by Graham E. Fuller
What on earth does “objectively progressive” mean—and how could Donald Trump be viewed as a “progressive” of any kind?
It may have been Karl Marx who first used the term—in a way that turns reality upside down. Basically it means that a leader or a political trend that clearly is reactionary, might unintentionally but “objectively” have a progressive impact on the course of politics and history. In other words, a seemingly negative course of events of the moment can, in the end, have unintended, unexpected, but important longer term progressive impact.
So the real question is not “how bad is everything under Trump,” but rather, four years down the road and looking back, how will Trump have changed America?
At first glance it’s easy to say that his administration will simply have produced an unmitigated disaster on all fronts. He is reversing virtually every single step that Obama and others before him took to move the nation in a more progressive direction. Trump’s efforts—and those of his truly depressing appointees—are trying to roll back abortion rights, attack the public school system, deny climate change, gut environmental regulations, reverse Obamacare, lower taxes for the rich and for corporations, denigrate LGBT individuals, pursue a sexist approach towards women, promote general xenophobia and especially hostility towards Muslims and immigrants, and lavish more money on the military—the list goes on.
The foreign policy outlook is no better: hobble or kill the JCPOA nuclear agreements with Iran, support Saudi Arabia to throw its weight around regionally, step back from the Paris Climate Treaty, embrace torture in fighting terrorism, build a wall with Mexico, grant greater autonomy for the military greater in determining war initiatives, offend a growing list of foreign leaders, leave the world questioning what is really going on in Washington, accede to Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands now heading into its second half-century—the list is well-known. Ironically, one of Trump’s early stated intentions was to improve ties with Russia, one which in my view is quite sensible. But that goal it is now under fierce assault by the Washington elite that is still invested in the psychology, culture, budget and hardware of the Cold War. Trump’s approach to China is still in formation, but will likely also be more aggressive if his advisors have their way. And his diplomacy by Tweets is loose-cannonmanship personified.
But then, look at it this way: what if these reactionary trends are now actually serving to spark reactions and a pushback that end up greatly strengthening the progressive agenda? And doing so faster and more vigorously than would have occurred if we had not had Trump?
For starters, Trump is destroying the Republican Party as it stands today. In my view that is an progressive development. The party is devoid of principle except what serves big business that in turn has bought off the party. The party seems utterly isolated from all reality, domestic and foreign. Foreigners shake their heads.
Trump is not truly even a Republican himself. The damage he is inflicting on the party may—just may—in the end serve as catalyst to reinvent the party, to bring it back to genuine conservative values, conservative with a small “c,” instead of the party of big business. The party right now has little in common with what a truly conservative agenda might support—above all its lack of concern for conserving society, our planet, and public well-being. And support for the intrusive security state couldn’t be less of a conservative value—it’s a Big State value.
So Trump may actually be in the process of doing something long overdue—putting the present lost and floundering Republican party out of its misery. That is probably not Trump’s intention, but it may well be the upshot. And that would be truly significant turning point for American politics.
Similarly, the pressures Trump is kindling may also be destroying the mainstream Democratic Party establishment as well—a party hidebound, moribund, out of touch, lazy, compromised. Sorry folks, although Hillary would have been a less damaging president than Trump, with Hillary we would also have been in for four more years of same old same old—pro-Wall St, pro-war policies. Yes, her administration would have been more intelligent and professional than Trump’s, and it certainly would not have caused so many to rise up in passionate response for change and reform. The US frog would have been that much closer to being boiled without fully realizing the temperature around it was still rising.
But instead we have a Trump who is energizing the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, against its sclerotic status-quo establishment leadership. More Democrats now want Bernie—or at least his ideas—more than ever before, as the party struggles to find its soul outside of Wall Street and the Pentagon. Under Trump new found activism is on the rebound. Marches are increasing, women, workers, gays, ethnic minorities, Muslims, minimum wage, Black Lives Matter, scientists—all of these and other segments are now being galvanized against Trumpist outrages. Trump has at last let us behold the true face of Republican (and even some Democratic) policies pushed to their limits. Indeed, Trumpist health care follies are now actually pushing the country to consider, just maybe, a single-payer plan (gulp).
Abroad Trump may now be sowing the seeds of the beginning of the end of our imperial foreign policy. Foreign statesmen who have indulgently looked the other way at the massive US foreign policy blunders of the last two decades or longer seem now with Trump to have reached the breaking point. He has set off a long overdue foreign push-back to American adventurism, exceptionalism, to our right to break the international rules because we write them all, to the search for enemies and the military solution to global problems. Yes, the result of Trump’s policies is indeed damaging “American leadership” because American leadership has been off the rails since the fall of the USSR, when we thought we could do anything. Trump is making this disastrous “leadership” ever clearer to the world. And they’re not buying.
The harsh fact is, that pursuit of modern American imperial dominance and global empire is what is now destroying America. Empires in the end always come back to destroy the center. Trillions for defense but nothing for health, infrastructure, living wages, or science.
So it may be good that Europe is now assuming greater independence in defense and security affairs, including in its dealings with Russia. Europe knows the Russians first hand and it doesn’t necessarily want to be tied to Washington’s global confrontational strategy.
Lest all of this simply sound like dancing around the bonfires of destruction, let’s not forget another Marxist concept—that of the dialectic (actually it was Hegel’s first): an action sparks a reaction, and soon a synthesis emerges between the two. Trump is sparking the reaction, by deepening and widening discontent, from which a new synthesis will emerge. It is this rising discontent, domestic and international, that ultimately can serve a more progressive agenda, a spark, a moment of clarity, a wake-up call to greater domestic political activism, regional responsibilities, a renewed “Yes we can!”
If it were not for Trump, an America long off course could have lazily and thoughtlessly plodded on for four more years along the same damaging course. Now maybe it is reaching a boiling point.
Could be I’m whistling in the dark. Some may legitimately fear that after four years of Trump we may simply all be worse off, period. But I suspect the latent outrage that is now becoming manifest and accumulating in so many quarters just might create the foundation—for the first time since when?—when the American political spectrum rebalances with a genuine Left as well as a Right, with a much more impassioned and activist public speaking out against the corrupted system of the present US political order.
Something has to give.
Graham E. Fuller is a former senior CIA official, author of numerous books on the Muslim World; his latest book is “Breaking Faith: A novel of espionage and an American’s crisis of conscience in Pakistan.” (Amazon, Kindle). Reprinted, with permission, from grahamefuller.com. Photo of Donald Trump by Evan Guest (via Flickr).