Monday,18 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1286, (10 - 16 March 2016)
Monday,18 December, 2017
Issue 1286, (10 - 16 March 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Trump’s swan song?

Donald Trump has shaken up American politics, but it now appears that the Republican establishment is gearing up to derail his presidential plans,
writes Abdel-Moneim Said

Al-Ahram Weekly

As fate would have it, I have made several trips to the US since June of last year, when the Republican and Democratic primaries kicked off. Fate also decreed that I be present in the US during previous presidential elections seasons. Because of this, I am in a position to make comparisons.

First, this year’s campaign has to be the crudest and basest of all, both morally and politically. Second, Donald Trump, the billionaire business magnate cum politician, is the central theme at the moment. These two points combined tell of the considerable moral and political deterioration of US political elites.

More ominously, they testify to the fact that the ills of democracy have begun to permeate the US to the degree that democratic ideals and the strategic leadership of the world are being exposed to extreme danger.

The first “ill” of democracy, which political philosophers have frequently warned of, is the ability of democratic systems to give rise to “populist” demagogues with sufficient charisma to attract a following large enough to win general elections, after which they consider themselves above the government, above the law and, eventually, above the very people that voted for them.

Donald Trump started out as a new type of “leader” who was a model of wealth and success that inspired young people with the dream of attainable “billionairehood”. He soon revealed himself to be a person who mixes money with bullying.

This brings us to the second ill or, perhaps, the second phase of the same demagogic ill: the leader whose popularity increases by playing on people’s vilest and most primitive racist and bigoted ideas and attitudes.

It was probably no coincidence that Trump began his political journey by attacking Latino communities in the central and southern states, calling them thieves, rapists, drug dealers and other hateful epithets. From this racist premise he proceeded to call for the deportation of Latino “illegals”, regardless of whether they had children bearing US citizenship and even if they amounted to 11 million people.

He then notched up the rhetoric further and called for a thousand-mile-long wall between the US and Mexico, the construction of which Mexico would pay for since it was the lucky winner of a $58 billion surplus in its balance of trade with the US. The idea, as intended, struck a chord with the America’s majority white population, which imagines that unemployment comes from “others” getting all the jobs.

In a climate like that, once you start fuelling racism against a particular group, like the Latinos, it quickly evolves into a more general phenomenon directed against women, Americans of African, Asian or other ethnicities, and even people with special needs.

The third illness, which follows logically from the populism and the racism, is the rhetoric of “weakness” and the universal “conspiracy” against a people that were once “great” and deserve to be great again by virtue of the magical wonders that can be performed by a person like Donald Trump. This American billionaire espouses a narrative that holds that all of America’s allies benefited from the US and many even ripped it off.

To Trump, it was not economic or strategic partnership that leveraged the US into becoming the number one superpower in the world, probably because Europe, Japan, Australia and Canada voluntarily chose the US to be their strategic partner, less because of its military might than because of the horizons it opened for the exchange of goods and ideas in the “free” world.

Trump has to be the first US presidential candidate to proclaim his intent to make America’s allies pay for the US’s “protection”, which would turn the US from a world leader to a profit-making company. It is little wonder that Europe, Japan and other US allies are not keen to see Trump reach the White House. Moreover, if this is the Republican candidate’s initial position towards US’s allies, he has similar stances towards America’s Arab friends in the Gulf who have airports, roads and infrastructure as good as any to be found in the US and who should now “pay up”.

The fourth ill, although not explicitly stated by Trump, can be logically inferred from his already vocalised attitudes: a heavy-handed foreign policy. Given his abovementioned policies toward the US’s allies and friends, what would his policies towards enemies and adversaries be? Amazingly, Trump tries to cover all this bellicosity beneath his guise as a businessman.

His policy toward the rest of the world will be based on “negotiating”, which is not meant in the diplomatic or political sense but rather in the “bargaining/bartering” sense. If this approach is perfectly acceptable in international politics, it has certain limitations defined by the nature of the “products” that can be subject to this form of interaction, as opposed to other types of dealings that relate to political and moral power and influence.

More surprisingly, Trump has not yet tried to draw up a list of potential threats to the US, even if he has spoken vaguely about terrorism and less vaguely about making the families and children of terrorist targets for US military might.

The fifth ill is that this is the type of political leader or demagogue who fuels the fanaticism of the “masses” inclined to turn against institutions, laws and conventions. Trump did not learn the lesson from Obama, which is that regardless of the sincerity of his campaign pledge to close Guantanamo, the actual process of closing down the prison took up most of his two terms in office, due to legal and institutional obstacles and the obstructiveness of Congress, above all.

But Trump spouts no end of pledges, and costly ones at that, from the wall to abolishing the affordable healthcare law that extended a fundamental right to millions of Americans. In all events, because Trump is so abjectly ignorant of the American system, his pledges, if he wins, would most likely lead to head-on collisions with the US’s various institutions.

Does all this mean that Trump is the shoo-in for the White House? Well, one thing you can say about the US elections is that there is nothing you can be sure about. This particularly applies to a candidate who depends on popular whims and one who will be competing against very strong and experienced figures such as Hillary Clinton, who has also scored considerable successes in the primaries.

Still, Trump has two things going for him. One is that he has drawn large segments of the public into participating in the polls, and all of these are attracted to the type of vulgarity and fanaticism that Trump feeds them in spades. The second is that Americans have a kind of passion or infatuation for change, sometimes just for the sake of change.

At the moment, the American mood, especially among the younger generations, is looking for new leaders from outside the “establishment”. On one end of the political spectrum the business magnate Trump fits the bill; on the opposite side is “socialist” Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders.

It seems that, in the past few days, the “establishment” has woken up and started to combat the Trump threat. We can observe that resistance in the Republican and Democratic parties, the press and the intelligentsia, and the effects will be evident in the results of the upcoming primaries until the end of March.


The writer is chairman of the board, CEO, and director of the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies.

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