By Sam Husseini / Substack
Two years after he lost the presidency, Trump continues to dominate much discussion in the US, yet the meaning of Trump’s time as president is still poorly understood by many across the political spectrum.
There are several layers to it, but at his core, Trump was the opposable thumb of the establishment. He pretended to be against it, effectively logrolling with CNN, but effectively helped it grab more. Trump, a creation of Big Media, posed as a great critic of it.
This took place during his presidency, see below, but it is taking place now in a different form. His railing against Big Tech likely makes many more trusting of Big Tech. He can raise a legitimate concern, but in a manner and with a background that is ironically functional.
The Hunter Biden laptop story is small compared to other major stories, but its suppression just before the election seems a reasonable concern. And it should be a real issue that Big Tech can skew information just before the public votes. To not deal with this seriously is to ask for perpetual October Surprise scandals and Wag the Dog scenarios. Trump talking about overriding the Constitution seems at best a counter-productive way of dealing with the issue — effectively securing the position of the establishment. Thus, even when legitimate issues are raised, Trump’s problematic manner actually facilitates the establishment narrative.
During his administration, Trump’s utility for the establishment was clear in terms of personnel. While Trump promised “America First” — he elevated some of the most notorious interventionists including Mike Pompeo, John Bolton and Elliott Abrams.
He posed as critical of NATO, calling it “obsolete” and “as bad as NAFTA” — but all the noise around that had the net effect not of the US leaving NATO and ending it, but quite the opposite. It resulted in getting European countries to spend more money on NATO, effectively making the military alliance more powerful.
Trump did things for the US establishment that no conventional president could have. He got out of various treaties the establishment wanted to get out of, but how? Trump, that’s how. He ditched the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and other arms control treaties; the Iran Deal — Biden seems in no rush to get back into. Trump actually facilitates maximalist US establishment designs as position of negotiating leverage; a sort of variation on Nixon’s “Madman” theory. The establishment long wanted to move the US embassy to Jerusalem and recognize Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights. It seemed an untenable thing for a president to do — until Trump. Presto.
And Trump benefited the establishment by effectively “Trumpwashing” a host of former Bush administration and other officials. And institutions such as the CIA and policies and laws like the Espionage Act and Continuity of Government — an actual plan to suspend the Constitution. If Trump isn’t a psyop, he should be.
When he ran in 2015-2016, he was wildly contradictory but posed as a critic of endless wars, a critic of Wall Street hedge fund managers, a defender of Wikileaks, as someone who recognized that US policy had been pro-Israel.
Trump may be a leader in this, but he’s not alone. Now, Elon Musk is playing a similar role. He’s a virtual Donald Trump — promising Free Speech but delivering more shadowbanning and explicit controls.
Trump took disgust with the establishment, largely from the right, and then worked to actually incorporate that base into the establishment.
This should seem familiar. It’s pretty much what Obama did to the left. He took the antiestablishment left and incorporated it back into the establishment by promising “Hope and Change” and delivering for war and Wall Street.
Figures like Trump and Obama promise they will help you but invariably, it’s you who ends up helping them. It gives new meaning to commodifying dissent. They commodify your dissent.
Of course their tactics were different: While Obama was like jello, even slicker than Bill Clinton and lawyerly, difficult to pin down; Trump was like an electron, capable of taking position X and not X in a matter of seconds.
The current characterization of Trump as a fringe figure may be useful for the establishment as they can help characterize him as well outside of it, to memoryhole the many ways that he served the establishment when he had actual power. This may simply be the latest chapter in his service to it.