Trump’s shaky capitalist support: Business conflict and the 2016 election

An interesting analysis of the relationship between Trumpism and the capitalist class by “antifascist” writer Matthew Lyons. Read the article here. (Caveat: Lyon is vehemently opposed to attack the system).

As I would have suspected, Trumpism was an unwelcome insurgency that was initially opposed by the overwhelming majority of the capitalist class. When other options became less viable, many of the conventional sectors of the traditional right-wing of the ruling class started moving toward Trump, while most of the capitalist class remained in the Clinton camp. As I was saying at the time of the election, of the two candidates it was Trump who was the more “left-wing” of the two, e.g. espousing populist economic views and anti-interventionist foreign policy views (however sporadically, ineptly and inconsistently). Trump is also much more of a social and cultural liberal than the normal Republicans as demonstrated by his multiple marriages, his current marriage to a former Playboy model, his fondness of porn stars, his involvement in vice-related industries, his support for marijuana legalization, gay marriage, and prison reform, his lack of religiosity, and other characteristics that would have barred him from the Republican nomination until very recently.

Some highlights from the article:

The other broad issue that set 2016 apart from most modern presidential elections is that capitalists sided heavily with the Democrats. Unlike 2012, the Democratic nominee received much more campaign spending overall than the Republican: $1.4 billion for Clinton compared with $861 million for Trump. The chronology of Trump’s fundraising is significant. During the primaries, his campaign relied mainly on small contributions and his own money. As Ferguson et al. comment, “His money gave him both the means and the confidence to break the donors’ cartel that until then had eliminated all GOP candidates who didn’t begin by saluting the Bush family for starting the Iraq War, incessantly demanding cuts in Social Security and Medicare, and managing the economy into total collapse via financial deregulation…. He could say whatever he wanted” (38). Only in the summer, as the convention approached, did the Trump campaign begin to bring in significant money from major donors, ranging from coal mining companies to big banks to Silicon Valley firms such as Facebook. And capitalist donations to Trump didn’t kick into high gear until after billionaire Rebekah Mercer persuaded Trump to put Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway in charge of the campaign, with a strategy to target white working-class voters in key swing states.”

Despite Clinton’s stronger business support overall, Trump did get majority backing from several industries, including mining (especially coal mining), casinos, agribusiness, rubber, steel, and gun and ammunition manufacturers. He also received a large proportion of support from food, chemicals, oil (especially big oil companies), transportation, and certain financial services sectors, especially private equity firms (“the part of Wall Street which had long championed hostile takeovers as a way of disciplining what they mocked as bloated and inefficient ‘big business’” [45]). As the “Hunger Games” authors argue, Trump’s call for deregulation and climate change denial appealed to firms in many of these industries, while a few industries, notably steel and rubber, liked his economic protectionism. The gun industry was predictably hostile to Democrats.

To sum up: Neoliberalism (and the related internationalist/interventionist foreign policy stance) still enjoys majority support within the U.S. ruling class and among political elites in both major parties, but its ability to rally popular support is in crisis (as it also is, for example, in many European countries). Rightwing nationalist populism has a large popular constituency, but it lacks a coherent, independent organizational infrastructure and its capitalist support is relatively weak. These factors enabled Donald Trump in 2016 to defeat establishment candidates in both the Republican primaries and the general election, but he attracted a relatively small and internally divided array of business supporters. As president, despite his strong personal inclinations toward nationalist populism, Trump has been forced to bring many establishment figures into his administration, and to implement elements of both neoliberalism and nationalist populism, or at least oscillate between them.

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