Liability for US capitalists
C.J. Atkins explains how businessmen are leaving Trump's camp.
Wonderful Confederate culture and beautiful racist statues. Are these the things upon which the fate of Donald Trump Presidency rests? If the last few days are any indication, there is a distinct possibility it could be true.
The massive street protests against fascism and the efforts of some Republican accomplices to distance themselves from the Charlottesville Nazis are worries for Trump to be sure, but Presidents have survived big demonstrations and the criticism of allies before.
The strongest immediate threat to Trump's power now is the spreading of rebellion in his own ranks, and that doesn't necessarily mean among his hardcore base, as one poll indicates some 60 per cent of Republican voters still stand by their man. Rather, it is among the titans of American business, the military brass, and the political establishment—the power centers of the capitalist state—where Trump's stock is falling fastest.
The exodus of corporate CEOs from his economic advisory councils proceeded at such a pace this week that the President was forced to announce the bodies were being disbanded. He claimed it was to save the chief executives from pressure; they said the debate over their collaboration with Trump had "become a distraction from our well-intentioned and sincere desire to aid vital policy discussions." It was a polite way of saying, "There was no way we could continue to be connected publicly to this guy."
For many of these business leaders, their public divorce from Trump is not something they embraced eagerly. If only he could control his Twitter impulses and refrain from saying anything positive about Nazis, they'd certainly be happy to continue cooperating in advancing his agenda of deregulation, tax cuts, and infrastructure spending that amounts to corporate welfare.
But, alas, Trump simply cannot control himself, apparently. Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase, said in an email to employees on Tuesday that the President's "constructive economic and regulatory policies are not enough and will not matter if we do not address the divisions in our country." Read that again: "constructive economic and regulatory policies." The rest of Trump they like, it's just his open embrace of white supremacy that is fouling things up.
Its not just the Fortune 500 crowd who are running from Trump, though. In an open and stunning rebuke of their commander-in-chief, the heads of all four branches of the U.S. military—the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines—issued back-to-back coordinated denunciations of racism. Military historian Fred Kaplan described the situation in stark terms: "If we lived in a different sort of country, this could fairly be seen as the prelude to a military coup—and a coup that many might welcome."
On Thursday, Trump lost the backing of a top Republican senator widely respected by both political parties. The words of Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee verged on branding Trump unfit for office. "The President has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor…the competence that he needs to demonstrate," he said in Chattanooga.
Corker joins a short but growing list of GOP senators, including Marco Rubio of Florida, John McCain of Arizona, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who have called Trump out by name in recent days. Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell have so far continued to dither, denouncing racism in general but not the President himself.
There now appears to be a consensus emerging among at least a section of American capital and within the echelons of state power that Trump (and any prominent association with him) is a liability.
Few CEOs were ready to call him out as a white supremacist directly in the first day or two after Charlottesville, but the President's repeated expressions of sympathy for the Confederate cause and his praise for the cultural value of monuments to slavery are making it unavoidable.
Even some of the most pro-Trump corporations are feeling the pressure to cut ties. James Murdoch, head of Twentieth Century Fox and son of Rupert Murdoch, said in an email Tuesday night, "I can't even believe I have to write this: standing up to Nazis is essential; there are no good Nazis. Or Klansmen, or terrorists."
A sort of united front of capitalists is even emerging, as executives band together to oppose the President so that no single one of them alone has to face the fallout from a Trump attack like the one launched at Merck CEO Ken Frazier, an African American, after he quit the President's manufacturing council. The conclusion many are reaching: Trump is bad for business.
The façade of a post-racial America is an essential one for capitalism in this country. No doubt many CEOs fervently oppose racism at a personal level. But at the macro-scale, the dredging up of the realities of systemic racism and the possible broaching of the topic of how big business benefits from the super-profits that come from racial inequality is a threat to the whole capitalist class.
Because if he has accomplished anything, it is this: Trump has blown apart the idea that the United States has moved past racism or that discrimination is a relic of our troubled past. By emboldening white supremacists and fomenting racial animosity on the part of white workers, he has exposed the tactic of dividing working people by race. The threat for capitalism is that more people begin to put together the pieces and realise that it's not only Trump who is the problem but the system itself, which thrives on built-in racial divisions.
The exodus from Trump has begun. Where or when it will end is not yet clear, but the likelihood of his Presidency lasting for a full four-year term is diminishing by the day. Most reluctant to abandon the President are the companies which heavily benefit from their direct connection to the government—defense suppliers like Boeing or energy giants such as ExxonMobil. Those more dependent on the whim of consumers fed up with racism, like athletic clothing retailer Under Armor, have been some of the quickest to bolt.
The turmoil is now spreading into the heart of the administration, as rumors swirl that Gary Cohn, former Goldman Sachs CEO and the head of the National Economic Council—the President's top economic policy-making body—may soon resign. The mere suggestion that he may step down sent the stock market into a panic on Thursday.
The task now is to take advantage of these splits and push for the ouster of a Nazi sympathiser from the White House and deliver a powerful blow to not only the racism he supports but to the agenda of deregulation, privatisation, and tax cuts he's been pushing—an agenda which threatens the well-being of working people of all races and nationalities.
(The writer is the Managing Editor of Peoples World, USA. Views are strictly personal.)