Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1320, (17 - 23 November 2016)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1320, (17 - 23 November 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Victory for Trump, defeat for America

The election of Donald Trump as the new US president is not only a challenge for the United States, but also for the world as a whole, writes Ibrahim Nawar

Al-Ahram Weekly

The international and US media, opinion poll agencies and the American political class and establishment all got it wrong. They did not think the unthinkable and deliberately tried to ignore the real issues that drove frustrated voters to vote for Donald Trump and carry him to the highest office in the US. He, Trump, did it and is now to become the 45th president of the United States. Down with liberal values and long live populism in the White House!

The victory of Donald Trump has sent shock waves across America and the rest of the world. No one could believe it was real. The editorial board of the Washington Post newspaper wrote with regret on 9 November that “Donald Trump was elected the 45th president of the United States on Tuesday. Those are words we hoped never to write.”

The columnist Paul Krugman wrote describing America as “our unknown country.” Columnist Thomas Friedman expressed his feeling after the win as “homeless in America” and went on by saying that “with Donald Trump now elected president, I have more fear than I’ve ever had in my 63 years that we could do just that – break our country – that we could become so irreparably divided that our national government will not function.”

Last month, the Atlantic magazine warned that Trump’s short fuse, authoritarian streak and his stoking of racist sentiments could be dangerous for the nation and described him by saying that “he is brash, inexperienced and unpredictable – his most dangerous trait – as he takes command in a world where, for example, North Korea poses an increasingly serious nuclear threat. His election likely means rough times for US alliances, not to mention the world economy.”

The naked reality now is that Donald Trump, the “brash, inexperienced and unpredictable,” will soon become the man in command of America and the symbol of American values, the American political system and American power. He will have access to the button that can activate the largest nuclear weapons arsenal on Earth. The question now is how he will deal with issues inside and outside the United States.

First of all, those who brought Trump to power – older, rural and white without college degree voters – are expecting him to bring back the lost American dream of prosperity and make them feel they are still living in the land of opportunity. Let’s not forget that “change,” the key word that carried Barack Hussein Obama to the White House in 2008, was also the magic word that brought victory to Donald Trump.

Marginalised white communities in mid-western states and cities who have been suffering from unemployment, deteriorating standards of living and inequality in all aspects of their lives have carried out their own rebellion against the US establishment. They rejected the establishment and believed in Trump. Will he be able to deliver? Obama tried, but failed, and Trump has no magic want to bring power and prosperity back to a nation that has been showing symptoms of decline and to a system that has been showing signs of political and institutional decay.

The wind is not blowing in his direction, and the desperate voters who voted him in will soon likely feel manipulated and deceived. The United States is deeply divided, and Trump is not equipped to “bind the wounds of division.” The new president-elect deliberately tried to soften his tone in his victory speech last week in order to get closer to his opponents. Some analysts argue that the United States will look as unified as it has ever been over the last 50 years under the command of the Republicans in the White House, the Senate, the House of Representatives and state governments.  

Will Americans be able to respond to Trump’s call in his victory speech when he said “it is time for us to come together”? Sadly, American wounds are much deeper and more heavily contaminated than he thinks. The Republicans under the leadership of Trump and with their clear institutional majority may do more harm than good to America’s unity.

To be clear, the election of Donald Trump as US president is not only a challenge to the United States, but it is also a challenge to the world as a whole. Will he be able to succeed in the multi-dimensional tests he will face within and outside his country? The real tests within range from problems of inequality, slow economic growth and unemployment to problems of institutional culture. Each of them needs a clear vision and a lot of dedication and hard work.

The real tests without include the leadership of the US with regard to the EU, Japan and NATO and building a comprehensive and workable strategy to deal with friends like Germany, the Arab Gulf states and Israel and foes like North Korea, Iran, Russia and China. German chancellor Angela Merkel wrote a very solid but cold congratulatory message to Trump reminding him that the US-German alliance could only continue to flourish on the basis of democracy, freedom and respect for the law and the dignity of man, independent of origins, skin colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political views. “I offer the next president of the United States close cooperation on the basis of these values,” she wrote.

In the meantime, the new president-elect will have to deal with immediate threats, such as in the Middle East where the regime change strategy has failed and produced chaos instead. The new president-elect will have to form a new strategy and depart from a failed one. It appears that he is seeking Israel’s help in this respect. His views on Syria, the war on terrorism, Turkey and the Arab Gulf states have yet to be tested. According to statements made during his campaign, Trump has expressed a more lenient stand regarding the Crimea and South China Sea. Issues that will likely overshadow his entire term in office will also include the thorny matters of immigration, freedom of trade and global warming.

According to a recent New York Times article, the new US president (Trump or Clinton) would face immense and unrelenting challenges from day one. Trump now inherits a world in which liberal democracy is in retreat and US leadership is in doubt. The Middle East is in turmoil, North Korea’s nuclear arsenal is growing and Russia and China are flexing their muscles. At home, former US president Obama bequeaths an economy that is in generally good health, but one that is also facing problems like slow growth, stubborn inequality and long-term stresses on the federal budget.

I shall conclude by saying that it is not Trump to blame or Clinton to hope for, as neither he nor she has a solid vision or a workable strategy for the US and the world. As history is taking a nasty turn in this age of turbulence, old realities are being buried one after another, new powers are emerging (China  and Iran), or re-emerging (Russia and Germany), old strategies are out of touch, and the world seems to be giving birth to a new era that has never been seen before.

Trump and the rise of populism is just one sign that the old world is collapsing and the United States will sooner or later become just one of many powerful countries in the world.

The writer is former senior political affairs officer at the UNDPA.

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