The Trump Agenda is a Dead End
There are many reasons why the Trump Agenda is doomed, and why “Make America Great Again” is an empty slogan that will be frustrated and end in disappointment and disillusionment (and fury, too).
The era of American national greatness, for which Trump and Trump’s supporters retain much nostalgia, was the post-war boom of the fifties and early sixties. North America, and American industry, prospered because much of the rest of the planet was in ruins. American prosperity and global influence arose in the context of FDR’s New Deal (Keynesian economics) combined with post-war reconstruction in Europe, Japan, and elsewhere. In that context of post-war reconstruction, there was huge demand for North American goods and resources that kept unemployment low, prosperity high, and the engines of industry turning and churning away.
In Europe the post-war reconstruction is referred to as “the economic miracle” (Wirtschaftswunder) and it was only a matter of time before Europe and Asia would recover from the devastation of two world wars that barely touched the North American continent. That recovery has been largely accomplished within the last couple of decades.
There have been artificial and even coercive attempts to preserve those same conditions in the aftermath of the reconstruction, with its attendant slackening of demand for North American goods and services, and especially the products of American heavy industry. For decades after the war, America had virtually no competition in goods and services, and North America prospered through this combination of post-war reconstruction and welfare state economics. Not only is neo-liberal globalisation an attempt to preserve those conditions of global demand, but so is “disaster capitalism” as described by Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine, and by by John Perkins in Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. Another strategy was “tied aid”, in which foreign aid was conditional upon the recipient country buying American manufactured goods, and, of course, the notorious military-industrial-energy-media-university complex.
Those two conditions — Keynesian economics combined with global post-war reconstruction — no longer obtain, and they were key to the post-war boom in North America. If Canadians specialised in being “hewers of wood and drawers of water” for the post-war global reconstruction, America specialised in heavy industry and manufacturing. So, how is Trump to restore those conditions? Yet, this is precisely the thing that “Make America Great Again” presumes and promises it will do through some Grand Restoration of the status quo ante. It’s a dreadful thought.
Sure, there were attempts to shift from a manufacturing and heavy industry economy to a financial services and information economy, but look where that took us, when what was required was a rethink of the whole basis of economy, such as proposed by Peter Pogany in Rethinking the World. Instead of a rethink, we have “disaster capitalism” and The Shock Doctrine as heir to the Cold War and post-war reconstruction. Post-war capitalism became addicted to destruction, and that is why it has been dubbed “the Death Economy”.
The press is reporting, today, that Trump is already back-pedaling on some of his more extreme proposals and promises as reality bites back. However, to avoid the worst havoc we need a “reality-based” transformation of economy — one that understands fully that the conditions of global post-war reconstruction that prevailed in the fifties and sixties no longer apply, and to persist in believing that they do, or should, apply is the very meaning of “zombie logic”.
This is not going to be easy, now — even though it is elementary — because Trump has aroused mass expectations of a Grand Restoration that is quite impossible.
This is not going to end well.