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Opinion

November 13, 2016
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Beyond political rhetoric

Opinion

November 13, 2016

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Donald Trump is all set to enter the White House as the 45th president of the United States. Alienation and economic anxiety largely deriving from the dynamics of globalisation have played a big role in his success.

The frustration of the marginalised sections with the American political system has been growing in the absence of any tangible government policies that could bring relief. Their frustration found release in their voting.   

Tapping into their insecurities, Trump presented himself as an iconoclast possessing the means to breaking the hold of those in power and to shake the status quo to its very core. He spoke to their fears of demographic change, structural shifts to digital economy as well as terrorism.

Trump accumulated a huge army of supporters during his election campaign by ignoring the rules of modern politics. He chose to employ coarse, racist, sexist, ‘us vs them’ language without depending on data-driven teams of advisers and focus groups. He ditched political correctness in favour of brash ego-driven expediency.

The US election results demonstrate that a large number of Americans were willing to not only discount the most controversial aspects of Trump’s candidacy but that, more worryingly, many might actually have agreed with what he said.

The post-election -‘make America white again’ and ‘Black lives do not matter’ graffiti in North Carolina and the ‘Build the wall’ chants of Trump’s student supporters in Michigan are a reminder of their expectations of him.         

There are those who are predicting a more careful Trump as he dons the presidential mantle, arguing that institutional constraints and ground realities are bound to taper Trump’s brazenness and that his campaign words and posturing should be seen as political gimmicks and rhetoric.

But there is political rhetoric and then there is political rhetoric and it is never about politics alone. The kind of rhetoric you choose to resort to also has a great deal to do with the kind of personality you have. Academics give importance to the individual level of analysis when examining a political phenomenon.

Our personality is a reflection of our temperament and our temperament derives from our character traits which in turn are shaped by our deeply held beliefs that we have acquired through our experiences in life. An article in an American daily describes some of Trump’s experiences:

“Rejected by the elites from the very start of his career as a real estate developer in Manhattan in the 1970s, Trump had a lifetime of resentments that he had reacted to with searing attacks against his enemies and often-successful revenge plays against those who believed they were better than he. The big real-estate developer families in New York had long sneered at Trump as a brash, nasty, nouveau riche intruder on a business that took pride in doing things quietly and diplomatically. The banks treated him like an out-of-control adolescent who needed to be reined in and taught a lesson.”

Trump’s psychological makeup is that of an ambitious fighter who does not forgive and who cannot transcend grudges. His tax evasion and bankruptcies demonstrate his unscrupulous, cut-throat tactics. That he suffers from a deep sense of mistrust perhaps even paranoia may be seen in the way he organised his election campaign which he ran as he runs his businesses.

Instead of depending on people with wide-ranging campaign experience he chose those whom he considered loyal enough to stand by him no matter what. Those who did not cater to his style were fired. One can perhaps expect Trump’s future policies to smack of groupthink.   

Trump has attempted to use social media to segregate American society into separate camps with separate narratives. Will he be able to change his attitude now? His immediate reaction to thousands marching against him in various US cities at the time of writing is revealing. His tweet dismissing protesting Americans as “professional protesters” incited by the media is in keeping with his deep-seated mistrust of opponents and his thin-skinned reaction to criticism.   

There are media reports of Steve Bannon – Trump’s campaign manager, known for his extreme rightist beliefs – being a possible choice for the position of the White House chief of staff. If that happens, it will be a sign of Trump’s commitment to extreme right positions.

As campaign manager, Bannon built the image of Trump as the American equivalent of Brexit – another unanticipated popular anti-elite uprising. That Nigel Farage and Marine Le Pen are elated over Trump’s victory is a testimony to the rising wave of populism across the Western world. Trump’s presidency could very well mean that the apparently   settled issues of globalisation and international arrangements might just return to the table, painting the global picture in uncertain colours.

With no government experience, it is anybody’s guess how Trump will behave as the leader of the most powerful country in the world. Apparently, he himself does not know either. Asked during the campaign if he was preparing to actually be president, Trump replied “I’m all about the hunt and the chase. When I get something I really wanted, I sometimes lose interest in it.”        A bored American president is hardly a comforting image for the US and the world.

It is likely that while he may find it difficult to make controversial domestic policies, despite Republican congressional majority, foreign policy will be a more ‘doable’ area. Some analysts in Pakistan see a gleam of hope in his possible boredom arguing that he would bypass complex problems and that his approach towards Pakistan would be transparent with no grey areas.         

Well, grey areas by virtue of ambiguity can provide space for negotiation, bargaining and compromise. An in-your-face foreign policy approach is hardly what we need.

Come 2017 it will be interesting to watch if Trump will switch from ‘Trump the campaigner’ to ‘Trump the president’ and to what extent this switch will be influenced by ‘Trump the businessman’.

The writer is an academic, currently affiliated with Meliksah University, Turkey.

Email: [email protected]

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