[GegenStandpunkt home page]
[Translated from Gegenstandpunkt: Politische Vierteljahreszeitschrift 2-17, Gegenstandpunkt Verlag, Munich]
For Trump, it is a sure fact that the proud USA and American people are being bled by transnational business that has caused jobs in the country to be lost, whole industrial regions that once flourished to go to rot, American infrastructure to decay, the local population to sink into poverty, trade balances to be negative, and government debt to be gigantic. For him, this goes hand in hand with an alarming decline in American military power, which he sees not only in the curbed expansion of US weapons budgets over the last decades, but also in the USA’s lack of success in its military engagements over the last quarter century.
It’s clear to him that all this is the result of a sell out of American interests that is as huge as it is criminal. An utterly corrupt “establishment,” in his view, has allowed economic dealings by which American jobs have been stolen, thereby depriving his “hard-working” and “beautiful” Americans of their right to the happiness of achieving, by their superior proficiency, the prosperity for themselves and their families, and thus for America as a whole, that befits them and their nation. This picture of America’s deep crisis and its causes shows what Trump’s picture of the world altogether is like.
The first tenet of his general and fairly simple view of the world is that his beloved Americans — if one lets them — are engaged in the ‘pursuit of happiness.’ That is, they are trying to earn money for their private existence, with whatever means and in whatever circumstances, proving their individual money-making abilities in competition with others. ‘Jobs’ are the means, the essence, and the proof of both people’s own successful quest for happiness and the whole nation’s success. This leads directly to the second tenet, by which the peoples of the world are immersed in a huge competition in which the nations’ wealth and the peoples’ prosperity — jobs again — are based solely on perpetual struggle; the nations are forever taking away and withholding from each other. These two tenets together yield the third tenet, which is actually the prime one: America is superior at this. This is not specifically due to one or the other commodity produced by efficient Americans, one or the other superior capital with superior business ideas and means, one or the other government measure for strengthening national business conditions, or one or the other successful diplomatic maneuver for ousting the competition. It is rather a matter of principle, it’s how it’s always been, in every area, by every standard for capitalistic trade and commerce, which is why Trump isn’t interested in knowing any details since that’s all he needs to know. When he talks about hard-working Americans, what he means is that Americans’ superior skills equal America’s unrivaled superiority over all other nations — that’s what he means by the “jobs, jobs, jobs” he wants to bring back to America.
Certainly, ‘jobs’ is the common coin that responsible politicians of any origin and national allegiance, and anyone at all involved with furthering the success of their nation in international competition, use to express and measure this success. For this is how they convey that successful, capitalistically profitable utilization of the people is united with the people’s material maintenance. And they are out to promote this unity as best they can because it is the basis for a modern nation’s welfare. However, this principle — that nations achieve their competitive success enriching themselves on and against each other by means of the capitalistically profitable gainful labor of their people, who live on this labor — has been adopted by America all along, and under Trump to the extreme, as the standpoint that the private materialism practiced and realized by superior American competing citizens in their jobs is identical with the wealth and greatness of the superior American nation. For Trump, this is the order of things, i.e., the world economy is taking its good and natural course when it brings to bear and constantly reproduces this superiority of America and its job holders in every respect, in every field.
That’s why for Trump it is completely out of the question for the national losses that he identifies to be offset with other economic success figures, which he doesn’t believe anyway. So, from his point of view (at least before he moved into the White House), even calculating a national unemployment rate is improper for America. In his eyes, it means chalking up the scandalous result of a scandalous destruction of American livelihood, lifestyle, and purpose in life, as if there could be any rate of that kind that would be all right. Consequently, he has no problem multiplying the official unemployment rate by a single- to double-digit factor, as he pleases, to make it clear every time that no unemployment rate is right for his USA, especially when jobs have not just been shamefully eliminated, but criminally taken abroad.
He won’t let anybody, in any way, dismiss or downplay the fundamental contradiction that he sees, by virtue of his impressively self-referential dialectic, in every lost job in the Rust Belt, in closed factories and impoverished inner cities, there and elsewhere in his homeland: America is not what it really is. It really is the largest, most powerful, richest nation in the world, with the world’s most capable people destined to succeed with no holds barred, with the most powerful capital and the best money in the world — and yet it must put up with the fact that millions of jobs have been lost due to the false globalism of its previous administrations.
Trump’s fierce criticism is based on America’s historically unique achievement of tailoring the globe to its materialism, and he aims to properly complete this project.
When Trump firmly assumes that the USA and its capable inhabitants are entitled and predestined to win every competition, especially the international one for the riches of the world, so that any result of this competition that violates this natural law is unacceptable, this is his patriotic way of taking for granted and affirming a real world-historic success of the USA: the world actually is the means for the USA’s wealth.
Nowadays, all nations run capitalistic economies. However well or badly this works out for each one, it means they must all be open, and stay open, to trade across all borders. This capitalistic opening, first of half the world and now of all the world, which has been systematically pursued since the end of the Second World War, has offered American capital a lot of fine opportunities. They sell the whole world iPads, Boeings, Fords, and genetically modified corn, along with the software and infrastructure to connect everything and everyone. And they scour the whole world to stock up on everything they need or find useful for their business, from African raw materials to high-quality German tools for their factories.
These factories have long since not just been located in America but are erected and operated all over the world, so the world is not just a global market for American capital but also a global business location. The internationalism of big US companies is boundless and free from any discriminatory prejudice in this sphere as well, since the power of their capital allows them to make use of both the advantages that highly developed capitalist locations provide for their investments, and the special conditions in countries that compensate their lacking the beauties of a successful capitalist location by offering the charm of incomparably ruthless exploitability of the locals’ labor power and of all their other natural conditions. Moreover, American global players make abundant use of the wanderlust of the world’s human resources that accompanies their own mobility. Here, too, they show absolute impartiality when helping themselves to members of all races and stations. They spruce up the management levels of their corporations using the expertise of British financial jugglers and management school graduates. They have delegates from world youth serving Silicon Valley profits by living out their affinity for everything that has a visual display. Finally, when it comes to the obvious fondness of Latinos and other southern types for low-paid physical labor, they likewise provide millions of more or less legal opportunities both at home and abroad.
The entrepreneurial exponents of American competitiveness furthermore feel at home throughout the world especially because they can do business anywhere with their own country’s money, which is at home in all business locations. Across all borders, private businessmen and states achieve and measure their success and their potential for further competitive ventures in relation to the dollar in every case, and in many cases directly in dollars. The fact that amassed dollars are valid wealth worldwide, and advances in dollars are means for generating more wealth all over the world, is therefore all the more true of the dollar-denominated loans created by the world’s leading finance capital, which is fittingly named after a street in New York. The promises of payment created there act all over the world as levers for capitalistically accumulating money. Conversely, the whole world proves useful as a means of turning dollar securities into accumulating capital. And the USA’s finance capital is not fixated on any particular type of market participant for its kind of lucrative dollar business either, but serves without discrimination any need that the different, if not antagonistic, world-market players harbor for what it has to offer. Rating how suitable these players are for its speculation, for the sake of completeness and fairness, is likewise a profitable business for a few Wall Street institutions. At one end of the scale, American finance capital does business with the internationally most successful private competitors and serves their need for loans in order to grow. This can only be achieved today in a significant way on the level of gigantic monopolies that compete over nothing less than who can crowd who out of an existing market or create a completely new one, and need finance capital to speculate on their future success in corresponding dimensions. At the lower segment of the scale, the banking business attends to the financial distress of the state guardians of national business locations, who go into debt with it in dollars because their locations fail to transform their government debt into capitalistic means of business. As a result, the printed materials of these states’ central banks don’t become viable money and, all in all, their sovereignty over their location fails to provide them with real financial power.
This works out all the better for the USA. With their need for dollars and dollar loans, internationally active private business people together with the competing states ensure that America’s national credit is transformed into capital. Conversely, with their need for safe investments, they ensure that Wall Street’s products and, even more so, the American state’s capitalistically unproductive debt count as absolutely sound financial investments worldwide. By using the US dollar accordingly, they make it the world’s number one currency: the most reliable embodiment of capitalist wealth.
Trump certainly does not want to retreat from this fine success for America and its capable capital. This is overlooked by many, who tend to take his “America first!” for protectionism of a kind they think has long been overcome. So they are always somewhat relieved, without reason, when he admits he is committed to global free trade after all. He consistently adds the qualification “fair,” thereby unmistakably defining the results of the previous course of business as unfair and announcing his intention to correct them.
What the president is so critical of is a necessary consequence of precisely the world success of US capitalism, from which he derives the high standards for his criticism. Making the world into a sphere of accumulation for American — and other competitive — capital in all its forms is equivalent to an overaccumulation that ends up in business collapses, the wiping out of capitalist wealth along with the jobs dependent on it, the elimination of whole branches of industry and production sites. Credit that is generated by US financial markets and certified by money creation through the US Federal Reserve finances growth worldwide until more is invested than is profitable. Then the credit “busts,” falls through, or is no longer granted; it is too much and too little at the same time. Not only capitalist enterprises but whole nations get into financial distress as much as they had been operating on credit before. This, of course, hits the USA too. The financial crisis that broke out a decade ago even hit it first and hardest before the major competitors were dragged in as well — thanks to the universality of the credit business based on America’s financial market. However, the USA is also the most successful at dealing with these crises; that too has been demonstrated by the past ten years. Its national budget and central bank have been refinancing distressed money capital with debt and freshly created credit money, thereby replacing the nullified credit with liquidity. This liquidity does not represent any capital accumulation, so it is capitalistically just as worthless as the “bust” credit it replaces, but it is accepted worldwide as representing capitalist wealth thanks to the American state’s unimpeachable guarantee. By decree, the world’s number one economic power has been “buying” its way out of the crisis of its credit and, in cooperation with the central banks of the other affected major capitalist powers, even “rescuing” their credit and guaranteeing the worldwide validity of their credit money.
However, this rescue operation has not prevented quite a large amount of productive capital that has outgrown its accumulation conditions from being wiped out, which has happened globally to an extent surpassing the usual not too nice effects of international competition. And even though the replacement of worthless credit by state money does not harm the recognition of this money, and both the globalized business world and the competing nations can rely on the world power’s decree being as good as the money capital it replaces, this does not automatically ensure that the USA will win as a business location in the crisis competition over whose productive capital is rescued and whose destroyed. After all, it is precisely one of the achievements America’s imperialism has provided for its business world that US-based capital has enjoyed and exploited the freedom to scrutinize the whole world for optimal business locations and use them. This is still the same in times of economic crisis: American as well as other companies eliminate production locations at their discretion in accordance with their profit interest, which also includes damage to the USA.
For governments in Washington, it is of course a challenge to avert or compensate for such effects. And with their indestructible dollar, they aren’t equipped with the worst means to do so. On the one hand, their sovereign force only allows them to bring money tokens into circulation as value bearers, not a capital accumulation that vouches economically for the value of a credit money. On the other hand, with the state debt guaranteed by their monetary sovereignty, they are in fact able to rescue business locations and entire industries if they deem it appropriate. Obama used substantial funds to revive the core of the US auto industry, for example. The sovereign power with which the government rescues capital and keeps its capital’s business location going, that’s what the new president has taken a shine to. He picks up the doctrine that business can be financed by a decree if it comes from the proper authority. But he does so in his own way — not in the appropriate finance-capitalist way by printing money and using it to the extent that it is recognized by the financial world as a viable means of business for investment that no private entrepreneur is prepared to engage in. Rather, Trump wants to clean up the “disaster” that he sees in his nation’s foreign trade by bans. From the standpoint of the national blessings of capitalist production, translated into the always thrice repeated incantation “jobs,” he lodges his objection. What he is intending to combat is an economically unwarranted relocation of jobs abroad, these jobs being good and necessary as their relocation or creation in other places proves. In actual substance, he is opposing a consequence of the economic crisis that is hitting America, too, in some places because competing capitalists who base their calculations on results and opportunities of the crisis are free to decide as they please. And this freedom was initiated and has constantly been defended by America, and is on balance definitely useful to it.
In the places where America has been hit, Trump’s critics, like Trump himself, see nothing more than free — “unfair” — competition at work. They produce figures to show — and it may often enough be true — that America on the whole scores well in this competition as a nation, better than most of the competitors, especially in the globally marketed “services” sector that is supplied with enormous amounts of credit. They insist on trying to explain everything by “structural change.” In doing so, they negate the context in which Trump puts the negative American results of worldwide crisis competition — the damage to America — and thus the context in which these results have actually come about. It is the crisis competition that, by winding down a global overaccumulation, is not deciding who gets which shares of capitalistic growth, but just distributing the damage. This is what the new president is intervening against quite directly with the means that America possesses like no other nation.
For the transitional decision to hand out punishments to make world trade fair in his eyes, it is enough for Trump to know he can do it. What he is actually activating in the process is an imperialist truth about “globalization” and its globally “unshackled” business life: nothing at all has been simply “unshackled.” All the cross-border property guarantees; all the means, terms, rules of the free, capitalistically appropriate use of money and its command over society’s labor in foreign nations, too, are established by states. Of course, modern states are not just putting any old thing into effect in their economic relations, but rather the objective requirements for capital accumulation and the credit business. And the way that these requirements are valid after a seventy-year American regime over world markets, Trump’s punishment initiative is a violation. On the other hand, this policy of the president’s goes right “back” to the basis of what makes all the objective laws of capital internationally valid. They are valid because they have been put into effect by the involved states with their sovereign force, so they comply with the regulations the rulers have agreed on or successfully imposed on each other. The freedom to do capitalist business on a world scale, to buy and sell across borders, to invest and to exploit people and nature, to finance and speculate on investments by private companies and states — this freedom is based on nation-states using each other for their capitalist economies.
These regulations do not merely have a seventy-year history of development behind them, of course. They have their own logic and binding nature. By announcing a policy of “fair” punishment, Trump has already terminated an international legal order.
The new president classifies the damage caused to America’s national economy by the crisis-exacerbated competition of internationally active firms and states looking after their business locations as a breach of law. In his habitual superlative, it is “the greatest jobs theft in the history of the world.” This is not an economic category. “Theft” is the legal cover for the complaint that the US President is of course not lodging with any higher arbitration board — of which there are plenty in the well-ordered world of globalized capitalism — but with himself as the guardian of the American people’s rights and their competitive success. In so doing, he grants himself the right to fight back. And he also expresses clearly how he wants this resistance to be understood: as punishment of those who have cheated America of its right to undiminished competitive success. However, he does not take the position of a judge who listens to both parties, compares the case with the applicable rules, and arrives at a condemnation. He does not even pretend to do what is customary in dealings between states, when the parties present their conflicting interests as legal positions to the world community and its arbitrators, whether these are imagined ones or actually authorized under international law. Trump claims the right to punish as the aggrieved party; he merges the claimed right to fight back with the standpoint of a legal order of fairness that is to be thereby restored. And he is not empowering himself while submitting to a supranational principle, as usual diplomatic hypocrisy requires, but directly making his own legal standpoint absolute. As a party, he sets himself above all parties. He makes his own interests absolute ideally, evidently being totally certain that he will be able to have the damage to the nation repaired by way of punishment, i.e., to have America’s right to success restored, in practice, too, without any regard for the other parties, not even expecting any significant resistance from them. It’s as if Trump wants to demonstrate the concept of might makes right — he is in fact introducing it into world politics as the valid American legal standpoint.
That is the way he criticizes the agreements his predecessors signed or seriously negotiated. It’s not because of what these agreements say that he claims they are selling out America’s interests. It’s the fact of the damage he recognizes with an eye to signed contracts: this damage can’t be reconciled with the superior competitiveness of the American worker, so it must have been caused by violations of the superior party’s right to success, regardless of whether the provisions in the relevant contracts reveal such a violation or even hint at one. Agreements like TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the European Union and the United States), which, because they are still being negotiated and haven’t been signed, can’t have produced any adverse effects yet, are not just suspected by Trump of putting America’s superior competitiveness in chains – he is already sure of it. Such agreements give rivals license to enrich themselves unjustifiably, robbing the USA of means and possibilities for fighting back. Striking proof for him is, for example, Germany’s enormous trade surplus with America. Here his criticism isn’t any more objective, but it does show some perceptiveness. Behind the EU’s interest in a comprehensive partnership agreement with the USA, and behind the construction of a united Europe as a contracting party, he sees a cunning strategy of the Germans to form a kind of international gang to overcome America’s superiority, even at the expense of the accomplices they recruit. In Trump’s view, his predecessors, with their much too positive relationship with the EU, not only failed to notice this, they even recognized it as legitimate. In reality, they were fully aware of the anti-Americanism inherent in Europe’s unification project. But their ideas of how Europe’s and especially Germany’s will to emancipate itself from America and gain equal status with the world power might be contained, neutralized, and maybe even turned to the USA’s advantage are completely alien to the new president. And his predecessors’ corresponding attempts to restrict and co-opt the EU project are completely beyond his comprehension. In any case, he is against it, and therefore definitely on the side of all European EU critics and enemies, no matter what they want themselves and whether their nationalism is compatible with his. It is enough for him that they are against the EU and the gain in power that Germany is pursuing by that route, which is no figment of the president’s imagination. The only standard he goes by is: the more radical their criticism, the better.
In order to firmly reject above all every multilateral agreement featuring the USA as one contracting party among others and obligating it in some way, the US president as a matter of principle requires no evidence of some provision or other that discriminates against America’s interests. The Paris climate agreement is the current case in point. Trump in any case did not say “no” because of the worldwide consequences of a global rise in temperature, or because of the contradictory arguments on whether America would stand to gain as a capitalistic business location from conventional or “renewable” energy production. It was the rules and prohibitions in matters of energy policy, which would hinder America in its freedom of action and thus (this being the same thing for Trump) in using its superiority in world business. This, in all its abstractness and radicalism, is what the president accuses his predecessors and the establishment in general of, and what he wants to end at all costs: a policy of giving up potential competitive successes that America is entitled to because it is unquestionably capable of them. In this rejection of international agreements as shackles on the USA, superiority coincides with the absolute right of the superior party to use its superiority to the full and without any restriction. What is being rejected as “unfair” is any restriction of the right of the strongest.
From the way Trump criticizes the results of foreign trade as punishable violations, and the USA’s treaty relations as an unfair fettering of the American colossus, it is clear from what standpoint he wants to set things right. For Trump, agreements that disadvantage the USA are “bad deals,” which are henceforth to be replaced by “good deals,” this “good” usually being expressed by considerable hyperbole. He puts all his pride in presenting himself as the most capable deal-maker the world has ever seen; and that is quite an apt description of his politics, which is guided by the right of the strongest. America has interests, very numerous and very substantial ones, that are directed at other parties around the world. These interests are not only the starting point for all the deals to be made with others — they are the only thing that counts. If they are the starting point, it is not for determining a complementary interest on the other side that could be made to serve one’s own requirements, let alone for defining any common concerns or needs. Rather, they are the starting point for a trial of strength for the purpose of exploiting the other side, for using American superiority with the aim of bullying the other side into whatever is good for the USA. It is certainly not wrong to say that extortion maneuvers of this kind have always been on the agenda of America’s global politics. What is striking is the new president’s standpoint that under his leadership, this way of making use of the world of states outside the US must be brought to bear again, aggressively. What he is announcing to the world is that he intends to examine world affairs and the interests, standpoints, and doings of all participants without any conventional prior decisions or definitions, solely from the point of view of whether an extortionate intervention at this or that point can provide some benefit for American power and wealth. If so, that and only that will be arranged with the other party. Where no such deals can be made, none will be made.
An interview with the London Economist (published May 12, 2017) makes clear how Trump is setting about reshaping his country’s legal relations with other states. The magazine asks the new president to explain how “Trumponomics” differs from the usual Republican economic policies. He first welcomes the question as flattering, and then says the crucial difference is his patriotic stance:
“Well it’s an interesting question. I don’t think it’s ever been asked quite that way. But it really has to do with self-respect as a nation. It has to do with trade deals that have to be fair, and somewhat reciprocal, if not fully reciprocal. And I think that’s a word that you’re going to see a lot of, because we need reciprocality in terms of our trade deals.”
After disclosing that he knows, and apparently likes, a second, not so common word for ‘fair,’ he lapses into telling about how unfairly the free-trade faction is attacking him, that the USA has no good trade deals at all, that this is now over because he is simply terminating bad deals — the subject is NAFTA — and how cleverly he made the Mexican and Canadian government leaders come begging:
“And I was going to terminate NAFTA last week, I was all set, meaning the six-month termination. I was going to send them a letter, then after six months, it’s gone. But the word got out, they called and they said, we would really love to … they called separately but it was an amazing thing. They called separately ten minutes apart. I just put down the phone with the president of Mexico when the prime minister of Canada called. And they both asked almost identical questions. ‘We would like to know if it would be possible to negotiate as opposed to a termination.’ And I said, ‘Yes, it is. Absolutely.’
Economist: It sounds like you’re imagining a pretty big renegotiation of NAFTA. What would a fair NAFTA look like?
Big isn’t a good enough word. Massive.
It’s got to be. It’s got to be.”
Now the interviewer starts saying everything twice, too. Except for “huge,” he has still not heard anything about the intended corrections:
“What would it look like? What would a fair NAFTA look like?
No, it’s gotta be. Otherwise we’re terminating NAFTA.”
Trump rejects the question. Huge corrections or termination; there is nothing more to say about the planned renegotiations. The Economist tries to insist, provoking only the next round of repetitions.
“What would a fair NAFTA look like?
“I was all set to terminate, you know? And this wasn’t like …this wasn’t a game I was playing.” — And then he thinks of the various games that exist: “I’m not playing … you know, I wasn’t playing chess or poker or anything else. This was, I was, I’d never even thought about … it’s always the best when you really feel this way. But I was … I had no thought of anything else, and these two guys [his Treasury Secretary and an economic-policy adviser, who are present] will tell you, I had no thought of anything else but termination. But because of my relationship with both of them [the two government leaders], I said, I would like to give that [renegotiation] a try too, that’s fine. I mean, out of respect for them. It would’ve been very disrespectful to Mexico and Canada had I said, ‘I will not.’”
Trump defines in his own way what the “fair deal” America is demanding is like. His standpoint is that the USA doesn’t need a trade agreement, especially a multi-page free-trade agreement, with its neighbors. His threat to terminate forces the partners to admit that they need a treaty, that a treaty status itself is already a concession that they have to earn. In the one-sided negotiations to come, they have no demands to make. As if to make fun of them, Trump adds that it is only out of respect for the two leaders that he bestows the favor of letting them offer concessions to the USA until it is satisfied and its advantage from the deal is guaranteed. The Economist doesn’t notice it has already received the answer it is seeking, and asks once again:
“But Mr President, what has to change for you not to withdraw [from the agreement]?”
Trump repeats his slogan of a “fair deal” and comes back to the trade deficit with the NAFTA partners, which he now calls terrible.
“Does that $70bn deficit have to come to zero to be fair?
Not necessarily. And certainly it can come over a, you know, fairly extended period of time, because I’m not looking to shock the system. But it has to become at least fair. And no, it doesn’t have to immediately go to zero. But at some point I would like to get it at zero, where sometimes we can be up and sometimes they can be up.”
Trump, who declares the trade deficit to be the central injustice the trade partners have committed against the USA, won’t commit to a goal of zero deficit; he keeps it open. He commits in only one respect: by insisting that, unlike under his predecessors, America will enter into treaty relations without any regard for global economic requirements, or for growth elsewhere that it will be participating in as a nation. Treaties have to be signed solely for the nation’s competitive advantage from a position of superiority and freedom. Deals are good when they codify this advantage from international trade and bind the partners — more reciprocity than that is incompatible with his great nation. What the national advantage specifically is, Trump doesn’t need to know now. Treaty relations have to satisfy his country. He will see when they do, and inform the trade partners in good time. Here the president can keep to his other slogan:
“I always use the word flexibility, I have flexibility.”
This is the trader’s principle that Trump follows when he weighs what to demand from other states and what price it’s worth to him. Everything can be measured and offset against everything else. That’s the way he proudly tells how he won over China, which he accused of currency manipulation in his election campaign, for his confrontation with North Korea.
“So I told them [the Chinese negotiating partners], I said, ‘We have a problem and we’re going to solve that problem.’ But he [Chinese President Jinping] wants to help us solve that problem. Now then you never know what’s going to happen. But they [the media critical of Trump] said to me that on the currency manipulation, ‘Donald Trump has failed to call China a currency manipulator.’ Now I have to understand something. I’m dealing with a man, I think I like him a lot. I think he likes me a lot. ... I mean, he’s a great guy. Now, with that in mind, he’s representing China and he wants what’s best for China. … Now think of this. I say, ‘Jinping. Please help us, let’s make a deal. Help us with North Korea, and by the way we’re announcing tomorrow that you’re a currency manipulator, OK?’ They never say that, you know the fake media, they never put them together, they always say, he didn’t call him a currency [manipulator], number one. Number two, they’re actually not a currency [manipulator]. You know, since I’ve been talking about currency manipulation with respect to them and other countries, they stopped.”
For his wonderful deal with that great Chinese guy, Trump doesn’t even pretend the USA and China have a common problem with North Korea and a common interest that waters down other conflicts. He simply announces to him that the USA has a problem that it is going to solve, i.e., it intends to escalate a military conflict on the Chinese border and clear away, along with China’s stubborn ally, the whole forefield of its power. If China wants to “help” it is more than welcome to do so. That’s already the whole “deal.” As a concession on his part, he won’t keep on making his currency accusations for the moment, but he’s not taking them out of circulation either — at least “tomorrow” he won’t harp on about it. Furthermore, he takes the liberty of deeming that China already stopped the manipulation by itself when faced with the great Trump. What will happen with the currency dispute if China fails to provide the expected help against North Korea or when the “problem” is “solved” to Trump’s taste, he will certainly let the “great guy” know.
So, for the president, not only “flexibility” but also a certain degree of generosity is part of the deals he has to offer the world. When America’s advantage is secured and an important interest of its served, the other side can’t expect America to pay a price for it and be “shackled,” but it can indeed notch up a gain as long as that doesn’t cost the USA anything. What counts in any case is the result, not some rule agreed on between America and the other party by which they deal with each other, seek their own advantage from the other, and accept the result. As the superior treaty party, America signs agreements solely for its benefit. By this simple principle — which his predecessors supposedly disregarded — Trump intends to bring the world back on track.
About a dozen US presidents before Trump pursued a global policy very explicitly aimed at American “leadership.” That meant the world power regarded other nations as its followers by formally recognizing their sovereignty, making demands on how they exercised their power, specifying conditions, making material resources available, and expecting sovereigns to accept these precepts as being in their own best interest and to cooperate with the USA on this basis. This brought the desired success initially only in the “Western” half of the world. Even before, but definitely after, the end of the opposing Soviet power and China’s about-turn, the members of the other half of the world also integrated into the US-created network of supranational institutions, the legal regime, and the global political praxis of states that was regulated and supervised by these means.
The starting point and basis for this American “leadership” was that the USA was superior to the other capitalistic, imperialistically ambitious powers of the world in a way that actually came close to a kind of monopoly on force with quite a bit of authority to make and enforce laws between states. At the end of the world war — which was won in alliance with the Soviet Union and at the beginning of hostility toward it — the adversaries had been destroyed and, on the basis of their unconditional surrender, were first the objects of reconstruction and then increasingly became sovereign co-agents of this model case of imperialist nation-building. The ruined allies were included in this process — with the exception of the Soviet Union, which defied American “leadership,” thereby further stabilizing the cohesion of capitalist states under US direction. Otherwise, the USSR was quite game for a legal regime of civil ties between sovereign states and also acted as a leading power with veto rights in the United Nations, the organization continuing and extending the great world-war alliance in civilian form. The peoples who had up to then been governed from the imperialist centers were “liberated” into sovereign statehood under the same material precepts and legal conditions.
This institutionalized order of states was an instrument of American “leadership” — and also remained effective as such — mainly insofar as it was based implicitly and explicitly on the internationalization of capitalism and of its dominant national business location, America. This was the implicit basis because, by recognizing the sovereignty of states while at the same time obligating them to be civil in dealing with each other, as was formally secured by an official prohibition of the use of force through the United Nations and its executive committee, this order defined states as competitors for power and for nationally available wealth as the basis of their power, and tied them down to competing as their reason of state. It was the explicit basis because chartered freedoms for international commodity trade, guarantees to protect capitalist property and its international use, the IMF and the World Bank as supranational supervisory and subsidiary bodies for financing the foreign business of nations, and so on, made the world a field of activity for any capable capital, so definitely for American capital, and a battlefield for competition between national capital locations, for which the USA provided its credit money, which it still makes amply available, as a source of financing, as the means of business for global capital accumulation. So the USA has actually succeeded in anchoring its own claims on the world of states as the prevailing legal norms and the law of states. Within this system — which now encompasses the entire world — states, all with capitalist economies, do not merely make barter transactions and other deals with each other that they must themselves make sure are adhered to using their own means, with offers, extortion, and force. Rather, they deal with each other in accordance with quasi-legal rules, which they, while not having invented them or actually put them into effect, have signed off on as acknowledged free sovereigns at the kind invitation of the USA and thus made binding for themselves and in general. Their civil competitive efforts are most definitely directed against each other, but at the interest and approval of a finance-capital wealth whose power of universal access is guaranteed by America and the capitalist business system that is used by all.
The USA, as creator of this regulatory framework for competing capital locations, receded behind the life that its creation took on as its own, and, as guarantor of its effectiveness, behind the guarantees built into the system — subject to reservation! It could be sure that wherever there was capitalist competition, its businesses, its credit creators, its national shrine the US dollar, i.e., its national wealth, were involved, directly or indirectly, and profiting. As the leading power of globalized capitalism and the world of states committed to it, the US found plenty of occasions (it would say it was confronted again and again with the need) to assert its decision-making authority directly by extortion or using force. After all, there was always someone breaking the rules, or rather going against how the rules had to be interpreted in America’s interest. In principle, however, it called upon the other states to carry on global business as autonomous actors, assuming that their self-interest would automatically make them obey the rules which, in the last instance, were filled with life and purpose by American finance capital. The US administrations in charge maintained this standpoint despite the inevitable disappointments. The contradiction that gave practically all the other governments trouble, namely, the one between their national sovereignty and the binding supranational regime of rules, applied in its generality to the USA too, but for America it had its own fundamentally positive meaning. The business system of global capitalism with its competition of states — precisely as an independent regime supported by all concerned, and with its supranational bodies living a life of their own — gave a universal nature, universal recognition, to America’s national interest in a world that functioned completely as a resource and market for the accumulation of capital, i.e., not least for transforming American credit into capitalist wealth. By recognizing an order of competition that was binding for it, too, the USA, as the power with the superior means of competition, put itself at the head of the world “ordered” in this way. What applied to the other states was the separation of their sovereignty from the prescribed, quasi-legal restrictions on exercising it. The rights they unconditionally claimed as supreme powers were transformed into rights that were their due within the regime of rules they sovereignly accepted, which means these state powers were recognized, but only conditionally. This applied formally to the USA, too, but meant something rather different in this case. What was recognized here was America’s “leadership,” the conditional aspect being that it had to make sure the others followed.
Obviously, the world never functioned simply that way. But that is the principle by which America practiced its imperialism for decades. Its success was considerable — and the result is what the new president considers a “total disaster.”
What the new man in office is rejecting is not some agreement, not some bothersome element of America’s Gesamtkunstwerk of competition, a total artwork globalized under the premise of American superiority, but the fact that these rules and institutions are binding for America, too — and its president! Trump wants to get rid of the equation that his predecessors since Wilson and Roosevelt were out to establish and maintain. As he himself declares, he wants to be president of the USA and not “president of the world”:
“I’m not, and I don’t want to be the president of the world. I’m the president of the United States, and from now on it’s going to be America first.” (Trump’s speech at the North America’s Building Trades Unions National Legislative Conference, April 4, 2017)
This catchphrase is not merely a salute to his voters in the Appalachian coal region or the Rust Belt who couldn’t care less about the world outside their county. He is terminating the whole way the USA aligned the world of states with itself and made it functional for America’s interests — by “leadership,” through offers appealing to its followers’ national self-interest, as if the US president was somehow responsible for them, too, getting by. Trump is — no longer — relying on a success mechanism by which leadership results in national advantage. Instead of this method of making America’s national self-interest general, he insists on making it directly absolute. With him as the great deal-maker, the world power is putting an end to a world order whose results no longer satisfy it.
Trump’s polemic against predatory competitors in the Far East and Europe makes clear enough why America is finished with this ‘order of things.’ This framework has given rise to rivals to the world power which are out to harm America and challenge its power, and will actually be able to do so if this ‘false globalism’ persists. With their success at America’s expense, which became so embarrassingly apparent in the economic crisis and in the competition over the consequences of overaccumulation, and which leaves Trump no rest as his nation’s advocate, these rivals have driven the method of US imperialism and the whole system of legally organized US ‘leadership’ to an absurdity. It is no longer proving as useful as it was intended and once was, no longer serving “America first!” When Trump, by way of example, calls Germany’s export surplus over the USA “bad, very bad,” the world power is taking stock and arriving at a clear finding. The contradiction America permitted itself as the leading power of the world of capitalist states, by quite generally allowing, and even materially enabling, its competitors to do everything in matters of capital growth and state wealth that America allows itself to do, has completely changed into the acute danger of America losing its primacy in the world. With its way of dominating the world, it has virtually allowed its opponents to disempower it as number one. The intent and purpose of inviting the world to participate in world capitalism and compete no holds barred in perfect legal form has been turned upside down by successful rivals. So it is time to revoke — not world capitalism of course, but — that invitation.
With this decision, the US government is not merely flouting the rules for implementing global capitalism. It is returning to the starting point of American imperialism as “leadership”: to the strategic relation of power between the imperialist states that the ‘world order’ is based on. The ‘question’ of how states deal with each other on a civil level is being reopened by America on the level involving war and peace.
“They have no respect for us!” — this is Trump’s general finding about the circumstances the USA has gotten itself into under previous presidents. What he means is evident from his picture of the past use and current condition of America’s potential for using force. Trump is certain that America’s military means are not what they should be, and are not being used for their intended purpose.
— In the first place, the political commanders in chief before him — especially Obama — have violated the sole principle that is sacred for the USA’s use of force: it has to exist for America and be useful for America. Trump accuses his predecessors of playing the world’s policeman instead, declaring themselves affected by everything and responsible for everything, and, in some mixture of altruism and megalomania, wanting to use the American military to make all peoples of this world happy. They set themselves the absurd goal of nation-building, which doesn’t work anywhere — “It hasn’t worked. It’s not gonna work, OK?” — but just leaves chaos behind – “we destabilized the Middle East and the Middle East is a mess right now” — and, according to his calculations, has cost the beloved American ‘taxpayer’ six trillion fine American dollars. So it’s clear that “the era of nation-building will be brought to a very swift and decisive end.”
— Secondly, the Americans have allowed themselves in the process to be pinned down to having the wrong enemies and — in connection with that — to be fleeced by false friends. Above all, Trump considers it absurd that the West seems obligated to be hostile to Russia without a single thought of America’s advantage. He sees this as the USA being pushed around by its allies because of their anti-Russian obsession:
“Question: It sounds like you’re not a fan of NATO. Trump: I’m a fan of fairness. I’m a fan of common sense. I’m certainly not a fan of us being against Russia. … Why are we always at the forefront of everything?”
And as if it’s not enough that the US has allowed its European allies to make it keep up an ideological hostility toward Russia, it has also paid for providing the service of protecting their existence, which they are incapable of and don’t want to pay the price for themselves — just as it has put up with the same thing from its other strategic allies around the world:
“We Americans are laughed at around the world for losing a hundred and fifty billion dollars year after year, for defending wealthy nations for nothing, nations that would be wiped off the face of the earth in about fifteen minutes if it weren’t for us. Our 'allies' are making billions screwing us.”
— No wonder then, that there are, thirdly, no funds available for equipping the military as its deployment for American interests would require. To make this clear, and because the opportunity presented itself on a visit to commission an aircraft carrier, he claimed the Navy “is the smallest it’s been since World War I.” (Aboard the USS Gerald R. Ford, March 2, 2017)
— Fourthly, and above all, Trump must now as commander in chief note that:
“... when I was young, in high school and college, everybody used to say 'we haven’t lost a war' – we never lost a war – you remember. Some of you were right there with me, and you remember we never lost a war. America never lost. And now we never win a war. We never win. And we don’t fight to win. We don’t fight to win.”
So who or what Trump is aiming at when he says “they have no respect for us!” is not any specific enemy, military alliance, military action, or the sum of all that, but rather: the USA itself. It has gotten itself into “so many problems” because its leaders have until now been oriented by something other than just what is good for America, because they have applied some other standard than its greatness, because America under their command has actually been concerned with something other than itself when deploying its force.
This is to change under his leadership. The USA will be oriented only by itself and its interests, judge itself only by itself and its claim to being incomparable when it comes to the use of force. Its exceptional status means per se that it is not obligated by anything to do anything — and it is Trump’s global-political program to make that (again) the praxis of America’s ‘power projection’ everywhere and at all times. All the details of foreign policy, geostrategy, military acquisition, and the use of military force have to be derived from that program – situational, unprejudiced, unideological. That is Trump’s complete, universally applicable and obligatory doctrine of “Principled Realism.” He is in any case not hesitating to put it into practice.
is one of the first things on Trump’s agenda. So he promises the governors assembled in the White House:
“We must ensure that our courageous servicemen and women have the tools they need to deter war, and when called upon to fight in our name only do one thing: Win.”
It fits with the programmatic self-referencing he prescribes for his nation and its force apparatus that the “tools” he promises to procure are not based on some particular war scenario or related to some specifically targeted enemy, but to “our courageous servicemen and women.” The world power owes lots of “beautiful new planes and equipment” to their bravery — i.e., to itself. Later, aboard a sparkling new aircraft carrier, he explains the details of his procurement strategy — “We will have the finest equipment in the world, planes, ships, everything else …” — and again takes the opportunity to stress that “the finest equipment in the world” is just about right for “the best war-fighting sailors anywhere in the world.” The person and the agenda become completely one: when Trump raves about being on the deck of a ship so big it feels like “a very big piece of land,” he is expressing by his personal feeling that the means of destruction the US has to procure under his supreme command are to have a dimension that depends not on whether it makes a deterrent impression on some enemy, but solely on the demands the world power makes on its own military uniqueness. This logic is not only worth every dollar it costs, it is underlined once again by the sheer scale of the budget he is providing for it, by the demonstrated lack of regard for all the spending cuts Trump otherwise sees a need for to lower the government debt he rails against. He campaigns for his arms budget with the boast that at $54 billion, it will experience the greatest increase of all time.
With this ambition for US power, Trump denies that the means of other powers have the potential to deter it in any way. They cannot control or influence the US at all — except in the sense that it may decide it is time to blow them away. This also applies to the ultimate means of military assertion, nuclear weapons. From Trump’s point of view, any dogmatic restraint when it comes to the use of nuclear weapons — “Why can’t we use them if we have them?” — is just as wrong as fearing a new nuclear arms race when he, as announced, strengthens and expands America’s nuclear-weapons capability. It’s not that he doesn’t think this will spark an arms race, he just can’t see why that should be bad for America. “Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass. And outlast them all.” Trump would never ever get an idea like Obama’s, that a new round of nuclear disarmament diplomacy would be a way of stripping or decisively reducing the Russians’ strategic nuclear potential by the US offering an equivalent reduction of its nuclear weapons in return. For him, such an idea only expresses an inappropriate respect for other countries’ means of force, which are only there to either be of no interest to America or be defeated by America. Arms diplomacy with the aim of making the enemy predictable is for Trump an absurdity that starts out from a false premise, i.e., that one must deal with an enemy instead of simply destroying it, and that has the fatal result of America only making itself predictable in return. And that is out of the question if only because, from Trump’s self-referential standpoint, predictability is the same as vulnerability. So, conversely, unpredictability must be the only feature America shows toward other nations’ potential and plans to use force.
which are not long in coming — in the usual theaters — offer some opportunities to make this clear. The world power dramatically steps up military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, deploying for the first time ever the most powerful nonnuclear aerial bomb in the USA inventory, among other things. This demonstrates its superior clout and new resolve to fight the ISIS terrorists declared America’s main enemies. A poison gas attack in eastern Syria is a fine occasion for further clarification: Trump orders the bombing of a Syrian military airport. The official reason for this is the “beautiful babies” that Trump was shown on TV by his daughter. Saying how choked up he was fits the message he wants to convey. The president’s moral taste has to be reason enough to the rest of the world for him to order a military strike that actually marks a new level of direct interference in the Syrian war by the American military. The fifty-nine Tomahawks are not punishing Assad for going beyond a ‘red line’ drawn across the war by the American referee power and morally processed into a violation of the human right to humane warfare. Rather, they are demonstrating that this power needs no red lines — and so doesn’t need them to be crossed — to strike on a new escalation level. This demonstration of unpredictability is even more drastic since Assad’s troops are a war party that Trump previously wouldn’t commit to condemning. And after the air strike, the US president makes clear that it was not kicking off a strategy change that all the others could now base their calculations and new plans on. Not even the only fixed item on Trump’s global warfare agenda — “We will bomb the hell out of ISIS” — offers the various powers operating in the area or other mid-level powers a lever for having some kind of influence on the USA. Under Trump, America’s war on ISIS is no longer being staged as a great reference framework including all the others, as a means for recognizing, restricting and integrating their needs for force and their war aims, thereby making them into a big whole that suits the USA as the power presiding over them.
clarifies what Trump’s position is instead, not only on the wars, but also on the peace processes and alliances in the Middle East and in general. His logic of the deal — making American interests absolute in practice by applying American superiority without regard for anything else — is applicable in the area of strategic power relations as well.
Trump first travels to Saudi Arabia where he meets the leaders of fifty Islamic countries. There he shows how America, under his leadership, categorizes the states of the world entirely according to what deals it is planning with them. First there is the host itself, the Saudi kingdom. He praises it to the skies — citing the nice people, the great culture, and above all the fine, long American-Saudi history which began under Roosevelt and the father of the present king. Meaning: Saudi Arabia is good because the deal Trump is making with its ruling house is good. It is providing the American arms industry with a $110 billion package of orders to supply the Saudis with the weapons they need to fight above all Iran. Iran belongs entirely to the opposite category: the only deal the USA has going with the mullah state — the agreement restricting Iran’s nuclear industry — Trump repeatedly called “the worst deal of all time” during the election campaign and later. For him, the country is an enemy that has to be defeated and nothing else. So his justification — Iran being behind basically all the terrorists fighting America — needs no real proof whatsoever. And the forty-nine other attending heads of state also get to hear from Trump that he entirely subsumes the nations they lead under the deal he has to offer them. So according to his address in Riyadh this is the deal: “We are not here to lecture — we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship. Instead, we are here to offer partnership — based on shared interests and values — to pursue a better future for us all.” A superbly uncomplicated message: America’s leader is not interested in political, religious, or other customs in these countries, in the nature of their economic or social life, or what their international relations are like. Brutally abstracting from all this, he sees them only as the collective he makes them into, by having them show up in Riyadh and explaining to them what their “shared values” are: the willingness to enter into a “partnership” with America based solely on America’s interest in total war against Islamist terror. He’s not about to force anyone — “It is a choice between two futures — and it is a choice America CANNOT make for you.” But being a good deal-maker, he can offer some help in deciding. For one thing, it has been proved that most terror victims are Muslims — so an anti-terrorist deal with America should also be a good deal for their state leaders. For another thing, he doesn’t want to leave anyone in the dark about what will happen to anybody who takes the wrong side: “If you choose the path of terror, your life will be empty, your life will be brief, and YOUR SOUL WILL BE CONDEMNED.” So when Trump declaims in a fairly harsh tone at the climax of his speech, “Drive. Them. Out. DRIVE THEM OUT of your places of worship. DRIVE THEM OUT of your communities. DRIVE THEM OUT of your holy land, and DRIVE THEM OUT OF THIS EARTH!”, he really means this as an offer, because the only thing he accepts as valid from those he is addressing is what he is planning for them. That’s why Trump doesn’t need any pledges, signatures, or other positive reactions to consider the deal with these characters settled as far as he is concerned.
From Riyadh he goes on to Israel. The flight route itself is a diplomatic statement to the Saudis, the Israelis, and everyone in general. For the first time, a plane is flying from Saudi Arabia to Israel without any stopover or detour. Trump doesn’t care about rifts that archenemies have cultivated for decades. He celebrates this once again at Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall, a holy place for Jews that is on occupied Arab soil. If he intends to insert a slip of paper into this wall, he won’t be stopped by any detail of border topography, any political sensitivity, or any diplomatic custom. These two small episodes mark in their way what the general and imperialistically decisive diplomatic message of this second stop on the presidential trip is. It concerns the Israel-Palestine conflict and, beyond that, Trump’s approach to dealing with such conflicts altogether. Israel is and will remain a close and privileged ally of the USA but it can forget about trying to get its powerful partner to commit to hostile relations with the Palestinians in particular and the Arabs in general. Alliances will be defined unilaterally and practiced unilaterally under Trump, and if allies understand that, they are facing a wonderful, common future at America’s side. What Israel more specifically has to understand is that in Trump’s view there is no sensible reason for its conflict with the Palestinians — i.e., no benefit for America. That conflict even hinders what America wants: an effective fight against ISIS and especially Iran. This finding does not prompt Trump, unlike his predecessors, to give US diplomacy the task of considering the hostile interests from a superior standpoint and politically arranging a peace with offers and threats, committing the conflicting parties to this cause, and then turning this demand into a quagmire with the name ‘peace process,’ which may indeed lead to nothing but which no party is allowed out of. All Trump has to say to the hostile camps is that they’d better not bother America with their conflict, i.e., they should somehow agree on a peace deal, which has to be possible if each side isn’t demanding anything unrealistic (see “Principled Realism.”) They should pay attention to how strong their negotiating position is, and always remember that America will give its blessing to any agreement that leads to peace because that’s the only thing about them that America is interested in.
After that, in the course of a moral deal sui generis, Trump comes to an agreement with the Catholic Pope over the last questions regarding peace. He lets the Pope lecture him about the Christian message of peace — and in return informs him that the utility aspect that he has to uphold when it comes to this highest good is actually its highest meaning of all: “We can use peace.” A good deal for both sides. The Pope has Trump give him center stage as the world’s highest moral authority, whose teachings the highest representative of the mightiest power here below will listen to. Trump, for his part, by visiting the Vatican, has won his third trophy as far as the greater glory of his global politics is concerned. And he is morally well-equipped to set off for Brussels, where he intends to explain to his NATO partners what he thinks of their partnership.
Between his arrival and the official start of the NATO meeting, he has a quick meeting with the two highest representatives of the EU, the Commission president and the Council president, which is still long enough for him to tell them everything he has to say about the EU. That is, the EU means domination by the Germans; the Germans are the ones with the “bad, very bad” trade surplus over the USA; and this he will fix — over and out.
Then it’s NATO’s turn. The “great success” of his Europe trip, which Trump later praises himself on Twitter for, is that, at the NATO meeting too, he makes his announcements without even giving the others a chance to bother him with some proposal or negotiation or reaction he would have to take notice of. Exactly as he did with the despots great and small of the Middle East before, he has the heads of the allied NATO powers show up, tells them what the USA expects of them without ifs, ands, or buts, and makes clear that they are nothing to him but what he expects them to do. For NATO, this is essentially two things:
First of all, the allies should finally pay what they owe. This puts an end to all hopes expressed prior to the meeting that he would officially “renew America’s commitment to NATO.” Not that he says NATO is no longer of interest; instead he declares what NATO is – for the USA, ergo altogether: it is America’s shield to protect Europe, which the Allies have made themselves comfortable behind. Posing as the debt-collection agent for the American taxpayer, he makes clear that he defines NATO above all as a service the USA provides to the rest of its members, which has to be paid for like any service. Somewhere in the last third of his speech, between terrorism and unspecified dangers on NATO’s southern flank, Trump does also mention “threats from Russia,” with those three words dutifully making a bow to the lie on which today’s alliance is based, namely, that it is still protecting and defending Western freedom against post-Soviet, anti-freedom imperialism. But right in the next sentence he explains what he’s getting at by citing “common security concerns.” To him, they are not a challenge to the transatlantic community of destinies and values, but evidence that the Europeans are sponging off America with their security needs.
He devotes — secondly — by far the greater part of his brief speech to Islamist terror, which he sees NATO as fighting against, making clear what he considers its practical use, if any, at least at the moment. This he also makes clear to the European NATO leaders in personal terms. By finding ample opportunity during his short speech to praise the Saudi leader as a model to be imitated, he ranks all these members of the most powerful military alliance in the world alongside or actually behind the desert monarchy. Its king has in his “wisdom” already understood what’s what: it’s what Trump has declared to be binding on all state leaders who want to provide or maintain some prospect of “security, prosperity and peace” for their beloved countries. Trump is foisting this kind of deal on NATO too; he would be satisfied with NATO on these terms; nothing else about this club interests him. It joined the anti-terrorist alliance forged by the USA; for Trump, that’s the success that matters. ‘Common concerns’ are whatever America stipulates; the others are welcome to join in and submit to them — done deal. NATO’s new status is now as follows: on the one hand, it is a US service to the rest of the allies, for which they have to pay the price fixed in kind and amount by America; on the other hand, it is a US instrument for pursuing its — at the moment mainly anti-terrorist — concerns, and will be valued by its American user solely in accordance with its usefulness.
And then there is the G7 summit, which Trump has mainly one use for: none at all. He makes a show of his disinterest in this club, which he considers a bunch of second-string grandstanders claiming equal rank for their nations with America, which is ridiculous. They demonstrate their claim by presenting all kinds of ‘issues’ they say are not only common interests but actual problems of humanity that absolutely need solving from a universal standpoint — which he is simply not interested in. He notes that they commit to fighting terrorism; if what they mean or are claiming is some other thing, it doesn’t concern him. Of the thirty-nine points in the official closing communiqué, Trump on his way back twitters that Point 20 is his success, i.e., the only noteworthy result: “We push for the removal of all trade-distorting practices …to foster a truly level playing field.” In his good mood, he is so kind as to concede that this ‘G6’ gets the picture that common cause can only be made in the form of his deals.
President Trump knows (or at least is occasionally known to say, so assumes like his predecessors since the Second World War) that the states that consider themselves America’s allies, especially those in NATO with the USA as leading power, might not really be wiped out militarily in fifteen minutes without America’s protection, but might not be able to guarantee their own existence. However, he sees no enemy willing and able to undertake such an attack. He doesn’t know any reason why America’s allies should fear for no less than their existence. What he knows and sees is that the good guys in the world are being generally threatened by evil terrorists and must all stand together against them. But that is no reason for the USA to support its allies in Europe with its entire military power and ultimately even link its own security to its partners’ fate. And Trump doesn’t see any necessity for such a nonnegotiable alliance that would tie the Europeans firmly to the USA as leading power and the USA, vice versa, to its dependent partners. If there were still any doubts after his half-withdrawn assessment of NATO as “obsolete,” they were taken care of by his visit to Brussels and announcement that the free riders on America’s world power have to pay up.
This distinguishes him from his predecessors and their alliance policy.
Up to and including Reagan, they envisaged the project of an ultimate military struggle with the Soviet “evil empire” so clearly that they planned in minute detail, and prepared all the material needed for, a nuclear war on various battlefields, from Germany and from submarines, with first and second strike capabilities. They even met with the enemy to talk through scenarios of gradual destruction so as to avoid miscalculations. It was clear that this world-war project entailed a direct existential risk to the partners of the USA, and it was equally clear for them to decide to rate their participation in it as insurance against the repercussions and to make this participation a firm premise of their own reason of state. The leading power offered corresponding assurances to put its own survival on the line as well if it came to war. This partnership, materialized in NATO and its arsenals, constituted the West. It included the idea of a “community of values,” which actually only meant that in the event of world war, alliance discipline took precedence over all particular national interests and calculations.
This is basically over since the Soviet Union reacted to this threat condition, which was being intensified with ever more sophisticated means, by dissolving itself as a countervailing power toward the West. This did not lead to NATO dissolving. Contrary to the official reason why it was permanently prepared for war, NATO was more than a defense club. And that’s why it continued to exist and even expanded: as a collective of competing and cooperating capitalist nations, dominated and led by the USA, still by far the strongest military power, who rule out war with each other as the ultimate means of competition and form a unified block facing the hand-counted two other global military powers. In confrontation and consultation with those other powers, this super-alliance guarantees the prevailing condition known as ‘world peace.’ That means renouncing the use of force at the highest strategic level — constantly perfecting the means of force, but refraining from using them against each other. And it means a general ban on the use of force, which lets ‘world peace’ continue no matter how many “regional conflicts” of the bloodiest kind there are. As the main guarantor of this madness, this collective — the chummy community of leading capitalist powers — has the final say on security in the global civilian order, where capitalism has “globalized” itself so magnificently through booms and slumps, with its center in the American financial market, with its American credit money, under American “leadership.” This chumminess has lost the old reason for staunchly keeping together — the unifying, world-war project — and this makes itself felt in the various members’ destructive efforts to make the organized partnership with its agreements and institutions and duties of mutual defense functional for their own particular world-ordering interests, which harbor the potential for war. But that is just what the alliance is maintained for by its members, as a basis for pursuing their own particular military interests and as an object of self-serving calculations. After all, the leading power has achieved rather mixed results with its post-Soviet wars for a ‘new world order,’ and the European allies can lean on America’s superior military power to punch above their weight when trying to reorder the world.
Now America is reorienting itself. And it is not just a “long-standing bond of trust” that the new president is disrupting with his policy of “America first” deals. By redefining the unity of the alliance as a security servicing business, he is terminating not just the outward appearance of this chumminess — the fine values and the solidarity — but the contradictory chumminess that has persisted among these imperialistically ambitious and competing states, which are in principle nonetheless equally interested in a working international legal system.
By doing so, America is depriving the imperialism of the Europeans and especially Germany, as the EU’s leading power, of its business basis — which is very wrongly perceived by the Europeans as beneficially forcing them to show more self-initiative and “grow up” in matters of security policy. This directly affects Germany’s rich tradition of using America’s deterrent force as a basis for doing extortion deals for world-ordering politics in its own interest and for trying to develop its club into a global-political alternative to the USA. Trump’s polemic against the Germans, with their debt to NATO or rather its main financier, the American taxpayer, along with their trade surplus, misses the essence and the scope of Germany’s freeloading by far, but it is apt enough morally. When European leaders start declaiming that it is time to decisively promote their common security policy at last, this furthermore indicates the implicit, but actually constitutive, service that the NATO alliance has been performing for the EU. The great transatlantic community has ensured that the use of force has been absolutely renounced without any question within the West, making it impossible for any transition to the sphere of “armed conflicts” on EU territory. This created the inherent basis — which has been tacitly utilized especially by Germany — for a federation of states that puts a heavy economic strain on some members and not merely challenges their sovereignty but really limits it. That is of course not eliminated by a hundred days of Trump. But it’s no coincidence that his performance is reminding the bosses of Europe that the element of national autonomy that has been in good hands with the NATO alliance until now, i.e., their military, must be made a community matter in Europe.
What applies to the EU’s firm inner cohesion in a rudimentary and very implicit way applies most definitely to the analogous service that the Western alliance, this “hard core” of America’s global “leadership,” has performed for the great achievement going by the name of ‘world peace.’ America is no longer interested in the role of leading power, which recognizes and protects its allies’ security interests as part of its own security needs. The new president sees his country only as being taken advantage of and laughed at in this regard. So he terminates the chumminess of the major powers, whose alliance and whose collective relation of power vis-à-vis Russia and China have made the general renunciation of force effective on the global level. Trump replaces it by “America first!” — meaning that America’s superior military power, ready for action and from now on only interested in itself, will deal with world events and their political initiators directly. He opens the “question” of the “world-peace order” anew by immediately giving it a new answer. He confronts the world of states with the firm standpoint that in the future they will be dealing with the world power “unilaterally” whenever Washington sees the need. When its allies critically ask whether America is not overreaching or isolating itself, the answer for the nation under Trump is that in any case the old ‘world peace’ under the shaky regime of the NATO alliance abused by everyone else has long since failed to meet its requirements for global control.
To date, only one thing has impressed Donald J. Trump and that is Donald J. Trump. This is fair and it is appropriate. It is fair because his vain self-image as the greatest deal-maker of all time, who is now putting his wonderful abilities in the service of his nation as deal-maker-in-chief, is only the psychological side of the political mission he is committed to. Inspired by the normal chauvinism of an American patriot, fired up by all his competitive success as a businessman and then as a campaigning politician, finally endorsed by election to office as leader of his nation, he considers himself the incarnation of the American people’s superiority and its will for a state power that brings this superiority to bear worldwide. And it is appropriate because this political will coinciding with his personality, and all the forms of bragging and ruthlessness that go with it, were all he needed to succeed in making them, by way of an election campaign, the prevailing political standpoint of the USA. It took this berserker, with his self-righteous patriotic furor, for the office to be handled in accordance with his renewal program, i.e., somewhat rededicated — despite all the opposition from the (literally) established politicians, who have different ideas about how to use America’s political power as it is exerted in offices and institutions.
The president who embodies his mission so perfectly is at the same time a serious challenge not only for representatives of the hated establishment, but also for the team he himself has put together for the White House and the cabinet. He reassorts friend and foe and even orders military interventions directly on the basis of what his outstanding personality tells him. That such capricious and fickle decisions make the USA and the use of its force unpredictable for rivals, enemies, and the unruly foreign countries altogether; that he conveys threats to the other states that they can’t fit into their calculations, i.e., demands that they ultimately submit without any calculation: all that is good, and meets with the approval of many foreign policy experts in Washington who go in for his slogan “America first!”
What is not so good is that these spontaneous ideas and unexpected, isolated acts of war make him unpredictable for political Washington itself. Even his own people are unable to see in his erratic actions and utterances, apart from the standpoint he keeps clearly presenting, any consistent line for renewing and completing America’s supremacy over the rest of the world in actual fact. They fear that the protagonist of the imperialist awakening might actually endanger it, because he is satisfied with embodying and proclaiming it. They want their tribune to combine his nationalist ethos with the cynicism of a technician of power, i.e., to use the existing instruments and political relations in a calculating and expedient way. But up to now, Trump has pretty much failed to do so, despite all expectations (one might recall the worldly-wise, hopeful comments on how so many promises are made to the people in election campaigns while of course other things count in everyday politics). So the more prudent among the fundamentalists of American greatness try to surround their chief, who skips secret-service briefings and doesn’t read files, with consultants, speakers, and committees to make him productive. They explain to him how national and international politics works beyond Trump Tower and Mar-a-Lago. They straighten out his lies and lapses for the public, try to turn them into a sustainable line, and then time after time have to put up with the boss disavowing their interpretations and corrections. The White House staff is undertaking the interesting experiment of trying to mend the contradiction of Trump’s unfettered sense of right and wrong being at the same time necessary and dysfunctional for the imperialist awakening.
However, others, mainly senators, even among the Republicans, see a line they consider harmful and dangerous to US power. Especially to the old hawks in Congress, Trump’s departure from America’s well-established hostility toward Russia and thus from the remaining unifying bond with the Western allies seems to be too great a break with America’s reason of state in terms of foreign policy and with the existing means for US assertion worldwide. They not only fight his about-turn politically but make every effort to incriminate it legally. So they claim that Trump’s emissary consulting with the Russian embassy before he took office was illegal foreign policy on the side, appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the suspicion of electoral manipulation with the help of a foreign power, and accuse him of betraying secrets.
The attempt to constructively contain the commander in chief, so intoxicated with himself and his patriotism, thus transitions into a public power-struggle over who can succeed in disciplining, isolating, or even impeaching the president — all in the interest of making effective and practicable the “America first!” that Trump has set as the nation’s agenda.
1Since the ‘outbreak’ of the financial crisis in 2007, this journal has devoted a number of articles to what is briefly outlined here as the relations of worldwide accumulation and overaccumulation pushed on by finance capital, of financial crisis as well as crisis policy and crisis competition between the centers of world capitalism, especially the USA and the EU or the eurozone. Special reference is made to the article “Im Jahr 9 nach Amerikas 'Hypothekenkrise': Weltkapitalismus im Krisenmodus” in issue 3-16 (untranslated). It deals extensively with the new standpoint, by no means restricted to the USA, and the associated methods of a special kind of business-location competition resulting from a lack of growth worldwide and under the conditions of capitalist credit being replaced by a money-creating government decree — this likewise not only being done by the USA.
3 Trump as the Republicans’ designated presidential candidate.
4 Likewise from a campaign speech.
5 From a press conference during the campaign.
6 Trump was already saying this twenty years ago in a Playboy interview.
7 President Trump in an appearance at the National Governors Association.
8 This was said to be the most important and repeatedly asked question about nuclear weapons that presidential candidate Trump asked a foreign-policy expert advising him.
9 Trump as president-elect to a talk-show host from MSNBC.
10 He offers the somewhat more American version later at the NATO summit, calling the terrorists the worst possible thing for an American: “They are losers.”
11 See the quote in III 1a: “We Americans are laughed at around the world for losing a hundred and fifty billion dollars year after year, for defending wealthy nations for nothing, nations that would be wiped off the face of the earth in about fifteen minutes if it weren’t for us. Our 'allies' are making billions screwing us.”
12 More about that in “Anmerkungen zum ‘Weißbuch 2016 zur Sicherheitspolitik und zur Zukunft der Bundeswehr’: Anspruch und Drangsale des deutschen Imperialismus” ["Remarks on the ‘2016 White Paper on Security Policy and the Future of the Bundeswehr": Aspirations and Troubles of German Imperialism"] published in GegenStandpunkt 1-17 (untranslated).
© GegenStandpunkt 2017