Trump’s pseudo-populist mask falls away

The draft budgesubmitted to Congress March 16 by Donald Trump, along with his “repeal and replace” health insurance scheme, reveal the monstrous face of his real program—not the pseudo-populist version of his election campaign. The real program calls for a major expansion of military spending combined with a qualitative deepening of austerity in the form of major cuts in, and in many cases outright elimination of, needed social programs.

But there is much more to these proposals than simply guns versus butter.

The Trump regime, itself the product of a deepening destabilization and general crisis of capitalism, aims to turn the clock back—way back. Contrary to Trump’s campaign rhetoric, which implied that he would bring back U.S. capitalism’s glory days of the 1950s and 1960s, the aim as now revealed is to go back in key ways to a much earlier era—the period of the first industrial revolution. In that era, workers lacked unions, unemployment insurance, access to health care, and any prospect for a secure retirement. Capitalist politicians paid little or no heed to industry’s destruction of the environment and lack of health and safety on the job. Wars, fueled by nationalism, led to the rise of the modern nation-state.

Despite its rapacious and inhumane aspects, Marxists consider this era of capitalism to have been fundamentally progressive, because it greatly advanced the productive forces of society, laid the basis for a higher standard of living, and led to many other social gains many of us enjoy today.

In a desperate effort to reverse the decline of the U.S. empire, the Trump regime seeks to revive U.S. industry, weakened by decades of “de-industrialization”—the export of capital and jobs to oppressed countries, where wages are much lower. They aim to bring about this reversal on the basis of economic nationalism—“America First.” This involves creating a capitalist profit-making paradise by greatly expanding military spending, benefiting the military-industrial complex, and instituting a draconian austerity, boosting profits.

But the Trump forces face serious obstacles.

The foremost obstacle is the organized working class and rapidly growing people’s movements now mobilizing around multiple issues on many fronts. These will become the main targets of Trump as he and his proto-fascist allies press ahead with their reactionary quest.

Far from entering a new progressive era ushered in by Donald Trump, working class and poor people now face a catastrophically regressive future that poses grave dangers, not only to people residing in the United States but to humanity as a whole. Following is a list of some (by no means all) of the Trump regime’s initial reactionary moves and plans.

On the war/militarism front

  • Trump’s budget calls for $54 billion in new spending on “defense.” Predictably, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, contends it still isn’t enough, so Congress may well boost that amount.
  • Four hundred more U.S. troops are heading to the area in and around Manbij, Syria, on the pretext of preventing conflict between U.S.-backed Kurdish forces and Turkish troops. The increase, which includes a team of Army Rangers and a Marine artillery unit that have already arrived in Syria, represents a near-doubling of the number of U.S. occupation forces there. The moves are not only void of congressional or U.N. approval but are a violation of Syria’s national sovereignty and thus illegal.
  • The Trump administration is also gearing up to deploy 1,000 combat troops to Kuwait, where 6,000 troops already reside, to act as a reserve in the “war against terrorism” in Syria and Iraq.
  • Trump also wants to further boost spending on upgrading and expanding the U.S. nuclear arsenal, on top of the $1 trillion Obama requested, ensuring that the U.S. remains “top of the pack.”

On the labor front

  • House Republicans have introduced a bill that would institute “right-to-work” (for less) policies in the entire country, delivering a severe blow to the labor movement and workers in general. Right-to-work laws allow workers to opt out of paying union dues while still enjoying the benefits of union-negotiated contracts.
  • Meanwhile, more and more states under Republican control continue to pass their own right-to-work measures, increasingly making them the norm rather than the exception.
  • The net effect of these measures would be to starve the unions of income, thereby weakening them even more than they have been already.

On the women’s rights front

  • The Republican bill would cut back on federal funding that can be used for services at Planned Parenthood clinics. Fully 43 percent of Planned Parenthood’s revenue in fiscal year 2015—more than $550 million—came from government grants and reimbursements.
  • This bill would mean that Medicaid recipients who currently receive care at an organization that provides abortions (such as Planned Parenthood) would have to find a new provider that doesn’t.
  • Abortion is a small part of what Planned Parenthood does, accounting for 3.4 percent of all services provided in the year ending in September 2014.

On the immigrant/refugee front

  • Trump promises to end “illegal” immigration, partly by building a multi-billion-dollar wall that U.S. taxpayers may end up paying for, and wants to hire 5,000 more Border Patrol agents and 10,000 more Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.
  • His administration has stepped up detentions and deportation of “criminal” undocumented immigrants, many for relatively minor violations.
  • Trump also seeks to temporarily curtail entry into the United States of refugees and others from six Muslim-majority countries until more stringent entry requirements are developed, though this effort has so far been blocked by federal district courts as discriminatory against a religion and therefore unconstitutional.

On the LGBTQ front

  • In February, the Trump administration withdrew Federal guidance on Title IX regarding the right of transgender students to use restrooms that match their gender.
  • More recently, Trump revoked an Obama-era executive order requiring federal contractors to document that they are in compliance with federal laws and executive orders. The Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces order, also known as Executive Order 13673, was issued in 2014, at the same time  as  Executive Order 13672, which prohibited contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. EO 13672 is in place for now but will be harder to enforce.

On the education front

  • According to the National Education Association, the initial budget proposal for the 2018 fiscal year slashes funding for the Department of Education by 13.5 percent (a $9 billion cut), rolling back education funding (excluding Pell Grants) to pre-2002 levels (in current dollars) despite 8.6 million more students in classrooms.
  • The budget adds $1.4 billion for “school choice”; $250 million for a new private school voucher program; and $168 million for charter schools—advancing the aim of privatizing public education.
  • The budget also calls for eliminating a $2.3 billion professional development, teacher training and class-size reduction program and a $1.2 billion after-school program, and slashes grant aid for low-income students to attend higher education.

On the justice front

  • Trump nominated racist Jeff Sessions for attorney-general, who has been confirmed, and reactionary Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court, widely expected to be confirmed.
  • His proposed budget would end funding for the Legal Services Corporation, an independent nonprofit organization created to provide financial support for civil legal aid to low-income people. The LSC, established in 1974, provides funding to 134 independent nonprofit legal aid programs in every state, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories. Grant recipients serve thousands of low-income individuals, children, families, seniors and veterans in 813 offices in every congressional district.
  • The proposed budget also ends all funding for the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, which coordinates and catalyzes the federal response to homelessness, working in close partnership with Cabinet secretaries and other senior leaders across 19 federal member agencies.

On the health-care front

  • According to the Congressional Budget Office, 24 million Americans would lose their health insurance coverage under the Republican “repeal-and-replace plan—14 million in its first year. The CBO also estimates that premiums for those who buy insurance on their own would rise by 15 to 20 percent in the first two years of the plan, and then level off.
  • If the rolls of those covered by health insurance does drop by 24 million, of course greater competition for a shrinking market by the health-care providers could cause premiums to level off and actually fall—obeying the laws of supply and demand.
  • Under the plan, private insurance companies would be allowed to charge seniors five times the premiums it charges to younger Americans, as opposed to three times more under Obamacare. This means premiums for seniors are almost certain to rise.
  • Federal spending for Medicaid, according to the CBO, would be 25 percent lower, partially defunding Planned Parenthood and causing 14 million people to lose their health care. Medicaid recipients are the poor, the disabled and the young—the most vulnerable. Many are full-time workers whose pay is so low they qualify for Medicaid, and their employers do not provide health coverage.
  • The Republican plan gets rid of tax surcharges for high-income individuals and couples (above $200,000 per year and above $250,000), which help to fund Medicare. The tax is 0.9 percent on regular income and 3.8 percent on investment income. The CBO and others have projected that this will reduce the solvency of the Medicare trust fund by about three years, perhaps an initial step to get rid of Medicare altogether. The plan also eliminates a 2.3 percent tax on certain medical devices, which helps to fund the Affordable Care Act.
  • The plan proposes cutting funding for the National Institute of Health, the “world’s engine of biomedical research” by 20 percent. It also eliminates the Community Development Block Grant program, a $3 billion initiative that provides money to state and local organizations for anti-poverty campaigns, including some funding for Meals on Wheels, a program dear to the hearts of millions of seniors.

On the environmental front

  • Trump wants a 31 percent cut in funding for the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • The proposal would cut $2.6 billion from the agency, for a 2018 budget of $5.7 billion, and result in 3,200 fewer jobs, according to the White House outline.
  • Climate change programs are targeted, including discontinuing funding for the Clean Power Plan, an environmental regulation intended to curb global warming. Funding would also be cut for international climate change programs and climate change research and partnership programs.
  • The plan aims to reduce EPA’s compliance enforcement budget by $129 million, and eliminate funding for regional efforts like Great Lakes restoration, Chesapeake Bay and other geographic programs by $427 million.
  • The Trump budget would slash cleanup of hazardous waste sites by 30 percent, slowing and damaging the already struggling Superfund program. (Reuters, March 17, 2017)
  • The budget would entirely eliminate funding for the Chemical Safety Board, an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents.

On the media/cultural front

  • “A community orchestra performance, a new work from an emerging playwright, art therapy for a returning veteran, local library classes in Braille, free standardized-test preparation, and Bert and Ernie. Thousands of such programs could be gutted under President Trump’s proposed budget.” (Washington Post, March 16, 2017)
  • The budget plan calls for the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The CPB, a private, nonprofit corporation, distributes more than 70 percent of its funding to nearly 1,500 locally owned public radio and television stations.
  • Calls for abolishing the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 35,000 museums. Established in 1996, its mission has been to help libraries and museums to advance innovation, lifelong learning, and cultural and civic engagement.

On other fronts

  • Eliminates all funding for the Corporation for National and Community Service, which serves more than 5 million people through a wide array of services.These include projects in disaster services, economic opportunity, education, environmental stewardship, healthy futures, and veterans and military families through AmeriCorps, Senior Corps and the Social Innovation Fund. (Los Angeles Times, March 16, 2017)

The above cuts, if not blocked, represent the broadest, most comprehensive attack on social programs, oppressed communities, and workers’ rights and living standards ever attempted in the industrialized capitalist world, at least since the rise of fascism in the 1920s and 1930s. But this program is perfectly in line with the notion, apparently being advanced by Trump’s senior advisor Steve Bannon and others in Trump’s “brain trust,” that the only way to rebuild the industrial might of the United States is to restore conditions that existed in a much earlier era—high and rising profits, low wages and minimal if any social safety net. Also needed, it seems, is a working class too organizationally weak and divided by racism, sexism, and xenophobia to resist.

As Steve Bannon stated in a rare public appearance, the aim is “deconstruction of the administrative state”—in other words, complete destruction of the capitalist welfare state, no longer needed since the demise of the Soviet Union and socialist camp.

Under such conditions, large numbers of workers—young, old and in between—plus those discouraged who have dropped out of the work force or have retired and are still able to work can be made so desperate and needy that they will be forced to accept any job at rock-bottom wages or face outright starvation. Profits will soar.

Under these conditions, the Trump faction of the ruling class calculates, the export of capital and jobs can be reversed. And U.S. corporations had better take notice. Any that continue to export capital and jobs will be faced with a 20 percent “border adjustment tax,” limiting their access to the domestic market and slashing their profits. “Patriotic” capitalists, on the other hand, will get the message and bring back capital and jobs. As a result, America will become great again, or so the Trumpites dream.

A major challenge

Trump’s program represents the most serious challenge the U.S. working class and its allies, including left forces, have faced in many decades, if ever. The Democratic and Republican establishments cannot be relied on to block this vicious anti-labor, anti-people offensive. Their only concern with Trump’s program is that it will so disrupt and destabilize U.S. politics that the general crisis now upon us will only deepen and not be resolved. That is why they favored Hillary Clinton in the past election and mounted a major effort through the media and other means to defeat Trump.

But now, it appears, they—as well as we—are stuck with Trump, at least for the time being, and will have to act accordingly. For revolutionary fighters, that means combating through education, organization and mobilization the ultra-reactionary Trump program. It means advancing the fight to replace the moribund, increasingly destructive capitalist system with socialism—in which production is carried out to meet people’s needs, not maximize profit. That requires building a mass revolutionary workers’ party that can win political power in the interest of the majority and begin the construction of socialism.

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