independent investigations of the nation’s highest law enforcement institutions that may well lead to his own downfall.

The Coup

Solnit asserts that, “Sabotage of national institutions, laws, standards, and the greater good has been accepted as part of the new normal, which is staggeringly far from normal.” She summarizes the vast array of diverse forms and sources of evidence that have surfaced since Trump began his initial Fake-Run [i] for the presidency. In addition to the myriad personal scandals, an international complex of illicit deal making adds up to a partnership of plunder between the Putin bossed Russian mob of oligarchs, the American pretender to Mob-Boss status and his gang of thugs and fixers of questionable competence and unbounded hutzpah, and just about any unscrupulous politician, here or abroad, who will pay to play.

As Solnit puts it:

Acts that would have been shocking if committed by previous administrations are overshadowed and crowded by equally transgressive acts that pile up into something that would like us to forget that this is not normal.

Solnit argues persuasively that the coup has already happened and that the only question now is what we are going to do about it. Given the damage already done to institutions, climate action, public health and safety, international relations, and above all the already precarious U.S. political culture, it seems that little time and a narrowing range of options remain.

Decades in the Making

One commenter argued that the coup began decades ago, listing a series of political actions by every administration and congress since, supporting the position that the coup was a long slow process of destroying democracy while elevating an increasingly open kleptocratic authoritarian corporate state. He argued that with Johnson’s resounding defeat of Barry Goldwater in 1964 the authoritarian right realized that electoral politics must be undermined to achieve their autocratic goals. Another asserted that the coup began with the assassination of John F. Kennedy. In any case, several scholars have documented the efforts of powerful business interests to suppress democratic control of government and the economy since the imposition of controls on the financial elite under the New Deal.

Unfortunately, as is so common in such venues, much of the commentary devolved into typical political bickering over which politician held more guilt, bad faith and evil. The usual dose of ad hominem admonitions and rigid either/or ill-logic circulated around the claimed offenses of Bernie versus Hillary, entirely missing the point of the article in service to internal partisan anger among Democrats.

The Republican Party has devolved into a state where its only principle is to win elections by pandering the alt-right base so effectively exploited by Trumpery. Genuine conservatives have nowhere to turn. The Democratic Party national apparatus, the DNC, remains unwilling to free itself from the corporate and financial elites it serves while hypocritically mouthing old liberal rhetoric. Its disingenuous cultural liberalism and avoidance of the deep issues of rising global and national crises have turned main street Democrats and independents away from the party. Electoral politics seems a long shot, in both substance and time. The convergence of catastrophic crises of ecosystem destruction and climate chaos, as well as global economic and political instability, is well underway. The crisis of American democracy is now. What is a citizen to do?

Precarious Prospects

Solnit finds herself distraught with the prospects, as well anyone who looks at the facts should. However, her recommendations offer little hope:

We still have an enormous capacity to resist the administration, not least by mass civil disobedience and other forms of noncooperation. Sweeping the November elections wouldn’t hurt either, if that results in candidates we hold accountable afterward. Or both.

Solnit seems to believe that we can rescue American democracy and respond effectively to the converging crises of climate chaos, ecological destruction, impending global financial failure, and imminent societal collapse by protests in the streets or by the so-called “centrist” democrats capturing the mid-term elections. Making such assumptions shows little sense of timing or even a deep understanding of the nature of the coup that has suppressed democratic institutions for decades.

The answer is nearly as difficult, but at least possible. Mass mobilization at the local level for resistance in place by turning away from the “inverted totalitarian” regime and its new “strong man” is extremely difficult to achieve. It would require forming new democratic institutions where we live that would become diffused forms of resistance by their very existence. Widespread resistance by withdrawal and replacement could not be stopped by troops in the streets or by bluster from the man who is “the empty clown suit.”

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[i] Mark Danner, “The Magic of Donald Trump,” New York Review of Books 63:4(May 26, 2016) quotes Stephanie Cegielski, Trump’s “Top Strategist-Turned-Defector,” to the effect that initially there had been “no thought of actually winning.” Rather, the goal was to bolster Trump’s celebrity prominence. That, of course, is consistent with Trump’s history of seeking celebrity attention and adulation above all else, aside from money of course. Winning the actual election bolstered his celebrity and profits beyond even the narcissist’s unbounded imagination.

Why Trump Does Not Matter, and Why He Does

It is so easy to ridicule a buffoon. I have done so more than once in various blog posts on this site. I referred to Trump as an empty clown suit because of the vacuous nature of his essentially false and tragically comic-book persona. He could easily pass for Batman’s “The Joker.”

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The Joker in Chief

But really, isn’t the focus on the peculiar personalities of politicians a large part of what is wrong with American politics? We tend to focus on personality and image rather than issues. The Republicans are better at that, using as they do, core patriotic imagery and buzzwords to frame their position in debates and win support for their corrupt exploitation of the commonwealth.

In that regard, the Democrats always seem to be tag-along copycats. The analytics and lofty yet detached liberal rhetoric is to most voters just boring and hollow. The allegiance of the Democratic ‘leadership’ to corporate and financial elites is clear despite being not quite as strong as that of the Republicans. Their lofty ideas rarely lead to action.

Then, along came Bernie with his old-style New Deal social-democrat ideals and specific proposals that suddenly caught the imagination of old and young alike. It was clear that Bernie simply is what he is. Not perfect, but real, the unabashed ethical Grandpa, corny humor, caring and all. Well, that certainly clashed with the goals of the DNC and the corporate Democrats who run the party.

From Russia with (Laundered) Cash

Of course, Trump, the false outsider, a caricature of McScrooge, is nothing if not unreal. I could go on indefinitely about that. Many have. But to what end? Does it matter that Trump is the epitome of the politics of dishonesty and a hollow persona of personal greed, reflecting a deep narcissism and sociopathy? Do the fact-checking counts of the endless lies and distortions really matter? Well, yes and no.

On the one hand, Trump really is a buffoon open to endless ridicule for his complete lack of presidential demeanor and his gross life-long personal corruption. On the other hand, however disgusting or embarrassing, that is not the deeper problem he represents. That problem runs even deeper than his possibly traitorous but certainly corrupt dealings with Russian oligarchs so close to the Kremlin.

Internationally, he is clearly an embarrassment to our nation. Domestically, he could not act with much less civility or inspire much more racist, neo-fascist, or misogynist reaction to the world as it is. The damage he sows to national unity is real.

However, the press obsession with whether and to what extent his climate denial is real or just posturing for his “alt-right” violence-prone base, like his other disgraceful behaviors, diverts media attention from the real and growing crises we cannot avoid no matter who resides in the oval office. It is his appointments of barbaric executioners to kill all protectors of the public interest in health, safety, and security for the people, who cause the deeper destruction and pose the greatest danger to the nation and the world.

The Nation Is as Trumpery Does

The rise of Trumpery is, in fact, the extreme expression of the underlying problem of a nation’s elite destabilizing the society it dominates, along with most ecosystems and the global climate, in order to gain even more power in the short term. It is not only a matter of Trump’s dance with the devil. Trumpery is a death-dance to which we are all invited.

We will soon reach the tipping point leading to unstoppable climate chaos, ecosystems collapse, and global financial bedlam. Are you worried about population growth? No need to. Under rapidly deteriorating global conditions, population decline is inevitable and will not be pretty.

The processes of destabilization and destruction were well in place before the political rise of Trumpery, which continues to accelerate the rush to societal as well as ecological and climate collapse. We desperately needed a great turnaround. We got just the opposite. What matters about Trump is that he may have prolonged and accelerated the downward slide of the nation and planet into such deep chaos that the living Earth systems upon which humanity depends will disintegrate beyond hope.

Paradise for Plutocrats and the Crimes of Oligarchy

Here we go again. In the latest revelations, widespread tax cheating and secret offshore financial manipulations hide massive amounts of wealth, both ill-gotten and ordinary corporate profits. The International Association of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) has released “The Paradise Papers,” millions of documents that provide new devastating evidence of the history and current efforts of the most powerful and wealthy individuals, criminals and corporations in the world to hide their wealth and avoid responsibilities.

Release of “The Panama Papers” did a similar service about a year before the release of the “Paradise Papers.” As the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists put it, “A giant leak of more than 11.5 million financial and legal records exposes a system that enables crime, corruption and wrongdoing, hidden by secretive offshore companies.” The Panama Papers had exposed how criminals, politicians, wealthy individuals, and major corporations have hidden cash and other assets with the help of the legal maneuvering and loophole exploiting made possible by the Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca. Panama police have since arrested the founders of Mossack Fonseca as part of money laundering investigations.

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The Super-Rich steal from Everyone Else, making them Enemies of the People.

Given what we have learned from the Panama Papers, it seemed unlikely that Mossack Fonseca could be the only offshore law firm operating to facilitate international criminal financial dealings. Well, sure enough, The Paradise Papers, also released by the ICIJ, reveal another giant complex of operations, this time exposed by the release of 13.4 million records. The release was shared by the ICIJ with major news outlets, including the Guardian, the BBC, and the New York Times. The documents exposed “ties between Russia and U.S. President Donald Trump’s billionaire commerce secretary, the secret dealings of the chief fundraiser for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the offshore interests of the queen of England and more than 120 politicians around the world.” According to the ICIJ,

“The leaked documents, dubbed the Paradise Papers, show how deeply the offshore financial system is entangled with the overlapping worlds of political players, private wealth and corporate giants, including Apple, Nike, Uber and other global companies that avoid taxes through increasingly imaginative bookkeeping maneuvers.”

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The Paradise Papers expose the Corrupt Practices of Global Oligarchs.

I was not surprised to learn that the Paradise Papers revealed ties between Russia and Donald Trump’s billionaire commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, a private equity tycoon. His shipping company (which he did not divest when taking office as promised) “has received more than $68 million in revenue since 2014 from a Russian energy company co-owned by the son-in-law of Russian President Vladimir Putin.” Furthermore, the Paradise Papers implicate over a dozen of Trump’s cabinet members and major donors in the financial manipulations exposed by the documents.

So, what does it all mean? Is it merely a matter of the wealthy paying to have their money managed effectively by specialists? Well, it runs much deeper. Brooke Harrington, a certified wealth manager, Copenhagen Business School professor and author of Capital without Borders: Wealth Managers and the One Percent, suggests otherwise. The ICIJ quotes Harrington as follows: “There is this small group of people who are not equally subject to the laws as the rest of us, and that’s on purpose,” They “live the dream” of enjoying “the benefits of society without being subject to any of its constraints.” And, of course, the benefits they enjoy so far surpass what the rest of us can even imagine, that the constraints they avoid deeply damage the public interest around the world.

That, of course, is what Trumpism is all about. Every cabinet appointment, every executive order, every tweet of this “empty clown suite” aims to suppress the modest protections of the people, the land and resources of the nation from the predatory behavior of the oligarchs he represents. The line between legal and criminal behavior of the worlds oligarchs, with whom Trump has been entangled for many years, is quite blurry. The power of using agents like offshore law firm, Appleby by drug traffickers, kleptocrats, and money launderers to hide criminally obtained money, draws the world’s biggest oligarchs, politicians, and criminals together in both their financial interests and their methods of seeking secrecy.

Only the amazing coordinated research by dozens of ICIJ members could have exposed the “Offshore Magic Circle,” an informal collection of the world’s biggest offshore law firms in the financial secrecy business, of which Bermuda based Appleby, exposed in the Paradise Papers, is only one member. Multiple unexplored offshore tax havens serve the special interests of greed, corruption, and criminality of the world’s oligarchs. We don’t know to what extent the current U.S. President is a player or merely a pretender to plutocratic power, but we do know that his key associates are engaged in the middle of the Paradise for Plutocrats.