US Government to build American ‘competitiveness’ atop socio-economic retrogression and misery.
Before you complain
An American once said to me that whenever they see me post an article about the United States now, they just have to brace for a total assault on their morale, and that “it is almost like seeing something like Tokyo Rose’s work in written form.”
I don’t know whether to take that as a compliment or not, since despite her best propaganda efforts, Iva Toguri D’Aquino was ultimately not able to convince the Americans to stop supporting the United States. Perhaps some of the Americans did have pause though, perhaps they did think occasionally, “You know, those things that Tokyo Rose is saying on the radio, could there be something to all that?”
But really, it’s not like I have to go out of my way to come up with these socio-economic angles against the ‘Make America Great Again’ concept. They present themselves to the world daily in such a high volume that it’s almost like trying to catch a cup of water from a firehose of negative developments. One has to be very selective about which part of the non-stop blast of negative news one is going to select, interpret, and develop a piece on, on any given day.
Today’s selection is going to really induce a feeling like when you’re sparring with someone and they forget to hold back, and next thing you know their foot is trying to tickle your kidneys or something, and it’s just like, “Oh wow, this pain is real.” It’s pretty bad. I apologise for the pain that you’re going to feel in advance.
How things reached this stage
When Donald Trump was inaugurated on an overcast day about two months ago, he stood in front of the lectern and in a stern voice spoke the words that initiated a miserable new trade war:
It may seem on the face of it that Donald Trump was saying that all the decisions he would make would be based on whether they will benefit American workers and American families. His mouth said that somewhere in there, but is that what protectionism actually does in the longrun?
We know that it does not benefit ‘workers and families’ in the longrun.
There is widely understood empirical evidence which shows that in the present era, free trade is what benefits the broad mass of the people, not protectionism. Free trade is what enables wider access to products at a cheaper price. Free trade enables this indirectly by facilitating regional division and specialisation of production to enhance productivity on a planetary basis.
Broadly speaking, tariff and non-barrier barriers are mostly retrogressive, as it is low income consumers who spend a greater percentage of their income on food, clothing, consumer electronics and vehicles, which tend to be most highly protected under the kind of tariff regime proposed by Donald Trump’s White House and supported by his Alt-Lite and Alt-Right supporters.
So if American ‘workers and families’ do not really stand to benefit, does this mean that I am saying that Donald Trump is not putting America ‘first’? By no means. The misunderstanding that many have is that they conflate rhetoric about a country’s interest with the interest of the broad mass of the people. Trump essentially tailored his speech to exploit that misunderstanding.
In fact, America is indeed being ‘put first’ by Trump, but that is not a positive thing. The policies which he is advocating ensure that those who really stand to benefit are primarily the American financiers and the upper-bourgeoisie stratum of big and middle-sized manufacturers, who feel themselves to be under stiff competition from their counterparts in Europe and Asia. This scenario comes at the end of a long cycle of a widening pattern of global investment during and after the Cold War environment, which had led to the repair and economic rehabilitation of that section of the world that America had razed to the ground in the process of destroying Axis.
The repair and rehabilitation was possible because the leaders of various European and Asian economies opted to play the longest of long games, accommodating the liberal global order that the American victors had maintained for their own diplomatic and geostrategic benefit (to economically contain their next opponent, the Soviet Union), but which were used by the former Axis countries and other Third World countries to build something again from the ashes of the Second World War and to take advantage of the mutual benefits that came from having the economic vitality and thus the military wherewithall to deter the Soviet Union.
A hegemon’s dilemma
The flourishing of any world order in which a hegemon has to allow power to devolve into the hands of outsiders, is a world order which will eventually unravel itself as the hegemon will come to fear its own deputies. Much as the Greek Empire unravelled itself when each of the governors, tribes, and exarchates which had been permitted to accrue power so as to encircle common enemies, suddenly realised that they had reached a stage where they could bid for global power in their own right, so too the American liberal world order is coming to a close as this cycle of capital accumulation draws to a close.
The productive capacity which had been offshored from the United States and implanted into the European and Asian periphery so as to reinforce economic containment and encirclement against the Soviet Union during the Cold War, now becomes in 2017 the potential weapon which the American high-bourgeoisie fears will be turned against it in a multipolar world, the first chapter of which is now opening. America’s old Cold War gendarmes of capital, are now gendarmes that are increasingly operating autonomously, and the United States is struggling to chart a course to address that new reality.
The American high-bourgeoisie wants what it views as ‘its wealth’ back. But they are not the actual owners of it. The wealth, limited though it is, and not without imperfection in its distribution, which is presently enjoyed by the peoples of Europe and Asia was re-built through hard years of work by the generation of people who survived the Second World War, and who, seeing their ideals crushed by the Americans, resolved to build their countries again during the Cold War.
The American high-bourgeoisie knows that it cannot fight the world alone, since it is only a small class of people, and therefore it must assert leadership and bind the other American classes to itself. They do this by appealing to a form of populism, where people like Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Steven Mnuchin and Gary Cohn, knowing that they cannot appeal to a class consciousness, instead appeal to a civic nationalist mantra: “Make America Great Again.”
What is America that anyone should want to make it ‘great’ again? That is the most astounding development in this whole sequence, particularly in the context of the Alt-Right and other nationalist opinion-formers such as David Duke, who largely made themselves responsible for having enabled all of this. For example, Hunter Wallace at Altright.com said late last month:
The same kind of people who for years had operated under the suspicion that the United States was possibly falling under a ‘Zionist Occupation Government’, are now the very same kind of people who are actually trying in these days and hours to fight as hard as they can to attempt to defend and perpetuate the global reach of the United States government and its centrality as a manufacturing centre now that it is transparently going into openly-verifiable overdrive in that regard. Now that the ‘occupation’ is openly parading itself in their faces from the White House in verifiable statements that have been reproduced in mainstream media outlets, they suddenly and magically cannot seem to see it.
Perhaps it may be that it is difficult to understand why that contradiction exists until you look at the socio-economic class dimension. Perhaps they choose not to notice the Zionism issue now, because it’s the case that it is inconvenient for them financially, given that most Trump voters are middle class and may believe that they stand to gain from the Trump administration’s budgetary, financial and economic policy direction. Or perhaps it is the case that they are just really bad at politics and aren’t paying attention to what is happening, and are more interested in identitarian form and signalling, than in actual policy. Or maybe it is the case that there is a kind of ongoing entryism which is usually not visible to the public but which only is revealed in short glimpses, such as, for example, when it emerged that Heritage Foundation analyst Jason Richwine had actually been writing for the old AlternativeRight.com website in 2010. Or it could be some combination of all of these things.
Whatever the case happens to be, for all those who ever believed in anything that those people previously said, these present developments can only be seen as a betrayal. If they are ‘the vanguard’ and this is what they have produced, then they have a considerable amount of explaining to do.
Unfortunately with the situation as it is, I am not expecting that an explanation will be coming from them, but I am expecting that the Alt-Right and Alt-Lite opinion-formers will continue to act as a kind of grassroots support for the Trump administration, one which will have a high resilience and effectiveness because it couples a tacit support with a consistent pseudo-denial of actually being on the same side as the administration. We hear on the one hand the Alt-Right continually saying that they are ‘not Trump’, but then on the other hand they like the specific actions the administration is doing and its overall direction which they see as a ‘stepping stone’ (to where?), they just wish that that those actions would be done with more intensity.
The effective function of the Alt-Right internet presence is basically that they remain engaged on social media as a ‘grassroots’ presence which continually presents narratives and arguments that serve to socially legitimate Trump administration spokespersons, supporters and key cabinet figures and their policy preferences in a way that is completely independent of the state, as it is done at arms length, behind a veil of denial and disavowal by the White House itself. The bonus that the White House receives in all of this is that there is no-one who has to be paid or instructed to do this for them. The Alt-Right doesn’t need to be paid, they do it for free.
Getting started: This article is about one facet in the process of the Trump administration making its programme operational. The first operational step that the American high-bourgeoisie are taking is that they are seeking to enhance their structural power, or to turn a phrase, they are seeking to make themselves great again, by weakening the efficacy of checks or dissents against their power domestically. This would place them in the best command position imaginable, which would allow them the ability to then turn their focus to foreign policy and trade policy as their second step, with minimal interference at home. That second step is outside the scope of this article and will be covered at a later date. The first step is what will now be described here today.
Enhanced dictatorship of the high-bourgeoisie
There are four major actions that the Trump administration is carrying out right now which would allow the American high-bourgeoisie to enhance their structural power domestically. These actions are as follows:
1. H.R.985 - Fairness
in Class Action Litigation Act of 2017.
Let’s go through them in the order I’ve listed them. And in case you are trying to guess what the four items have in common, yes, what all of these things have in common is that they pertain to the ability to form a class so as to bring a class action lawsuit against companies or government agencies, and to raise funds to carry out that endeavour.
When people are facing systemic abuse from companies or from government agencies, class action lawsuits are a vital tool that is used to bring a halt to their behaviour. By bringing about a class action lawsuit, a few people can stand in for a larger number of people in a lawsuit against a perpetrator and seek either injunctive relief (where the perpetrator must cease a bad practice) or compensation (monetary damages).
The bill, H.R.985 which passed in the US House of Representatives by recorded vote 220 - 201 on Thursday 09 March 2017, and will next be placed before the US Senate, is a bill that makes it more difficult for people to bring class action lawsuits.
Bill H.R.985 makes it harder for people to form a ‘class’ by further restricting and constraining the criteria under which people may come together to bring a case, and placing various hurdles in the way of the collection of lawyers’ fees, thus decreasing the incentive for lawyers to take on class action lawsuits.
The net effect of this is that it will sharply reduce the ability of people to seek injunctive relief or compensation in any scenario where they are being harmed by a company or a government agency.
The architects of the bill and its proponents, such as Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), have tried to mask their intentions by presenting it to the media as a bill that is designed to prevent supposedly-existent ‘lawyer-driven litigation’, by which they mean a kind of ‘trolling’ litigation which is designed to enrich lawyers rather than address any actual grievance of the plaintiffs. By masking their intentions with such a cover story, the lawmakers have sought to conceal the actual reality of the attack which they themselves are conducting against working people and families.
The factor which exposes their cover story as a lie, is the simple fact that if they really thought that they needed to write a bill to prevent ‘lawyer-driven litigation’, then they wouldn’t have written a bill that attacks people’s ability to seek injunctive relief, in which money is not awarded but practices are changed, as well as compensation. However, that is precisely what they have done, and in doing so, their motive was revealed along with the effect.
On the issue of the hurdles placed in the way of the collection of lawyers’ fees, the bill deliberately limits lawyers’ fees in injunctive relief cases to “a reasonable percentage of the value” of the relief. This of course makes no sense, by design, because it is quite impossible for a court to determine what the monetary worth of a non-monetary action is, so as to calculate such a percentage. The effect is that lawyers would be disincentivised from taking the risk of bringing an injunctive class action case.
Furthermore, the bill also places a condition on the timing of the payment of lawyers’ fees to the date of full monetary recovery. This could even sometimes deny lawyers the ability to be paid their fees altogether, since some cases have a term of settlement that is longer than the remaining lifespan of the lawyers who are working on the case. For example, in a case where full settlement is expected to take fifty years, it would mean that the lawyers would not be paid until the end of those fifty years. Even with that potentially disastrous scenario aside, with regards to the duration of the litigation itself, the condition incentivises defendants to drag out and prolong litigation.
The possibility of never receiving lawyers’ fees or having to wait years to receive them, will act as an enormous deterrent for any law firm that absolutely requires those fees to pay their staff and keep their business running.
H.R.720 the so-called ‘Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act’ is a cunningly named bill which will actually require all federal judges to penalise any lawyer who brings what they consider to be a ‘frivolous lawsuit’. Up until now, it has up to the judge’s discretion to decide whether to do this.
The interesting thing about this is that for a lawsuit to actually make it to the point where it has come before a jury, it means that a judge clearly already considers it to be a valid lawsuit. Legislation like H.R.720, simply incentivises the behaviour where a defendant can continually protest that everything that is happening is ‘frivolous’, and it disincentivises lawyers from trying to bring a lawsuit to find out how it will be regarded.
In practice, this means that the legislative and executive branches of US government are seeking to attack lawyers for trying to help people to seek relief or compensation through the court system. After all, a corporate defendant would likely start out from the stance that any lawsuit brought against their esteemed selves is definitely ‘frivolous’.
The appointment of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the SCOTUS
An ‘originalist’ Judge Neil Gorsuch, having previously been nominated to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit by George W. Bush on 08 August 2006, has been nominated to the Supreme Court of the United States by President Donald J. Trump. A decent summary of his background has been written at FiveThirtyEight.
Beltway conservatives immediately feted him as having come out of the mold of another now late ‘originalist’ Judge Antonin Scalia, or at least something close to that. Evangelicals celebrated Gorsuch’s statements about his belief in the ‘pro-life’ stance, as that is a pet issue of maximal all-consuming importance to them.
The Alt-Lite and Alt-Right’s reaction to the nomination was in a sense no more sophisticated or diligent than that of any of the other groups. Hunter Wallace published a very strange article at Alt-Right.com which referred to Gorsuch as a “real American”, as though this were a reason for why he wanted to see Gorsuch nominated in and of itself. Richard Spencer produced an article which had a similarly strange central thrust, referring to Gorsuch as “America’s wise, WASPy dad—an avatar of the ruling class of days gone by.” Spencer’s view was echoed by James Edwards on the Political Cesspool, which carried Spencer’s article verbatim.
In my view none of this matters anyway, but while ‘Gorsuch’ may be an old Anglo-Saxon name, the man himself is ancestrally Irish. Additionally, Gorsuch was raised as a Catholic, and then he converted to Episcopalianism later, so he is not a ‘WASP’. He’s also not America’s ‘dad’, he’s a nominee to the Supreme Court of the United States, for goodness sake.
Unfortunately no real analysis of Gorsuch’s views on class action lawsuits has been done by anyone in the nationalist sphere. If anyone had chosen to do so, then some extremely meaningful patterns, all of which are negative, would have emerged into view immediately.
SCOTUSblog gives us an interesting look in with the summary containing this excerpt:
The Bazelon Center has a review which also contains some example of cases that were not class action lawsuits, but seem to give some idea of how Gorsuch interprets civil rights law in general:
I’m sure everyone can guess where these examples are going. Here’s another:
And one more:
Being an ‘originalist’ and a ‘textualist’ seems to involve being deliberately absurd in ways that happen to be generally convenient for the defence. The addition of Gorsuch to the Supreme Court of the United States meshes with the thrust of the pieces of legislation, H.R.985 and H.R.720, which were described earlier and which are presently making their way though the US Congress, in a way that enhances their effect.
The addition of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court returns it to the balance that existed when Judge Antonin Scalia was still alive. It is not beyond possibility that sometime in the next four years another judge will be replaced, and at that point Donald Trump may even be able to appoint an additional ‘originalist’ and ‘textualist’ to the court, such as for example Judge William Pryor.
But it is sad that no one is paying any attention to these developments. Choices made during the Trump administration will shape the character of the American system for a generation or longer.
The elimination of all federal funding for the Legal Services Corporation
They suggested that it was going to happen, and now they are moving toward doing it. See here:
Eliminating all funding for the Legal Services Corporation is the same thing as abolishing it. Some people may be wondering what it does, and such people would now be wondering about that at a time when it is too late to make a difference. Although the United States Constitution contains language that promises equality in the provision of justice, the language is operationally meaningless unless it can also be said that all people have the ability to access legal services and legal remedies.
Defendants in criminal cases are guaranteed the right to have a lawyer because of the outcome of the United States Supreme Court decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963), but the same right to a lawyer does not actually exist for civil cases.
The beginning of the United States government’s effort to provide legal assistance Americans with low-income for civil cases, emerged during Lyndon B. Johnson’s ‘War on Poverty’, which gave rise to the creation of the Office of Economic Opportunity in 1964. In 1965, the office created the Legal Services Program, which provided assistance all over the United States.
However, the Legal Services Program was up for White House review in 1969, and the Office of Economic Opportunity itself was in existence because of the Economic Opportunity Act which was scheduled to expire in 1970.
President Richard M. Nixon, who took office in January 1969, asked the US Congress in February 1969 to extend appropriations for the Office of Economic Opportunity. The Ash Commission, headed by former United States Army Air Corps Captain Roy Ash, found “virtual unanimity that organizational improvement of the Executive Office of the President is needed.” Among the recommendations made on this issue, the Ash Commission advocated that Nixon ought to create an independent corporation which would receive funds from the US Congress to disburse to local legal aid organisations.
Nixon made the memo public in February 1971 and in May 1971 he sent a special message to the US Congress proposing the establishment of the Legal Services Corporation.
On 25 July 1974, Richard M. Nixon signed the Legal Services Corporation Act.
The Legal Services Corporation has not been without controversy during its existence, and several unsuccessful attempts to abolish it have been attempted over the years. The most recent unsuccessful attempt to abolish it was in 2005:
Yes, that is the same Mike Pence who is presently the Vice-President of the United States. It’s interesting how that has happened to work out.
Another interesting fact is that the Heritage Foundation which submitted the list from which Donald Trump selected Judge Neil Gorsuch’s name to nominate him to the United States Supreme Court, is also visibly active in crafting and giving legitimation to the budget which will abolish the Legal Services Corporation:
If you know anyone who seriously believes that the Heritage Foundation along with all the other personalities I’ve mentioned here are just innocently trying to ‘get rid of things that are unnecessary’, send that person to me, because I have a bridge to sell them — and it’s on the moon.
Particular factions among the American ruling class are seeking to enhance their structural power, or to turn a phrase, they are seeking to make themselves great again, by weakening the efficacy of checks or dissents against their power domestically in an environment in which they have total power over all branches of the government and are receiving virtually no criticism from their own constituency on any economic issues. This would place them in the best command position imaginable, which would allow them the ability to then turn their focus to foreign policy and trade policy.
Everything that the American ruling class is doing to pacify and constrict the power of their own constituents at home, is a preparation and a prerequisite for them being able to efficiently conduct a trade war against European, Asian, and Latin American states.
Enacting a tariff regime as a necessary centre-piece of the trade war is an action which will raise the cost of inputs for all American manufacturers. One of the ways that they will offset that cost will be to enable American companies to act in cost-cutting ways that disregard the interests of American workers and families without having to worry about being subjected to lawsuits brought by those workers and families.
Passing H.R.985 and H.R.720, as well as appointing Judge Neil Gorsuch to the United States Supreme Court and abolishing the Legal Services Corporation, are four key actions that are part of the process of them ‘moving the ball down the playing field’ in that regard.
Evidence has been presented here which illustrates that the entire edifice of ‘Make America Great Again’ is going to be constructed atop a foundation of socio-economic retrogression and misery.
Kumiko Oumae works in the defence and security sector in the UK. Her opinions here are entirely her own.
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