Trump and the Faustian Bargain of Corker and the GOP

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The Republican Establishment doesn’t want much in life, just for the wealthy to have ever lower taxes, for polluting industries to have ever less regulation, and for the health and welfare of the nation’s poor and workers to be someone else’s responsibility, preferably that of the poor and workers themselves.

People like Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee supported Donald Trump for president because they thought he could help them hit the trifecta. And the truth is that on lowering taxes, for the super-wealthy, on unleashing the full polluting potential of coal and other industries, and on sticking it to the working people of this country, Trump is delivering on his pledges, big time. That is why Corker campaigned so hard for Trump. It was service to his social class and his filthy rich backers.

The 0.1% should be delirious with joy.

There’s just one problem. They are terrified of Trump, of his erratic behavior, his taunting of nuclear-armed enemies, his staff upheavals at the White House. They represent Capital, and Capital thrives on order. Corker and his colleagues see disorder and they quake.

In Johann von Goethe’s play “Dr. Faust,” a man eager to taste of all human experience makes a bargain with Mephistopheles, i.e. with Satan, signing his soul away in blood for his intellectual and emotional thrill-seeking. The devil remarks,


“Nor goal, nor measure is prescrib’d to you,
If you desire to taste of every thing,
To snatch at joy while on the wing,
May your career amuse and profit too!
Only fall to and don’t be over coy!”

Mephistopheles is Corker’s Trump. Trump promised a wild ride, but a ride to the heart’s desire of conservatives– a hierarchical society with the rich firmly on top and further enriched by the hour through the abolition of graduated taxes.

He will fulfill his vow. But alongside these startling and unprecedented triumphs for the billionaires in the class war, Mephistopheles/ Trump offers something else.

Corker now thinks Trump’s volatility and ill-considered Tweet storms threaten us with World War III:

PBS NewsHour: “How Trump’s feud with Corker reflects the GOP’s shifting direction”

However much Corker is going to like the tax cuts on the rich in Trump’s budget this fall, he is also clearly deeply disturbed at Trump’s bellicosity. He worries that the White House staff have to spend all their time containing Trump. He worries that the president will order up Navy Seals and set them to trying to sequester North Korea’s nuclear stockpiles.

Such a mission is highly unlikely to succeed. And when it fails, what is the likely NK response?

And what will be the value of those tax cuts if Trump’s adventurism spooks the markets or attracts dramatic violence down on our country?

27 Responses

  1. Does this mean that Trump is about to lose his majority in the Senate? He seems to be shooting himself in the foot by antagonizing the chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations at a time when he is involved in so many hot international disputes.

  2. Something about sowing the wind…. I never thought I would live to see the coming of the whirlwind (I’m at the leading edge of the baby-boomer generation), but my mind is changing.

  3. And yet the markets keep rewarding Trump.

    Of course, they kept rewarding Bush Junior — until things started collapsing.

  4. The whole thing is preposterously childish. If you are going to throw insults around do so with some wit, it takes the childishness out of it and stings more. Churchill memorably described Attlee as a ‘sheep in sheep’s clothing’. Another UK one I still recall is Dennis Healey commenting on a run in with Kenneth Clark as ‘like being savaged by a dead sheep’. Such insults are redolent of a duel, Corker’s a brawl. Why does this matter? Because something with wit would raise a smile with leaders like Macron or Putin (I am not sure May has any smiles in her reticule), whereas Corker’s Care Home comment likely produces a head shaking sigh which does US prestige no good. It’s one thing to have to contend with Trump but if his opposition is so little different, that becomes another matter.

  5. Perhaps the one positive thing that is coming out of the past two years’ mess is that the presidential campaign — both the Trump and Bernie Sanders phenomena — and the ensuing dysfunction and division have exposed the absolute failure of the political and economic elites to deliver on any of the promises made by the “Washington Consensus,” neo-liberalism, “the end of history” — whatever you want to call it, over the past 25 years. The rising tide has not lifted all boats, and it has drowned more than a few.

    But I see no signs they are getting this message. In fact, you’re already seeing the same scams they were running 10 years ago — reverse mortgages, home equity loans, etc. There’s a whole new generation of suckers out there.

    For a few — the Koch brothers, Murdoch, Mnuchin, those hedge fund creeps behind Bannon — this is precisely the situation they’ve been working toward for years, because a dysfunctional government means no cop on the beat, and thus they can steal, rape and plunder even more.

    But they’re not the majority, even among the rich. Why can’t they see what’s staring them in the face, that they can’t have it all forever, that they can’t squeeze people to infinity? Well, as Saul Alinsky once said (paraphrasing), he could convince a capitalist on Monday to do something on Tuesday that would make him money on Wednesday even though it would lead to his certain death on Thursday. And there doesn’t seem to be anyone named Roosevelt around to save them from themselves this time. That line has run dry.

    So now they find themselves in a situation we have not seen since the feeble-minded eldest sons of kings were still allowed to ascend to the throne, except now the feeble-minded king has nuclear weapons. And we merely hope that a small clique of politically conservative generals will refuse to follow orders when the time comes.

    I visited Independence Hall in Philadelphia a few weeks ago, and I almost felt like apologizing.

    • My suspicion for some years has been that the “moderate” oligarchs will simply flee the US ahead of the reckoning to reunite with all that capital they’ve already sent overseas. They will transfer to a new host body and continue to talk as reasonably as they do now. The ones I’m scared of are the modern-day plantation owners, the far-right family fortunes who funded the rise of extremism and are disproportionately involved in natural resource extraction industries (except for the Amway-owning DeVoses, who extract the resource of stupidity). They have to stick it out, because their fortunes are tied to this land. They wanted to turn the clock back to restore the power of the landowners of past centuries. They intend to dominate local government and religion in a similar fashion, with perhaps Klansmen and lynch mobs as fallbacks. Education and intellect are their enemies. They do not care if 90% of the value of the country is destroyed as long as they own the remaining 10%.

      • Interesting theory. You may be right. I’m sure there’s something about living in a world of gated communities, private jets, chauffeur-driven limousines, and members-only resorts that gives you a certain sense of invulnerability.

  6. Before Caligula became Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus he was fondly called ‘Baby Boots’ for how cute he was as a little boy. It is also said that his early reign was rather good, and satisfactory, in many ways. I mean to many Caligula’s turn to darkness was a sudden shock. Seriously even Nero was a entertaining musician, so what happens to these guys?

    History is filled with the likes of people such as Trump, and to those who were always suspicious of him, well good on you. Trump is so crazy, that I would not put it pass him for his starting a third party. I also would not doubt that by Trump starting another political party, that he wouldn’t do fairly well with it. Maybe for old time 2016 election sake he would call it the ‘Deplorable Party’.

    Lastly, I’ll just say this, it is a sad state of affairs that America has a face like Trump’s to compliment all of the dark side that America has accrued to it’s worldly persona.

    • Caligula and Nero were popular with the populus Romanus because they were what were known as popularis type politicians – imitating the political style of Julius Caesar who variously appealed to and corrupted the mob, and appealing directly to them rather than going through the traditional means of winning support from his fellow senators (yeah, plus ca change!). But the senate and the elite hated all three, since they tread upon its traditional governing privileges. Emperors who respected the senate were generally well-liked – e.g. Augustus, Vespasian, and Trajan. These were emperors who adhered to more traditional means of ruling (with a big asterix by Augustus!) and that included respect for the august body of the senate. The Orange Menace definitely follows in the popularis mode of governance, and it is not pretty. The difference is, of course, Nero and Caligula didn’t, you know, have their finger on a nuclear button. Hell, they couldn’t even console people after mass shootings or tweet against their perceived enemy du jour.

      • Thanks GrumpyWithoutCoffee for picking up where I left off, because of you I learned something new today. Joe

  7. The rationale and momentum of the scenario you describe leads directly to getting rid of Trump, opting for the more reliable execution of his essential vision by Pence.

    What any autocrat really wants is control and predictability, after all.

  8. The paranoid Russian intelligence asset Donald J. Trump is beyond schizophrenic. He actually has two separate brains – one in his bald head that makes angry 3AM tweets and picks fights with random persons. The other brain is being carried around by the constantly disambiguating Wayne LaPierre disciple, Stephen Miller.

    FACT – Combining two(2) half-wits does not make a full wit.

    Senator Corker has it right. WE ARE ALL IN GREAT DANGER! Trump is far too bat•••• crazy to be our President.

  9. In Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus the Seven Sins – direct holdovers from the vice figures of Medieval morality and mystery plays – parade directly on stage: gluttony, sloth, lechery, pride, envy, wrath, and covetousness. Lucifer manifests them before Faustus for his entertainment and Faustus is delighted. It strikes me that the Marlowe play (less famous than Goethe’s poem) is here equally apt – the GOP appears not to mind that it has made a deal with a creature that embodies – nay, is the virtual Platonic form! – of each of these sins, both in his personal life and in his governing style (if he can be said to have one). Of course, Faustus repents in the end, but it is too late. Demons emerge from under the stage and drag Faustus to hell. In the 1616 version of the play (there is an earlier one dated to 1604), the disiecta membra of Faustus are discovered on the stage at play’s end. That is what will remain of the GOP – one hopes – at the end of Caligula a L’Orange’s so-called presidency. One can only hope the country and our planet is not in an equivalent state of disrepair.

  10. The Republicans may simply be playing a cold-hearted Machiavellian game. If Trump commits war crimes by attacking NK or Iran (or whoever else offends him), and the world is appalled, and Americans are appalled, and especially if these adventures go badly, then the Republican-controlled Congress will finally feel it has the political cover to impeach him and replace him with their willing errand boy Pence, who not appear to be as scary or irrational but in his own way will be equally bad news. And this will lull much of the former opposition to complacency or apathy. In the end, the oligarchs will still get what they want and a President Pence will be even harder to lever out of office.

    • Not if the missles start flying, the beginning of the war (any one, it doesn’t matter which) this will make the oligarchic flight more difficult and risky. Realize that Pence is afraid of the Republican base, so his accession is not a given.

  11. Well said regarding Bob Corker, who looks good only by contrast with Trump. Corker may be a traitor to his country (READ the Preamble to the Constitution, Mr. Corker, and the voluminous historical and economic evidence that trickle down/supply side economics have no record of producing what you and your ilk’s servile economists claim), but never to his class.

    Mr. Trump started this latest furor, which distracts the public from wondering aloud when he will attend to real national problems (though one fears that he will attend to them with his trademark ignorance and bombast). His opening salvo was delivered via Twitter, which for obvious reasons chose to term its messages Tweets rather than use the root word of Twitter, which is Twits.

    Twits is not only the proper appellation for this action, it also describes Trump and many others who consider this mode of relaying “thoughts” intelligent communication. The technology always smacked of stupidification and time-wasting, but Trump has raised it to new heights….and Hamelin’s lemmings are eating it up as the putative tax reformers prepare to wreck the American economy once and for all.

    • I have never even looked at Twitter and don’t understand why anyone else does. Like I need MORE unwanted, uninteresting, and transparently trivial messages assaulting me on a daily, hourly, minutely basis? Please. The information superhighway was a good thing once upon a time. Now it’s a snarled, frustrating mess that you only use because you have to — just like the ones made of concrete.

  12. I’ve been saying for months that the GOP rank & file made a Faustian pact. For the most part, they rarely publicly blast Trump when he says or does something outrageous. And that will continue as long as he continues to follow their lead and tries to pass their agenda items. Looked at another way, the GOP and conservative politicians in power are willing to abdicate their responsibility to the common weal for a bigger pot of gruel. It’s only when one of them decides to retire – like Corker – that they discover their moral compass. I suppose better late than never but that’s a cowardly way out. We need more Republicans like McCain who are willing to call out the White House when it veers into batshit crazy territory.

    • Trump will become the face of their American fascism for a generation, whether they are in power or finally overthrown.

    • Don’t give McCain that much credit. He’s not running again either, and in fact, will likely not survive his current term. AND he brought us Sarah Palin.

  13. Not if the missles start flying, the beginning of the war (any one, it doesn’t matter which) this will make the oligarchic flight more difficult and risky. Realize that Pence is afraid of the Republican base, so his accession is not a given.

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