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.


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.”