Sunday April 21, 2024

An unexpected redeemer?

By Raashid Wali Janjua
November 15, 2016

Has passion trumped reason in the recently concluded US presidential elections? The answer may partially lie in the social constructivist views of Alexander Wendt who regards structures of human association related mostly to “shared ideas” shaping identities that presage identity politics. Identity politics in turn trump politics of ideology, creating a world view driven by baser human instincts.

Perhaps one of the most piquant comments on Donald Trump’s stunning electoral success was that he successfully “tapped into the anguish and frustration coursing through the veins of a disempowered working white majority”. The instinct of self preservation and xenophobia that had lain dormant was gingered up and woken by the Trump’s electoral campaign.

On November 8 the silent majority of the US underdog class, fed up with the elitism and structural penury imposed upon them by an unjust system pandering to the rich, rummaged through their souls and dug up a revulsion against the saccharine hypocrisy of Hillary the Democrat. They knew she promised the moon but would deliver the usual dough doled out parsimoniously, reserving the goodies for the Wall Street gluttons. They knew her likes promised a lot but failed to deliver, leaving their income levels relative to the top 20 percent of the rich frozen since 1999.

They saw their jobs sourced out to foreign shores and their identities challenged by a deluge of immigrants and foreign entrepreneurs with whom they could neither compete economically nor relate culturally. A populace long reared on US moral and material exceptionalism feared for its economic and cultural supremacy in a globalised world.

It was under the above environment of deprivation that the message of a moral and material revanchism trumped the liberal internationalism of Hillary Clinton. Though the Wall Street biggies and the mainstream media piggybacked gratuitously on the neoliberal narrative of the Democratic Party, there were contrarian echoes of dissent by journalists like John Pilger who even dubbed the New York Times as a “Cold World Propaganda Sheet”. According to him, Hillary Clinton embodied a status quo with a violent inner core supported by Israel and the arms manufacturers’ lobby.

It would be interesting to examine what constituted the dark inner core of the social and political universe that handed down a victory to Trump. It would be equally interesting to highlight what lies ahead for the US and the world in the wake of the new US president’s electoral promises. First, the US inner core; the American population has been suffering continual stratification and inequality since the last two decades. The globalisation and technological development that brought in competition and sourced out jobs hit the vast majority of the erstwhile well-off US middle and lower middle class.

The transformation of the industrial economy to a knowledge economy with predominance of services put premium on higher education, assiduity, savings and innovation, attributes that were in short supply amongst a population weaned on industrial age job security and a consumerist lifestyle. The decline in economic fortunes was subliminally attributed to economic interlopers such as Hispanics, Chinese, South Asians etc.

Donald Trump gauged well the temperature of the dark inner core of the American population. His message resonated with the Bible belt, white supremacists, closet misogynists, and neo-realists upending the Obama era’s liberal internationalism. Publications like ‘International Affairs’ reminded people that the trillion dollar wars in Afghanistan and Iraq had pauperised middle-class Americans and that the most of America’s wars had been initiated by Democrats.

The new anti-inequality and anti-establishment visage of leaders like Jeremy Corbyn in Britain and Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump suddenly appeared as kindred souls challenging the forces of global revanchism and imperialism in favour of domestic focus on jobs and public weal.

We know pretty well by now what Donald Trump stands for. He has indicated an aversion for trade deals unfavourable to US jobs and economy, for climate agreements that retard US industrial growth, for a standoff with Russia and encirclement of China, for mollycoddling the illegal immigrants, and for an economic growth at the cost of jobs. Is this good for the US and the world?

The answer may lie in response to three questions raised by Henry Kissinger in his book, ‘World Order’ and their answer by a Trump world view. The first question was: ‘What does the US seek to prevent?’ The answer to this question would define the minimum condition for the survival of society. Trump seeks to prevent joblessness at home and needless wars abroad with rivals like Russia and China. He also wants to prevent the subsuming of US cultural identity by a new wave of immigrants. Prevention of international trade unfavourable to the US and climate initiatives costing precious dollars indicate a predilection for domestic development at the cost of liberal internationalism.

The second question, ‘what does US seek to achieve?’, defines national strategy. Trump’s answer is American economic pre-eminence with palpable benefits to the US citizen. The third question, ‘what should we not engage in?’, defines the limiting conditions on US participation in the world order. Trump does not want to engage in costly wars, and concomitant pandering to the US arms lobby.

The sum total of the above indicates a leadership preference for a world order based on self-preservation, non-interference, and a kind of pre WWI US insularism focused on domestic growth and an inclusive world order.

Through Trump, the unexpected redeemer, global pluralism and a war-less era might be a dividend for a world that is poised currently on the brink of wars and confrontation.


The writer is a PhD scholar at Nust.