Tuesday, December 22, 2015

On Putin and Trump—a Shallow Analysis

On Putin and Trump—a Shallow Analysis

Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump have recently been praising each other. This may not last, but it makes one step back and look at these two, however superficially. One then notices some similarities, at least in context if not personality, that might help explain their rising.

Of course, Putin has effectively ruled Russia since the start of this century, while Trump is still an aspirant to the U.S. presidency.  So Putin has accomplished far more than Trump in the political and economic spheres, as well as in the field of slaughter.

In this last accomplishment, however, Putin has merely joined many other current and past leaders of nations and empires--including our own.
Trump is a classic bully—a coward at heart, with a thin skin, unable to bear criticism, with a constant need to put down others and inflate himself.

Putin feeds into the same need of some to have a "strong man" in charge at the top. He made his mark by bombing Grozny into oblivion, going far beyond what the Russians had tried to do earlier to end the Chechen rebellion. In the process, he radicalized the Chechen (and other nearby Muslim) opposition, eradicating it by extreme, brutal force from Chechnya and its adjacent territories but in the process also eliminating the more moderate opposition and spewing out an aggrieved and desperate diaspora that included increasingly fanatical folk (feeding on transplanted Wahabi theology) who have been active, in Asia alone, in an arena ranging from Afghanistan in the east to Syria in the west (not that far from Chechnya and other Russian or former Soviet territories).

The collapse of the Soviet Union, and the misery experienced by many ordinary Russians subsequently (with even life expectancy showing a sharp downturn) and the sustained economic and political pressure on Russia by the West, especially the U.S., including the expansion of NATO right up to Russia's borders, led to a feeling of humiliation among many Russians (even as the capitalist class there, feeding off assets that once belonged to the state--and so at least nominally and to some extent in practice to the people--that were sold off or given away in an orgy of nepotistic looting, was feasting on its newly gained reaches, and producing its oil billionaires and more).

In such situations, there is an opportunity for fascist leaders to rise. This is what happened in Russia--although it could have been worse, judging from the situation in some other parts of the old Soviet Union, especially in Asia, where narrow ethnic nationalisms have often prevailed, throwing minorities (especially the larger ones, who are seen as a threat) into a very difficult place.

One can see in Trump's rise some of the same kinds of discontent, fed by an increasingly unequal economy, an increasingly ethnically mixed population, and perhaps our perceived ineffectiveness in exerting power in world affairs, resulting (especially in what used to be called the "lumpen proletariat") into enthusiastic support for a perceived "strong man" and "winner" who will "make America win again"--a role happily filled by the egotistical Trump.

The jihadi attacks on this country (which, except for the lone catastrophe of 9-11, have still been nowhere as intense as those that reached even into Moscow, where suicide bombers made spectacular and horrendous attacks, both during the Afghanistan war--with our support--and later during the conflict in Chechnya and adjacent areas) have led to an increasing Islamophobia that has also helped Trump as it did Putin during his rise.

There is no longer a socialist bloc (with a memory of what fascism is and can do) to counter the fascists or even the globalizing capitalists who show increasing fascist and neo-colonial tendencies, now that their main opposition is gone. Fascism is, among other things, an alliance between the powerful capitalists and the state, with labor tamed, suppressed and compliant, and with ethnic and other issues used to divide the working classes.

What we have instead are competing capitalist blocs, with each trying to outdo the other in pursuit of wealth accumulation, too often going mainly into the pockets of an oligarch class, with labor increasingly marginalized and divided, forced to work more and for less.

Computerization, immigration providing cheap labor in the homeland and the export and loss of jobs, first in manufacturing and then even in services, has led to anxiety and discouragement, even hopelessness, among many workers or would-be workers in this country, especially those without the increasingly formidable skills needed to survive and succeed in the "new economies". Job security is a thing of the past, and employability of those not within a rather narrow window of age and constantly changing skillsets is in question.

This is no new development in capitalist evolution. Parallels can be seen in the past. But what remains the same is the need to increase the rate and scale of production and consumption in order to increase profits. So there is the usual race to secure natural and human resources, as cheaply and relentlessly as possible, to expand markets and to encourage consumption of goods and services. The consequent environmental and human damage, including that from the wars that these races for resources and markets inevitably produce, are evident to anyone who cares to look. Even civil wars that appear to be arise from ethnic conflicts have economic drivers--as I learned again and again from talking to refugees (mostly Hindu, but also with many Muslims) fleeing East Pakistan in 1970.

To slow down these races would be the only thing that could slow down the rate of destruction. But we are caught in a paradigm where the slowing of the economic engines is the worst nightmare of capitalist and worker alike.
Returning to Trump and Putin--although there are the similarities between the backgrounds that led to their rise that I have listed--there are also of course many difference, both in their local contexts and careers and in the men themselves. Although Trump is a New Yorker, he displays little of the better qualities seen in my fellow urbanites, including tolerance and respect for diversity, and much of the worst, including unwarranted, loud aggression.

To this, he adds either great ignorance or deception or both, along with an obvious bigotry against those who are different from him in any way--be it from gender, "race", origin, religion or whatever. While he hobnobbed with the Clintons, he never could accept that a "black" man (as Obama is classified in this country, despite having a "white" mother) could become president of this country.

Beyond this, Trump wants to keep in place a system in which politicians are subservient to people like him. He is working for his class interests, as many of the affluent and powerful do, but in a rather different way--by brashly turning towards the jingoistic populism and the distracting, rough and tumble public exposure that they mostly avoid, preferring to let their bought politicians do that work for them.

Putin, for all his faults, displays a wider understanding of history and of the world in general than Trump ever will.
2015 Dec 22nd, Tue.
Brooklyn, New York