On 22 December, US President Donald Trump passed the most significant piece of domestic legislation of his term thus far, the so-called “Tax Cuts and Job Act”.
This tax reform, one of the most sweeping in decades, will cut corporate tax by 15%. The package also includes measures such as lowering taxes on overseas profits.
The BBC’s summary of the act was to the point: “The tax reform is good news for businesses, particularly multinational corporations and the commercial property industry. The extremely wealthy and parents sending their children to private schools are set to benefit.”
This policy shows no signs of alienating the “plebeian” elements of Trump’s base. This syndrome still prevails: “The top 0.1 per cent are very remote to almost everybody. Quite a few of the worse-off can be persuaded or half-persuaded that billionaires got to be billionaires by exceptional energy and skill, and no doubt a bit of luck, in negotiating the sort of channels for advancement that those worse-off people can see as accessible to themselves: starting a small business, winning promotion at work, etc.
“They can be persuaded that policies that would cramp the billionaires would also harm their own chances of advance through individual effort, and divert resources to the feckless and idle.” (Solidarity 456)
Healthcare has been another major policy arena for Trump. On 4 January, Trump signed an Executive Order which, if enacted, will end a regulation on health insurance companies selling policies across state lines, effectively widening the marketplace.
On Trump’s “travel ban”, the US Supreme Court ruled on 1 January that the latest version can be enacted, even while legal challenges to it are ongoing. The ban imposes de facto total restrictions on citizens of Chad, Libya, Yemen, Iran, Somalia, and Syria entering the US for any purpose, as well as citizens of North Korea and Venezuela.
Despite the revelations of apparent panic and cluelessness in Fire and Fury, journalist Michael Wolff’s new book on the Trump and his circle, the regime, on domestic policy at least, does have a clear agenda: to benefit corporations, property developers, insurance companies, and the super-rich by regulating and legislating to deregulate.
Trump’s virulent and overt racism, however is, at odds with mainstream neoliberalism, which presents itself as broadly cosmopolitan and liberal-minded.
Trump's nationalist-neoliberalism is causing panic in the institutions of global free trade. The 11th World Trade Organisation ministerial conference, held in Buenos Aires in December, ended without agreements.
The US has blocked appointments to the WTO’s tribunal, meaning that when the terms of office of its remaining members expire, it will be effectively unable to function.
On foreign policy Trump has been erratic. Trump’s previous rhetoric on Iran suggests he may not renew Obama’s 2015 deal, which lifted US sanctions. As well as wreaking social and economic havoc not only on Iran’s regime, but on its people, the reimposition of sanctions would hand clerical-fascist demagogues in the Islamic Republic a tool with which to diffuse the current protest. They will point to America as the source of social grievances, rather than themselves.
Trump’s recent recognition of an undivided Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and of his intention to move America’s embassy there, has inflamed tensions in the Middle East. Some have argued the move is a sop to the right-wing Christian-Zionist elements of his base, others that it may be a leftfield attempt to jump-start a deadlocked situation and bounce the Palestinians into a shabby version of a two-states settlement that involves them accepting a serious of non-contiguous bantustans as their “state”.
The first weeks of 2018 saw further ludicrous grandstanding by Trump on Twitter about nuclear weaponry and North Korea. Some say this is a calculating and clever move by Trump to control news cycles. That may be a factor, but the paranoid-narcissism of a reality TV star, who appears to view world politics in the same terms as the fans of WWE (particularly those who refuse to believe it isn’t “real”) view their “sports entertainment”, has its own dynamics. While there are (hopefully) sufficient checks in the US political system to prevent Trump from unilaterally declaring a nuclear war because someone offended him on Twitter, one cannot always expect bourgeois leaders in the grip of irrational ideologies – whether political, or political-religious – to act in a rational way.
2017 also saw Trump’s entente with ultra-authoritarian Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte, who had previously made a shrill anti-US-imperialism a key facet of his political self-presentation.
There’s speculation that Trump’s property interests in Manila are a factor there.
The web of scandals related to the FBI’s ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign’s links to Russia continues to expand. Wolff's book alleges that Steve Bannon, Trump’s former adviser, may now be collaborating with Robert Mueller, the FBI chief heading the investigation.
There is a great deal of tin-foil-hat politics here. The centre-right Democrats and some moderate Republicans and conservatives talk about “treason”, and ascribe every new development to Russian collusion or interference. On the right, some Trump supporters are claiming the whole thing is a conspiracy contrived by the “deep state” to get rid of Trump.
The US socialist paper Socialist Worker (unrelated to the British publication of the same name) explains; downplaying:
“[The Russia investigation] is not just a distraction from more important issues that affect working class people… It's clear that many members of Trump's team had repeated contacts with Russian officials and then lied about it, which is strange.
“What we don't know is the extent to these contacts, and whether they come from Trump's personal business history of shady deals with Russian financiers, or a desire for warmer relations with Russia in order to pursue the tougher stance against China… that it's impossible to disentangle the two is the real crisis of the Trump presidency for the US ruling class.
“The keys to the empire are in the hands of an untrustworthy and incompetent rogue and the motley crew of fawning charlatans and neo-fascists surrounding him - who wouldn't have made it past the security desk in most previous administrations.”
Trump's overall approval rating, according to pollsters Gallup, increased slightly over the holiday season, from 35% in December to 39% on 5 January. The December rating made him the least popular first-term president since polling began.
A poll published by Time magazine in December showed that 36% of voters would definitely, vote for Trump in 2020, and 18% would “probably” vote for him, with 38% saying they would vote for the Democratic candidate, and 14% “probably” voting for them. So his core base is largely holding up.
In terms of potential sites of resistance to Trump, the issue of women’s rights remains key. With six members of Congress having recently resigned after being accused of sexual misconduct, and a growing movement across public life to challenge the abuses of powerful men, allegations against Trump will resurface. Even Nikki Haley, America’s ambassador to the UN, has gone on record to say that the women who have made allegations against Trump “should be heard”.
Other recent events in America could galvanise resistances; a recent Grenfell Tower-type tragedy in a working-class apartment building in the Bronx, New York, has provoked huge anger. So far that has mainly been directed against municipal government, but with Trump’s background as a property developer and landlord the political links are easy to make.
The best hope in the US far-left firmament remains the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), which continues to grow. 15 DSA members won election to public office across America in elections at the end of 2017, and many of those candidates did run campaigns that openly identified them as socialists. But they were not in any sense “DSA candidates”.
As DSA member Emmett Penney wrote in The Clarion magazine (Issue 11, December 2017): “It’s a fact of American political life that can’t be ignored: as it stands, the greatest obstacle to left wing, progressive victories in electoral politics is the Democratic Party itself. Their collusion with imperialist gluttons and Wall Street primadonnas, taken with their incredible self-regard in the face of failed policies and a crushing defeat in 2016 makes them a party to combat, not join.
This puts the DSA in a tight spot: it’s not a political party, so it often relies on candidates’ enrolment in the Democratic Party to run races. It’s damn near impossible to get third party candidates on the ballot at all, even in local races.”
DSA functions mostly as a network where local chapters conduct semi-autonomous campaigning activity. There are moves to centralise things to a greater degree, with a drive for local chapters to focus on a nationally-agreed campaign on healthcare. There are also rows, mainly online, over international issues, with a newer kitsch anti-imperialist wing particularly (and probably unrepresentatively) vocal on Twitter.
In the US labour movement, there are some fairly high-profile ongoing unionisation drives in prominent media organisations, such as the LA Times and Vox Media. The Fight for $15 movement continues, although without a strike day for some time. The overall situation is understandably bleak; the rank-and-file journal Labor Notes’s review of 2017 describes a “nationally-coordinated employer’s offensive”, and talks about “using attacks against us as organising opportunities”. The tone is very much defensive.
Socialists in Britain should do what we can to amplify the struggles of the US labour movement and wider social movements: feminists, LGBT+ movements, civil rights and anti-racist activists, and more. The journals Jacobin, Labor Notes, and New Politics, as well as the International Socialist Organisation’s Socialist Worker and Solidarity’s Against The Current are useful sources of information and analysis.
In planning protests against Trump’s planned visit to the UK in February, socialists should ensure that such actions are not simply denunciations of Trump as an individual, but expressions of solidarity with those organising against him and his social project.