Is Trump’s Administration the New Neoliberalism?

With the Trump administration’s focus on surveillance (extreme vetting) and domestic oversight, especially in areas such as education, I’m inclined to see this as neoliberalism 2.0 vs. traditional American conservatism. The reason I feel his administration represents a kind of neoliberalism is because Trump’s voter base—a mostly white America—balked at the thought of non-whites receiving social benefits1. We’ve seen it in all major urban centers, my home town of Detroit no less: when racially identifiable populations (blacks, Hispanics, those from the Global South, etc.) became a bit too optimistic about their access to middle-class amenities, the white electorate intervened. Thomas Sugrue writes,

“whites, through the combined advantages of race and residence, were able to hoard political and economic resources—jobs, public services, education, and other goods—to their own advantage at the expense of the urban [predominantly black] poor ( brackets mine).”

Similarly, Sugrue says,

“cuts in municipal employment threatened Detroit’s precarious black middle class. While city jobs were seldom lucrative, they were stable, offering good health benefits and modest pensions and medical insurance for retirees.”2

This is very similar to the 1970’s and 1980’s when Ronald Reagan (with Margaret Thatcher, and Helmut Koh in Europe) rose to power, fueled by white dissatisfaction in what they perceived to be a “caretaker state”, which had, in their eyes, become far too occupied with affairs of non-whites. Additionally, there are more similarities between Trump and his administration and the neoliberals before him. First is the relation between the state and capitalist enterprises. David Theo Goldberg relates in his article, Racisms without Racism,

“The neoliberal state accordingly has troubled itself with securing private interests from the projected contamination and threat of those deemed for various reasons not to belong, those considered to have little or no social standing, and those whose welfare is calculated to cost too much economically or politically. Call this, by contrast, the traffic-cop state.”3

Given that Trump’s presidency was mostly won on a disenfranchised white electorate, it stands clearer to me to view Trump’s administration as neoliberal. This fits quite well as neoliberal administrations (Reagan to name but one) also seek to establish themselves not only as the administrations of law and order domestically but also “to secure [themselves] from perceived threats from without, almost always racially shaped”4. In the case of the Trump administration, it makes ample use of Islamophobia to, if not racialize Muslims, resurrect Samuel Huntington’s “class of civilizations” political theory, so as to make an “Other” by which his administration can define itself against.

Sources

1. Goldberg, David Theo. “Racisms without Racism.” PMLA 123.5 (2008): 1712-716. JSTOR. Web. 7 Feb. 2017.

2. Sugrue, Thomas J. The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit. Princeton, NJ: Princeton U Press, 1996. Pg., xxxvii. Read the intro here.

3. Goldberg, “Racisms without Racism.”

4. Goldberg, “Racisms without Racism.”

Conflating the Conservative Movement & The Republican Party

I have said several times since the candidacy of Donald Trump seemed a viable option, it would be important for American Muslims—and Americans in general—to understand the difference between these two entities, conservatives and the GOP, both in terms of their structures and objectives.

Lee Edwards, noted conservative author, wrote the following in the winter 2017 edition of National Affairs,

“The modern conservative movement is an intellectual movement founded some 60 years ago on ideas drawn from American history and articulated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Its founders include intellectuals like F. A. Hayek, Russell Kirk, and William F. Buckley, Jr. The Republican Party is a 160-year-old political party dedicated to winning elections often, but not always, based upon ideals of limited government and free enterprise. Its heroes are Abraham Lincoln, Calvin Coolidge, and Ronald Reagan.”

Lee’s distinction is important if American Muslims are going to (a) differentiate between these two so they might (b) find some common ground to understand and potentially work with conservatives. While not a card carrying conservative myself, I can find ample congruence between my Islam and my blackness with some of the writings of Kirk, for example. Liberalism, the counterpart to Lee’s conservative movement, provides a number of structural and objective challenges itself to Muslim morals and ethics that I feel Muslims have not adequately responded to. To go further, given the current climate off anti-Muslim bigotry (amidst a broader proto-fascist bigotry we see developing within Trump’s administration), the Left will most probably court further recruits from amongst American Muslims, further indoctrinating them in totalitarian liberal philosophies that are not simply against their religious principles, but in fact threaten the very continuity of Islam in America due to three primary factors: liberalism (a given), secularism, and scientific atheism.

These reflections here may seem disconcerting, even inappropriate, particularly from the perspective of immigrant Muslims who now feel that they are the targets of the Trump administration. But it is precisely the selective outrage and respectability politics many non-Blackamerican Muslims are currently perpetuating that I want to address. It is in my opinion that the Republican Party, vs. intellectual American conservatives, who are vehemently opposed to Islam and Muslims, for precisely the reasons Lee articulates: bigotry, especially on the white Right, wins elections. That is not to say that there is also not a strain of white supremacy or eurocentrism in the oeuvre of conservative thinkers, but I do feel there is more potential for reaching mutual understanding and recognition on one caveat: American Muslims are successful at de-centering the narrative of Islam from one focused on immigration and foreignness to a genuine commitment to American realities and the future of America’s wellbeing. I believe this can best be done by articulating this re-centering on dealing with two enduring American problems: racism (the legacy and continued impact of white supremacy and American public policy, especially on people of color) and poverty.

With a newfound sense of purpose, American Muslims may actually find allies amongst the conservative movement. I do not pretend that this will be simple or expedient. It will require, first and foremost, an engagement of the American conservative intellectual tradition by American Muslim leaders and scholars. And it will need to impart upon rank-and-file Muslims a sense of bone fide Muslimness as Americans! Like any partnership, if Muslim Prophetic history is to serve as guide, such a cooperation must be based on religious principles that will deliver more than simple accommodation or tolerance: it has to deliver American Muslims a deep and enduring sense of satisfaction in their lives here, for generations to come, and for the Next Life.