Trump as capitalist-in-chief

Opponents often see what they consider Trump’s ill fit for the presidency in terms of psychological sickness. Some imagine that, suffering from such dire-sounding conditions as “narcissistic personality disorder” or “attention deficit disorder” or maybe a version of Asbergers, (and what about those symptoms of dictator envy), he may not last long in the job.

But another way of putting it is that he’s not a sick man at all, he’s a good, healthy capitalist. Trump is in fact our first capitalist president. According to the online Merriam-Webster, a capitalist is “a person who has a lot of money, property, etc., and who uses those things to produce more money.” We’ve had businessmen before in the White House (Hoover, Truman, Carter) and rich men (Roosevelt, Kennedy, the Bushes), and Republicans have long been defined by giving tax breaks to capitalists. But none of these had spent virtually their entire lives prior to becoming president in the pursuit of profits. By contrast with Trump, for instance, FDR and JFK are known for pursuing concerns—reforms of the 1930s, civil rights—that had nothing to do with adding to the family fortune.

It was neither Obama’s or Clinton’s impulse to head for Wall Street right after graduation (as did a lot of their classmates) to channel their p rivileged educations into a career of making money the direct way.

In Trump the profit motive is less mixed with other motives than in any other president. As he himself proudly proclaims. Trump’s contempt for the traditional need to avoid conflicts of interests, his bragging about getting away with cutting corners on his taxes, his clueless-seeming demanding of loyalty– all just Trump being a good capitalist. At times he seems surprised to have traditional expectations of common decency applied to him; why should the wolf even have to bother to put on sheep’s clothing, if what we’ve elected is a wolf?

His pitch to voters was that, unlike other candidates, he would act like a capitalist in office, using his lifetime of experience accumulating wealth making deals in our behalf. In harping on “America first,” he seems to treat American citizens, at least the portion who are his loyal supporters, like stockholders–at least encouraging them to feel that way.

You are not a capitalist, and the chances are very good you don’t even know one. Even though we live in a country with a capitalist economic system, practically none of us are actually capitalists. (Working for a capitalist by definition means you are not one, even if you own a few shares of stock as a perk of the job.)

If we know about the work of capitalists at all, it’s through such shows as “Billions” or “The Wolf of Wall Street” or “The Big Short” which depict the careers of those using a lot of money—theirs or others’–to make more money. Usually not a pretty picture, all that leveraging, hedging, hostile taking over. We might not actually want to do that work ourselves even if we had the opportunity. But to have such a guy doing that nasty work for us. An exciting prospect, I suppose.

The trouble is that mixing a capitalist with democratic government is like trying to mix oil and water. As has been pointed out, Trump may be the head of our government, but as a good capitalist he chafes under it. One of government’s most important functions has long been to protect us from (perfectly natural, healthy) capitalist depredation (as in anti-trust laws, the social network reforms of the 1930s, workplace safety laws, anti-pollution legislation, etc, etc. ) There is always a tension between the basic idea of capitalism (and instincts of a capitalist) and democratic government.

It has always seemed important to have a president in which there is at least a reasonable mix of democratic values and instincts and capitalist impulses.

So now we are seeing how it goes with the fox running—or trying to run– the hen house.

No Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email is never shared.Required fields are marked *