Sunday March 03, 2024

The mask comes off

November 18, 2016

It was not through a coup d’etat. Nor did he land himself into the White House by imposing martial law. It was a largely credible democratic process that delivered the US presidency to Trump. And that precisely was the reason that sent a shockwave around the world.

What have the Americans done? What an average white American is saying through Trump, the US has been doing since long. The only difference is that they have now pulled off the mask of goodness. They have confessed, thumping their chests, what they have long been blamed for: greed, debauchery, opportunism, racism, sexism et al. They want to make America great again – by throwing out millions of immigrants, banning Muslims, making the lives of non-white Americans hell, abolishing affordable healthcare, doing away with subsidies etc.

Many a good movie plot is structured on presenting the villain as a good-humoured character in the beginning, revealing his true colours gradually and, as the climax is reached, making him shed his mask and come out into the open with his true self. So was the US entry in the world stage, sort of noble – harbinger of democracy, liberties and rights; land of opportunities; isolationist in a world replete with unending wranglings.

As it crossed the milestones of WWI and WWII and entered the era of the cold war, it started showing its teeth – staging coups, rigging elections abroad, planting dictators, creating militant proxies, bankrolling jihadists, waging dirty wars – and, in the process, caused innumerable deaths and alarming levels of destruction all over the world. After 9/11, it ran amok and devastated state after state. And now, in Trump’s victory, it seems to have reached the climax. Is the American film nearing its end then?

As a superpower, the US has likely entered its downward trajectory. Admittedly what, as a superpower, it has unleashed on this world is not to its exclusive discredit – it’s inherent for superpowers to get their hands dirty. The credit goes to the revolution in areas like transportation, communication and information technology, which takes us to the other side of the US coin – which has put everything, the average life span of a superpower inclusive, on a fast forward mode.

It is precisely for that reason that the US has done in decades what past superpowers would do in centuries – expose itself to the world. With all its might, however, it remains unable to change a simple law of nature: every superpower, having done all good and bad things, has to fall one day; replaced by a new one.

By electing President Trump, the US has precipitated what is coming – its downfall. “Everyone sees what you seem to be, few know what you really are; and those few do not dare take a stand against the general opinion”, observed the father of real politik,         Niccolò Machiavelli. What if everyone gets to know what you really are? You are probably in big trouble. That definitely holds good for a superpower as well as it does for a prince.

While any tidings of the probable decline of the US may be music to many ears here in Pakistan, a few relevant facts will take the gloss off. One, any other superpower will also behave the same as the US. And two, superpowers don’t fall easily and smoothly. An imperial transition from one superpower to the other is always a bumpy ride, with lots of jerks and shocks for the world. Rarely has it been accomplished without a bloody war of a gigantic scale.

Pakistan is trying to absorb the great shock that is Trump’s victory. His negative view of Pakistan is an open secret. Pakistani policymakers, however, can find some relief in the fact that the strong institutions in the US can balance an individual president’s personal negative views. And that Trump, in all probability, is smart enough to understand that “the promise given was a necessity of the past: the word broken is a necessity of the present”. The rigours of US policy towards Pakistan have already reached their limit; there is almost no room for further stretching.


The writer is a former diplomat and
currently practises law.