You Can’t Always Get What You Want (Or Can You?)


Americans don’t like losing wars. Let’s face it, nobody does, but unlike the British – who had the good sense to realize the Second World War had damaged their empire beyond repair – we Americans sometimes like to fool ourselves into thinking that because our country is so very powerful that it’s all powerful. Since the end of the Second World War, conservatives have been working on an ever expanding list of grievances enumerating the times they believe the United States military wasn’t allowed to “finish the job.” General Patton, they argue, should have been allowed to invade the Soviet Union. Harry Truman not only “lost” China. He also “lost” Korea when he fired Douglass MacArthur. The United States didn’t get beat in Vietnam. The liberal media and the traitorous anti-war movement made “our troops” fight the war with “one hand tied behind their backs.” Conservatives are probably still angry that Jimmy Carter didn’t nuke the Iranians in 1979, but even a reactionary icon like Ronald Reagan never gave them everything they wanted. When militants – and no they weren’t terrorists – rammed a truck into the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 and killed over three hundred American and French “peacekeepers,” Reagan decided to scale down the American military presence in Lebanon.

Conservative grievances aren’t limited to foreign policy. If you want to see how little has changed since the 1970s, go to a library and examine some of the letters to the editor that were published after the Kent State Massacre. Many Americans were horrified after the Ohio National Guard shot down four university students – they weren’t all anti-war protesters – in cold blood, but just as many seemed to think that those hippies got what they deserved. There has rarely if ever been a progressive social movement in the United States, from the sit down strikes, to the Civil Rights Movement, to the anti-Vietnam-War Movement, to Occupy Wall Street, to Black Live Matter, that hasn’t produced a murderous backlash among conservatives. I’ve seen it up close and personal. Last Fall, when I cycled across Massachusetts, arguably the most “liberal” state in the country, there seemed to be a “Blue Lives Matter” display in every town. The people of New York City largely supported Occupy Wall street, but there was never any shortage of hecklers. They got more aggressive as the media slurs had their effect and the occupation began to lose its favor with the public. A few days before the NYPD raided Zuccotti Park I was standing on Broadway holding up a sign that said something along the lines of “Banks Got Bailed Out. We Got Sold Out.” A middle-aged man and his teenage son, stopped, pointed at me, and began to talk as though I couldn’t hear them. “Look at this loser,” the man said. “I bet he doesn’t even have a job.” The son, who was wearing a New York Yankees cap, echoed his father’s disapproval. “Bloomberg’s weak,” he said. “If Rudy were still Mayor he’d have cleared this trash out a long time ago.”

There’s nothing new about a Republican Presidential candidate pandering to right wing fantasies about nuclear war or violence against protesters. Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon both had a keen sense of how to exploit the unfulfilled conservative id, but they operated under a set of restraints that at least for the first year or two of his presidency probably won’t affect Donald Trump.While the corporate media gave him all the coverage he wanted during the primaries, they clearly wanted Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio to be the Republican nominee. As November 8 drew closer, the Republican Party establishment largely defected to to Hillary Clinton, who never once hesitated to offend the Democratic Party’s liberal base in order to accept the endorsement of one Bush-era neoconservative after another. No sooner did Donald Trump win the election, then he began to stack his cabinet with the kind of right-wing extremists that will satisfy even his most fervently reactionary supporters. Jeff Sessions, his nominee for Attorney General is an all but out of the closets white supremacist. Trump’s pick for National Security Adviser, “Mad Dog James Mattis,” has remarked on how much fun it is to shoot people. Rudy Giuliani is in the running to be Secretary of State. As Secretary of Education, charter schools advocate and heir to the Amway and Blackwater fortunes Betsy DeVoss will be able to privatize public schools and break teacher’s unions without the kinds of limitations that restrained Chris Christie in New Jersey. Right now the American ruling class must feel like a 17-year-old who asked for a used pickup truck for his high-school graduation and got a $60,000 dollar SUV instead. Wall Street, the military and prison industrial complexes, the oil industry, and the charter school lobby will have the room to maneuver in a way that, with the possible exception of the first few months after 9/11, they’ve rarely had before.

What will they do?

16 thoughts on “You Can’t Always Get What You Want (Or Can You?)

  1. katharineotto

    As you point out, for every force, there is a counter-force. I think it’s impossible to make predictions, and foolhardy to try. America’s war machine seems to be sputtering for lack of initiative, despite all the saber-rattling around the world. We’re fat, lazy, sickly, entitled, and spoiled. Wars have become so common and universal that people consider them normal.

    Trump’s slogan, “Make America Great Again” appeals to me because it’s so simple. It’s up to each individual how to interpret it, but I would like to think greatness will come from within, as individuals realize government can’t make them happy, prosperous, or fulfilled. Trump’s cabinet picks show he is not an outsider, after all, and just as invested as everyone else in pushing the US (so-called) economic advantage.

    1. srogouski Post author

      What I think will happen is that the ruling class will use the political capital Trump has dug up from deep inside the bowls of the most reactionary undercurrent of American history, not to start another war, but to get what they want domestically. That means ending Medicaid and privatizing Social Security.

      In the end, Trump, like Obama and Hillary, is just a PR man. The ruling class was perfectly content to have Hillary, to implement their neoliberal capitalism with a veneer of social liberalism. They’re probably wondering how they got so luck to get Trump (they really wanted Romney over Obama). What Trump’s election has mainly done is demonstrated how deeply conservative (how fat, lazy, sickly, entitled, and spoiled) the American people are. They now know how much room they have to maneuver.

      What they do is anybody’s guess. Bush overreached after 9/11 and wound up harming his party. We’ll see how tight a leash they keep on Trump and how much he strains against it. Maybe the key is that 50% of the American people who didn’t vote. I think the ruling class wants to keep them political demobilized and will maneuver in such a way that keeps them asleep. That means they won’t private Social Security and dump Medicaid right away. Instead it will be a long, slow process that gets done without anybody really noticing (or only noticing after it’s too late).

      1. katharineotto

        But for one thing. Federal income is not keeping up with interest on the national debt. To drastically change Social Security or Medicare at this point would mean addressing payroll taxes, which they can’t afford to do. The US appears to be headed the same direction as Greece, Puerto Rico and all those other bankrupt countries, where public sector debt is strangling the economies. No one likes to hear this, but bureaucrats feed off the economy rather than contributing, and retired bureaucrats are even worse.

        Trump claimed he wanted to reduce the federal government by attrition. I’m not sure he can reduce it fast enough to prevent economic collapse.

        1. srogouski Post author

          To be honest, I don’t think we’re really on the same page.

          You seem to be arguing for some kind of economic austerity that Trump may or may not support. I’m trying to address whether or not Wall Street is going to use Trump’s victory to go after Social Security, which is self-funding and has little or nothing to do with public sector debt.

          I suppose it’s illustrative of Trump as a Rorschach Test.

          I also think talking about Trump in terms of economics misses the point. What are the reasons he won and someone like Romney (who I doubt had an economic agenda much different from the one Trump has) didn’t? I personally think he’s weaponized the American people’s own conservatism against itself. Lots of people are going to find this out the hard way. I just wonder how much the bankers, hedge fund managers and war profiteers are going to try to take in the two or three year window they’re going to have open to them. And I wonder what will happen if they overreach.

          1. katharineotto

            Social Security and Medicare are funded by payroll taxes, so they are inextricably linked. Wall Street benefits from all that income until someone reaches the end of earning years and starts drawing Social Security.

            When I mention public sector debt, I’m talking about all debt to retirees, not just Social Security but all those government pensions.

            I still say the nation’s finances are like a shell game, where the money–if it exists at all–is never under the shell you choose.

            I’m not sure what you mean by Trump has “weaponized the American people’s own conservatism against itself.” What does that mean?

            1. srogouski Post author

              “weaponized the American people’s own conservatism against itself.” What does that mean?

              Well, you’re making an argument here for some kind of Tea Party austerity. Cut pensions, etc. Mitt Romney ran on more or less the same kind of platform and lost.

              Why did Trump win where Romney lost?

              Trump (we’ll know for sure later because he hasn’t taken office yet) has “weaponized” the cultural conservatism of a large part of the American public against itself. That old lady wasn’t going to give her social security money to Wall Street because Mitt Romney told her to. She reluctantly voted for Obama. But Trump appealed to some sense of national decline, vulnerability in a way Romney couldn’t.

              Make America Great again.

              So he managed to persuade people who wouldn’t have voted Republican in 2012 either to vote for him or to stay home. He ran on cultural issues (fear of Muslims, immigrants) etc. but what will the ruling class do with that cultural capital Trump gave them? Will they “build the wall?” Or will they do exactly what they wanted to under Clinton, Bush, and Obama but could never quite manage?

              Extract what’s left of the public sector from the people and give it to Wall Street.

              1. katharineotto

                The “ruling class” can only rule if people allow it, but their devious methods for seizing and holding on to power is becoming more obvious. Basically, Americans with pensions invested on Wall Street are a large part of the problem. That’s why corporations early on were given tax breaks for contributing to employee pensions.

                Pensions have become a way of life since the industrial age began, but it wasn’t always that way. Salaried jobs, in which people work for others, for corporations or the government, have changed the way we view work and created ideas of retirement and savings for retirement. This is also invested on Wall Street. Those most heavily invested have the most to lose if Wall Street suffers or if the economy collapses. That would be the Boomers, not the young folks who have so much debt, they can’t afford to invest.

              2. katharineotto

                Yes, but they can’t get along with each other. Think about our 16 “intelligence agencies.” They are so involved in turf wars with each other that they can’t coordinate among themselves. The antiquated notion of crippling people to control them is revealing itself to be impotent, as the crippled people create more and more drag on the “ruling class.” That’s the ultimate lesson of slavery, too. You can’t force people to work, and if they resent you too much, they will merely take what you have instead.

  2. Kitchen Rants

    The only ‘silver lining’ I see here is the American people aren’t really willing to go fight wars after the debacles in Afghanistan and Iraq. You can warmong all you like at the top…but you still need men and women to join up and fight and people just won’t anymore, especially in the areas they want the kids to fight in and they will have to be kids to be naive enough to join up to fight senseless wars and kill innocent brown/black people overseas.

      1. Kitchen Rants

        Yeah. I saw that. Even for Trump, that’s one hair too far…inciting naive kids to go fight wars overseas is one thing, forcing them, do Vietnam all over again, that’s stupid even by Trump’s standards.

          1. Kitchen Rants

            Yes, I mean Trump won’t be dumb enough to ratify or approve (don’t know the right term) it…At least I hope not. I don’t consider Obama ‘a president’ anymore, he’s more like a placeholder now…and I voted for him, twice. Now it’s like nothing.

            1. srogouski Post author

              Clearly though the Pentagon and the Obama administration are floating the idea of a draft. So you’d have to ask why they anticipate needing a bigger army. Female draftees don’t even have to go into combat. They could free up men now working in support roles here in the US.

              1. Kitchen Rants

                They anticipate more wars and provocations on BS grounds…which ultimately benefit the MIC.

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