Halloween is over and the real horror story resumes… Donald Trump and the Problem of Capital
Despite all that is known about Donald Trump, there still remain millions of eligible voters who take the view that Donald Trump is a successful businessman while Hillary Clinton is a corrupt politician – or should I say corruptpolitician. Much political discourse is bound up with these days with eschewing logic or evidence in favour of guilt by association and the fastening of adjectives so closely to nouns that those nouns and adjectives can never again recover their dignity or independence. Note “liberalelites” and “metropolitanelites”. Trump himself has been doing this with “Crookedhillary” of course, but the crookedness of Hillary is bound up with her status as a political insider. If all politicians are corrupt and “politician” is not a noun that might or might not be attached to an adjective like “corrupt” but rather the habitual suffix that is wedded to “corrupt” as surely as an inhalation is succeeded by an exhalation, then anyone who is not a politician must be an improvement.
Whether or not Hillary Clinton is more or less corrupt than most politicians I don’t know. The current email probe concerns the possibility of some professional dereliction of duty.
The balance of evidence suggests to me that the choice facing the American electorate is between a flawed human being with a mixture of strengths and weaknesses (Clinton) and a talentless sociopath (Trump) without a single redeeming qualification, moral or intellectual.
Trump of course has never held any kind of political office and therefore has never been trusted with the kind of information that Clinton has. He has however, been subject to many prosecutions in the course of his life. He is someone who sees no distinction between the abuse and the use of power, and he proudly defines success in terms of the suffering he can inflict on his rivals. Yet he still retains an aura of integrity among a significant pool of voters who believe that Trumps skills as a businessman represent a refreshing antidote to the inherent corruption of anyone who can be identified as a career politician – because business is inherently heroic while politics is inherently corrupt.
Trump of course, is a landed aristocrat, who has never had to do a days work in his life and who has been protected from the consequences of his own behaviour since the day he was born. He has failed over and over again in business, but his inherited wealth and connections have enabled him to ensure himself from taking any sort of personal hit. He is famous in no small part because he paid someone called Tony Schwartz to invent the idea of Donald Trump the great businessman and Tony Schwartz now wanders the earth confessing his sins and decrying his own creation.
But more fundamental is the issue of capital itself which is rarely understood. I am not such a utopian socialist as to assert that there is no talent whatsoever involved in turning ten dollars into a million dollars. But turning 100 million dollars into 200 million dollars involves no talent whatsoever. Doubling personal fortunes of such a magnitude requires no personal effort, initiative, or decision whatsoever because of a little thing called “surplus value”. You don’t have to be clever or hard-working to double these gargantuan sums because you are paying others to be clever and hard-working for you. This is how capitalism works. And also gangsterism. Money gets kicked upstairs. You have to pay people less than they are worth, because that’s where the profit comes from to invest in expansion. Trump actively boasts about not paying people at all if he can get away with it, because if inherited wealth can kick hard-working and gifted people back into the gutter where they started, then inherited wealth has an obligation to do precisely that.
Banks don’t lend to people based on Mensa scores or bench presses or gleams in eyes but on the basis of their credit-worthiness. The money Trump borrowed to enlarge his property portfolio in the 1980s was not derived from Trump’s talents but from the fact that he had a multi-millionaire for a Dad who was likely to die relatively soon.
Trump is milking the rhetoric of the mythology of meritocratic capitalism for all it is worth and is all the louder because he is himself the most dramatic refutation of this mythology, a standing example of how and why capitalism is not meritocratic. Which is why, of course, he is so very loud.
Perhaps though, the truth is, that we should be considering (sympathetically) the desperation of people’s need to believe that capitalism is fair, the tearful credulity of those who seek to preserve the notion that those who are very rich must somehow “deserve” their wealth. Because to challenge this mythology would involve challenging so many other cherished beliefs that starting to disbelieve in meritocratic capitalism threatens to unravel people’s imagined core identities.
When Trump unravels, he takes too many other things apart with him.