2016 American Elections
The conflict is now no longer perceived as Trump against the Republican Party establishment but as that of Trump versus the American political system
In the United States the shocking, but not necessarily surprising momentum gathered by the campaign of Donald Trump for the Republican primaries, has forced some of the stalwarts of the conservative strand of the party to openly and often quite vociferously express their opposition to his candidacy as representative of the Grand Old Party (GOP). Senators Mac Cain and Romney, both former unsuccessful Republican presidential candidates, prominently figure among the latter.
The conflict is now no longer perceived as Trump against the Republican Party establishment but as that of Trump versus the American political system. It is increasingly viewed as a real threat to the very foundations of bipartisan politics with real risks of causing untold damage to the position of the United States in the world. It also confronts the whole “democratic world” with some rather uncomfortable questions.
The origins of this volatile and hugely distressing situation can be traced back to the end of the Cold War when the United States started positioning itself as the self- appointed global champion of democratic values and the architect of “democratic states”. It began with the invasion of Iraq by the United States. The US administration under the forgettable era of George W Bush had taken it on itself, in defiance of international law, to invade that country in the name of “restoration of freedom” for its people.
The results are here to see. In a classic case of the domino principle, the subsequent destabilization of that whole region has become the source of innumerable misery to millions of families. The massive migration of people, fleeing from war-torn nations and failed states seeking refuge in Europe, is straining some of the fundamental institutions of the European Union such as the free movement of people between frontiers.
Although the immediate setting of the human tragedy is in Europe, the repercussions on the mindset of voters is quasi universal. The anti-Muslim rhetoric, which started it all for Trump because it seemed to find resonance with a section of the electorate, can effectively be traced back to this complex set of events. One thing leading to the other the preposterous idea of erecting a wall to prevent Mexicans crossing the border with the US would be unthinkable in the absence of a global environment in which migrants and foreigners are designated as the cause of all the evils of society.
In the circumstances, the most dramatic question which arises is: what happens if Donald Trump is effectively elected President of the US in the coming elections of next November? This is no longer an outlandish possibility as many analysts fear that, between now and the elections, the campaign of Hillary Clinton could flounder for any of a number of reasons – a terrorist attack on US soil, for example.
The racist and xenophobic stands which Donald Trump has taken on some of the critical issues of internal and foreign policy will make the world a much less safer place while the United States, which has purportedly become the centre of gravity of global decision-making since the end of the Cold War, will surely become a cause of great embarrassment for its partners in the “community of nations”.
Donald Trump openly advocates mass deportation, religious discrimination and an isolationist foreign policy. As a consequence the moral high ground, which has been a necessary appendage to justify the predominance of the United States in global matters, will simply evaporate. The dramatic irony in this whole situation becomes inescapable: the chickens are now coming back home to roost. Decades of unprincipled foreign politics has contributed to raise the pitch of xenophobia and intolerance globally to levels not witnessed since the end of the Second World War; the United States cannot expect to remain immune from its disastrous consequences.
On the internal front, the rise of the Tea Party faction of the GOP has meant that the Obama years (2008-2016) have witnessed the virtual destruction of the foundations of bipartisanship, which is such an essential ingredient of the Hamiltonian system of government based on the constant search of consensus (not to be confused with unanimity) on matters of national importance. This near breakdown of a centuries-old tradition has resulted, among other things, in the ridiculous repetition of near breakdown of the whole administrative machinery of the United States for lack of budget approvals.
One direct result of these failures and absence of principles is that the bed has been laid for the type of populism on which rests the politics of the likes of Donald Trump in the United States. The trade-mark of the Trump version of populism has been best defined in the following terms by one American analyst: “Trump built his campaign around the promise of an unlimited government that will solve every problem that ails America, provided it is fully under his control.”
In Europe a similar phenomenon has taken the form of total confusion between what was traditionally a clear divide between right and left, or right and left of centre parties. Ever since the Great Financial Crisis austerity politics has become the bedrock of policies regardless of which party is in power. Populist insurgencies have devastated the space usually occupied by centrist parties, resulting in the rise of the likes of Marine Lepen’s ‘Front National’ in France as well as other numerous though less known extreme right parties, often of neo-Nazi inspiration, particularly in the former eastern bloc nations.
The first casualty of the rise of Trump and his extremist and divisive politics is of course the GOP establishment. Even the supporters of the libertarian strands of the Tea Party,, which has been engineering a shift of the Republicans from centrist to more radical “conservative” politics over the past decade or so, now look rather coy when compared to such demagoguery.
The fact remains though that as long as one refuses to see the connections between the systemic contradictions of the present dominant capitalist order and the mainstreaming of what was hitherto considered to be a marginal political phenomenon, there is little prospect of stopping this flight to extremism.
* Published in print edition on 11 March 2016