Blog #95a – Questioning “So-Called President” Donald Trump’s Mandate, Immediate Actions


#95a – Questioning “So-Called President” [1] Donald Trump’s Mandate:
Immediate actions, Long-Term Possibilities, Constitutional Questions.

This blog, and the blog before it, Blog #95 – “Given the Electoral College, who “won” the 2016 Election?” – summarize the findings of Blogs #92a to #95 on “so-called President” Donald Trump’s claim to have won the election as president of the United States, and suggests some Immediately practical reforms of the Election Process in the United States They raise some longer-term issues about the constitutionality of the Electoral College per se, issues whose results in the 2016 election deserve wide discussion. [1a]

IMMEDIATE ACTION POSSIBILITIES.

First and foremost, questions about the legitimacy of the 2016 election process and its results must become matters of wide-spread concern and debate. That means raising in the public debate the question of the legitimacy of Trump’s Electoral College “win,” challenging every boast that Trump or his positions represent a landslide, a majority, a popular consensus, a mandate, etc., every time such claims are made. It is in fact estimated at only 27.2% of all eligible voters at Blog #93.

Watching how the question is formulated is important.

It’s not “What did Trump do to win the Presidency, “ but “what aspect of the Electoral process enabled him to claim that office when he in fact only received a minority of the popular vote in the election for it?”

Nor is “what did Clinton do wrong that cost her the election?” the key question. She in fact got almost three million more votes than the nearest contender for the office. The question is rather, “Why, if Clinton got a significant plurality of all votes cast in the election, did she not get the Presidency?”

And it’s not, “How could Trump convince a majority of the voters of his ultra-conservative agenda,” but “How was it a relatively small proportion of the electorate (my estimate above was 27.2% of those eligible to vote} could impose such an agenda on the rest of the country?”

Perhaps even more important in the public discourse, a recurrent theme among those defending Trump and his policies, and many presumably “neutral” commentators” is that,” after all, he was elected the President of the country, and, whether you agree with him or not, you have to respect that he is the legally chosen representative of the people and must be recognized as speaking for them in what he says and does.” “He got elected; live with it,” goes the line.

But that’s precisely wrong, and runs against across the grain of the whole theory of democratic government Trump is not entitled, now that he has “won the election,” to impose his particular agenda on the country by executive mandate or administrative fiat. On the contrary; he was elected by the
votes of 62,980,160 voters out of a total population of eligible voters of 231,556,622, or 27.2 % of the electorate. He has an obligation to represent all of those 231,556,622, whether they voted for him or not, or didn’t vote at all. [1b]. His voters actually represent a minority of the American citizenry , and in fact not even a plurality of the actual voters.{See Blog #93} He not only has no over-riding mandate behind his policy positions, he in fact has a positive mandate to compromise, to consult, to listen, to bring people together. Supporters or interviewers who are content to stop at, “after all, he’s the President,” mistake how a real democracy functions.

LONGER TERM ACTIONS

Longer term but needing to be kept constantly on the table, is the National Popular Vote proposal (NPV}. It is simple. It would have every state have its Electors in the Electoral College allocate their votes in the same proportion as the national popular vote. If states with a majority of the electoral vote now adopted it, it would guarantee that the Electoral College result would be the same as the national popular vote.[2].

NPV has three big advantages: It is intuitively fairer, more democratic, and is simple and relatively easy to understand. And it does not necessarily favor either major political party today. It has already bi-partisan support in at least 11 states, with more considering it. And it solves the constitutional problem that Electoral College votes are weighted in favor of small states, because however many electoral votes a given state has, they will be cast to accord with the national popular vote result.

And it does not require a Constitutional Amendment to be effective, just agreement of the states having entitled to the majority of Electoral College votes.

It has two disadvantages: It does not solve the plurality/minor parties’ problem. But to do that would complicate the initial reform effort substantially. And it might still permit a plurality to win the Presidency. Only adding even more complicated (although fairer) Proportional voting methods would solve that problem (and be fairer to minor party voters as well), but seems too cumbersome for at least the first effort at reform.

Politically, the National Popular Vote Proposal is however a positive demand, for four reasons:

First, it is both intuitively and logically right. It improves democracy in government, and is likely (although not guaranteed) to advance social justice in its substantive results.

Second, it is a unifying demand, putting the leftish, Sanders wing of the Democratic Party into contact with the mainstream, and facilitating communication and persuasion in on-going political work.

Third, it highlights Trump’s minority support status, accentuating how far he is from a mandate for his policies, how strong the argument is that he must recognize the needs and demands of the majority of the voters in what he does while still in office. And,

Fourth, it is achievable –.it has already been enacted into law in 11 states with 165 electoral vote, and has further been passed by one chamber in 3 Republican and 1 Democratic-controlled legislatures. Only 270 are needed for it to become effective.

Then, a problem with both short and longer term approaches. The proportion of actual voters casting ballots among present and potential voters is strikingly less in the United States than in other developed democratic countries. Part of the reason no doubt lies in the skepticism about the difference it makes, with neither major party offering a break-through in meeting voters’ deepest concerns. But a part of the explanation for the fact that 40% of those eligible to vote did not do so lies also in the obstacles placed in the way of registration to vote in many states, which the courts are partially remedying. Strong national legislation would help.

As this is written, Trump is maintaining that that perhaps 3,000,000 votes, even among the limited numbers actually voting, were illegal. That’s been met with wide-spread incredulity. In fact, if the winner-take-all provision part of the Electoral College voting process, adopted at the discretion of each state, were dropped, the number of actually effective votes might be increased by a least an equal number.

Restoring the “preclearance” provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act,”, requiring with appropriate language, advance approval by a federal court or the Department of Justice for questionable state changes to voting regulations under the Voting Rights Act would surely increase the number of eligible voters significantly, removing inappropriate barriers to participation by many.

And there is a simple non-controversial measure that would undoubtedly be helpful in increasing the number of voters actually voting:

Make Election Day a national holiday

Perhaps even provide that it be a paid holiday in covered employment, as many state laws and some government contracts now provide for sick leave—perhaps by requiring Election Day as a paid holiday under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Like NPV, the call for Election Day as a holiday is simply a good government measure, one that advances democracy, and should not become a partisan political issues. It would surely have a healthy, and progressive, impact both on how many vote and who votes; no one should object to it. And the country is surely rich enough so that it can afford one day a year of less production in the cause of better and more responsive government. And, for that matter , wouldn’t one day less of being required to go to work to make a living advance the quality of life for all our people?

CONSTITUTIONAL QUESTIONS

The constitutional questions surrounding the Electoral College are fundamental questions.
Article I of the Constitution as first adopted, provided

Article I

“…in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote.” [2a]

It has been almost unanimously implemented through state action since then to provide that the votes of a state shall be that resulting from a winner-take-all count, i.e. a state’s one vote shall be for whoever gets a plurality of that state’s votes,. Thus the votes of all losers in the state’s votes are disregarded in determining who has won the final vote in the Electoral College.[3]

But the Twelfth Amendment, Article II, adopted in 1804, provides:

Article II
Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress
Under that provision all states have, a least since 1824, adopted a winner take all election procedure [4]. Its effect, of course, is to make the minority votes in any state irrelevant in the final count for Electors. While it might seem unfair to any party coming in second in any individual state’s race, any party winning a plurality will appreciate the rule, and thus, since winning parries make the rules it has apparently remained unchallenged over time.
But winner-take-all does seem to abridge the rights of a substantial number of voters in any Presidential election, and arguably to violates the intent of the 15th amendment.[3]
So the U.S. Constitution does not mandate that system, however. Instead, it is left up to the states to determine how they select their representatives in the Electoral College, and the states have followed the winner-take-all arrangement without serious challenged since its adoption in 1804. For the first 13 presidential elections, spanning the first four decades of the history of the United States, states experimented with many different electoral system. By 1836, all but one state, South Carolina, uses the winner-take-all method based on the statewide popular vote to choose its electors. South Carolina continues to have its legislature choose electors until after the Civil War. [4]

The Fifteenth Amendment, passed during Reconstruction, contradicts , in spirit if not in terms, this Electoral College provision. Adopted in 1870, it reads:
Amendment XV
Section 1.
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
Section 2.
The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation

In adopting the 15th Amendment, the intent was to grant all citizens, including the recently liberated black slaves, a full “unabridged” right to vote, implicitly with a vote equal to that of all other voters. The Electoral College procedure favoring some voters over others {See Blog #94} distorted – abridged — that result. If 65,845,063 Clinton voters in the 2016 popular election had their vote discounted by 29% [See #blog 95} compared to the vote of the 62,980,160 Trump voters there is clearly something wrong. Such a discounting is an “abridgement” of their right to vote, in the terms of the 15th Amendment.

But it did not make any practical difference in the outcome then, and when it much later did, the 15th Amendment argument seems not to have been made to challenge it.

It might be argued that the language of the 15th Amendment created a class of particularly protected citizens: “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” and that category of voter is not affected by the current procedures in either the national popular vote nor the votes in the Electoral College. But it should not be hard to demonstrate factually that those whose votes have been abridged in 2016 by the Electoral College winner-take –all system were indeed disparately voters who individually or as a group were disparately of a particular race and had suffered then or earlier by conditions of servitude of members of the group.. The minority voters, many of the 65,845,063 Clinton voters, were in a minority in their states although in a majority in the national vote, should be entitled to the protection of this language of the 15th Amendment

The Fourteenth Amendment’s language, with its equal protection language, does not single out any particular group for special protection, but applies to all. Its reach protects “citizens of the United States” and extends to “any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the law.”
While not directly referencing voting rights it contains a broad edict:

Amendment XIV, Article I

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

The Supreme Court ruled in Bush vs. Gore.

Having once granted the right to vote on equal terms, the State may not, by later arbitrary and disparate treatment, value one person’s vote over that of another. See, e.g., Harper v. Virginia Bd. of Elections, 383 U. S. 663, 665 (1966). “…once the franchise is granted to the electorate, lines may not be drawn which are inconsistent with the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment”.”[5]

Ironically, Donald Trump himself left the door open to a challenge of the legitimacy of the results of the ‘Electoral College vote when, in the course of the election campaigning Ohio, he flatly refused to commit himself to respect the vote, whatever it would be. Trump told supporters that “the bottom line is we’re going to win.” He would “accept a clear election result,” but he would also “reserve my right to contest or file a legal challenge in the case of a questionable result.[6] Presumably, if he were to consider rejecting the vote of the Electoral College because it was rigged, he would object whether the rigging was in his favor or in Clinton’s. He simply wanted to reserve the right to challenge the results when the appropriate time came.

The public needs to engage with these questions, and the courts and the legislature should now be asked to address them directly. Until they are resolved, a dark cloud will hang over any claim of Donald Trump to the Presidency of the United States.

————————-

[1] I would never have thought it appropriate to use this phrase had not Trump himself spoken of the recent decision of Federal District judge Roberts of the Federal District Court in Washington state, with which he disagreed, as the decision of ”this so-called judge.” It may however not be inappropriate in this case; see our conclusion below.
[1a] The six most relevant recent blogs, all at pmarcuse.wordpress.com, are:
#91 – Explaining the Election in 10 Sentences – Preliminary
#92a – Electoral Reform: Outing the 1%
# 93 – Election Figures Show Trump with Only 27.2% of Eligible Voters-What Mandate?
#94 – In What Ways is the Electoral College Illegitimate Today? #95 – Given the Electoral College, who “won” the 2016 Election
#95a – Questioning “So-Called President Donald Trump’s Mandate+
[1b]https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1VAcF0eJ06y_8T4o2gvIL4YcyQy8pxb1zYkgXF76Uu1s/edit#gid=2030096602 https://twitter.com/totalogic
[2} http://www.nationalpopularvote.com.
[ 2a] Somewhat ambiguous language, but interpreted as meaning all the Electors from each state share one vote, that plurality in that state’s vote, and it shall be for both President and Vice President, so that those two offices will be filled by the same party..
[3] See “The Equal Protection Argument Against Winner Take All in the Electoral College: The Constitution doesn’t require the Electoral College to count votes the way it traditionally has”. By Lawrence Lessig | December 12, 2016,, available at http://billmoyers.com/story/equal-protection-argument-winner-take-electoral-college/ and Blog #94,“In What Ways is the Electoral College Illegitimate Today
[4] http://www.fairvote.org/how-the-electoral-college-became-winner-take-all.
[5] http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/531/98.html
[6] http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/elections/2016/10/20/donald-trump-election-results-debate-hillary-clinton/92450922/

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Blog #93 – Election figures show Trump with only 27.2% of eligible voters: What Mandate?


Donald Trump aimed his New Year’s Eve tweet at “my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don’t know what to do.” Leaving aside the incredibly childish gloating over “his enemies,” from someone who occasionally talks about “bringing our nation together,” has Trump’s staff succeeded in keeping from him all knowledge of the actual vote counts in the 2016 election, in which his leading opponent, far from “losing badly” to him, in fact got 2,000,000 popular votes[1] more than he did?

Or has his staff not let him learn that, out of some 232,000,000 persons eligible to vote [2] in 2016, only 62,000,000 actually voted [3] for him, not only less than for Clinton , but also only 27.2% of those who were eligible [4]. 79% of those who were theoretically eligible to vote for him did not do so– less a glorious victory for Trump than a rejection of his candidacy by a large majority of Americans, a failure of the Trump campaign, hardly a victory.[5]

Or has his staff not let him learn that the roots of the compromise that resulted in Article Ii of the Constitution creating the Electoral College, was the founders’ distrust of grass-roots democracy and later white leaders concerned to hold down freed black voting impact, coupled with the gerrymandering of Republican-led legislatures o distort their states’ votes?[6] Or is Trump simply incapable of acknowledging facts that undermine his claims to have a broad popular mandate in this election?

The argument in defense of the Electoral College, now sometimes made, that it did not affect the outcome in the 2016 election, even though a national popular vote shows Hillary Clinton winning over Donald Trump now by over 2,000,000 votes; if the rules had been to have the popular vote determine the result Trump would have campaigned differently and won anyway. Indeed, Trump may have campaigned differently and gotten a different result; but so would Clinton. There is no reason to believe it would have made more of a difference in the number of voters voting for Trump than the in the number of those voting for Clinton.

Conclusion:

So on the figures, it was Donald Trump who “lost so badly” in the 2016 national election, who often seems not to know what he will do, whose mandate, if he has one, is a negative mandate, a mandate to follow the wishes of the electorate and serve all of the people of the country, not just his friends, ignoring those who disagree with him as “his many enemies.” Susan Douglas lists multiple cases in which opinion surveys clearly reveal the majority differing from Trump on key police issues, speaking of them as an “anti-mandate” to his claims.[7] His true mandate, from the figures, is one to unite and to seek compromises and unity for the good of all Americans, inclusively.

[1]So on the figures, it was Donald Trump who “lost so badly” in the 2016 national election, who often seems not to know what he will do, whose mandate, if he has one, is a negative mandate, a mandate to follow the wishes of the electorate and serve all of the people of the country, not just his friends, ignoring those who disagree with him as “his many enemies.” Susan Douglas lists multiple cases in which opinion surveys clearly reveal the majority differing from Trump on key police issues, speaking of them as an “anti-mandate” to his claims.[7] His true mandate, from the figures, is one to unite and to seek compromises and unity for the good of all Americans, inclusively. > “Trump’s Antii-Mandate,” I These Times, January 2017, p. 8.
[2] The actual figure is “almost 3,000,000”: 65,844,954 – 62,979,879 =2,865,075
(http://uselectionatlas.org/RESULTS/national.php?year=2016).
The actual figure is 231,556,622 (http://www.electproject.org/2016g).
(http://uselectionatlas.org/RESULTS/national.php?year=2016).
[4](62,979,879 / 231,556,622) = 0.2719847891026844
[5] Why for whom they would have voted had they voted must necessarily remain speculation, logic suggests categories:
a. prevented from voting by deliberately restrictive provisions;
b. dissatisfied with all the alternatives , or
c. happy to let the then predicted if mistaken expectations of majorities for Hillary Clinton become effective without needing heir vote .
If a, they would hardly be likely to vote for the Republicans who by and large were behind the increasing voting restrictions ;
if b. believing their inaction would result in the victory of the predicted for Clinton, were satisfied with that second-best non-Trump result ; or
if c. supporting a Trump defeat, believed their votes not necessary to ensure that result.
In any of those cases, non-voting voters were logically more likely Trump critics than supporters
But ignore these speculations, the broad parameters of the argument that Trump has only minority support in the electorate, still stands.
[6] A good summary of the history is at http://www.freep.com/story/opinion/columnists/stephen-henderson/2016/11/19/electoral-college-race-problem/94079504/. For a more extended discussion see: . Perhaps it is now time to rid ourselves of the last constitutional vestige of the peculiar institution: the electoral college.” P. 1155, 1156. Finkelman, Paul, “The Proslavery Origins of the Electoral College” (2002). Cardozo Law Review, Vol. 23, 2002. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1447478. The author concludes: “Over one hundred and thirty-five years ago the United States rid itself of slavery. Perhaps it is now time to rid ourselves of the last constitutional vestige of the peculiar institution: the electoral college.”
[7] “Trump’s Anti-Mandate,” I These Times, January 2017, p. 8.

Blog #91: Explaining the Election in 10 sentences – preliminary


Explaining the election (in parentheses: to pursue):

1. A critical shift in the organization of the economy post 1968, from industrial to hi-tech capitalism (occupational structures?).
2. Leaving many dependent on the old economy hurt and at a loss, largely the white working class, hold-over racism and sexism accentuated as scapegoats. (foreclosures, evictions, bankruptcies, struggling suburban homeowners – not the really poor, homeless)
3. They reacted with anxiety and an emotional attachment to the past Deep Story (their traditional identity?)
4. They blamed, quite rightly, “the” establishment, although not clear as to its membership, pushed by media etc. to blame “government” (social media, TV, not press?)
5. Trump as politician picked up on this, despite his own membership in the new establishment (motivation? pathological egotism? Business).
6. The anxious white ex-working class built up a deep story, a vision, abetted by Trump and the media that was heavily emotional (shaping identities?)
7. That story, built on real anxiety-inducing experience, mis-interpreted history, and built a psychological/ideological barrier that facts and reason could not penetrate (high school or less education?). Trump offered the charismatic fairy tale leader, believe me, trust me, not them, they have failed you (over 30 years? 8. Since Reagan? since Johnson?)
9. Hillary offered no vision that addressed the grounded anxiety (health care costs? Real unemployment levels?).
10. But Trump’s allegiance as a businessman is and always was to the new elite establishment, and he will unify the Republican Party around it. The holdouts will be those with a personal repugnance to Trump’s personal behavior, which they will swallow. (social circles, clienteles, customers, tenants?)

The Blog #90 series will deal with some of these isssues in more detail.

Blog #90b – Trump the Businessman in the New Post-Industrial Economy: The Commodification of Luxury


Blog #90b – Trump the Businessman in the New Post-Industrial Economy:  The Commodification of Luxury

[Last pre-election blog — voting now is critical! More afterwards…]

Major economic and social developments in the Deep Real Economy have underlain Trump’s success as a Businessman. In these developments profit is derived not primarily from within industrial production, as in the classic capitalist pattern, but also in the process of its realization in user consumption.[1] The new commodification of luxury consumption in which Trump specializes, and the financialization which he is adept at manipulating, is then justified by a New Deep Story purveying am account justifying his activities

Paul Krugman, in his column in the New York Times, has written that Donald Trump as businessman symbolizes this new class in its most crass form today.

[Donald Trump] is a pure distillation of his party’s modern essence. He had solid [Republican] establishment support until very late in the game. And his views are …very much in his party’s recent tradition.[2]

True, but over-simplified (never mind that distilling today’s Republican establishment into one essence is a task that party’s establishment itself has not succeeded in doing to date). Rather, I would argue, there is a clear difference between the Party establishment‘s  older base in the older industrially-oriented economy and those in the modern economy that Trump  as businessman reflects, the purported billionaire, real estate mogul, restless entrepreneur, competitor and winner in the world of big business. And there is a pretty clear distinction between what moves those in older establishment positions—political party leadership and candidates for office and their divisions – and those affected by that new economy in which Trump the Businessman flourishes.

And it is further necessary to examine what Donald Trump the Campaigner says and does in campaigning for office, which often seems to reflect a nostalgia for the campaign.[1]

 

Paul Krugman, in his column in the New York Times, has written that Donald Trump as businessman symbolizes this new class in its most crass form today.

[Donald Trump] is a pure distillation of his party’s modern essence. He had solid [Republican] establishment support until very late in the game. And his views are …very much in his party’s recent tradition.[2]

True, but over-simplified (never mind that distilling today’s Republican establishment into one essence is a task that party’s establishment itself has not succeeded in doing to date). Rather, I would argue, there is a clear difference between the Party establishment‘s  older base in the older industrially-oriented economy and those in the modern economy that Trump  as businessman reflects, the purported billionaire, real estate mogul, restless entrepreneur, competitor and winner in the world of big business. And there is a pretty clear distinction between what moves those in older establishment positions—political party leadership and candidates for office and their divisions – and those affected by that new economy in which Trump the Businessman flourishes.

And it is further necessary to examine what Donald Trump the Campaigner says and does in campaigning for office, which often seems to reflect a nostalgia for the good old days, when “America was  Great,” before the insecurities of the modern essence. And the three Trumps are fundamentally out of sync.

So the hypothesis here is that Trump the Businessman does indeed reflect the distilled essence of the modern businessperson in a post-industrial more market-based economy and neo-liberal political society, but that Trump the Campaigner appeals to an audience suffering from the transition from the preceding industrially-based society to its present new form, producing an intrusion of populist rhetoric in a presentation that fundamentally serves his business purposes. Therefore the paradoxical contradiction between Trump the Campaigner and Trump the Businessman, a billionaire leading the downtrodden, the ignored, and the insecure.

****

So what does a modern businessperson like Donald Trump do in a post-industrial economy?

In one word: he commodifies everything in sight, focusing on the desire for luxury among the newly rich, profiting handsomely from the process, seeing the wealthy as the market to be targeted, ignoring the consequences to those of lower income.

What did Trump do before he entered the contest for President? He got his start in real estate, doing some building, but less and less himself, rather buying or financing or marketing or reselling or harvesting governmental  subsidies in the development process. He did not himself “produce” anything much material, in the old sense of industrial production; he rather profited from the production of others, often with a global reach, e.g. steel from China. What he added to the work of others was often simply the use of his Brand, the name Trump, sold as denoting luxury, as a separate item in the development process, an item of value in itself.

There is one word which neatly describes the common underlying approach to all Trump’s activities, including real estate development: commodification.

Commodification is a term generally over-loaded with a pejorative meaning, as intended here, but becoming close to jargon in usage. The sense in which it is used here should be clear and critically important. It is a shifting in the value of a product, a resource, or an activity, from its consideration for the direct benefits of its use to its owner to a consideration of what it could be bought and sold for – the treatment of use values solely as exchange values.

Look at Trump’s activities, successful and unsuccessful[3]. The point is not that there aren’t already real commodities involved, e.g. steaks or villas office chairs or golf courses or buildings, (see the listing below). Nor is the argument that Trump has pioneered a business that is centered on exchange values; all commercial activities do that and always have. Nor is it that there are not use values at the beginnings of the chain of transactions in which he is involved: an apartment in Trump Tower or a golf game in Florida are of real use to their possessors. . It is rather that he has involved himself in these activities solely for their exchange value. In his hands they are transformed into commodities valued for their possibilities of exchange, reflected in prices determined by what buyers would be willing to pay for the thing at any given moment.

Dealing in commodities is of course nothing new; it is the life-blood of all commercial transactions. Treating commodities as commodities is what defines them. What is new, in Trump’s activities as a businessman, is turning things into commodities that historically have not been seen as separable commodities—e.g. marketing a brand as such, permitting it use in exchange for money, instead of as an attribute of a particular object or service to which it is attached. . A steak or a perfume or a chair an airplane ride or a golf course is of no greater use because it carries the label “Trump” than if it did not, but its exchange  value is increased by the brand; the brand itself is a commodity. Some goods or services should not be bought and sold for profit: natural spring water, the ability to walk in a natural landscape, the view of a city out a window. Trump has converted things into commodities, goods, products, services, that were not treated as commodities before, things like education, safety, natural resources, human beauty, human worth — things that should be distributed to those in need of them or where they will do the most good, with distribution socially determined, rather than by ability to pay, in a system still with gross inequalities of income and wealth and power.

Trump is not involved in the production of their underlying   use values. What he has added to them, with his name branding, is a valuable certification of its arcane exchange value in the market for luxury in which that item is bought and sold.  Such items may be treated simply as an investment, in which an owner has no interest in putting to use the item itself, to living in the apartment or playing golf on its greens. . A conspicuous personal use of a branded luxury good may also provide the value of social status, with the possibility of top level business contacts for the buyer before its resale – a “use” of the item, indeed, but stretching the meaning of the word rather far.

What Donald Trump essentially commodifies is luxury, luxury buttressing social status and the representation of power, wealth able to produce further wealth . The New York Times summarized his secret: “Strategy: Sell the Name.”[4] And make the name synonymous with luxury, appealing  to those with wealth and power  and happy to impress others with their possession.

Look at the list of Trump’s “assets,” the term used for things treated as commodities:

According to Forbes, the “Definitive Net Worth of Donald Trump” is $3,700,000,0000 (#3.7 billion) [5]  His assets include (hardly a definitive list, not all successful): [6]

The commodification of recreation:

10 golf clubs in the United States alone worth $206,000,000, including:[7]

Trump International Villas and Golf Club in the Grenadines, membership starting at $1,000,000[8]

Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeen, Scotland,

Trump Tower, Tampa, FL

Trump Atlanta

Trump Ocean Resort, Baja

Trump at Cap Cana, Dominican Republic

Trump National golf club, Washington, DC

Trump National golf club, Philadelphia

ALM/Lawyer Invitational golf tournament

Trump Golf Links, Ferry Point

Trump National Golf Club Philadelphia

Trump National golf club, Jupiter, Florida

Trump National golf club, Colts Neck, New Jersey

Trump National golf club, Charlotte

The commodification of luxury in housing

Trump Towers Pune, India

Trump International Realty

Trump Dubai Tower, United Arab Emirates

Trump on the Ocean

Trump Tower Philadelphia

Trump Tower, Batumi, Georgia

The commodification of education

Trump Institute

Trump University

The commodification of luxury in eating

Trump Steaks

Trump Vodka

DJT restaurant

The commodification of beauty.

Miss Universe

The commodification of excess:

New tower at Trump Taj Mahal

The commodification of communication:

The Trump Network

Trump Magazine

Trump Tycoon

Trump Securities, Llc

The commodification of luxury consumer goods

Trump Home

Trump Office Chairs

The commodification of luxury air travel

Trump Airlines.

And, of course, the pure commodification of ambition, hope, yearning. dreaming

The casinos

Mississippi Casino

Trump Taj Mahal Casino Hotel

Trump Plaza Casino

And commodification of exchange value pure and simple, in the commodification of the Brand Trump itself for use independently of what the use of the object to which it is attached may be:

Brand licensing in Brazil

Brand licensing in India

Trump the businessman has become Trump the billionaire through a process of relentless commodification of a luxury level of goods and services that contribute nothing to advance the social welfare of society. Trump the Political Campaigner completely ignores what Trump the Businessman actually does. And Donald Trump  has been surprisingly little challenged on this in the course of the campaign.[9]

And he has been surprisingly little challenged on this in the course of the campaign.campaign.[1]

[9]A recent story in the New York Times by David Barstow on November 5, 2016, is well worth reading. It is headlined “Thin Line Splits Donald Trump’s Politics and Businesses,” and questions whether Trump is using  “his business  prowess in service of the American people,” and focusses on some of the most egregious examples of self-profiting from his “public” endeavors.
Available at  “http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/06/us/politics/donald-trump-business-tax-records.html

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Blog90c    will examine Trump the Campaigner pursuant to the outline of blog90

[1] David Harvey has recently explicated this argument in these terms.

[2] New York Times , October 10, 2016, p. A21.

[3] Taken largely from the listing at http://www.businessinsider.com/donald-trump-businesses-failures-successes-2016-10/#24-projects-the-times-concluded-didnt-work-out-1

[4] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/07/us/politics/donald-trump-business-deals.html?smid=tw-nytpolitics&smtyp=cur&_r=0

[5] http://www.forbes.com/donald-trump/#1cf7d77e790b. Other estimates put it at $4.5. There is little suppot to his oft repeated claims of being worth over $10 billion. http://time.com/money/4443573/donald-trump-is-worth-4-5-billion/  But what difference does $1 or $2 billion make among  friends? http://time.com/money/4443573/donald-trump-is-worth-4-5-billion/

[6] http://www.forbes.com/sites/jenniferwang/2016/09/28/the-definitive-look-at-donald-trumps-wealth-new/#1a1ce98a7e2d, and    http://www.forbes.com/pictures/glil45ikg/from-manhattan-skyscrape/ contains a suggested  itemization of wht is assets are worth.

[7] http://www.forbes.com/donald-trump/#120c581d790b

[8] http://www.itravelmag.com/travel-articles/donald-trump-real-estate-canouan-island-caribbean-2-06/

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Blog90c    will examine Trump the Campaigner pursuant to the outline of blog #90

 

Blog #90a – The Three Trumps – The Individual, the Businessman, and the Political Campaigner


How do we explain the wide success that Trump has achieved, despite everything that we know about him today?

The argument here is that there are basic lines of division and conflict in society, divisions that have shifted dramatically in the last half century or more from an industrially—based old economy to a high-tech consumption based new economy, profiting some groups at the expense of others, and shifting the lines of division among them (see Blogs #90d and #90e). In reality, Deep down under, those shifts explain how people act politically, including how they vote in elections. Trump has taken advantage of these shifts to promulgate a Deep Story that justifies his own behavior and now underlies his campaign for the presidency. As a businessman, he takes full advantage of the new consumer-based economy while he continues to exploit those in the old economy with whom he has direct business dealings. In his political campaigning, he holds himself out as working for those hurt by the economic change, the loss of industrial jobs, the newer and greater exploitation in the processes of consumption. And as an individual, he claims that his conduct as an individual is an irrelevant and largely malicious topic that should not be related in any way to his activities as a businessman nor his qualifications for the public office for which he campaigns.

So  there are in fact three Trumps: Trump The Individual, Trump the Businessman, and Trump the Political Campaigner, and he keeps the three quite separate so, that their real contradictions do not become painfully obvious, distorting the Deep Story he trumpets on  Twitter, in which his individual characteristics are not relevant politically, his business activities in fact entitle him to public leadership even though they are largely anti-social, and his campaign rhetoric is almost transparently opportunistic

Trump embeds the businessman the campaigner displays in a seductive new Deep Story: the story of a past great America where everyone had job and people knew their places and were happy with them, a Deep Story in which Trump promises as part of a fairy tale to restore a better old world with a sweep of his magical (small?) hand. And many of those hurting from the change from old to new economy, seeing no alternate rescue in sight, buy his new Story, even though, analyzed, it is a jumble of incoherent and little thought out impulsive Twitter feeds..

To look at the Three Trumps one at a time:

To begin with, what sort of person is Trump the Individual? Repulsive, conventionally sexist and racist, with really no self-awareness, ability to see himself as others see him, to the point of obvious excess. That’s Trump, as an individual, an aging bundle of prejudices and jumbled ideas and values, of uncontrollable tics. That’s Trump the Individual. He’s the one who, intrudes on women in the dressing rooms of beauty contestants and gropes them on airplanes and in elevators, insults virtually every minority group in society and one majority group, lambasts war heroes and makes fun of disabilities and displays an egregious egotism and inability to accept criticism.

Perhaps we may also see him for that very reason, as sad, even pathetic, out of control by the forces that control him. And a lot of discussion and theorizing has gone into his psychological make-up, what makes him behave as he does, so often irrationally. Trump the Individual is not, however, the one on whom this article wants to focuses.[1] Rather it is Trump the Businessman who is of concern, the one whose conduct ought theoretically to repel precisely those who proclaim their allegiance to him. He’s the Trump whose actual business policies, writ large, are so much at odds with concepts of social justice

As for Trump the Businessman, the purported billionaire, the real estate mogul, the restless entrepreneur, the competitor and winner in the world of big business, the winner and loser in real life games with large odds, he’s independent of the other two, although he doesn’t fail to have is campaign activities contribute to the income from the various private enterprises n which he has an interest  as a business  matter. And the three Trumps are fundamentally out of sync.

And Trump the Campaigner is of concern even more, the public figure, the candidate for high public office, even trying to imagine what policies he might pursue or endorse as President produces nightmares. . Trump the Individual may have engaged in locker room talk about groping women, but according to Trump the Campaigner he had never, never, never actually done such things. Trump the Campaigner is the one who knows more about military strategy than  the generals, who alone can right the economy, produce jobs, handle Wall Street, deal with Putin. And Trump the Campaigner is not  Trump the Businessman , who exploits his workers, makes money by manipulating banks and credit  institutions extensively uses governmental assistance and  subsidies  in those businesses he actually runs, takes advantage of the bankruptcy laws to avoid paying his creditors when his businesses fail.

What follows is an attempt to go beyond any one of these three views, which deal separately with Trump the Individual, Trump the Campaigner, and Trump the Businessman.  I focus below first on Trump the Businessman with an under-explained pattern of conduct, and then turn to the reality that underlies his business activities and finally to the political implications for Trump the Campaigner of the changes in that reality. I take a key underlying line of division in that reality to be the line that divides a base in the traditional industrial capitalist economy from one based on the new less industrially -based higher-tech market economy.

My hypothesis is that Trump the Businessman represents the distilled essence of the modern businessperson in a post-industrial more market-based economy and neo-liberal political society, and that Trump the Campaigner appeals to an audience suffering from the transition from the preceding industrially-based society to its present new form, producing an intrusion of populist rhetoric in a presentation that fundamentally serves his business purposes in the changing economy. What is happening is essentially a real conflict between those involved in the class conflicts of the old industrial capitalist system as it the have evolved in the new less-industrially based market system. The contradiction between Trump the Campaigner and Trump the Businessman is a widely accepted paradox, that a billionaire should be leading the downtrodden, the ignored, the insecure.

(Whether there is now in fact a “new” class structure in creation, or simply a new aspect of the on-going development and transmogrification of the old capitalist and working classes, is still a matter under serious debate, but  the answer is not critical for the present analysis, at least in the near future. Likewise, whether today’s economy is post-industrial or not is a matter of much dispute, but by-passed here, simply differentiating the old from the new by the terms “industrial capitalist” vs. “market,” accepting the fact that the two are inextricably mixed.)

The election, and the distribution of support for Trump among the electorate, is unfortunately not a good test of the hypothesis, because Trump the Individual features much more prominently in voters’ decision-making than it does in the analysis here. You might think, if the hypothesis above is correct, that Silicon Valley and the hedge fund industry would be strongly pro-Trump as all participants in the new economy, but with minor exceptions they aren’t. Nor should blue-collar working class members be supporting a candidate who has never lifted a finger in his extensive business dealings or as an individual to show any concern for their welfare. But they do support him.

One explanation for this apparent logical discrepancy lies in the image of Trump the Individual and his conduct and rants. It may be that Trump loses support among the college-educated because of the danger they see to the rational conduct of public affairs if he is elected, which may over-ride such other affinities they may have with him as a businessman. Or it may simply be that I, as a college-educated blogger with a real fear of a Trump presidency, simply assume that others similarly situated would be as afraid of a victory by Trump as I am. Or there may be some antipathy for Hillary Clinton, having nothing to do with her actual substantive platform, whose cause lies outside anything discussed here. In any case, election results are not an easy way to test the three-Trump hypothesis.

Neither are the frequently developed analyses of the elections that uses demographic divisions among citizens to predict voting–age, color, gender, generation, education, ethnicity, for example, useful in testing the hypothesis about economic divisions among the electorate. While such divisions are easily analyzed statistically for their level of correlations with voting behavior, some may conceal more fundamental divisions along economic, income, and occupational as well as racial and gender lines.

Demographic categories used statistically, such as millennials, or male and female, or 1% and 99%, or college educated and more and high-school educated or less, are only marginally useful, and their importance needs an explanation if they are to be seriously considered. Categories such as middle class themselves demand explanation if they are to be useful. The prevalence of demographic analysis to explaining political behavior leaves a lot to be desired.

But superficial attributions of cause and effect to demographic changes are only part of the explication of why the Deep Stories that Trump trumpets, described in detail in Blog #90f, have been as effective as they have been in attracting his supporters.

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In what follows, then, we begin first with  Trump the Businessman, then turn to Trump the Campaigner, , and then view how Trump tries to bring the two together in the Deep Story that he assumes will  justify the actions of both.

So what does a modern businessperson like Donald Trump do in a consumer-based post-industrial economy?

See Blog #90b – Trump the Businessman: The Commodification of Every-day Life.

Blog #90 – The Paradox of Trump and his Followers


What follows is a Work in Progress  attempting to explain a quite  apparent paradox: how is it that Donald Trump, a billionaire real estate developer,  whose claim to fame includes popularizing the slogan : “You’re fired!” can  end up leading a right wing populist following that in fact is plagued by the very  activities he as businessman epitomizes? How it is so many people enthusiastically and vociferously support him, in apparent contradiction to their own interests?

The argument here begins by suggesting that Donald Trump is in fact operationally three different persons, three Trumps (perish the thought, if taken literally!), three entities he has struggled to keep separate: Trump the Individual, Trump the Businessman, and Trump the Political Campaigner. His individual psychological characteristics, idiosyncrasies, if not neuroses, have been extensively examined elsewhere, and are not examined here.

As Businessman, Trump’s activities are a combination of conventional exploitation, underpaying workers in the conventional businesses he operates, principally managing real estate, and an entrepreneurial instinct expanding profit-making by commodifying desires for consumption, for luxury activities providing status over and above actual use. He seeks support as a Political Campaigner for his political ambitions as well as for his businesses, by exploiting conventional aspirations for economic security and social safety, both linked to private enterprise and dreams of wealth accumulation.

As Political Campaigner Trump gains support by latching onto what might be called a Deep Story, an emotionally held ideology and set of values that explains, rationalizes, and legitimates how the world works. Such a Deep Story has long existed as to how the industrialized capitalist world works.  Trump has modified that old Story to proclaim a New version counting on the vulnerabilities of voters and popular media to changes in the economies of the world that have frightened masses of ordinary people seeking assurances that the supposed promises of the old Deep Reality, seemingly vanishing, could be restored quickly and easily by his authoritarian rule. He has used promises of “Making America Great Again” to propagate a new right-populism and a New Deep Story appealing to those susceptible to promises of quick and easy solutions to deeply threatening and hard to understand changes.

Major economic and social developments in the Deep Real Economy have underlain Trump’s success as a Businessman. In these developments profit is derived not primarily from industrial  production but also in the process of its realization in user consumption. The commodification of luxury consumption in which Trump specializes, and the financialization which he is adept at manipulating, is then justified by a New Deep Story resting on a widespread popularly accepted account of how the changed reality works.

I hope in the next week to flesh out the argument here in a series of perhaps six blogs, perhaps as follows

This Blog #90 – The Trump Series: The Paradox of Trump and His Followers

  1. Blog #90a – The Three Trumps: Individual, Campaigner, Businessman
  2. Blog #90b -Trump the Businessman: The Commodification of Luxurious Living
  3. Blog #90c – Trump the Campaigner and his Opposition
  4. Blog #90d – The Deep Realities and The Deep Story of Industrial Capitalism
  5. Blog #90e – The New Deep Realities of the New Economy and its New Deep Story
  6. Blog #90f The Philosophic Explanation of the Persuasive Power of the new Deep Story
  7. Blog #90g The Alternative Reactions to the New Deep Reality: Right, Middle, and Left

****   WORK IN PROGRESS   ****

Blog #76 – Donald Trump and Special Interests


Blog #76 – Donald Trump with No Special Interests? An OpEd

The idea that Donald Trump is different from everybody else in Washington because they represent special interests and he doesn’t is hard to reconcile with what we know of him. He started life with a loan of $4,000,000 from a rich father who made his money in real estate, and later gave him a $40,000,000 share of his real estate empire to help keep him doing the same. He owns casinos in Atlantic City and golf courses in Florida and Scotland, invests in hedge funds and hob-nobs with hedge fund managers, flamboyantly displays his abilities to fire people and cut jobs, and puts businesses he runs into bankruptcy when they’re no longer profitable for him. He issues 20,000 tickets to help fill an auditorium that seats 1,400, has dissenters thrown out of the audience because it’s a “private party” and wants their coats confiscated, although he says he loves the First Amendment as much as he loves the Second. He flies around in his private jet. He pays himself an annual salary from his corporations of $60 million a year. One bedroom units in his New York City condo tower sell for $2,250,000. He is worth between $4 billion and $10 billion dollars today, and brags about his wealth constantly. Banks have bailed him out when he needed to defer nearly $1 billion in debt when he was in hot water financially.

Whose interests is he likely to represent?

 

[Published as a Letter to the Editor of the Waterbury Republican and American, January 12, 2016]

More detail and discussion at

Blog 77a – The Real Trump and the Tumpeting Trump

Blog 77b –  Why is Trumpeting Trump so appealling

Blog 77c – Summary on Trump