Some thoughts of mine on the broader implications of the
Many analysts have belittled the seriousness of Trump's anti-globalization
rhetoric and even such jingoistic proposals as the construction of a wall along
the Mexican border. They point to Trump’s
appointments of such global players as Rex
Tillerson and Steven Mnuchin as evidence that Trump cannot and will not turn
his back on global commitments and realities.
Along these lines, Bill Robinson (whose work I have always admired and used
extensively in the classroom) argues that Trump represents the rise of
neo-fascism, but in no way threatens to put a halt to, or a break on,
globalization. As proof, he points to the global dimensions of Trump’s own
In contrast to Robinson, I argue that
globalization is still basically a tendency rather than an all-encompassing
reality and that the nation state is a fundamental element, which has to be at
the center of any analysis of the world’s political economy. The Trump
phenomenon demonstrates that the ruling class of the world's most powerful
nation is very much divided as to the pluses and minuses of globalization, in
two ways. First, the hardened opposition to Trump’s candidacy by much of the
U.S. elite indicates the degree to which the nation’s ruling class is fractured.
Second, the willingness of former adversaries within the establishment to make
their peace with Trump puts in evidence the ruling class’s ambivalence regarding
globalization. Had Bernie Sanders been elected president, the ruling class in
its totality would have carried out an all-out campaign against him both before
and after his election. The fact that Republicans and business leaders who
doggedly opposed Trump’s candidacy have toned down their rhetoric, and are
seeking an understanding with the new president, is a reflection of the ambivalence
of the nation’s elite regarding globalization. Furthermore, even before Trump’s
nomination as Republican Party candidate, he counted on the unwavering support
of such important political actors as Fox News and Newt Gingrich, who undoubtedly
represent the interests of sectors of the nation’s bourgeoisie.
discourse cannot be discarded as mere bluster. To completely turn his back on
his main campaign offer of reversing free trade policies would be political
suicide. By doing so, Trump would forfeit his largest social base of support –
that is, the white working class – and leave himself vulnerable to the
revengeful actions of powerful political actors who he had insulted during the
campaign, who would then give encouragement to and abet popular and progressive
sectors opposed to his reactionary positions. There is a consistency to Trump's
positions. His racist statements particularly against Mexicans are designed to
underpin and provide credibility to his promises to put a halt to the exodus of
jobs and to renegotiate NAFTA. Furthermore, it is not a coincidence that two
major targets of Trump's attacks are Mexico and China, while he has at least
until now had kind words for Russia's Vladimir Putin. Mexico and China, unlike
Russia, have been major recipients of U.S. investments in the area of production
for the U.S. market.
Trump’s aim is not to return to pre-globalization times or to insulate the U.S.
economy from global pressures. If that were the case he would not have chosen
Tillerson and Mnuchin for such top cabinet posts. However, for reasons I state
above, he will probably go beyond mere symbolic gestures to counter aspects of
globalization; such actions will have an important impact on the economy, given
the volatility of financial markets.
What the Trump phenomenon tells us is that globalization
writers of all stripes underestimate the degree to which the U. S.
bourgeoisie is concerned about the deteriorated state of affairs in the nation.
Humanitarian considerations are obviously not in the forefront of its concerns.
Regardless of the degree to which their business interests are tied to the
global economy and the intricacy of those ties, U.S. businesspeople are
affected in major ways by decisions taken at the level of the nation state. And
the U.S. bourgeoisie has infinitely greater clout in Washington than in any
European nation, and even more so in the case of China. The importance of this
political factor is the most convincing explanation as to why the U.S.
bourgeoisie is receptive, to the extent that it is, to Trump's proposals to
"make America great again."