President Trump & the Establishment (Part 1)
Is The Donald Really An ‘Outsider’?
By Will Banyan, Copyright © 11 January 2017
“Hillary’s an insider fighting only for herself and her special interests. I’m an outsider. I’ve become an outsider fighting for you. I’m not a politician.”Donald J. Trump, November 6, 2016, Speech at Sioux City, Iowa
Among the millions of Americans, not to mention other interested parties worldwide, who were completely stunned by the result of the 2016 US Presidential Election on November 8, was the victorious candidate himself, real estate mogul, former reality TV star, alleged serial groper of women, currently presidential-elect and shortly to be President, Donald J. Trump. According to his advisers, “Trump was shocked when he won the election” (New York Times, Nov. 11, 2016), his victory over Hillary Clinton “caught him by surprise” as he had believed private polling that he was “headed for defeat.” Instead of elation, Trump was reportedly “startled” by the news, and then “subdued” as he “turned to the enormous task of assembling government” (New York Times, Nov. 9, 2016). Trump’s grim mood was more apparent when he visited President Obama on Thursday (Nov. 10) at the White House prompting some observers to interpret his demeanour as “absolutely terrified”, “shocked and more somber”, and “almost chastened.” A body language expert told the Daily Mail (Nov. 10, 2016), Trump looked “serious and showed indications he heard information that made him fearful.”
Away from the White House, and in front of the cameras for “60 Minutes”, Trump regained his triumphant composure declaring he was “not scared” by the onerous job he was about to assume. In a lengthy meeting with a group of editors and journalists from the New York Times, Trump said that despite being “awed by the job, as anybody would be” he was feeling quite “comfortable.” Other journalists, reporting on their private meeting with Trump, noted that he remained “the same kind of blustering, bluffing blowhard as he was during the campaign.” Of course, having defeated Clinton in the Electoral College (but not the popular vote, where he trails Clinton by some 2.9 million votes), after a particularly noxious campaign where he had been repeatedly vilified by the mainstream media as an abhorrent, dishonest, authoritarian bigot and demagogue who was unfit for office, Trump had every reason to feel comfortable.
In fact Trump’s victory has been portrayed by many commentators and mainstream media outlets as defeat for the US power-elite. It was: “a shock to America’s bipartisan establishment” (Michael Lind); “an unmistakable rejection of a political establishment and an economic system that simply isn’t working for most people” (Jeremy Corbyn); “a humiliating rebuke to America’s political establishment” (Chicago Tribune); “a punch in the face of the cultural elite, the Washington insiders and Wall Street, too” (New York Post, Nov.9, 2016); and an “another sign that the dominant divide in the world is no longer left versus right but national versus global, working class versus elite, populist versus establishment” (Wall Street Journal, Nov. 9, 2016). While those aggrieved by Clinton’s loss have sought to portray most if not all Trump voters as white racists, other commentators have acknowledged that Trump successfully appealed to those voters who had been left behind by the “donor class agenda” of “liberal cosmopolitanism.” This was an agenda devoted to:
more pro-corporate transnational regulatory harmonization agreements (“trade agreements”), more legal immigration plus toleration of mass illegal immigration, and “entitlement reform,” defined as cutting the Social Security and Medicaid benefits of middle-class retirees, rather than raising taxes on the rich (Lind).
Not surprisingly, Trump’s victory has been celebrated by those who believe there is a conspiracy by the power-elite to build a “New World Order” or “One World Government.” John McManus, for example, the president emeritus of the John Birch Society hailed Trump for having beaten “the odds”. McManus credited Trump with defeating “the Establishment” and the “planners who intend to create a one-world government run by themselves” (The New American, Nov. 15, 2016). During his marathon election podcast, Infowars’ Alex Jones reportedly declared Trump’s victory was “better ecstasy than bagging the prom queen”, that his “life’s purpose had been completed” and that finally, he had “won.” The American Free Press hailed Trump’s triumph as a “major step in the right direction for nationalists and populists who care about the future of America…” The Illuminati Watchdog claimed Trump’s election was a “repudiation of the Illuminati’s One World agenda.”
But this enthusiasm for Trump was neither unanimous nor unqualified. McManus, for example, caveated his praise for Trump thusly: “Assuming, of course, that he is truly anti-Establishment”. As did the American Free Press: “Assuming Trump sticks to his campaign promises…” Others, who had been sceptical about Trump from the beginning, remained unconvinced. David Icke, for instance, declared in a podcast from Estonia: “I think that Trump will be a disaster. And I think that those who have put their faith in Trump are going to be deeply disappointed with what happens during his time in the White House.” Moreover, Icke added, “I don’t think for a second that Donald Trump is an outsider…” The anti-Semitic blogger Aangirfan, who had earlier dismissed Trump as “not what he seems”, accusing him of “conning people” and “pretend[ing] to be anti-establishment”, claimed that Trump was backed by “an alliance of certain Zionist Gays, Zionist Likudniks, Zionist Nazis and Zionist members of the Deep State…” This “Kosher Nostra”, he alleged, had “rigged the voting machines” to ensure a Trump victory; Trump’s only aim was to “make the rich richer”
Driving this wariness amongst those presumed to be his most reliable supporters, is the not unfounded suspicion that Trump, a billionaire property developer (with a net worth of US$3.7 billion according to Forbes most recent estimate) who once funded his opponent’s Senate campaign and donated $100,000 to the Clinton Foundation, is no “outsider” but in actual fact, a secret insider. Though neither a member nor a participant of the Bohemian Grove, Bilderberg Group, Trilateral Commission, Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), or any other US-based, transatlantic or global policy-planning forums or think-tanks, Trump’s key backers include a lot of people who are. And contrary to the anti-insider rhetoric of his campaign, both his transition team and proposed cabinet picks are dominated by people who are not only mostly millionaires and billionaires, but also are technically “insiders”.
This is, of course, all very much at odds with the image Trump created of himself during the campaign as a true “outsider” determined to protect those left behind by globalization, and the virulent reaction of the Establishment, which portrayed him in turn as a vile usurper of the political order and a threat to international peace. A closer look at Trump’s relationship with the Establishment suggests a complex situation where even an erratic and opportunistic billionaire cannot truly escape the network of “globalists” and “Washington insiders” that he claims to be running against. As his presidency approaches, it seems more likely that Trump will be little more the leader of a new elite faction that seeks to temporarily wind back the globalization agenda – whilst protecting the interests of the 1% to which he belongs – rather than being a true agent of change.
Old Wine in New Bottles?
This skepticism about Trump’s anti-Establishment credentials is well-founded in US political history. The spectacle of the elite “Insider” cynically styling themselves as an “Outsider”, in order to win the US presidency is not without precedent, and has been a fairly common electoral tactic since the 1960s. President Richard Nixon was arguably the most successful at this game, painting himself as the champion of the “Silent Majority” against both college student anti-war demonstrators and the “Eastern Liberal Establishment.” Though not born into the power-elite, nor an early beneficiary of its privileges, such as an Ivy League college education, Nixon’s relationship with the US ruling classes was more complicated than he was prepared to admit. While he clearly was not a favourite of the Eastern Establishment (and was deeply antagonistic towards the Rockefellers) he did receive the fulsome material support of the so-called Sun-Belt or “Cowboy” elite of the Southern, Mid-Western and West Coast states, from Texas through to his home-state of California.
Nixon was never invited to Bilderberg, and only briefly a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, but he was a frequent participant at the Bohemian Grove where he was able to mingle with “some of the most important and influential men…from across the country” (Nixon, Memoirs, p.284). It was through his access to these networks, most of it carefully hidden by Nixon to sustain his self-made image, which proved critical in supporting his remarkable political career, where he rose from a freshman Congressman to become Vice-President of the United States within six years, and then, after a period in the political wilderness in the 1960s, return to the White House as President in 1969.
Nixon obliquely acknowledged this fact in his Memoirs, noting that he had come to the White House “as a Washington insider, but with an outsider’s prejudices” (ibid, p.351). He also came loyal to the Sun-Belt Establishment, instructing his Cabinet members to broaden their staff recruitment beyond the “Eastern schools and companies” and to instead “get new blood from the South, the West and the Midwest” (ibid, p.352). Despite the regional loyalty that drove his apparent hostility towards the Eastern Establishment, Nixon still recruited from it, most evident in the pick for National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger, a Harvard professor, a prolific CFR member and foreign policy advisor to Nelson Rockefeller. As noted by author Evan Thomas, Nixon also “tapped William Rogers, a Wall Street lawyer, as secretary of state and Elliot Richardson, a Boston Brahmin, as secretary of defense.”
Similar sentiments have been expressed by other presidents and their advisors. During Jimmy Carter’s campaign in 1976, for example, his campaign manager Hamilton Jordan in what was intended to signal Carter’s repudiation of the Establishment, accurately predicted their roles: “If, after the inauguration, you find a Cy Vance as secretary of state and Zbigniew Brzezinski as head of national security, then I would say we failed. And I’d quit.” Jordan did not quit. And Vance and Brzezinski, who had first engaged with Carter directly through David Rockefeller’s Trilateral Commission, were appointed exactly as predicted.
In the late 1970s, Ronald Reagan, another Bohemian Grove regular, distributed anti-Trilateral Commission propaganda (Reagan: A Life in Letters, p.783) and in 1980 his primary campaign painted Republican rival George Bush Sr as a Trilateral Commission supplicant, and subsequently attacked Carter as a Trilateralist. “…I know about the Eastern Establishment and the Trilateral Commission, and I am not about to be taken over by them”, Reagan assured one concerned voter in 1980 (ibid, p.250). Yet his campaign manager and future CIA Director, William Casey, belonged to both the Trilateral Commission and the CFR; the previously maligned Bush became his Vice-President; and in 1984 Reagan hosted a reception for the Trilateral Commission at the White House.
More recently, President Obama has sought to burnish his own anti-Establishment credentials. In a lengthy interview in The Atlantic Monthly (April 2016), Obama told journalist Jeffrey Goldberg that he “secretly disdains” the “foreign policy establishment” and its apparent “fetish” for “credibility purchased with force.” Obama went on record to criticise the “playbook that comes out of the foreign policy establishment” that prescribes “militarized responses” to a range of contingencies. A month later Obama’s deputy national security advisor, Ben Rhodes, the subject of a feature article in New York Times Magazine (May 08, 2016), took issue with the “Blob”, his name for the “foreign policy establishment”, which he associated with those “Iraq-war promoters from both parties…”
Yet in practice Obama was making decisions that barely deviated from the consensus emerging from that milieu of mostly Washington DC based think-tanks, consultants, columnists, academics and former officials who make up the Establishment. Moreover, Obama, who received a great deal of financial support from Wall Street in 2008, actually made very few appointments outside of the Establishment, evident in the resumes of his Secretaries of State (Clinton and Kerry) and Defense (Gates, Panetta, Hagel and Carter). In the case of Rhodes, as documented by Eli Lake in Bloomberg (May 06, 2016), his path to the Obama Administration was through that same “Blob” he now derided: starting with the Woodrow Wilson Center; then as an aide to Lee Hamilton, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee; and then working for Hamilton and former Secretary of State James Baker III on the Iraq Study Group, which was “not an independent challenge to the foreign policy establishment…it was the establishment’s reaction to the Iraq War.”
The Triumph of the ‘Outsider’
Perhaps to a greater extent than any major party US presidential candidate since Senator Barry Goldwater’s failed run against the deeply corrupt President Johnson in 1964, Trump positioned himself in opposition to Wall Street, the Washington DC political class and the broader Establishment. In his speech on June 15, 2015, announcing his candidacy, Trump claimed most politicians were beholden to corporate interests:
“They will never make America great again…They’re controlled fully — they’re controlled fully by the lobbyists, by the donors, and by the special interests, fully.”
Trump memorably revisited this during the first Republican primary debate in August 2015, where he cited his own role in buying politicians as evidence of a corrupt system:
“I will tell you that our system is broken. I gave to many people before this — before two months ago I was a businessman. I give to everybody. When they call, I give. And you know what, when I need something from them two years later, three years later, I call them. They are there for me. That’s a broken system.”
In subsequent campaign rallies Trump repeatedly presented himself as an opponent of the “financial elite”, “Washington insiders”, “media-donor-political complex”, and “global special interests” who had “bled this country dry”, and led the US “from one financial and foreign policy disaster after another.” Unlike Clinton or his Republican rivals Trump claimed that he alone had rejected the “globalism” of the “leadership class.” “This election”, Trump declared in Florida, “will determine whether we are a free nation or whether we have only the illusion of democracy, but are in fact controlled by a small handful of global special interests rigging the system…” Speaking in Gettysburg, Trump vowed to “clean up the corruption and special interest collusion in Washington DC”, and to “protect American workers” by renegotiating NAFTA and withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Trump positioned himself as the only opponent of the “Washington Insiders”:
I am running against the Washington insiders, just like I did in the Republican Primaries. These are the people that have made U.S. a mess!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 9, 2016
As for his opponent, former First Lady, former Senator and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Trump constantly attacked her as a mere “puppet” of “big business, elite media and major donors.” She was, he insisted in other speeches, “an insider, supported by powerful insiders, attacking Americans who have no political power”, a “voice for Wall Street, for hedge fund managers, for the top tenth of the one percent”; in fact, claimed Trump, “She is the corrupt establishment.” In his incendiary address at Palm Beach, Florida, Trump accused Clinton of being “at the center” of a “global power structure” that has “robbed our working class, stripped our country of its wealth and put that money into the pockets of a handful of large corporations and political entities.” Hillary Clinton, he claimed,
“meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty in order to enrich these global financial powers, her special interest friends and her donors.”
It was a controversial allegation that he repeated on Twitter:
"@HillaryClinton meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty in order to enrich" her donors. – DJT
— Official Team Trump (@TeamTrump) October 13, 2016
Trump’s anti-Establishment campaign was in turn, clearly bolstered by the vociferous reaction of the political and media elite. He was consistently and loudly vilified and denigrated by various media commentators, public intellectuals, and political opponents as a dangerous, narcissistic, ignorant and deeply bigoted dilettante whose very existence jeopardized all that is decent. Trump was accused of being a vandal who had “broken” the “guardrails of democracy” by disregarding the political norms of tone, trustworthiness, knowledge of public affairs, ideology, national security and tolerance (Frum). Numerous political heavyweights and commentators lined up to condemn Trump as a “demagogue”; but not a run-of-the mill demagogue, he was: “dishonest” (Meg Whitman); “dangerous” (Michael Bloomberg); “racist” (Daily Beast); “incoherent” (Joe Klein); and the “homegrown” sort who “threatens our values” (Obama). In October New York Times columnist Roger Cohen gave thanks the election was barely a month away:
because we are running out of words to describe [Trump]: this phony, this liar, this blowhard, this cheat, this bully, this misogynist, this demagogue, this predator, this bigot, this bore, this egomaniac, this racist, this sexist, this sociopath. I will not go on. It’s pointless. Everyone knows, not least his supporters (New York Times, Oct. 11, 2016)
In the mainstream press, it became routine to denounce Trump as a “dangerous buffoon” (National Review); a “vulgar reality TV star” (CNBC) (or for good measure that “bigoted, sexist, xenophobic, vulgar capitalist reality star” – New York Daily News); “dangerously insane” (Washington Post); and “consistently barbaric and such a prolific liar” (New York Times). Trump was also: “the worst presidential candidate in recent history” (Daily Beast); “the most dangerous major candidate for president in memory” (Vox); “an open and committed enemy of liberal democracy” (The New Yorker); a “mean, scary and hurtful person” (Washington Post); a “dangerous demagogue with a dictatorial streak” and a “mentally unstable man-child with literally no redeeming qualities” (Daily Beast). Trump’s highly erratic campaign also caused some observers to question his mental health; to ask in all seriousness if the Republican candidate was “plain crazy.”
Also unprecedented was that Trump’s opponents openly questioned his fitness for office: Trump, we were told, was “temperamentally unfit” (Clinton) and “woefully unprepared” for the job (Obama); in fact his “clumsy deceptions [and] toxic leadership style” should “be disqualifying” (Gerson). The New Yorker denounced Trump as “manifestly unqualified and unfit for office”; according to The Atlantic he “might be the most ostentatiously unqualified major-party candidate in the 227-year history of the American presidency.” It was a growing chorus: Trump was undeniably “unfit for office” (Richard Branson), “unfit for the presidency” (USA Today); “unfit to serve as president” (National Review agreeing with Obama); and “uniquely unqualified” (Obama). In an 11th-hour plea to voters in North Carolina on the eve of the election, President Obama claimed “the fate the republic rests on your shoulders. The fate of the world is teetering.”
Back in January, 2016, the National Review, long a bastion of US conservative politics, devoted an entire issue to attacking Trump. The editors denounced him as a “philosophically unmoored political opportunist who would trash the broad conservative ideological consensus within the GOP in favor of a free-floating populism with strong-man overtones.” Among the progressive media, Trump supporters were gleefully derided and denigrated as “ignorant and bigoted”, “stupid”, “idiots”, “rabble” and “wilfully ignorant”, who deserve to be shamed, if not denied a voice in the democratic process. Far more common was the label of “fascist” applied to Trump by commentators of various political persuasions, all clearly horrified at Trump’s success and the apparent atavism of his supporters. Some analysis, presented by professional historians (and less seriously by Glenn Beck) claim to find parallels between Trump and the authoritarian demagoguery of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.
Outside of this media frenzy – one that belied the claims of some diehard Clinton supporters that she had been subject to “personal invective and political disinformation….unmatched by anything in recent memory” – there were other well-publicized indicators throughout the campaign that suggested Trump was indeed the “outsider” he claimed to be:
- Clinton received more support from the corporate sector than did Trump. For example, none of the CEOs in the Fortune 100 companies supported Trump, compared to 11 supporting Clinton, and nearly a third supporting Mitt Romney back in 2012. In September, Bloomberg reported that Clinton was outraising Trump 20-to-1 in terms of financial support from billionaires; collecting $20 million from 20 donors compared to just $1 million collected by Trump from 12 donors.
- In March 2016, at that year’s American Enterprise Institute’s off-the-record World Forum, held on the private resort of Sea Island, Georgia, the “main topic” for the group of “billionaires, tech CEOs and top members of the Republican establishment” meeting there was “How to stop…Donald Trump.” According to one of the attendees, neo-conservative gadfly William Kristol, the Forum was haunted by “the spectre of Donald Trump” and there were “many expressions of hope that he would be defeated”, though no actual plans were made (Huffington Post, 20, 2016).
- Charles and David Koch, the billionaire brothers who had used their vast fortunes to manipulate the US political landscape (see Jane Mayer’s Dark Money for more detail) also declined to provide financial support to Trump’s campaign. Charles Koch told Fortune ( 12, 2016) that the choice between Trump and Clinton was like voting for “cancer or heart attack”; he and his brother only saw “two people” they were “not supporting.” He also told ABC News (Apr. 24, 2016) that Trump’s proposal to register Muslims was “monstrous” and “reminiscent of Nazi Germany.”
- There was also little support for Trump at the 2016 annual get together of the power-elite at the Bohemian Grove, according to emails hacked from the account of former Secretary of State Colin Powell (see DCLeaks website). On July 24, 2016, for example, Powell told a Canadian contact that “Grove attendees know that Trump is a disaster” and that “[m]ost will vote against [him]. He told another contact on July 27, 2016 that there were “Few vocal Trumpers” at the Grove; in fact, “N[ew] Y[ork] C[ity] finance guys hate him. Wouldn’t lend him money. He cheats and then sues.”
- In March 2016, the War on the Rocks website published an “Open Letter” signed by 122 mostly Republican national security specialists who affirmed they were “united in our opposition to a Donald Trump presidency.” As president, they argued, Trump would “use the authority of his office to act in ways that make America less safe, and which would diminish our standing in the world.”
- In July some 270 people, many of them security specialists, signed an open letter drafted by Ali Wyne a Nonresident Fellow at the Atlantic Council and a Security Fellow at the Truman National Security Project. Wyne’s letter took issue with Trump’s advocacy of a “de facto U.S. withdrawal from the liberal world order” and his “predisposition to strategic recklessness.”
- Then in August, fifty Republican national security officials, most of whom had served under George W. Bush, were signatories to a letter declaring none would vote for Trump whom they regarded as “not qualified to be President and Commander-in-Chief.” In fact they were “convinced that he would be a dangerous president and would put at risk [America’s] national security and well-being.”
- On October 9, 2016, the editors of Foreign Policy magazine broke its long-standing practice of not taking sides during an election and endorsed Clinton over Trump. Citing Trump’s “inexperience, his perverse policy views, and profound unsuitability of his temperament for the office he seeks”, they considered it “shocking” that he was even the candidate. Trump displayed an “ignorance of the most basic facts of international affairs” and a “complete disregard for America’s most important values”, putting at risk “our way of life, our freedoms, and our alliances.” Trump, they averred “is the worst major-party candidate this republic has ever produced.”
- Of the still-living Republican Secretaries of State, not one openly supported Trump. Henry Kissinger and George Shultz issued a joint statement declining to endorse either candidate instead reaffirming their commitment to “fostering a bipartisan foreign policy” (Kissinger later admitted he “thought Hillary would win”). Following the Access Hollywood scandal, Condoleezza Rice wrote on Facebook that “Trump should not be President” and “should withdraw.” Colin Powell, whose emails describing Trump as “nuts”, a “national disgrace and international pariah” had already been leaked, publicly endorsed Clinton, rejecting Trump as “unqualified.”
- Out of the 100 largest circulation newspapers in the US, the editorial boards of just two – the Las Vegas-Review Journal and the Florida Times-Union – endorsed Trump, while 57 backed Clinton. Four newspapers also advised against voting for Trump, but not endorsing Clinton (The Hill, Nov. 06, 2016). The main Establishment papers, the Washington Post and the New York Times both endorsed Clinton and damned Trump as a “danger to the nation and the world” (Post) and a “man more consumed with himself than the nation’s wellbeing” (Times).
- Throughout the campaign, particularly in 2016, various allegations were made through the mainstream media that Trump was secretly colluding with the Russians, and was receiving support from Russian intelligence in the form of hacked emails from the Clinton campaign and “fake news.”
Trump’s seeming estrangement from the Establishment did not go unnoticed. Soon after the election Henry Kissinger opined on CNN that:
“This president-elect is the most unique that I have experienced in one respect. No baggage. He has no obligation to any particular group because he has become a president on the basis of his own strategy and a program he put before the American public that his competitors did not present. So that is a unique situation” [emphasis added].
In the midst of his lament about Trump’s victory, Rolling Stone journalist Matt Taibbi also acknowledged that Trump:
enters the White House as a lone wrecking ball of conspiratorial ideas, a one-man movement unto himself who owes almost nothing to traditional Republicans and can be expected to be anything but a figurehead (Rolling Stone, Nov. 10, 2016; emphasis added)
It is a compelling narrative, one that certainly helped to propel Trump into the White House, but the truth is a more complex matter. As we shall see in Part Two, even amongst his supposedly natural constituency of conspiracy theorists, doubts about Trump’s anti-globalist and anti-elite credentials were widespread. Moreover, as the transition process has brought into sharp relief, the Cabinet he has assembled suggests that elite factionalism rather than anti-elitism has been the real driving force behind his campaign. At the same time, consistent with his role as an elite insurgent, representing his own faction, Trump has continued to be targeted by the so-called “Deep State” in a campaign to discredit him as a Russian stooge.
To be continued in Part Two.