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My 350 on Donald Trump: how neoliberalism deals with the military

US and UK mistreatment of army veterans and the confused new politics of war may have led to an important miscalculation.

Thomas Furse
29 November 2016

One example of the contradictions in the neoliberal state is how it deals with its military. It recruits primarily from the poor, in the desire for individuals to ‘better themselves’, but largely fails to take care of veterans due to its neoliberal ideology. Blue and Red state America are entirely different nations which happen to speak the same language – the Atlantic covered this first in 2001, and then in 2011. Poor Red State America supplies the US military with its troops, 44% of the US military come from the South. It is a similar case in the UK with the poor and uneducated – two-fifths of soldiers have a reading age of 11 or under, and 30% of recruits are under 18.

Seeing how neoliberal governments (Bush and Blair, but also to some extent Cameron and Obama) have used them to fight wars and then discarded them, never admitting that the wars were a mistake, has created huge mistrust towards state institutions. So much so that Anglo-American governments have tried to privatize their militaries. Veterans are lauded as heroes, and yet across the UK they’re overrepresented in the homeless population, at 1 in 10. The neoliberal state is able to do good public relations – poppies, memorials, marches and speeches, but spending money on helping veterans with PTSD is deemed too expensive. American soldiers had such long tours (sometimes over a year), and yet US medical staff were ordered not to diagnose soldiers with PTSD because it cost too much. Despite this 29% of American soldiers have had PTSD during the War on Terror.

Of course it wasn’t just veterans that got Trump elected, or made Brexit happen. But their mistreatment at the hands of their respective states probably contributed to a narrative that the state isn’t always there to help. The neoliberal mentality and the wars that followed, the mistreatment of army veterans at the hands of the state and the confused new politics of war have combined into a situation which badly miscalculates how attached people can be to territory, culture, sovereignty. Those who didn’t share the liking for open borders, and a free trading cosmopolitan world were merely being aberrant. Veteran kinship circles were sensing that something in the status quo wasn’t right. Something had to change. Trump is one of the few politicians to openly criticize the Iraq war – that’s why many Iraq War veterans voted for him. He can get away with not paying his federal tax. Nostalgia for a time when elites didn’t seem to sneer is what has made Red America, and Leave regions of the UK vote for reactionary populists.  

Nostalgia grew to fill this gap. Clinton and the Remain campaign carefully prepared their debates against Trump and the Leave Vote: but they offered no clear vision of the new complex world. Both Trump and Vote Leave offered nostalgia for a simpler time. Trump will probably be just as neoliberal as Clinton, if not more. Post-Brexit Britain will probably be even more de-regulated than when Britain was in the EU. It is the likelihood of a disappointment with reactionary populism that progressives, liberals and moderate conservatives will seize on in the future. War and how the state takes responsibility for war will undoubtedly be a factor.

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