The Trump press conference: A ferocious conflict within the ruling elite

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Patrick Martin

The news conference given by Donald Trump Thursday afternoon was extraordinary and unprecedented. The event took on a surreal character as, for more than 75 minutes, the US president traded insults with journalists and otherwise engaged in a bitter battle with his nemeses in the media. It is not comparable to anything seen before in modern American history, even at the height of the Watergate crisis. 

Dataline: 17 February 2017

In witnessing such a spectacle, it is always necessary to uncover the rational content, the underlying political dynamic. In this case, the press conference gave expression to a vicious conflict within the American ruling class over foreign policy as the United States hurtles toward war.

The news conference was initially called to announce Trump’s new pick for labor secretary, but this took up only one minute of the event. Trump began with a litany of achievements and actions he has taken since his inauguration, which was largely directed at the ruling elite in an appeal for support. The stock market has “hit record numbers,” corporate regulations are being eliminated, immigrants are being targeted for deportation, and Trump has ordered a “massive rebuilding” of the US military, among other right-wing measures.

However, from the media, channeling the US intelligence apparatus, questions focused almost exclusively on the ties of the Trump administration to Russia and the circumstances behind the forced resignation earlier this week of Trump’s national security advisor, Michael Flynn, over his pre-inauguration telelphone conversation with the Russian ambassador.

Trump responded with a diatribe in which the media served as a stand-in for his real opponents in the US ruling elite, comprising the bulk of the permanent military-intelligence apparatus that really runs the government, regardless of which party controls the White House or majorities in Congress. He repeatedly denounced what he called “illegal leaks” to the media from sources within the intelligence agencies.

It was remarkable that when Trump directly denounced the media as a mouthpiece for the intelligence agencies, there was no attempt to rebut him. Everyone knows it is true. Likewise, when he flatly denied any contact between his campaign and Russian intelligence agencies, not a single reporter could cite evidence to the contrary.

However, from the media, channeling the US intelligence apparatus, questions focused almost exclusively on the ties of the Trump administration to Russia and the circumstances behind the forced resignation earlier this week of Trump’s national security advisor, Michael Flynn, over his pre-inauguration telelphone conversation with the Russian ambassador…It was remarkable that when Trump directly denounced the media as a mouthpiece for the intelligence agencies, there was no attempt to rebut him. Everyone knows it is true.

In the course of the press conference, Trump blurted out a number of astonishing comments that point to the extreme dangers facing the entire world.

Responding to questions about what he would do about a Russian ship conducting surveillance operations in international waters off the coast of Connecticut—the same type of operations US warships conduct on a much larger scale off the coasts of Russia and China—Trump said, “The greatest thing I could do is shoot that ship that’s 30 miles off shore right out of the water. Everyone in this country’s going to say ‘oh, it’s so great.’” He continued, “If I was just brutal on Russia right now, just brutal, people would say, you would say, ‘Oh, isn’t that wonderful.’”

Trump pointed out the implications of such a clash, given that Russia and the United States have the two largest nuclear arsenals in the world. “We’re a very powerful nuclear country and so are they,” he said. “I have been briefed. And I can tell you one thing about a briefing that we’re allowed to say because anybody that ever read the most basic book can say it: a nuclear holocaust would be like no other.” In other words, there are ongoing discussions, at the highest levels of the American government, about a potential nuclear war with Russia, for which preparations are well advanced.

When challenged by one reporter on why there was no response by the US government to a series of what he called “provocations” by Russia—largely consisting of incidents provoked by US and NATO war maneuvers along Russia’s borders—Trump replied, “I’m not going to tell you anything about what response I do. I don’t talk about military response.”

He expanded on this theme, declaring that he would not talk about military operations in Iraq, North Korea, Iran or anywhere else. “You know why? Because they shouldn’t know. And eventually, you guys are going to get tired of asking that question.”

Such conflicts within the ruling elite over foreign policy are usually fought out behind the scenes, as with discontent within the military-intelligence apparatus over Obama’s retreat from a direct military intervention in Syria in 2013, when he failed to enforce his so-called “red line” against the government of Bashar al-Assad.

This time, however, the conflict has exploded into the open. Aside from the specific form that the debate within the US state apparatus has taken, it is an expression of an underlying crisis of the entire capitalist order. Twenty-five years of unending war are metastasizing, with extreme rapidity, into a major conflict involving large nation-states. National security journals are full of articles in which there is open discussion about war with Russia, in which the question is not if, but when and how. Trump, on the other hand, has focused his attention on China. In either case, the consequences are incalculable.

What was perhaps most striking is how remote the entire press conference was from the sentiments and concerns of the vast majority of the American population. There was virtually no questioning at the press conference about Trump’s war against immigrant workers or the nationwide day of protest by immigrants and their supporters that was taking place at the same time.

Media sanctimony:”Sir, by calling…our reports…’fake news’…you undermine faith in the media and free speech…” It takes some cheek to put that question in public. Fact is the hypocritical media are totally riddled with disinformers and their product on all serious issues is fake news. And it’s been like that for generations. Keep in mind the “star” journalists in the White House corps are simply doing their careerist best to discharge their assigned role, carrying water for their masters, the multi-billionaire media owners, who are overwhelmingly opposed to Trump, but NOT for the correct reasons.

Those participating in the mass protests that have erupted since Trump’s inauguration are not motivated by a desire to launch a war with Russia, but by hatred of Trump’s authoritarian, anti-democratic policies and the oligarchic government that he has set up. [To this true assertion, we must ask, however, was Obama’s regime any less oligarchic? Is Trump therefore a qualitatively different animal, or simply a continuation—in the open—of what was always there, albeit hidden by the Democrats’ demagogy?—Ed.)

Trump’s critics in the Democratic Party and media, however, are responding to powerful sections of the US ruling elite who welcome Trump’s ultra-reactionary domestic policies—tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, deregulation of corporations, attacks on democratic rights, persecution of immigrants—but regard his posture of seeking better relations with Russia as intolerable.

The Democrats have responded with passive handwringing while Trump has assembled his cabinet of billionaires, ex-generals and right-wing fanatics, and issued a series of reactionary and unconstitutional executive orders. But when given the opportunity to attack Trump as soft on Russia, they engage in savage witch-hunting that recalls nothing so much as McCarthyism.

There is no faction with the American ruling class that is opposed to imperialist war. In the struggle to prevent war, it is up to the working class to intervene independently, opposing both factions in the US ruling elite, both Trump and the line-up of the CIA, the media and the Democratic Party.


Patrick Martin is a senior political analyst with  

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3 thoughts on “The Trump press conference: A ferocious conflict within the ruling elite

  1. That Trump often dissimulates or walks back his arguments is a true and tried business practice, i.e. you provoke your antagonist (like in chess) and then retreat which confuses him/her and may then result in a not well deliberated thought and an unsuccessful rapid response from the person you deal with.

    The tactic is to confuse your adversary till they betray themselves and their projects. I see that happening each time that I follow his confrontations with the media. Out of pure frustration they then attack him on the most minor subjects, not understanding that they weaken their own case with the public. His mis-articulations and posing as an un-intellectual may also be just theater, not of the most sophisticated kind but effective nevertheless. Posing as a numb-skull he gets away with murder in his pronouncements and it’s a manner which all clowns practice while ‘deceiving’ clown friends/opponents.

    Trump is far more sly than his enemies give him credit for and thus far more powerful. He overcame bankruptcies and adversaries in a very tough business, that of New York real estate. That kind of man cannot be stupid even though his level of culture is visible in his taste for interior decoration in his lair on top of Trump Tower. And I think he throws out opinions just to see what kind of reaction he gets. There is no doubt about his mob appeal. Liberal shadow fights against Trump like on the ‘Saturday Night Live’ television show and the Internet British newspaper ‘The International Guardian’ (once very heavily a gatekeeper for Obama) only serve to bolster his image as an unknowable destructive force threatening the Washington in-crowd and the US dis-information media.

  2. The media gnomes underestimate Trump at their own risk and it has become a game of cat and mice as demonstrated in the last press conference. But the media are not countable enemies for the Trump regime, nor is it a question so loudly proclaimed everywhere that he would placate Russian ‘aggression’, while his opponents here vie for more encirclement and sanctions against that country. It is entirely irrelevant to the establishment whether foreign policies are directed against Russia, China, Iran or Syria. Their focus is on what consequences a Trump regime may have over the obscene expansion of the Federal government. Wall Street which obviously supports Trump is more concerned about regulations and restrictions and Trump executes the primary goal of Republicans to either completely do away or at least drastically reduce the power of the Federal juggernaut. He clearly stated that during the campaign and no wonder that the bureaucracy or better the nomenclature of the US is resisting it with man and might (man and mice in the case of the compliant media). That is where the rub lies and all the protests of women and the Democrats are only as much background noise to Trump. Wall Street likes doing business with Russia and others as they can deal from strength and would want to avoid antagonisms. Trump knows it and simply proceeds with his program, despite the weak arguments thrown his way and the many gatherings with slogan boards. Those only serve as a blind support for the bureaucracy in Washington and therefore are far more deleterious to the nation than they realize. Like the liberal left they are the enablers of the present status quo and thus work against their own interests and that is the error and the fallacy of the left / liberal resistance against Trump, it reinforces continuance of the binary party system that strangles all real democracy.

  3. One huge element in the marches against Washington was the women’s movement led unfortunately it appears by a cadre of liberal upper-class establishment women. It was disappointing to hear Ms Judd use the term “nasty woman” about herself during the Women’s March in Washington because it was a reminder of the separatist elements in the womyn’s rights movement from the late 1970’s. Aside from which any pejorative terms used by the victims of discrimination about themselves never elevate spirits nor serve as effective slogans for a revolt and they are only an emotional avoidance tactic. In fact Ms Judd’s remark was related to what the chief theoretician of the womyn’s movement Ti-Grace Atkinson said to me in 1977: “You look all the same to me” (when encountering men). That is a reductive way of reasoning, though popular with the peanut gallery. Women’s rights are human rights and this kind of thinking is therefore entirely anti-revolutionary and only serves to strengthen the division of resistance powers that is keeping the status quo intact. Separatism may sound as safeguard against discrimination, but it surely is not and in fact it determines the domination over a very visible cut-away and factually recidivisat politics from the mainstream of resistance. Solidarity is not just a word, but it is a basic element for organizing resistance and using oppressive terms as an antidote against their original meaning is destructive of freedom

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