Thursday, June 1, 2017

‘Trump and the Trumpists’

By Biko Agozino

I was invited by editors to respond to Wolfgang Streeck’s synthesis of Marxist analysis of Bonapartism with Weberian Status Group pluralism. Although this response was not selected for publication due to a high volume of responses, the publishers offered to pay me for my time and I asked them to donate it to an NGO that works to prevent mass starvation. Below is my response to the essay:

Du Bois and Azikiwe

The essay by Streeck provided an intriguing perspective on the emergence of politicians that he characterized as ‘Trumpists’. However, his critical essay is in need of more thorough conceptual clarifications to address some theoretical inadequacies and empirical untenabilities that threaten the validity of his analysis and the policy efficacy of the implications.

The author uncritically presented a rehash of Marx and Weber to suggest a hegemonic crisis characterized by the ‘death of the center-left’ that created a void to be filled with ‘class, status and party’ in a US supposedly dichotomized between the cities in apparent resentful polar opposition against the hinterlands. From this he concluded that the governmentality of Trumpism is potentially ungovernable and predicted that Trump may be forced to resign before the end of his term.

Streeck nearly ruined his essay from the start with the cyborg premise that ‘strange personalities’ can be identified by the atavistic stigmata of ‘extravagant dress, inflated rhetoric, and show of sexual power’ – gangster rap stereotypes that Trump evidently lacks given that his corporate suit is far from being extravagant, his rhetoric is monosyllabic, and he engaged Marco Rubio in size-of-hand envy.

The joke that the US had lost every foreign war since the defeat in Vietnam risks becoming an iatrogenic war-mongering capable of goading the most powerful military in the world (as if more excuses are needed) into the search for a face-saving winnable war.

Instead of jeering at Americans that they have 11 million illegal immigrants despite their ‘elaborate immigration policies’, Streeck should have asked what fortress Europe could learn from American pragmatism regarding the inevitability of immigration and the need to pursue increased diversity while providing a path to citizenship as part of comprehensive immigration reforms.

On Bonarpatism, Streeck invoked The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte by Marx to remind us that Trump is not the first figure to come to power and seek to rule as an absolute monarch to the disadvantage of the masses of peasants who supported Bonaparte simply because they liked his ideas. Streeck neglected to inform the readers that Marx did not intend this concrete historical example to be overgeneralized for he counted the instances of Bonapartism on two fingers of one hand. The concrete example was used by Marx to show that sometimes, the infrastructural mode of production is less of a determinant of historic outcomes than the superstructural ideology of his much-abused architectural metaphor.

Of course, Trump is no emperor and even if he wanted to rule the US the way that Bonaparte ruled France, Trump has to get past the Congress with anxious eyes on the 2018 Mid Term elections, past the courts that block his CEO style of orders, past the critical press that reveal scoops to force sacks from the government, and past the energized electorate ready to call his bluff from one ill-advised Executive Order to another dead-on-arrival attempt to replace Obamacare with Donaldon’tcare. Streeck repeated the Orwellian fact that Trump ‘won’ the election but failed to add that he actually lost the popular votes by nearly three million.

If Streeck had looked beyond German Sociology in his search for a suitable theoretical framework for the US, he could have stumbled on the theories of Thatcherism and Authoritarian Populism by Stuart Hall or Intersectionality by Kimberley Crenshaw as a more suitable paradigm for the analysis of the politics of race-c;lass-gender articulation, disarticulation and rearticulation in societies structured in dominance.

Another major weakness in the essay is the uncritical adoption of Weberian Status Group theory to explain the election of Donald Trump despite the fact that every status group was split between the two candidates. The error in Weberian pluralism is that it tends to underestimate the enormous power that is held by the military-industrial ruling elites as C.W. Mills demonstrated in The Power Elite.

Weber traveled to the US to interview German immigrants for his influential book, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism but scandalously ended up not noticing that capitalism had more to do with hundreds of years of the enslavement of millions of Africans as Marx, Du Bois, Eric Williams, and C.L.R. James proved.

The pitfalls of nationalist sociological preferences may have marred the essay beyond redemption when Streeck asserted that ‘Trumps seem to emerge easily in countries with a colonial past –‘. He conveniently failed to add Germany to the list of imperialist countries despite the savage plunder by imperialist Germany in Africa, according to Du Bois, Azikiwe, Nkrumah, Fanon, Rodney and Cesaire. Nazism emerged from this track record as the logical conclusion to the Weberian Enlightenment longing for rational modernization without compassion in the administrative quest for domination, according to Zygmunt Bauman.

Streeck erred by concluding that only groups that wanted to use the bathrooms that corresponded with their gender identity were interested in bathroom birther laws. On the contrary, many Americans opposed prejudiced laws that picked on other groups because history teaches that such authoritarianism eventually escalated violence in society to the detriment of all. When they came for the Jews, many said nothing because they were not Jews, then, finally  …


Biko Agozino, Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies, Virginia Tech, author of Counter-Colonial Criminology: A Critique of Imperialist Reason and writer of ‘Trumpism and Authoritarian Populism’ in C-Theory.

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