The Future of Trump’s Revolution against the Establishment
Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton desperately wanted to be president. The difference between them was that Clinton thought the presidency was hers by right, while Trump knew that he would have to fight for it. And fight he did.
The assumption of divine right didn’t leave Clinton with too much to say in public. After all, feudal rulers never really spoke to the peasants and would have had a very hard time justifying themselves if they had. Instead, they granted favors to the nobility, who granted lesser favors to their knights, and so on down the chain. The end result was a top-down system of patronage, powered by self-interest and mutual plunder, serfs excluded.
Such was the nature of Clinton’s pre-ordained road to the White House. Before taking her case to the public – an unfortunate necessity these days and one that cost her dearly – she spent years nailing down the fealty of big money, the country’s economic elite and the power brokers (read nobility) of the Democratic Party. With few exceptions, all understood the reciprocal obligations – and potential benefits – of the Clinton power structure.
The last year of the campaign was meant to be Hillary’s triumph, in the old Roman sense of the word. It was going to be a grand tour of her estates, chatting with the vassals – telling them how much she loved them and how good life would be under her reign – and impressing them with her trappings of power.
The rebel Sanders with his egalitarian ideas spoiled the party for a while, but he was eventually put to the sword. And Trump, the mutinous offspring of the merchant classes, was treated with the disdain appropriate to a grubby, greedy and illegitimate pretender to the throne.
But Donald had other ideas. With Clinton claiming dynastic legitimacy, he – a crude billionaire real estate mogul with a taste for designer suits and flashy women – took the extraordinary step of igniting a peasant revolt. The nation’s capital, he maintained, was in the hands of a foreign power and he, the unlikely hero, was going to take it back for the people.
Like Mao Tse Tung and Fidel Castro before him (not necessarily an analogy he would use himself,) Trump mounted a guerilla campaign. He moved among the people as a fish swims in the sea (courtesy of Chairman Mao,) wielding his small band of political irregulars brilliantly. Trump understood that polished political campaigns, like standing armies, tend towards stasis and immobility, so he gnawed at the forces of his opponent with petty warfare – ambushes, sabotage (Russian hackers and FBI Director James “Che” Comey) and hit-and-run raids.
Like his guerilla predecessors, Trump flaunted convention (or “long-standing practices”) and he took no prisoners. Like Stalin, he lied repeatedly and flamboyantly, repeating his lies shamelessly even when they had been decisively refuted. With virtually no support among the country’s political-economic establishment, he depended on the populace for cover and sustenance. And the populace came through for him.
Fidel Castro arrived on the shores of Cuba with 81 armed revolutionaries in December 1956. A little over three years later, in January 1959, he was ensconced in the presidential palace in Havana. Trump’s revolution has been no less dramatic for being shorter and less bloody. He has overthrown (temporarily, perhaps) America’s political elite, taken command of the military, appointed Breitbart.com as the official voice piece of the revolution and packed the legislative chambers with yes-men so as to better make the changes he spoke about during the campaign.
But will he do it – and is the elite, as personified by the Clintons and their minions, really dead?
Feudalism, it’s worth remembering, was not overthrown in a revolution. It died out over a period of about 300 years, due primarily to the expansion of commerce and the concomitant rise in influence of the mercantile class, massive urbanization and the congenital ineptitude of Europe’s nobility. Feudal relations needed time to die out or transform. It didn’t happen in a day – or a four-year term.
The lords and ladies of Washington are still around, skulking in their drawing rooms, and they’ll be rooting for Trump to fail so they can get back their palaces and their serfs. And he is virtually certain to fail, because his campaign promises were so outlandish, his skills are so lacking and his temperament is so unsuited to the slow and patient slog of democratic politics. He would do well to co-opt Washington rather than fight it.
Historically, most revolutions have not ended well. From the French Revolution, which culminated in the Great Terror and the Bonaparte dynasty, to the Stalinist terror and subsequent economic collapse of the Russian Revolution and the ignominious end of the Arab Spring (Al-Sissi and civil war in Syria,) revolutions tend to either turn on the people in whose name they began or dwindle into poor imitations of the ancien régime.
Trump’s revolution could go either way. Implementation of his promises to wall off Mexico, bar Muslims, dismantle Obamacare and withdraw from climate agreements would put America well on the way to becoming a modern-day Francoist Spain, with lethal injections replacing firing squads. It will become a dour, insular and sullen country; a bewildered and irritable Canute, wondering why the waves don’t recede.
But cooperation with feudal Washington, on the other hand, will be the end of Trump’s erstwhile revolution. Power is a black hole; you either counter it with greater power or it sucks you in. A Trump who plays footsie with Washington will become Washington’s pet. Given that he has no overarching ideology or burning desire to change society (for all his campaign populism, he’s really only in it for himself,) Trump will become just another name on the long list of US presidents; a Chester Arthur who leaves barely a fingerprint on history.
My bet is on Chelsea for 2028.