Monday, February 20, 2017

Lynn Henderson on Donald Trump

My former comrade, Lynn Henderson, posts a long article at Socialist Action entitled A watershed election for U.S. imperialism. Despite being a well-written, worthwhile read, the piece is a mess.

He posits at least two conspiracy theories. First, he assumes that U.S. Imperialism is actually a thing. It literally sits around and makes conscious decisions about how best to screw the working class. While Mr. Henderson doesn't identify "imperialism" with Jews, it's precisely the same sort of conspiracy supposedly documented in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Perhaps the "imperialists" meet in secret organizations such as the Trilateral Commission? Or is it the Bilderberg Group? Or maybe they cavort around naked in the woods at Bohemian Grove in Northern California while plotting their nefarious schemes?

Mr. Henderson never tells us how this conspiracy supposedly transpires, but apparently everybody from George Soros to the Koch brothers to Larry Page to Charlie Hamm are all on the same page about what to do next. Note to Mr. Henderson: these people don't even talk to each other much less agree on how the world should run.

The second conspiracy theory concerns Obama's strategy in Syria. Here Mr. Henderson must have access to information that nobody else possesses. Was he a fly on the wall in the White House situation room? He claims to have the chronology of events in Syria absolutely down flat, without the shadow of any doubt. Here's how it supposedly all transpired:
  • Obama really wanted to go to war in Syria.
  • He used chemical weapons as an excuse, making his infamous "red line" remark.
  • But the British--unreliable bastards that they are--refused to go along with Obama's war. (Apparently British imperialism is not on the same wavelength as US imperialism. Mr. Henderson doesn't explain why.)
  • Because the Brits didn't like it, Congress might not have approved war authorization.
  • Therefore John Kerry made an agreement with the Russians.
I find this incredible. Unsurprisingly Mr. Henderson offers no evidence for his theory at all. A much simpler (and widely accepted) explanation is that Mr. Obama (who never had any intention of getting involved in Syria) was trying to push Assad into making a settlement and the latter called his bluff. The result was another couple hundred thousand dead people.

Mr. Henderson relates a very strange story about the growth of the American middle class. In his telling it's all because of World War II. Apparently the massive destruction of Europe and East Asia enabled US imperialism to conquer the world (at least temporarily) and extract enough wealth to enrich US workers as well.

People earn money by trading goods and services with each other, and capitalism maximizes those trading opportunities. It's really hard to trade with people whose houses and factories have all been destroyed. The US lent Europe money to rebuild it's infrastructure, which fortunately happened successfully. For otherwise American taxpayers would have been on the hook and lost their investment. We'd all have been much poorer.

The real reasons for the development of the American middle class (along with similar populations in Europe, Japan, Korea, and elsewhere) is because of new technology. It's described in great detail in Robert Gordon's book The Rise & Fall of American Growth (which I reviewed here). Here's the list: the electric light bulb, the internal combustion engine, antiseptics, canned food, indoor plumbing, clean running water, air conditioning, airplanes, the department store, interstate highways, modern finance, and more. Mr. Henderson mentions none of this--he nonsensically attributes our modern living standard to WWII.

Finally we get to Mr. Trump, who presumably is the topic of the article. At least Mr. Henderson is smart enough not to call Mr. Trump a fascist, which he manifestly is not. But otherwise he throws the book at him:
... the Republican Party is captured by an extreme right wing, rogue billionaire, an open racist, who brags about his successful sexual assaults on women, banning individuals from entering the country on the basis of their religious affiliation, and among other things, promises to launch a global-wide trade war. The ruling class itself sees Trump as a loose cannon, dangerous and unstable—the kind of president that in this threatening new era for U.S. capitalism, demonstrates every potential for making things dramatically worse.
Much on this list is either false or a gross exaggeration. Trump is definitely not "extreme right wing." Most of the Republican establishment (which includes a significant Libertarian constituency) disowned him. They're in favor of free trade and (relatively) open borders--see Marco Rubio as a clear example. Also Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Jeb Bush, etc. Trump's positions on trade, industrial policy, and even unions, are much closer to the Democrats, which is why he won over blue-collar voters who voted for Obama in 2012. Even on health care he's a Democrat--whatever else Trump-care does, it's not gonna water down Obamacare. Trump agrees with Bernie Sanders on foreign policy, condemning our recent wars with almost as much vitriol as Socialist Action.

Second, he certainly isn't an "open racist." He's been actively courting the Black community since before the election, including most recently touting historically Black colleges. Scott Alexander (a superb post!) describes Trump as not being any more racist than the average 70-year-old white guy. Two acts of "racism" are held against him: his birther campaign against Obama, and that he proclaimed "I love Latinos" while eating a taco bowl in Trump Tower. The former was stupid, not racist. And the latter may not have been politically correct, but hardly qualifies him as a racist. An "open racist" would have said "I hate Latinos." Trump has never said that nor anything remotely similar.

Trump undoubtedly acknowledges the continued existence of racism. But he also maintains (correctly in my view) is that racism is not the central problem in our society. The problem with the police is not that they're racist (though some are), but mostly that they're not preventing crime in Black communities. Thus his promise to crack down on crime is as much a bid for African-American support as it is anything else. Likewise with his championing of school choice.

Trump got more Black votes than either McCain or Romney. And his vote among Hispanics equaled that which Republicans typically get. There is no evidence that he is viewed in those communities as unusually, or "openly" racist.

Third, Trump bragged about assaulting women in a media clip from a decade ago. Mr. Henderson should use the past tense--"bragged." Trump is certainly not bragging about sexual assault today. This sloppy use of language discredits Mr. Henderson's argument.

Trump does not threaten a global-wide trade war. And the US, like any other country, has a right to control who crosses our borders. Mr. Trump has long since backed off barring all Muslims, but he is certainly right that terrorism tends to come from Muslim countries. Again, exaggeration is not Mr. Henderson's friend.

I think accusations that Trump is an unstable, undisciplined loose cannon, while perhaps arguable, are mostly incorrect. His campaign turns out to have been spectacularly well organized. Which is fairly obvious since he won the election while spending only a fraction of the money Hillary wasted. While he certainly has made mistakes, accusing him of stupidity, mental illness, or lack of self-discipline I think are charges very far of the mark.

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