Beyond Trump: How Will a Billionaire’s Privatization of the Presidency Affect our Food?
Donald Trump is monumentally disgraceful. But that’s not the point—the political and economic crisis that got him elected is the point. We’ve had plenty of those since 2008, but we need to ask: what does this crisis mean? Because a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.
This country—among the world’s first liberal democracies—was founded by a colonial elite who at first, ran the new republic themselves. With time, they turned management over to professional politicians. While the mission of the professional political class is to democratically represent the citizens of the United States, their job is to mediate the contradictions between the business interests of the country’s elites and the livelihood needs of the country’s 99.9%. The Trump presidency is a strong sign that this arrangement isn’t working anymore.
The last few decades of neoliberalism have exposed the darker side of liberal democracy, destroying not only local economies, but the social legitimacy of both Democrat and Republican parties. Into the vacuum of political leadership, one of the least politically experienced (and most financially questionable) member of the ruling class has squeaked into leadership on the basis of pure bluster. While presidential cabinets have typically been a revolving door between business and government, with a net worth larger than a third of all Americans combined, this cabinet indicates that Trump is privatizing the presidency by putting the country under direct billionaire management.
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Direct billionaire management reflects the generalized global breakdown of political model that has managed capitalism for the past 200 years. The billionaire capture of the White House is not a reflection of elite power but of their weakness. Not that they can’t throw their weight around—Trump’s good at that. But Trump represents a break in the political ranks of the rich, not their consolidation. We can expect him and his crony cabinet to maintain the general mantle of neoliberalism while seeking competitive advantage against their competition—another thing they’re good at.
What Trump and Corp. are not good at is managing the mission of democracy and the job of keeping the masses quiet while corporate elites plunder the economy. Expect a lot of anger, nativism, bigotry and scapegoating as “crony neoliberalism” pushes our health, housing, labor, energy, environment—and our food systems over the edge.
Food will occupy a special role in this historical drama, because how we produce and consume food largely determines how our society is organized. However, how we organize socially and politically can also determine how we produce and consume food. Our food systems are vessels of unmatched social and economic power. The implications of this are profound: our food systems are pivotal sites for systemic social, political, and economic transformation. This is why our food systems are in dispute:
- Already, Monsanto and Bayer—waiting in the wings for Trump to take power—are getting ready for the approval of biggest agribusiness merger in history that would give them a third of the global seed market and a quarter of the global pesticide market. When they do, Syngenta, DuPont, Dow and ChemChina will soon follow with mergers.
- The dismantling of nutrition, food assistance and community food security programs will be managed by global trader, Confederacy buff and former Georgia governor, Sonny Perdue as Secretary of Agriculture. The darling of the poultry industry will protect the feudal arrangements between suppliers like Perdue Farms (no relation) and Tyson Foods and the hog and poultry farmers going broke under corporate contracts.
- A third of the 5 million farmworkers in the US are undocumented, as are most of our underpaid food and restaurant workers. They are bracing themselves for the massive deportation policies Trump has promised.
- From seed to fork, the food system is being primed for further corporate intensification and consolidation under Trump. Nanotechnology and synthetic biology have surpassed the crude technologies of genetically modified seeds by light years, allowing direct manipulation of DNA without having to resort to inaccurate and expensive genetic transfer. One can download a “genetic map” from the Internet and directly manipulate DNA, changing its metabolic pathway to express any phenotypic characteristic, not only to produce seeds, but also to make any kind of life-form.
- Corporations are investing in “digital agriculture,” in which massive amounts of information about the environment, climate, soil, and cultivars are carefully recorded by satellite, then analyzed and sold back to farmers. All major corporations in the food chain, from Monsanto, John Deere, and Cargill, to Nestlé, Walmart and Amazon are using these big data information systems.
- The integrated control of genetic and environmental information increases the tendency of land and corporate consolidation. Amazon, in open war with the Walmart model, is planning to sell food through huge supply centers to be delivered by food taxis and drones dropping down from huge “food blimps.” Their new Amazon Go stores will be fully automated, allowing consumers to walk through the store selecting items, and walk out without going through check-out. A smart phone application will register their purchase and charge their credit card (so much for creating new jobs…).
- All the financial and structural pressure of this multi-trillion dollar sector leads to even larger forms of production. Seeds, inputs, machinery, financing, insurance, and mass information are made to deliver larger and larger batches of uniform products to retailers—the monopolies that are even bigger and more concentrated. To participate in the new food value chains, producers will have to massively refinance. Where will they get the money? The land.
- Banks now hold workshops to advise producers about the sale and financialization of the land as a business measure to recapitalize its operation. The exchange value of agricultural land in the US is outpacing its use value, becoming “like gold with yield.”
Now is the time for the food movement to evaluate Trump’s rise to power as a reflection of what’s wrong with our economic and political systems. Yes, Donald Trump is an egregious assault on human rights and basic decency—but the problem isn’t him. It’s the system that enabled Donald Trump and others like him, and continues to serve their interests. As the food movement, we need to evaluate the ways in which our struggles for food security, food and racial justice, farm justice, and local economic sovereignty are structurally connected within the capitalist food system.
This system isn’t broken – it’s working exactly how it was meant to: it consolidates wealth and power and passes off the economic and environmental costs to society. Under a Trump administration, we have a profound opportunity to reflect, and to fight not just for farmers markets, food security, racial equity, or farm justice—but together, for transformation, for an entirely different system built to serve workers, farmers, women, people of Color, and more.
We’ll have to fight the same battles we always have but under new circumstances. The old ways of doing things, including petitions, sign-on letters, farm-to-school efforts, community gardens and other alternatives don’t work in isolation—not when the corporate elite is not just represented in our political system, but is becoming our political and economic system.
Forty-five percent of eligible voters chose not to participate in an electoral system they felt did not address their realities. What time is it when both the political class and the ruling class have lost their social legitimacy? Time to unite efforts to build a new system.
Photo by Gage Skidmore.
Holt-Giménez, Eric and Ahna Kruzic. Beyond Trump: How Will a Billionaire’s Privatization of the Presidency Affect our Food? Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy, January 20th, 2017. https://foodfirst.org/beyondtrump/.