Sun, Mar 12, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Bureaucrats likely to have the last laugh in Trump’s ‘revolution’

By Harold James

The Russian Revolution’s centennial this year coincides with the Trump revolution in the US, which itself followed the Brexit revolution in the UK. Like the Bolsheviks in 1917, the political movements behind US President Donald Trump and Brexit consider themselves to be the vanguard of an international revolt — or what former UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage calls a “great global revolution.”

However, today’s rebels should consider the lessons of history. The Russian Revolution took an enormous toll in human lives and well-being, and few modern historians think that anything constructive came of it. Yet Vladimir Lenin was a political pioneer who understood that revolutionary movements focus on an unpopular, but ultimately necessary administrative state or bureaucracy.

The new revolutionary movements, like Bolshevism, are rebelling against what they see as an oppressive and constraining international order. For Lenin, this order comprised the Western powers that had brought Russia into World War I against Germany — and against its own interests. For Trump, it is embodied in the vague term “globalism.”

“We’re taken advantage of by every nation in the world virtually. It’s not gonna happen anymore,” he said.

Yet these movements’ immediate enemies tend to be domestic rather than foreign. In a recent speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference, Trump’s chief strategist Stephen Bannon declared a revolution for US sovereignty, defined by economic nationalism and the “deconstruction of the administrative state.”

As with all revolutionary programs, Trump and Bannon’s approach is fundamentally about rethinking the state and state power. Still, today’s revolutionary leaders do not fit neatly into conventional categories of left or right, because they promiscuously adopt policies from both camps.

The New York Times quoted a Trump “associate” who claims that the US president himself wonders if Bannon is “alt-right or alt-left.”

Regardless of how one categorizes Trump’s domestic agenda, it is clearly a response to a world in which a principle of openness — to foreign goods, capital, and people — coexists with a complex system for regulating these flows. Foreign goods are subject to national safety and product-information standards; capital flows are managed by controls on bank lending and migration is limited by an array of checks and conditions.

Trumpism promises to make life simpler, less regulated and free of dictates from an administrative class by getting rid of international entanglements. This is a tempting proposition for many ordinary people who find globalization complicated and bewildering. Most people are frustrated by red tape. However, of course, there is just as much red tape in domestic interactions, where the state regulates everything from product quality and safety to financial services and labor markets.

In the case of Brexit, the original “Leave” campaigners drew a line between the “people” and the “experts” and they called for dismantling large parts of the British state apparatus, where those experts are apparently ensconced.

As former British Secretary of State for Justice and Conservative Party Brexit leader Michael Gove famously put it: “People in this country have had enough of experts,” and “big changes” are needed to change how the government and civil service go about their business.

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