Trump has stepped up his broadsides against the package giant Amazon. He tweeted recently that the company was essentially bankrupting the Post Office. Trump attacking a powerful corporate entity is nothing new, since he’s gone after CNN via the AT&T/Time Warner Deal, but the President’s salvos against Amazon are having an effect on Wall Street and the company itself.
It’s long been reported by liberal-leaning outlets that Trump is a would-be strongman, and has admired the likes of Duterte from the Philippines, and Putin from Russia. While the common perception is that “democracy is holding” and our bloated bureaucracy has slowed down Trump’s quest for power, we’re already seeing it take hold via the twitter attacks on various individuals and corporations.
If Twitter is powerful enough to cause a 7% drop in Amazon, then that is in itself an expression of the ability to change. The obvious reason that Trump is going after Amazon is that Jeff Bezos also owns The Washington Post. So, when Trump is offended by press coverage, he can affect the economy via social media. He might not be able to kill his opponents outright, but being able to kneecap Wall Street carries with it tremendous influence.
But making that little arrow go on a downward trajectory isn’t the only way POTUS can express his version of authoritarianism. When he fired former FBI director James Comey way back in 2017, Trump openly displayed authoritarian tendencies. And when Jeff Session fired Andrew McCabe one day before his pension benefits would begin, the authoritarian boot claimed another victim. Firings, tampering, with Wall Street. What else?
Going beyond these obvious examples, let me expand on a bit on my concept of “Capitalist Authoritarianism.” This can be anything that mimics the corporate environment, from firings, to Wall Street, to “branding.” This is an indispensable part of capitalist authoritarianism. When Trump brands anyone, from “Crooked H” to an unpatriotic non-US citizen, to former President Barack Obama, he is engaging in a type of governing style that demeans, wields power, and slowly but surely achieves results (unless voters educate themselves).
Beyond the obvious big but fading names in establishment politics, Trump has branded groups of people, calling Democrats unpatriotic (gee, what a coincidence), and associating immigrants with crime and perverting “sacred” American values (I vehemently disagree with both).
Through his hirings, firings, use of Twitter, Trump is effectively holding America’s bureaucracy and economy hostage because he wants to achieve results. I haven’t even mentioned yet the decision to impose tariffs on China, which has already prompted a fierce, retaliatory response from the economic superpower of imposing tariffs of their own on many US goods.
While Trump is being slowed down by liberal bureaucracy, he is using it to unravel itself. It’s a symbiotic relationship that I believe is largely going unnoticed. He will lampoon the the red tape he depends on if it seems right in the moment.
Behind it all, Trump is trying to appease the Republican base by pandering to their anti-immigration fears, going after imposing, large corporations that seem like villains even though he is only targeting them because he doesn’t like the press coverage they finance.
Capitalism authoritarianism might seem harmless if you are enmeshed in a culture where corporatism infuses everything, but the symptoms are often insidious, but also always cumulative and eventually very effective. It’s hard to say what can be done exactly, since the routes to victory are for the most part Pyrrhic. Impeaching Trump means Vice President Pence becomes POTUS. If Pence is ensnared and removed because of the Russia probe, that means Speaker of the House Paul Ryan will move into the Oval Office, causing all kinds of social discontent by pressing for “social entitlement reform” (which means obamacare, social security, etc).
And in a way, whether it’s the 2018 midterms or the 2020 presidential elections, capitalist authoritarianism will still cling to power because the enemies of Trump have to brand themselves, whether it’s in opposition to his policies, or in uneasy accordance with them but vehemently opposed to his personality.
Even Trump is a servant to a broader culture, downplaying the “ultimate deal-maker” identity which has largely defined his self-image, in favor of a more palatable draconian POTUS that bullies immigrants and is uncompromising when it comes to policy objectives. He’s branded other people. He’s branded himself. Where to now, from the bottom of his corporate rabbit hole we find ourselves in?
“Hey, it’s a little dark down here. Got a flashlight?”