Monday, February 6, 2017

Trumponomics, the Working Class and Coup Talk

Today I've got something really special.  I am lucky enough to have gone to high school with Jonah Lamb, a journalist for the San Francisco Examiner.  He weighed in with some in-depth analysis of all the coup talk of late.  His analysis is quite thoughtful, clear, and thorough, and I quote it in its entirety below!

First though, I want to talk about a strike brewing in upstate New York that may prove to be a sort of litmus test for the Trump presidency vis-a-vis organized labor, and also a Goldman Sachs internal report on likely infrastructure spending and tax cuts under the Trump administration, which is of note because Donald Trump has surrounded himself by so many Goldman personnel at a high level.

First of all, the story of the strike at Momentive Performance Materials in Waterford, NY is fairly easy to summarize.  The plant was taken over by a private equity group, Blackstone, which has been demanding "givebacks" by the employees to make the plant profitable.  (A giveback is defined as something like "an agreement by workers to surrender benefits and conditions previously agreed upon in return for new concessions or awards" in case you are confused.)  Workers at Momentive have previously acceded to givebacks, specifically wage cuts, so what's being demanded now are further givebacks.  The union (IUE-CWA locals 81359 and 81380) has had enough and has gone on strike.

Many of the striking workers come from the "WWC" (White Working Class) bloc of voters who put Donald Trump into the White House, even if he didn't carry New York State per se.  Donald Trump is chummy chummy with Steve Schwarzman of Blackstone, which actually no longer owns a stake in Momentive, but was previously involved, and certainly has a relationship with the current company with a majority stake in Momentive, Apollo Management.

The striking workers want President Trump to use his considerable (as he did with Carrier and Boeing and so forth) to put the kibosh on the givebacks.  The question is: will he?  It's a situation that bears monitoring because it is a classic showdown between private equity and organized labor.  Whether or not it's fair to target Schwarzman, who is no longer involved in Momentive, he's being targeted (protesters are being bused to his Park Avenue apartment this week), and he appears to have the President's ear.  What will he whisper in it?  We'll find out!

Secondly, the Goldman Sachs report!  Let's remember that the Trump administration is stacked to the gills with Goldman alumni.  To report draws two major conclusions:

First: Goldman thinks that Trump, having moved so aggressively on the Muslim Ban, the Wall, etc., right out of the gate, has squandered any possible good will that might have been used to strike a deal with Senate Democrats on a big infrastructure plan.  They see the likely sum of a Trump infrastructure plan not as a whopping $1 trillion, which is the number commonly floated, but a meager $25 billion a year!  Whoa Nelly!  That does not sound like Making America Great Again to me. 

Second: Goldman also doesn't think tax breaks are on the board for 2017!  That's really something given that the GOP controls the Congress and the Presidency.  You can't get some tax cuts passed!?? Still, apparently everyone's in such a hoopla over Obamacare repeal that it's looking like even tax cuts will have to be tabled until next year.

Just 'cause Goldman says that's how things are going to play out does not make it so, of course, but they're as close as any group of experts can be to the workings of the Trump administration, so their report is nothing to sneeze at.  I personally hold out hope that Donald Trump really will deliver in a big way infrastructure-wise.  But I'm not sure I'd put money on that proposition.

With all my rambling done for the day, let's have Jonah Lamb on the coup!  Take it away, Jonah!
Here are my musings on online chatter about a coup d'etat. It is in part a reaction to my friend James Call and his thoughts on the same. This is simply a thought exercise not in anyway advocation. 

Some thoughts on the feasibility, nature and form a coup de etat might take in the United States. 

First, let's address a misconception that I believe many people have in regards to whom such a coup would over throw. Coups, revolutions and the like are always aimed at taking power away from those wielding it. In the case of this scenario that is the elected government. 

No government that is in power attempts a coup against itself. Why? It already holds all the levers of power and is best positioned to use them to dismantle, say, democratic governmental norms. Hitler's election and then legal wielding of emergency powers after the Reichstag's destruction, supposedly at the hands of a Communist, is a perfect case in point. Call it a coup if you want, but the scenario was not the overthrow of a government, per se, it was the consolidation of rule by someone who already had power. Recall, Nazi Germany had laws. They were just unjust laws. 

Now let's address the subject directly. 

First, it's worth discussing the many forms a coup can take. For instance, there is the classic military take over of civilian government: look to Thailand in 2010. Typically such moves are meant to calm civil discord and are followed at some point by a managed return to civilian governance. 

Other such coups, like Chile in 1973, led to decades of right wing military rule followed by a very curtailed democratic order that was highly shaped by its military predecessor. 

There are also a kind of constitutional coup that contain the threat of military intervention such as Britain in the mid '70s when right wing elements in the U.K. forced the resignation of leftist PM Harold Wilson. 

There is also what I'll call the purge coup. In this case I'll use the Spanish Republic as an example. That Republic, which was itself fighting a failed military coup-turned civil war, had a violent internal struggle which resulted in communist minority killing, arresting and purging leftist opponents from the government. 

Then, in the perhaps most common move, we have coups against coups such as you see in many unstable African countries: One general replaces the next. 

Then there is the failed or Ill planned coup, called a putsch; aka a rebellion that had little chance of success. A few examples: a segment of the French army's failed military takeover of 1963, the 1919 failed leftist take over of Germany, even -depending on your opinion- the recent actions in Turkey. 

All of these examples are mostly here so we don't conflate a coup d'etat with other radical political shifts such as revolutions, counter revolutions, and reactionary dictatorships that take power from already authoritarian government: think Stalin's purges. 

Now back to the scenario at hand. 

I do not believe that the geographical size, federated nature of governance or constitutional order and its protections in the U.S. -which are already under threat- preclude such a thing from occurring here. 

Most coups historically are not occupations of whole countries or even mass violent operations. Usually a contingent of the military, with enough fire power and influence, can get the job done. Most often, in failed and successful coups, the majority of the military stands on the sidelines and waits to see what happens. 

Usually, it works like this: Arrest the president and the cabinet --and as many opposition law makers as possible-- then occupy key levers of communication, administrative and military power and intelligence facilities. All of this could perhaps be achieved by a relatively small force in Washington D.C. 

Recall that the failed coup in Turkey was led by a fraction of the armed forces and probably failed because their attempts to locate and kill or capture Erdogan failed. That meant security services loyal to him kept on fighting instead of giving up, which I think was far more likely if he'd been captured or killed. By remaining at large, and broadcasting across social media that he was free, he gave his supports reason to keep fighting.

The more important key to successful coups I think is physiological. The acting party must convince enough of the populace, but more importantly, the other state security entities, that the government's fall is inevitable. 

Still, even if that is a success in the capital, the likelihood of such a scenario would be some sort of civil war, a common result of coups. 

All of this leaves out an important factor: military culture. In Turkey and other nations --think Egypt-- the military has been and sees itself as a kind of protector of the secular order. When that order is threatened, such as when the Muslim Brotherhood was elected in Egypt, the military stepped in and was seen as legitimate by many. 

But in the United States there is no history of military take over, although a lot of military rule or governance in the West and during and after the civil war. Still, this history is part of a proud tradition inside the armed forces and may perhaps be the most important bar to a coup. 

Still, one scenario might be a totally insane war --maybe the attempted use of nukes-- that would itself endanger the country. Since the military is sworn to protect the republic from all enemies, foreign and domestic, such a crazed order might push some in the military the take the last action any could imagine: overthrow an elected government. 

No matter it's form, a coup that overthrows even a dangerous and partly unpopular leader would leave our republic in a damaged and precarious state far more so than we already find ourselves in.

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