The Source of Trump’s Fortune

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Trump Derangement Syndrome is real, and very widespread.

Its cardinal symptom is perceiving this highly predictable product of market totalitarianism (itself a highly predictable product of corporate capitalist normalcy) as an anomaly, rather than an outcome.

TDS has two main strains.

One is the absurd, Clinton/Democratic Party-promoted idea that Trump, who is both patently incapable of holding complex thoughts and also the very definiton of unreliability, is somehow a Russian agent.

The other is what I call the “Doorstep-of-Fascism” hypothesis. This variant of TDS paints Trump as somehow about to unleash state totalitarianism in this increasingly progressive, structurally ungovernable, and thoroughly couch-potatoed society.

The New York Times‘ reporting this week on Trump’s long-hidden tax returns, however, shows the real truth about the origins of this mega-cretin:

The Times calculates that between 2004 and 2018, Mr. Trump made a combined $427.4 million from selling his image — an image of unapologetic wealth through shrewd business management. The marketing of this image has been a huge success, even if the underlying management of many of the operating Trump companies has not been.

Other firms, especially in real estate, have paid for the right to use the Trump name. The brand made possible “The Apprentice” — and the show then took the image to another level.

NYT, September 27, 2020, emphasis added

Trump inherited his daddy’s ill-gotten fortune, and used his privilege to sell himself, at a lucky early moment, as Reaganism’s Ideal Man. Commercial television, which exists to promote the sale of corporate products, then eventually hired Trump to continue peddling this sick fantasy — and it worked, all around, as the Times story reveals.

So, the obvious main fact is this: The bulk of Donald Trump’s fortune — half a billion dollars — came from the entirely normal and logical workings of mainstream American corporate media, meaning the normal and logical workings of “our economy.” Trump, in other words, is as American as Ronald McDonald, Nancy Pelosi, and the CBS Evening News.

Liberal and radical physicians, heal thyselves.

New Media

addiction spoof on Facebook logo

“Facebook might have won already, which would mean the end of democracy in this century,” [Jaron] Lanier said. “It’s possible that we can’t quite get out of this system of paranoia and tribalism for profit—it’s just too powerful and it’ll tear everything apart, leaving us with a world of oligarchs and autocrats who aren’t able to deal with real problems like pandemics and climate change and whatnot and that we fall apart, you know, we lose it. That is a real possibility for this century.”

A major hypothesis.

Nota bene: New media are new, but also not new. Both the incessant expansion of data-harvesting and the shift away from print-dominated media are major marketing (read: corporate capitalist) imperatives.

Survival and the Business Class

Capitalists have always claimed that, because they have an intense interest in providing things for which people will pay money, they must be granted free reign to dominate society’s macro-level decisions. Any serious interference with the private business sector’s ability to make and sell whatever makes it the most profit will, the theory goes, only lead to disaster. Only capitalists, it is said, pay careful-enough attention to what people actually want and need. Hence, we must leave them to it.

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One of the classic hypotheses stated by Karl Marx was, of course, a converse notion. Capitalists, Marx observed, can and do care about what people want and need only up to a certain point:

“Après moi, le déluge! is the watchword of every capitalist and of every capitalist nation. Hence Capital is reckless of the health or length of life of the labourer, unless under compulsion from society.”

This thesis is rather interesting in these days of SARS-CoV2, isn’t it?

In this vein, I was struck this morning to learn — somehow for the first time — that, in 1943 — 1943!!! — the business class forced FDR to fire none other than John Kenneth Galbraith from his post as Deputy Director of the Office of Price Administration.

Galbraith’s offense? Doing his job: administering prices and restricting capitalist production of “consumer” doodads so that fascism — the real kind — could be stopped from conquering the world.

According to the excellent book recounting this stunning bit of forgotten history, while ousting Galbraith, the Republican Party also pushed legislation that “would have barred anyone who didn’t have at least five years of experience in ‘business’ from running OPA.”

So, this idea of “run it like a business” is quite a bit older than Ronald Reagan’s epochal and ongoing triumph.

Interestingly, many years later, here is what Galbraith recalled about his experience trying to use the OPA to save the USA from eventual atomic war with Nazi Germany:

“There were weeks when Hitler scarcely entered our minds compared with the business types in Washington.”

A Consumer Economy?

Richard Heinberg is a very important scholar and an apparently lovely human being. His books are always penetrating, and both his contribution to and his review of Michael Moore’s corporate-green-censored movie, Planet of the Humans, demonstrate his continuing efforts to speak crucially unheard truths.

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So, here at TCT, we have to ask: Mr. Heinberg, what’s up with this?:

We have built our national and global economic systems on the expectation of always using more. A successful energy transition will necessarily entail moving away from a growth-based consumer economy to an entirely different way of organizing investment, production, consumption, and employment.

A “consumer economy”? Really? Your analysis is that “consumers,” the aggregated acquirers and users of goods and services, are in charge of “our” economy?

This, of course, is a hypothesis, not an indisputable fact. Its natural and obvious rival is the assertion that we actually live in a “capitalist economy,” i.e., a productive-and-distributional order in which money-investors, not product-users, tend to dominate the course of events.

It remains fascinating (and disheartening) to see even courageous and insightful figures like Richard Heinberg continue to opt for the “consumer economy” framing of reality.

Anybody who does this does, ipso facto, two rather remarkable things:

  1. They radically de-emphasize capitalists and capitalism as causal factors. Indeed, it isn’t much of an exaggeration to say that “consumer culture/economy/society” theorists more or less adopt the quasi-official capitalist view of reality. Capitalists, after all, have always claimed that, notwithstanding both their own command of strategic assets and their multi-trillion-dollar-a-year marketing endeavors, they are mere servants of pre-existing, independently-arising “consumer demand.” Talking about a “consumer culture/economy/society” all but concedes this extremely self-serving and debatable claim.
  2. They ignore the long, if not very well-known, body of thought on the various ways in which “our” capitalist economy does not, in fact, embody and serve the basic interests of product users. Names like Thorstein Veblen (whose most-read [only-read?] work is his first and by far worst one), Vance Packard, Baran and Sweezy, Marvin Harris, and Giles Slade? In the “consumer culture/economy/society” frame, such seminal iconoclastic thinkers are all flushed away, as is the crucial question of how their works might be extended and refined.

My own guess is that, by choosing “consumer” over “capitalist,” well-meaning and important thinkers like Richard Heinberg somehow imagine they are making their ideas more palatable to a wider audience, on the thesis that talking about capitalism is just too radical.

But reality is reality, no matter how fearful of describing it we’ve all been trained to be. And we aren’t likely to sweet-talk our way around human history’s richest and most deniable power structure. Either we start talking about the Emperor and His Old/New Clothes, or we don’t.

“Consumer economy” is a way of doing the latter.

The Sourcing Filter: Strong as it Ever Was

herman and chomsky faces

Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky’s “propaganda model” of the functioning of the U.S. mass media is surely one of the few great achievements of twentieth-century social science. Its explanatory and predictive force is as strong today as it was in 1988.

One test of this claim resides in the remarkable Presidency of Donald John Trump.

Trump is obviously multiply pathological and virtually incapable of telling the truth, except when it happens as a mere coincidence. He lies so often and so freely that both the quantity and the audacity of the lies tend to defy their tracking.

This, as well as Trump’s frequent irrational attacks on mainstream media, offer a good way to judge whether it remains true, as Herman and Chomsky argued in explaining their “SOURCING MASS-MEDIA NEWS: THE THIRD FILTER,” that major corporate media will tend to give far too much interpretive weight to people in high public and private posts.

With this in mind, consider a very peculiar headline from today’s edition of The New York Times.

Yesterday, Donald Trump said, plainly and on the record, that he was going to discontinue the “task force” that has played such an important role in keeping him from severely worsening the domestic impact of the ongoing global SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. Today, Mr. Trump has — entirely predictably — said he will, in fact, leave the task force in place.

The NYT‘s headline on this simple reversal? This:

“Seeming.” That, of course, is a counter-factual exculpatory adjective. Why is it there?

The only reasonable explanation is the one that comes from the Herman-Chomsky model: Treating TPTB with special reverence is so important to corporate mass media, that even such an extreme case does not break the “filtering” rule that inheres in the system: Official sources always have the benefit of the doubt, even when they are inarguably grossly unreliable.