President Trump’s cabinet looks pretty much as many predicted at a time when it seemed unlikely that the billionaire reality host would ever make it to be the Republican Party candidate for the post, let alone the nation’s chief executive. Packed with business types rather than politicians, and with a good smattering of generals prominent on the most hawkish side of the military elite, the US executive looks like the sort of place that billionaires and their pals go to when their dreams of world domination by other means crumble into dust. Crumble into dust is the appropriate way to talk about the economic side of capitalism as the failure to restart growth after the Great Recession of 2007/9.
As The Economist reported in its January 28th edition, the engines of the global economy – great transnational companies (TNCs) – have been afflicted with a grievous crisis of stagnant and falling profits for most of the last decade. The retreat of the global company over this period has been marked by a staggering decline in the rates of return on equity invested in international business, with 40% of the world’s biggest firms now failing to make even 10% profits on the stocks under their control – as The Economist puts it, a yardstick for underperformance.
Loss of confidence
The loss of confidence and belief in the idea that the future was global on a mega scale is a big part of the reasons why the business practices of the TNCs have fallen so sharply out of favour with the wing of capitalism that Trump and his allies represent. The long-marginalised advocates of such dusty and unfashionable sectors as coal and steel manufacturing, based in ‘the homeland’ and vying for a place in markets that are decidedly national, are once again finding their place in the sun, and President Trump’s inner-circles. This explains the enthusiasm for scrapping the rules and dispensations which had favoured international business, which have included complex regulatory regimes designed to track the movements of flows of capital and protect property rights across the globe, and tax regimes which are most efficient for those with the mobility to bank their profits in remote island havens.
Under Trump there will be a penalty inflicted on those who move assets across frontiers – excepting of course, businesses which want to repatriate the one trillion US dollars they have accumulated outside the country during the heyday of their offshore and outsourced operations. Trump’s ultra-hard line on immigration policy, which has so scandalised liberals in recent weeks, is part of the very same process which is seeing protectionist measures being brought in across the board to replace the regime which had favoured the TNCs in the recent past. Much of the discussion – and the public protests – has concentrated on the ban on admission to the US for citizens of seven mainly Muslim countries, introduced by presidential executive order at the end of January. Harsh as this has proved to be it is only one aspect of a raft of immigration control measures which will have a drastic effect on the country’s large population of settled foreign nationals. The extension of the categories of undocumented migrants who are to be considered priorities for deportation includes anyone who has broken the law by either entering or staying on in the country without permission. According to the independent Pew Research Centre, this lines up around 11 million people for removal.
Other measures will allow the federal authorities to go after the so-called ‘sanctuary cities’, where local government has pledged a degree of support and protection to people who seek to regularise their residence status in the US. Taken together, the travel bans and the pumped up deportation measures, not to mention the claims being made for a ‘great wall’ along the southern border with Mexico, represent a major threat to the USA’s historical status as a major destination for migration. Despite what is claimed by the ‘America First’ nationalists who are the dominant influence in Trump’s administration, immigration cannot be branded as a feature of the globalisation of the TNCs which they so revile. The success they have had in confabulating the movement of people with the flows of capital around the world in the search for profits is one of the reasons why Trump’s eccentric brand of politics has made inroads into the country’s working class communities.
But the United States – a country so fundamentally forged by migration over the course of its history since the days of European colonialism – cannot so easily dismiss the movement of people as a mistaken policy pursued in recent times by a now discredited section of its ruling elite.
US working class divided
It is far more accurate to describe the anti-immigrantism which Trump is now promoting as a determined effort to drive forward a policy that will keep the US working class divided during a period of capital restructuring; a period that will require the levels of exploitation of workers in the homeland which is currently required from the people labouring in Asia and elsewhere in its outsourced business supply chains. The world watches the brave protests which have erupted across the whole of the US in the past weeks in solidarity with the excluded citizens of the seven Muslim countries, and hopes that this is just the starting point for a militant defence of the rights of all migrants in the country, including the 11 million now threatened by their inclusion in the priority categories for deportation.
This is republished from the March/April 2017 edition of Chartist