As some wag recently tweeted after the recent presidential election, orange is the new black: the buffoonish Trump will soon replace the oleaginous Obama as leader of the world's most powerful nation. Trump's white nationalist supporters and hangers-on are naturally ecstatic - and some of them may even find positions of power in the new administration. As Stephen Malkmus once sang, the freaks have stormed the White House.
But some context is needed. Judging by mainstream journalism and social media postings, it seems that most liberals reckon a Trump presidency to be a worse outcome than a Clinton one would have been. I am not so sure. While Trump is undoubtedly a monstrously vulgar reactionary, Clinton is a thoroughgoing neoliberal and a corrupt sadist (recall her cavalier quip on the demise of Gaddafi: 'we came, we saw, he died') who, as Secretary of State, has actually been responsible for spreading death and destruction across the globe. There is no reason to assume that she represented the 'lesser evil' in the recent election.
A similar point could be made about the relationship of Trump to his predecessor, Obama. Many liberal commentators see the passage from Obama to Trump as constituting what Carl Jung called enantiodromia, a radical shift from good to evil. Throughout the election campaign, they bemoaned Trump's every racist remark and lewd confession - and even seemed to derive a perverse enjoyment from relating them. And when Trump emerged victorious, some of these liberals even expressed a desire to emigrate before the Orange Thermidor gets under way (I'm a cosmopolitan individualist, get me out of here). But while liberals have revelled in the daily reports of Trump's bigotry, they have generally been silent on the crimes of the man who has been US president for the past eight years. When these are properly considered, Trump's succession appears less like a break with the past and more like business as usual.
Check out the guy's track record: Obama implemented and defended an unprecedented surveillance campaign against his own population, deported more immigrants than any previous president, and presided over the destruction of Libya and the geopolitical provocation of Russia and China. Nor was Obama averse to expressions of Trump-style narcissism. In reference to his global drone murder programme, he is reported to have made a typically creepy joke to his aides: 'it turns out I’m really good at killing people' (an example, perhaps, of what psychoanalysts call 'defence through admission'). During the financial crisis, meanwhile, Obama proved himself to be the friend of the bankers and the hammer of the working class, bailing out the banks and opposing a moratorium on home foreclosures. Indeed, the Obama years saw an unprecedented transfer of wealth from poor to rich. Trump, should he actually manage to survive as President, will bring misery to the working class at home and abroad; but Obama, the slick desk-bound assassin, has been doing precisely that for the last eight years, even if the US liberal-left, hopelessly lost in the labyrinths of identity politics, largely proved unwilling or unable to criticize his administration. Whatever else it stands for, then, Trump's triumph does not represent a rolling back of eight years of enlightened governance.
Yet Trump's victory, like the Brexit vote in the UK, certainly does signal something new - or perhaps one should say resurgent - in the Western political landscape. It is not fascism. As Primo Levi put it, 'every age has its own fascism' and some ultra-right elements in the US have certainly been emboldened, even empowered in the wake of Trump's success; but this is not the 1930s. It is rather right-wing populism that is in the ascendant. This populist turn has preoccupied many mainstream journalists recently, but it is only really communist analyses that have registered its deeper political and historical significance. They point out that the populist surge operates against the interests of dominant ruling class factions and thus represents a certain strategic impasse and even a loss of control among the bourgeoisie in the established democracies. Given the current absence of almost any serious working class struggle (or even, let's be honest, basic organization), this destabilization is a dangerous development.