“With each passing day under Trump, the mythology of US exceptionalism becomes more fragile.”
By Danny Haiphong, originally published on Black Agenda Report, July 11, 2018
The ascendency of Donald Trump to the commanding heights of US imperialism has been a chaotic experience for the ruling class. Trump’s lives in the trash-heap of the ruling class and has been deemed “unfit” to command the machinery of the state. His thievery is wholly unexceptional. He is an old-fashioned liar and cheat. But he is petty in the eyes of the ruling class, a small man who is impossible to brand to the masses. He is a fool, but not foolish enough to simply go along with the imperialist program. One day he is cutting taxes for the rich and keeping migrant families apart and the next he is signaling détente with Russia and Korea. Trump is a headache to the ruling class even if he is no savior for the poor and oppressed.
Every July 4th, we are reminded that the United States is an exceptional civilization and the most advanced manifestation of Western democratic liberalism. At least that’s what the corporate media, the Washington political elite, and their corporate masters never hesitate to tell us. July 4thmarks the national celebration of the so-called founding of the US state’s exceptional principles. American flags are raised and waved even more emphatically than an ordinary day under the rule of US empire. Fireworks erupt from coast to coast. However, with each passing day under Trump, the mythology of US exceptionalism becomes more fragile and the system more exposed as the nightmare that it really is.
“Trump is a headache to the ruling class even if he is no savior for the poor and oppressed.”
The US ruling class understands that the era of Trump is a dangerous moment politically, economically, and militarily. US imperialism is in a state of crisis. Trump is a product of the crisis and at the same time has been mistakenly identified as the cause. The ruling class has attempted to cover up all dangers to US hegemony with non-stop lies, deceits, and half-truths endlessly drooling from the mouths of those who sit in the so-called exceptional wing of the ruling class. The biggest lie is that Trump somehow represents a danger to the United States’ inherent exceptionalism.This lie has been loudly upheld by the corporate media.
Two recent articles in the New York Times and The Hill made the case that Trump has destroyed the values of American exceptionalism. If that were the case, I and many others would gladly thank him. So-called “Keynesian” economist Paul Krugman wrote on June 18th that Trump is “ending” American exceptionalism by “trashing the things that made us great, turning us into just another bully — one whose bullying will be far less effective than he imagines.” Like a good ol’ soldier of US exceptionalism, Krugman argues that the values of American “goodness” made the US the leader of the “free world” and a “moral force” alongside a military and financial one. The conclusion one derives from Krugman’s fact-less analysis is that Trump is a bully but the rest of the ruling class is not. Closer to July 4th, The Hill contributor Howard Blum echoed Krugman:
“After more than a year in office, the president has further developed and refined this realpolitik. It is decidedly not one of a benevolent, far-reaching American exceptionalism as envisioned by the Founding Fathers in the Declaration that we celebrate this July 4. It is not the “Empire of Liberty,” an exemplary catalyst for nations, that Jefferson saw as the country’s role in a hope-fostered future. It is not the beacon Jefferson saw brightly shining when he completed his presidency in 1809: ‘This solitary republic of the world, the only monument of human rights, and the sole depository of the sacred fire of freedom and self-government, from hence it is to be lighted up in other regions of the earth … .’
“No, American exceptionalism, the purposeful and uplifting beliefs in liberty, equality and opportunity crystallized in the Declaration, have been replaced.”
“The biggest lie is that Trump somehow represents a danger to the United States’ inherent exceptionalism.”
Such investment in the narrative that Trump has destroyed the exceptionally moral and good US empire signifies the depths that the ruling class will go to protect the mythology of American exceptionalism. Malcolm X taught us that the nightmare of American exceptionalism is not in the mythology itself but in how the ideology finds material expression. The material conditions attached to American exceptionalism are what drove Malcolm X to call the American Dream an American nightmare. The attempt of the ruling class to preserve the legitimacy of American exceptionalism is far from a progressive reaction to Trump’s so-called attack on bourgeois democracy and liberty. It is an attempt to preserve the nation’s strongest illusion and keep the downtrodden firmly in the grip of the two-party duopoly.
The crisis of US imperialism is rapidly eroding the legitimacy of American exceptionalism. That’s bad news for the ruling class. Neoconservative and neoliberal Democrats have raised the volume of their anti-Trump message to drown out any hope for a left wing political movement to emerge and fill the gap. These parasitic corporate goons call the billionaire arch-racist Trump a fascist for wreaking terror along the US-Mexico border, suggesting peace with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and threatening to withdraw US troops from Syria. He is condemned as an agent of Russia, a racist, and an authoritarian thug by some of the most violent and treacherous forces known to humanity. The problem for the anti-Trump fan club of American exceptionalism, however, is that preserving the ideology becomes a fool’s errand when only the rich can identify with the cause.
“Neoconservative and neoliberal Democrats have raised the volume of their anti-Trump message to drown out any hope for a leftwing political movement.”
This is not to say that Trump is not an imperialist, a racist, or a capitalist. He is all three. His position as president of the empire and his history as a capitalist mogul are the stuff that enemies of the people are made of. But Trump isn’t their President, nor is he their preferred capitalist. Wall Street bankers, corporate executives, and militarists of various stripes dislike Trump because they didn’t choose him. The crisis of the system birthed Trump’s political career by accident.
And the crisis hasn’t improved. Trump must be labeled the sole source of all problems lest the entire ruling class becomes implicated as well. Democrats and Republicans jointly built the deportation and terror regime that enforces immigration policy. Democrats and Republicans jointly spend trillions waging war across the globe, so it should come as no surprise that Trump has become the object of their opposition to Russia and Korea’s growing independence in world affairs. Neither Democrats nor Republicans say anything about the fact that hunger increased for Black Americans last year , and both parties refuse to do anything about rampant poverty in the US . The two-party duopoly maintains the architecture of US imperialism, not Trump alone.
“Malcolm X called the American Dream an American nightmare.”
July 4th is the most heinous celebration of a system built upon lies. A system that has always torn Black families apart by way of enslavement, lynching, incarceration and other forms of exploitation and oppression. This system, built upon the stolen land of natives and the enslaved labor of Africans, is crumbling under the weight of its own contradictions. Neoliberalism is a desperate form of capitalism. It is capitalism in debt to itself. Half of the population is poor they can’t afford a $500-dollar emergency , Black wealth is nearing zero, and police lynch Black Americans nearly every day or incarcerate them behind prison walls. The hundreds of billions currently flowing to military contractors and the banks is wealth that the working class and the poor will never see again. That is, until the poor, the downtrodden, and the oppressed take back what is rightfully theirs.
The ruling class cannot depend on Trump and neither can the oppressed. The ruling class spent eight years under Obama investing resources in the non-profit industrial complex with the understanding that the post-Obama hangover was going to be rough on the Democratic Party’s voting base, especially the Black polity. Wall Street did not foresee Trump’s political success and has deployed its non-profit forces to organize a fake “resistance” capable of mobilizing just enough Democrats to retake Congress in November and maybe the presidency in 2020. Whether the strategy will work remains to be seen. With nothing material to offer, whatever success that comes out of the anti-Trump strategy will be temporary at best.
“Neoliberalism is a desperate form of capitalism, in debt to itself.”
What is clear is that conditions for undocumented immigrants, Black Americans, and the increasingly impoverished working class in general will only worsen. Imperialism does not rest. Aligning with the US ruling class against Trump is political suicide for the oppressed, plain and simple. There is no “progressive” side of the ruling class in the United States. We are living in capitalism’s end game. July 4threminds us that we still need to ask the same question that Frederick Douglas asked over a century and a half ago, “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?” The answer is very similar to what it was then, except this time the system of US imperialism is in a state of breakdown–as are its illusions of exceptionalism and grandeur.
Danny Haiphong is an activist and journalist in the New York City area. He and Roberto Sirvent are co-authors of the forthcoming book entitled American Exceptionalism and American Innocence: The Fake News of US Empire (Skyhorse Publishing). He can be reached at wakeupriseup1990(at)gmail.com