There’s much ado about the ‘Trumpiest’ democratic candidate – primarily targeting Biden or Sanders. But Buttigeig is really the Trumpiest. If you look past Trump’s oafish assholery, this becomes even more clear.
What qualifies someone as Trumpy? Usually it’s something about a personality trait.
Libs leverage it against Sanders when he rightfully points out that the media misrepresents him. They didn’t like it when he yells, so they say yelling is Trumpy.
People, more accurately, describe Biden as being Trump-like, because he’s the same type of old dumb guy who says dumb stuff and acts tough, calls names, denigrates the electorate etc.
But in the ways that actually matter – if you don’t perceive politics as a matter of oligarch soap operas – Buttigeig is actually the most like Trump.
Buttigeig and Trump may not have the same policies (although in many ways they actually do).
The way Buttigeig and Trump are similar is from their outlook on the broader function of government. They both exemplify the neoliberal approach to governance.
Neoliberalism entails market-buttressing reforms, deregulation, and privatization. But this isn’t just operating under the same Keynesian, fordist econonomic paradigms of yore, and also deregulating. It’s an entire different political paradigm.
The neoliberal governance paradigm is not to be a politician, but to be a manager of capital. It means manipulating society to make the most optimal economic gains. You aren’t exerting power on society, you’re managing society.
Both Trump and Buttigeig have this approach. Trump just approaches this as a capitalist himself, and Buttigeig approaches it as a sycophant to American capitalist class interests.
Trump, also, is a complete asshole, and this often overshadows they way in which he governs. For example, when he said this week that the US military is functionally a mercenary for Saudi Arabia to rent, the press presented it as Trump being an unhinged, uncouth douchebag selling out America. In reality, this is the logical conclusion of neoliberal governance.
In the documentary Hypernormalisation, Adam Curtis spells out the neoliberal turn in the US:
“In 1975, New York City was on the verge of collapse. For 30 years, the politicians who ran the city had borrowed more and more money from the banks to pay for its growing services and welfare. But in the early ’70s, the middle classes fled from the city and the taxes they paid disappeared with them.
“So, the banks lent the city even more. But then, they began to get worried about the size of the growing debt and whether the city would ever be able to pay it back. And then one day in 1975, the banks just stopped. The city held its regular meeting to issue bonds in return for the loans, overseen by the city’s financial controller.”
“What happened that day in New York marked a radical shift in power. The banks insisted that in order to protect their loans they should be allowed to take control of the city. The city appealed to the President, but he refused to help, so a new committee was set up to manage the city’s finances. Out of nine members, eight of them were bankers.”
But this isn’t just an explanation of the neoliberal turn, it’s inextricably linked to Trump, himself, directly. Later on in the documentary, Adam Curtis says:
“One of the people who did understand how to use this new power was Donald Trump. Trump realized that there was now no future in building housing for ordinary people, because all the government grants had gone. But he saw there were other ways to get vast amounts of money out of the state. Trump started to buy up derelict buildings in New York and he announced that he was going to transform them into luxury hotels and apartments.
“But in return, he negotiated the biggest tax break in New York’s history, worth 160 million. The city had to agree because they were desperate, and the banks, seeing a new opportunity, also started to lend him money. And Donald Trump began to transform New York into a city for the rich, while he paid practically nothing.”
The narrative that Trump is against the neoliberal status quo is, at best, naive, and at worst, an active misinformation and deception campaign to make Americans think hollow reactionaryism is the only alternative to neoliberalism.
Trump is one of the main characters in the story of America’s transition to neoliberalism. In fact, excluding politicians like Reagan and those associated with him, he’s probably the main character.
This is abundantly true when looking at the Trump presidency. When you look at his economic policy, everything Trump has done has been quintessentially neoliberal. We just don’t highlight that as much, because so many of his other policies are absolutely repugnant, and deviate from mainstream neoliberal respectability politics, overshadowing the neoliberalism.
So what about Pete Buttigeig?
Donald Trump signifies government run by banks representing capitalist interests, maintaining society for optimization. Buttigeig has the same approach, but he himself isn’t a capitalist, and he’s way better at disguising his intentions.
I will focus on one short passage from a Washington Post article about Buttigeig’s worldview. I could easily focus on much more, because Buttigeig has dozens of quotes like this. But this passage exemplifies it all.
Amy B Wang writes in Washington Post:
“‘We do need to reimagine our budget for the bottom line. One of the things I did for a living was just that,’ Buttigieg said at the 2011 Chamber of Commerce forum when asked about a potential audit of city employees. ‘So I remember one client organization that was a large insurance firm that had grown in such a way that there was a great deal of duplication, and some people didn’t even know what the people working for them were doing.’
“More than eight years later, when Buttigieg was freed from his nondisclosure agreement with McKinsey and could disclose the names of his clients, his characterization of the Blue Cross work was more benign than his earlier suggestion of job cuts: His campaign said he had analyzed ‘overhead expenditures such as rent, travel costs and utilities’ and ‘wasn’t a part of any decision making or in charge of making recommendations.’
“As for the Chamber of Commerce video in which Buttigieg mentioned duplications in the workforce, the campaign said he was merely sharing ‘an observation about what large organizations like a city or an insurance company face.'”
Let’s go over why this statement is ‘Trumpy’.
Right off the bat, focusing on the ‘bottom line’ is something that a politician doesn’t do, that’s something a business manager does. Of course, since the neoliberal turn, this is an approach that most politicians take, but prior to the neoliberal turn, it would not be seen as a politician’s focus, at all. Buttigeig is exceptionally beholden to the ‘bottom line’.
He then talks about a ‘client organization’ – which itself is a neoliberal form of capital-state apparatus, making for-profit companies tributaries to the state. His response to the client organization is to reduce bloat, ie fire people. Ultimately, I think large insurance firms are bad for society. But Buttigeig doesn’t – he wants them to exist, but he also wants them to employ as few people as possible. The worst of all possible worlds.
Then, the way he characterizes his relationship with Blue Cross is even more indicting, not less.
If you know about economics, you know capitalist enterprises have two main expenditures: constant capital and variable capital. Constant capital are ‘the means of production’, they’re the things that are necessary for a business to function, like factories, offices, etc. This would include things like “rent, travel costs and utilities”. These are called constant capital, because although they can be scaled back to some extent, they are mostly constant.
The other type of capitalist expenditure is variable capital. This is the workers. The reason why this is variable, or at least, much more variable than constant capital, is it’s much easier for capitalists to pay people less, employ less people, give less benefits, cut people’s hours, etc.
Buttigeig is playing an obfuscation game here. There’s no way to reduce expenditures without laying people off. There are, technically, but if you give the capitalist class a choice between making six figures and seven figures, or laying off employees, they will always lay off employees.
But on top of that, considering he knows that, and everyone except disingenuous ideologues know this, it highlights a more repulsive issue. To Buttigeig, employees are merely numbers in a spreadsheet. Buttigeig didn’t make any decisions or recommendations, he merely crunched the numbers for them!
And then the final equivocation from Buttigeig, somehow, makes it even worse! His campaign’s statement was that Buttigeig’s remarks were “an observation about what large organizations like a city or an insurance company face.”
This is the most bold-faced formulation of Buttigeig’s, and Trump’s, political worldview. Large organizations and insurance companies face the same things! They have the same concerns!
For both Trump and Buttigeig, they see the state as a semi-private apparatus that works in unison with fully private capitalist apparatuses, in order for both of them to maximize capitalist gains.
The state isn’t just the “managers” of capitalism – which is the conventional presentation of the neoliberal state. The state is a capitalist enterprise itself, that functions as a conduit for other capitalist enterprises to work in unison.
For Buttigeig and Trump, the US state is an aspiring capitalist monopoly. The state’s subjects are employees, and taxes are their profit stream.