By Marcelo Colussi*
More than three months have passed since the inauguration of Donald Trump as president of the world’s leading capitalist power: the United States of America. Nothing has changed. If someone had thought that something could change with his arrival at the White House, they were mistaken from beginning to end. Why should anything change?
The rhetoric used by the tycoon during his presidential campaign could certainly have led one to imagine – mistakenly – some change of scenario. Given the current crisis experienced by the US economy, his programme appeared to be – at least in words – a promise to revive a downcast national industry.
But here comes the mirage. What is downcast is the purchasing power of America’s working class, while its companies remain prosperous, very healthy, managing the outlook with prospects for the future. While it is true that, in technical accounting terms, China’s gross output has surpassed that of the United States, the latter still remains the world leader in economic, political, technological and military terms.
Of the largest corporations in the world, the eleven largest have their headquarters in the United States, and 54 are the most capitalised among the first 100 on the planet. They continue to manage all domains: oil (ExxonMobil Corporation, Chevron-Texaco), communication technologies (Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Hollywood), banking (Wells Fargo & Co, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Berkshire Hathaway), chemicals (Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, Pfizer Inc.) and, of course, the military industry (Lockheed Martin, Boeing Company, BAE Systems Inc., Northrop Grumman Corporation, Raytheon Company, General Dynamics, Honeywell Aerospace, Halliburton. All these corporations of the industrial-military complex recorded sales of almost one trillion dollars in 2016, having also seen increases of 60% since 2010, a clear sign that the economic crisis does not count for them).
There is decadence and, as has happened with every empire in history, it seems to have reached the peak of its expansion and begun its slow decline. But it is far from being a defeated empire: it continues to set the pace in many aspects.
Immediately after the end of World War II, America was the great capitalist power dominating the scene. The only nation with nuclear power at the time, it accounted for 52 percent of the world’s gross product. At this point in time, it no longer holds a monopoly of the atomic bomb (at least Russia and China are its rivals in parity), and its contribution to global production has dropped to 18%.
Undoubtedly, it is not continuing to expand, as it did from the middle of the 19th century and throughout the entire 20th century. Furthermore, although it is beginning to be called into question, its currency – the dollar – remains largely the universal currency, and English is still the obligatory lingua franca. Hollywood, no matter what, is the cultural referent of the planet, as much as Coca-Cola or McDonald’s.
The process of neoliberal globalisation, begun in the 1970s, reconfigured the world and obviously also the capitalist system. Production and marketing became absolutely planetary: the same merchandise can be produced anywhere in the world with the same technology and distributed throughout an expanded world market.
Private capital thus takes advantage of the advantages offered by the poorer countries where wages are lower and where it enjoys certain privileges, such as tax exemption, weakness or lack of environmental regulations and little or no trade union organisation of workers. In this way, a company from a rich and developed country leaves its facilities there to settle in some so-called “free zone” of the Third World, lowering production costs but not the final price of the finished product. And this product is no longer marketed only within the frontiers of the producing country, but on a world market.
Under this scheme, the loser is the working class of the country from which capital originates. Capital does not lose – on the contrary, it profits even more.
Considering this to be the mechanism at play, the United States began to impoverish relatively: its workers became impoverished because, in many cases, they became unemployed. Meanwhile, companies continued to profit monumentally. We have already seen the data of the military industry: more and more wars, therefore, more weapons. And the United States provides the global half of them. So there is no crisis for these mega-corporations.
Let’s take as an example what was once the mecca of the automobile – the city of Detroit in the state of Michigan. By 1960, Detroit had three million inhabitants, most of them employed in automotive production. With the arrival of the process of relocation, the large US companies moved to countless locations on five continents around the globe. Detroit’s industrial working class was ruined (today, Detroit is a ghost town, with only 300,000 inhabitants), but the country’s automotive mega-corporations (General Motors, Ford, Chrysler) continued their business. Who became impoverished? The working class.
Against this backdrop of impoverishment of the working masses (the voters), Donald Trump’s theatrical discourse during his campaign raised expectations. He spoke – as does every campaign candidate who sells dreams and verbal pyrotechnics – of changing that situation, of bringing the industry that had abandoned American soil back to the homeland. Undoubtedly, those fiery promises achieved their purpose: contrary to all odds, Trump won the election. But the companies did not return … nor will they return!
In very good measure, his “hobby horse” for the campaign was fierce xenophobia, with promises of the expulsion of the many “Hispanics who come to steal jobs”. Construction of a wall (of which one-quarter is missing because, in fact, a fence has already been built on the border with Mexico) and the deportation of thousands of Latin Americans without documents had basically a propagandistic effect. The US economy remains very prosperous for capital, but is hardly improving for its workers.
The fact is that it cannot improve, because the cycle of capitalist growth of the United States has come and gone. Its consumption far exceeds its production, so the country as a whole (population and State) is living on credit. It is Chinese and Japanese currencies that are keeping Washington’s federal budget afloat, and it is credit cards (with an average debt of 5,000 dollars per citizen) that are maintaining household economies. Who benefits from this? Obviously not the cardholders, the workers, but the banks.
As with any theatrical speech by a presidential campaign candidate who sells “beads and baubles”, Donald Trump also said he would not engage in war with Syria, and that he would dampen the ever-burning conflict with Russia, the alleged preamble to a new world war (this time a nuclear war, therefore possibly the last).
But, just months after taking office, we see how the industrial-military complex is continuing to decide things. The 59 cruise missiles fired on a military base in Syria or the “mother of all bombs” dropped recently in Afghanistan are proof.
No president of the United States – like no president in any capitalist country anywhere on the planet – is the one who finally decides things. Strong powers whisper (or shout) in his ear what he should do. These powers have a specific name: they are those mega-corporations mentioned above.
Since the middle of the last century, these mega-corporations have constituted what has been called the industrial-military complex, the main current economic activity of the United States (25 percent of its gross product). In 1997, George Kennan, a key Washington political scientist during the Cold War, said: “Were the Soviet Union to sink tomorrow under the waters of the ocean, the American military-industrial establishment would have to go on, substantially unchanged, until some other adversary could be invented. Anything else would be an unacceptable shock to the American economy”.
The day a president – John F. Kennedy – dared to want to stop the war in Vietnam War, like all responses of these “big bosses”, he received a precise shot in the head. And, of course, the war in Vietnam went ahead. The 60,000 fallen US soldiers do not compare with the profits made by this military-industrial complex.
That adversary which must be invented, by the way, does not fail to appear continuously: “Islamic terrorism”, “drug trafficking” or any new demon that may occur in the future (rogue states, maras (gangs), dengue transmitting mosquitoes, as in the Guaraní Aquifer on the triple Argentine-Paraguayan-Brazilian border, the” Castro-Communist dictatorship of Venezuela”, and so on). The military industry, which directly or indirectly employs one in four American workers, will not stop.
Trump’s fanciful declarations prior to occupying the White House spoke of “reassurance” in the current undeclared – but real and effective – new Cold War (35,000 dollars a second spent on armaments worldwide). Recent military operations in Syria and Afghanistan show the reality.
It is to be hoped that we will never arrive at a new world war with nuclear weapons. In that case, only the cockroaches could tell what follows (if any survive). The capital that leads the world is voracious, but not crazy. It will surely continue to manipulate public opinion, terrorising populations and showing apocalyptic images of a probable atomic confrontation, even if it never reaches the point of pressing the fateful buttons of pandemonium. But the need to “be ready for the hecatomb”, according to the well-oiled capitalist communication industry, means that the Roman maxim “If you want peace, prepare for war” remains valid. And the industrial-military complex continues to make millions.
Why would Donald Trump be any different? Perhaps he has a different style, different from the political correctness of his predecessors, but it is already clear how things are after just three months: more of the same!
It’s that simple … or pathetic.
* Born in Argentina, Marcelo Colussi studied psychology and philosophy and now lives in Guatemala, where he is a university professor and social researcher. He is a member of Utopia Rossa (Red Utopia), an international association working for the unity of revolutionary movements around the world in a new International: la Quinta (The Fifth). The full version of this article originally appeared in Spanish under the title Tres Meses de Donald Trump: Mas de lo Mismo in Utopia Rossa. Translated by Phil Harris.