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?