Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1320, (17 - 23 November 2016)
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1320, (17 - 23 November 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Trump triumphs over America

Donald Trump’s presidential election victory is a resounding repudiation of all that America has stood for in recent years, writes Aijaz Zaka Syed

Al-Ahram Weekly

Phew! What a crazy, absolutely unpredictable contest this election has been! Who would have thought that someone as unorthodox and radical as Donald Trump would come this far in the race for the White House, let alone win it? Many believed this election was already in the bag and was Hillary Clinton’s to lose.

So what happened? How could all the high-brow pundits and experts in and outside the US have got it so wildly wrong? Clearly, Trump tapped into the massive groundswell of anti-establishment sentiment of ordinary Americans, especially the insecurities of white working class voters. They bought into the fiction that their country was being taken over by immigrants, Muslims and people of colour and that their numerical and cultural superiority was under threat.

Many of them identified with the unabashedly racist hysteria and bigotry targeting Muslims, Hispanics and others.

After eight years of the first African American president whose father was a Muslim there had been a clear hunger for change (Democrats haven’t won a third successive term in the past 60 years). And it was possible for someone even as politically incorrect as Trump to sell that idea of change.

Unfortunately for Hillary, she was seen as the ultimate Washington insider, representing the status quo — an extension of the Obama presidency, if you will. The passionate campaigning by Michelle and Barack Obama in the last few days, it turns out, only reinforced that impression.

Trump, on the other hand, was viewed as someone who challenged the old order with his risqué and anti-establishmentarian rhetoric. He galvanised legions of aggrieved Americans who “felt left out” into voting for change and for the promise to “make America great” again.

Trump’s victory is thus a resounding repudiation of all that Obama and indeed an inclusive America stood for. As The Washington Post put it, Trump broke all the old rules of the game and yet won.  

What happens now? A Trump presidency had been simply unimaginable for religious and ethnic minorities, except for right wing Hindus. His talk of banishing Muslims and building that absurd wall along the border with Mexico spooked everyone.

But now that he has been elected to the most powerful office in the world, let’s hope Trump doesn’t take his own rhetoric too seriously and will be a “president for all Americans”, as he promised in his victory speech.

After the most bitter and divisive election in US history, that is what he needs to do — reach out to all sections of the great melting pot of a nation to heal the rift. It’s not going to be easy of course, after the hate mongering and toxic demagoguery that this election has seen.

There are huge apprehensions among religious and ethnic minorities, not to mention the jitters the idea of a Trump presidency has caused around the world, including in the Middle East. The incoming president will have to reach out and address all those fears.  

Now that Obama’s successor has been chosen, it’s perhaps time to look at the incumbent’s legacy. While this president enjoys unprecedented popularity ratings at home — the highest for a second term president — he doesn’t generate too many happy emotions in the Arab world. With some hits and many misses, it has been a mixed legacy for Obama as far as the region is concerned.

Obama is seen as someone who left the region burning — given the situation in Syria, Iraq and Libya — and in political turmoil, following the uproar over the Iran nuclear deal, according to Arab News, the Middle East’s leading English daily.

In the words of veteran Arab commentator Hisham Melhem, Obama inherited a dysfunctional Middle East from George W Bush and left a burning Middle East for his successor.

While the incumbent can claim success in turning the US economy around after the 2008 meltdown, and in wiping out Al-Qaeda, including the elimination of Osama Bin Laden, historians may not look too kindly on his handling of the Middle East.

Given his unique background and the uplifting promise of ‘Yes, We Can’, many in the region had hoped he would finally help resolve the long festering Palestine-Israel conflict. This is why his abject failure to rein in Israel’s reign of terror proved so crushingly disappointing for the Islamic world.

After that initial burst of euphoria when he dispatched his special envoy to the region in his first week in office — besides announcing the closure of Guantanamo — our hero did not take long to surrender before Israel, abandoning all efforts for peace. He totally disengaged himself from the region, leaving Israel to push forward with its ceaseless enterprise of colonising what little remains of Palestinian land.

Over the past few years, hundreds of Palestinians have been summarily gunned down at checkpoints and thousands imprisoned as part of Netanyahu’s “new doctrine of preventive security”.

Al-Aqsa, Islam’s third holiest mosque, and Jerusalem, sacred to the three Abrahamic faiths, have been under siege. But we haven’t heard a whimper from Washington. The Palestinians have never felt more emasculated and abandoned by the world community.

And it’s not just the Palestinians who are paying with their lives for the crippling indifference and apathy of the leader of the free world. Look at the awful mess in Syria, in Iraq and Libya. The whole region is on fire.

After eight years of Bush, defined by 9/11 and the twin, trillion-dollar disasters of Afghanistan and Iraq, Obama may have been justified in balking at the idea of another costly Middle East misadventure. However, the decision to sit it out has meant the loss of half a million lives in Syria, not to mention the unprecedented refugee crisis and the pestilence called ISIS (the Islamic State group) this conflict has spawned.

I am not a fan of foreign interventionism. But when hundreds of thousands of lives are at stake, as has been the case in Syria — and before that in Rwanda and the Balkans etc — what is the world community with its fine institutions supposed to do? Just stand and stare?

Imagine the consequences if the US had not intervened in World War II and later in the Balkan conflict of the 1990s.

Millions of more innocents would have certainly perished. Look at what happened in Rwanda or what is happening right now in Syria because of the world community’s failure to act.

President Obama may have missed historic opportunities to bring about peace in Palestine and put an end to Syria’s misery. Can we expect any better from President Trump? Given his adulation of Putin’s Russia and proximity to the Israeli lobby, we should perhaps expect more of the same. In any case, the core agenda and policies of the surviving superpower seldom change no matter who occupies the White House.

Yet given Trump’s apolitical background and the fact that he is not part of the Republican establishment and hence not so amenable to various special interests, there may be a small ray of hope. Who knows — he may prove us all wrong by coming up with a more balanced and just foreign policy. After all, he has surprised us all so far.

The writer is a Gulf-based author and columnist.

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