Defying all predictions, all norms of decency, Washington’s establishment and the forces of ‘status quo’, and by running a racist, xenophobic, misogynist and anti-immigration/globalisation viciously populist campaign, a maverick populist outsider Donald Trump won the US elections.
Has the world again changed? Will he ‘Make America Great Again’ – and on whose expense? Is it a change for the worse than what was already too bad a situation, at least across the developed world and the troubled parts of the globe in particular? What does it entail for our part of the world?
This was one of the most atrocious and divisive election campaigns in the modern history of democracy, run by Donald Trump regardless of the so-called American values and against most norms that the neo-liberal Washington consensus held regarding the world economic order.
A frustrated white majority of working and middle classes who were extremely dissatisfied with no visible improvement in their lot and a variety of xenophobic and obnoxious undercurrents running across the United States made Trump trample over even his Republican Party that remained puzzled over the shenanigans of its grudging nominee. A non-political ‘outsider’, accused of numerous sexual assaults, a perpetual racist hate-monger and a federal tax evader, could yet make it by playing the most divisive cards against ethnic and religious minorities, immigrants while exploiting the frustration of the ‘white majority’ to do what he called “Brexit plus plus”.
The emergence of an angry and frustrated electorate – resulting in Brexit in the UK and the rise of ultra-nationalist parties in other European nations – got a most illusionary satisfaction in the vengeful emergence of a myopic billionaire. He was ironically supposed to reverse the socio-ethnic-economic dislocation caused by immigration and globalisation which were not working to the advantage of low-growth developed economies as much as they used to due to the rise of high-growth developing economies.
Trump’s real nemesis on the other extreme was Bernie Sanders, a socialist-democrat, who was also able to mobilise unprecedented grassroots support for all the good values that one could imagine in the American context. Unlike the not-much-trusted Hillary Clinton, her principled opponent in the Democratic Party’s primaries was a spotless, truthful, likeable and consistent champion of minority rights, workers rights, women and trans-gender rights and the real challenger of Wall Street hegemony and the un-delivering Washington DC establishment.
But a strong establishment of the Democratic Party preferred the pro-establishment and Wall Street-backed former secretary of state, Hilary Clinton, who was one of the most experienced persons to have contested in recent times. The young followers of Sanders were so motivated with the progressive democratic cause that Sanders’ espoused that they openly showed a lot of frustration with the nomination of Hillary whom they considered a part of the establishment that they had learnt to detest.
Despite not being liked by the electorate, the front runner in the race, Hillary Clinton, was able to build a coalition of educated white, ethnic minorities, African-Americans, Latinos and women. But a very balanced Hillary with a very well-defined agenda could not win over the constituencies that Sanders had so successfully mobilised. She was seen as the representative of establishment and her credentials were doubted by even many of those who hated Donald Trump and voted for her.
Badly-timed revelations by the FBI director regarding her emails, though denied two days before the elections for carrying any substantial material, cast Hillary in a bad light of being not responsible enough. The exceptional dream of a woman becoming America’s president has, unfortunately, gone sour and that too at the hands of a blatant sexist.
The most negative side of the election campaign was that policy issues took a back seat as Trump succeeded in making it more and more personalised, demagogic, xenophobic and divisive. It was an essentially a victory of negative vote casting. If Trump was eulogised by angry sections of a predominantly white electorate, the insecure and underpaid salaried classes in particular, he was more vociferously despised by the educated white youth and ethnic minorities and rights activists.
On the other hand, Hillary Clinton was not even much liked by most of those who either voted for her or against her despite their aversion to Trump. The false hopes, racism and supra-nationalism built by Trump swayed the final count amid sharp divisions in American society on race, class, ethnic and gender lines. The elections have brought one whimsical crusader to control the executive and his reluctant Republican Party to control both the houses of the US legislature.
Doubling US economic growth, throwing out illegal immigrants while making the immigration process more tedious, putting up protectionist walls while renegotiating regional and trans-regional trade agreements, exerting greater pressure on allies to pay for their partnership, taking a much tougher line on terrorism, including Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, rewriting the liberal economic agenda and reshaping globalisation under US hegemony – these are all are going to be tall orders.
How far Trump is going to be successful in renegotiating the world order to suit US interests as opposed to other rising powers, China and Russia, is a moot question. Also: how far will he go back on his divisive politics to overcome the huge divides that he has further exacerbated? Playing anger on cleavages and divides is easy, but unifying them will be a much greater headache. What will be the shape of the US and the world after four years of its 45th president? These are most troubling questions.
Trump’s worldview represents a more hegemonic, interventionist and militaristic imperil power that can potentially further endanger world peace. It comes at a time when globalisation had entered a stage where new players were finding greater space and borders and tariff barriers were being relaxed to new waves of immigrants.
The tide of globalization is, paradoxically, being reversed by the ‘Lead Nation’ – to be emulated by others on the capitalist path of development. It may reignite a new cold war and greater tensions. The tension between the US and China/Russia may witness some ugly turns and the war on terror may become bloodier with greater phobia against the Muslims.
We may see the rise of more Trumps, Putins, Erdogans and Modis, making this a much more dangerous world. In South Asia, we will witness greater harmony between Trump and Modi not only against China but also against Pakistan. The demands for ‘do more’ will be coming with greater threats, which Pakistan will least afford to ignore. The world at large is wondering what this crazy president-elect will do. Let’s save our breath and wait for how he unfolds and responds to his limitations.
The writer is a senior journalist.