Trumpism and crony capitalism

Some tentative thoughts, for a chapter I’m writing about the decline of neoliberalism, and the crony capitalism I see as replacing it (unless we can achieve a leftwing alternative)

An important difference between Trumpism[1] and neoliberalism (in both hard and soft variants) is that Trumpism is associated with crony capitalism, rather than global corporations and finance. This is obscured to some extent by shared interest in corporate tax cuts and deregulation. But it’s a clear pattern,exemplified by Erdogan, Modi, Orban and Putin (search “X + crony” for illustration). Why is this? The core appeal of US Trumpism is a negative kind of identity politics, reaffirming the rightful dominance of the “unmarked category”, or default identity, that is assumed when a term like “real Americans” is used. Unmarked categories in the US context include white, male, employed, English-speaking, Christian and cis-het.

Trump’s global counterparts have the same kind of politics, but their unmarked categories are different, most obviously with respect to language, race and religion. These differences are problematic for global corporations, who want to operate in different national markets and employ the best talent they can find anywhere.

As long as neoliberalism was dominant, Trumpist voters could be bought off with gestures, while policy was run in the interests of global business. But now that the Trumpists are in charge, they are demanding measures that harm global businesses both economically (restrictions on trade and investment) and culturally (by making ascribed characteristics, rather than market outcomes the measure of esteem). By contrast, local capitalists (like Trump himself and the billionaires who now back him) mostly benefit from these measures as well as from pro-rich policies in general. Even under neoliberalism, many operated largely on the basis of connections. Provided they can stay in the good graces of the strongman (not guaranteed, as various Russian oligarchs have discovered), they are well placed in the new environment. And, unlike global corporations, crony capitalists can operate with a short time horizon. Even if Trumpist policies are ultimately disastrous in economic terms, they have time to make their pile and cash out.

fn1. In 2016, I used the unsatisfactory term “tribalism”, for want of a better alternative, but Trumpism fits the bill perfectly.

15 thoughts on “Trumpism and crony capitalism

  1. I think it’s worth mentioning the historical connection between crony capitalism and fascism. Wasn’t the economic system of National Socialism about public funding for selected private enterprise?

  2. The terms of analysis are wrong. There is no difference between crony capitalism and the oligarchs of global corporations and finance with their bought politicians. It is ALL crony capitalism.

    “Crony capitalism is an economic system in which businesses thrive not as a result of risk, but rather as a return on money amassed through a nexus between a business class and the political class.” – Wikipedia.

    Under this definition, how are corporate oligarchs and all their bought politicians not cronies? How is it not ALL crony capitalism? The only difference is that the corporate oligarchs had smooth, competent politicians to do their bidding until Trump came along. Then they had a crude, incompetent politician. That really is the only difference. The crude, incompetent politician was foisted on the other oligarchs by a populist movement, led by Murdoch, the Koch Brothers and Trump, which movement was thought to be a a joke by the older establishment, until Trump won. The oligarchs and their cronies in the Dems are now putting that problem back into the bottle, or at least attempting to. But nothing fundamental has changed. America was run by crony capitalism before Trump and it will be run by crony capitalism after Trump.

  3. The post includes: “Even if Trumpist policies are ultimately disastrous in economic terms, they have time to make their pile and cash out.”

    It depends on the extent and permanency of the ongoing economic and societal damage that Trump has wreaked – I’d suggest the story isn’t over yet. Trump’s climate denial policy efforts may well be enough to tip the balance towards global civilisation collapse – it may be we just don’t have a clear enough picture yet. Where are these Trump ‘cronies’ and their families going to go and enjoy their money in an increasingly more hostile world? Perhaps they just don’t think that far ahead?

    The US daily new COVID-19 infection case rate is now a consistent 200k+ and that means COVID-19 will keep on killing. To date, the US COVID-19 daily death rate has already surpassed the 9/11 death toll (2,977) three times, with probably more higher count days to come soon, and likely surpass the Battle of Antietam toll (3,600 estimate) in the days/weeks to come.

    The cumulative death rate is now 302,000+, and potentially could pass 400,000 before 20 Jan 2021, when Trump is supposed to leave office.

    A former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration and a member of Pfizer’s board of directors said Tuesday (Dec 8) that President Donald Trump’s administration declined to secure millions of additional doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine when it had the chance months ago. That decision could delay the delivery of a second batch of doses until Pfizer fulfills other international contracts.

    There are people who profess that Trump was robbed of a second term. I think there are many American lives being unnecessarily taken, increasing numbers of sufferers damaged by “long COVID” for the longer-term, and many associated family members devastated by the carnage. The enormous damage is ongoing and apparently increasing, due to the Trump administration’s undeniable COVID-19 mismanagement and incompetency. It’s Trump’s unenviable legacy that will keep on wreaking havoc, and perhaps permanently weakening the US with as yet unforeseen consequences, long after he leaves office.

  4. The USA is not the only polity culpable for leading us to a comprehensively ruined climate and certain global collapse. We have all done our part unfortunately, even little Australia emitting well above its weight. China is now doing its part and China is becoming equally culpable. There is not enough waste sink capacity left in the world, including in the atmosphere, to complete China’s development to first world status, let alone enough left for India et. al. Yet, they all will try to complete that development for both domestic, humane and belligerent or at least defensive geostrategic reasons.

    “Climate arsonist Xi Jinping:a carbon-neutral China with a 6% growth rate?”

    Click to access Smith94.pdf

    Of course it is selective moralism to call China a climate arsonist without calling the West out as climate arsonists. We are all climate arsonists now. And we will all go down in the flames together. Civilizational collapse is certain.

    In Brisbane, the La Niña rains have finally come. That’s good. That means I won’t be burnt out by bush fires this summer. Our rains tend to go on all summer once started. Even knowing one has another 12 months stay of execution on the possibility of losing one’s home feels positively good. The rain also means our state’s large dams will get a filling. Things are looking up! If I don’t catch COVID-19 or something else bad I could actually live for another whole five years unless a major global war starts. Whoopee! I’m thinking in 5 year lots now. I dare not hope further ahead than that even though my health is technically good enough for another 20 to 30 years.

    O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!” – Lewis Carroll.

  5. i just (a couple of hours ago) withdrew my countenance from an individual who has taken to spouting trumpchump stuff.

    i thought i would at least reasonably give them the reason(s) why.

    i couldn’t get a word in edgeways!

    stuff ’em.

    give them nothing.

    see Umbertos

    “How to spot a fascist”

  6. Look, if the “rewards” are predominantly paid to the very few, and if the bulk of the (hopefully) working population are faced with decades of hard-scrabble just to survive, then it is virtually inevitable that a fascist person will rise, based on exploiting grievance and a (very real) sense of missing out. If a region has its jobs gutted by overseas competition, do not expect the now unemployed to go, oh, that’s capitalism. Instead, they want to see heads on a pike for having been put in this position. Hard to fault their anger, given it is in reaction to seeing overseas competition beat them hands down. Shrugging and saying, well, that’s capitalism for you, isn’t a way to win them over.

    Trump saw that and decided he could take them under his wing, through a few grievance based policies, a certain amount of dog-whistling (as to who they felt was to blame for their recent poverty), some lessons in racism, and vapid promises without merit. So many dictators have found their path to power by harnessing a long-standing grievance that has at least a veneer of legitimacy, and then drawing in some other groups of “others,” to lock in their support base, while disenfranchising the newly “other.” Read “Mein Kampf,” and a bit of the history of the Europe that led to the rise of Hitler, and parallels of method are clear. It doesn’t mean that Trump would resort to Hitler-esque violence, but the template of how to grab power and to keep it is the same, whomsoever is the up and coming tyrant.

    Trump is fascist, he isn’t mere crony-capitalism. He is FASCIST. I wouldn’t be too surprised if one day, we find out he let the virus rip, in order to have a crisis fit for calling some kind of martial law, at a convenient time after the election. Trump creates for himself a bunch of alternatives, often ones his opponents are incapable of grasping in the moment, for they can’t bring themselves to believe somebody would go that far. That’s the modus operandi of fascists on the rise..

    The only question now, is does he have the bottle to go the whole way in trying to retain office, or is he content with a sack full of cash from his donation drive, and perhaps a 2024 campaign for himself or one of his children. I don’t know what he’ll do now that it has come to this, but so far, most of my calls on Trump behaviour have come to pass. That being the case, I’ll say now, I suspect he’ll go the whole darn hog. I really do hope I have over-estimated him.

  7. “Future generations will look back on TV as the lead in the water pipes that drove the Romans mad.”
    – attributed to Kurt Vonnegut.

  8. “Polarization increases with economic decline, becoming cripplingly contagious

    “A model developed by a team of researchers—including Nolan McCarty of Princeton University—shows how group polarization, rising inequality, and economic decline may be strongly connected.

    “Is it possible to predict when political polarization might lead to major social and civil conflicts? Credit: Hertie School

    “The model may be helpful in explaining political trends seen around the world. First, the model supports theories arguing that economic shocks embolden those far-right movements predicated vilifying social out-groups. For example, the Great Depression and Global Financial Crisis both led to increased support for right-wing populists in a number of countries including the United States, and the United Kingdom.”

  9. I am not sure about the difference between crony capitalism and hard neo-liberalism as practiced .I guess they probably would be distinguishable once definitions are agreed upon. One seems more overt than the other which wears a cloak of decency. I think by normal standards I am a bit of an extremist so I mightn’t be in a good position to say.

    Q ;- ” Once our government leaders and the authorities condemn the dangerous elements in our society ,it will be the duty of every patriotic citizen to help stomp out the rot that is poisoning our society from within ” ?.
    A ;- 4741 US lawmakers were asked in the early 90’s, 26% responded .1/3 ,overwhelmingly Republican ,agreed or said they were neutral .More recently 52% of Trump supporters agreed ,14% were neutral.
    [from Dean and Altemeyer ,Authoritarian Nightmare]

  10. Well, of course. Once people, some group or class, feel they have no stake in a society and their needs and rights are being ignored, then they will rebel, will revolt. The rebellion can take the form of delinquency, criminality, resistance, rebellion or organized revolution. Once things get bad enough and there are leaders and a cogent revolutionary theory there will be an outright revolution.

    “A model developed by a team of researchers—including Nolan McCarty of Princeton University—shows how group polarization, rising inequality, and economic decline may be strongly connected.

    The model develops a theory that group polarization tends to soar in times of economic duress and rising inequality. Yet, even after financial conditions improve, these divisions may remain deeply rooted.

    This is why strengthened social safety nets are needed to help minimize conflict across social, ethnic, and racial groups, the researchers argue in Science Advances.” – ‘Polarization increases with economic decline, becoming cripplingly contagious’ – by Princeton University

    Strengthened social safety nets are good but not nearly enough. The entire system has to be RADICALLY changed so that safety nets are not needed nearly so much, precisely because many fewer people are falling in the first place. if the economic system does less of the grotesquely inequitable allocation in the first place then the safety nets are far less needed. This ought to be obvious to any reasonable person. It’s not obvious to capitalists and neoliberals because they are greedy, oppressive, cruel and unreasonable persons. It’s high time they were stripped of their power to run our political economy. There has to be a major power shift in our society. If it’s not permitted peacefully by the powers that be, then it will unfortunately happen through conflict.

  11. Trump et al’s protectors?

    Sobering paragraph re the 3 orgs that “prevent substantial rebellion”…
    1) the not for profit industry,
    2) the antiquated strategies of what is currently mislabeled as, “The union movement”, and
    -3) the Democratic Party.
    Plus a dismissal of Ralph Nader.

    “I’ll Tell You Why the 99% Isn’t In Revolt
    …” Although the elements that prevent substantial rebellion are many, they really boil down to just three. They are the not for profit industry, the antiquated strategies of what is currently mislabeled as, “The union movement”, and the Democratic Party. These three elements, all loyal to each other and working in unison, act as the front-line protective mechanism for US capitalism and the political class that serves it.” …

    “How bad does it have to get before widespread rebellion? How many unarmed people of color will be gunned down by police? How many civil rights are going to be stripped? How rich can the elites get off of our labor? How much pain do we all need to feel before we rise up? It’s a natural question to ask by anyone suffering the nature of US capitalism. Unfortunately, Nader’s article rings tone-deaf.”

    Author’s story…
    “Fired Nurse Faces Board Review for Wearing Hospital Scrubs— Cliff Willmeng was dismissed after raising safety concerns; now his license hangs in the balance”

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