The first Tuesday after the first Monday in November this year led to what is now called the 11/9 of America’s history. In a shocking surprise and contrary to most media projections and pollsters’ surveys, Americans chose a known playboy, a billionaire real estate developer-turned-reality television star Donald Trump with no government experience or exposure, as their next President. Democracy, so well-known in our own country for its continuing revenge has indeed struck back in America with renewed vengeance. Eight years ago, it had struck there to crush the race “barrier,” installing in the White House the first-ever non-white President in US history.
This year, Americans had a chance for the last barrier cross of their history. But they failed to elect their first woman president. Instead, they elected a man of dubious credentials as the 45th President of the United States. This result surprised everybody, even those who voted for Trump. According to a post-election analysis in The New York Times, this stunning election outcome “amounted to a repudiation, not only of Mrs Clinton, but of President Obama, whose legacy is suddenly imperiled.” In other words, Hillary lost because the disgruntled voters judged her against incumbent Obama’s performance.
Endorsing this phenomenon, another American political analyst Robert W. Merry also claims that “presidential elections are largely referendums on the incumbent president or incumbent party. The voters make their judgments every four years based on one overarching question—namely, has this president (or incumbent party) performed in office with sufficient capacity and success to be eligible for rehire.” According to him, the scenario over the Obama years had been “unfolding in ways that ensured no Democrat could beat any Republican in the 2016 presidential referendum.”
That is exactly what happened in this election. Hillary lost the election not because she was a woman but because she represented a status quo rejected by the majority of American voters. It was a fierce revolt against the incumbency status quo in Washington.
And as in the case of Barack Obama in 2008, Trump this year is also the beneficiary of the same ‘incumbency’ syndrome. In both cases, neither colour nor gender was the sole decisive factor. Voters just wanted a break from the preceding eight years of domestic failures and external belligerence.
In Obama’s case, the people were fed up with his predecessor, George W. Bush, and in Trump’s case, they rejected Obama’s tattered legacy. In both cases, they elected a man with no political history or baggage in the hope for change that has long eluded them in Washington’s uncaring status quo. Political analysts insist Obama’s second term, in which he had adequately groomed into a Washington Insider, paved the way for Trump’s unbelievable rise. His personal qualities notwithstanding, Obama was no Ronald Reagan. He could not secure a third term for his Democratic successor.
As it happens every time, in his victory speech on 11/9, President-elect Donald Trump, for a change, also talked sense when he said, “Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division and to come together … as one people.” Ironically, around the same time in Washington, an important European ambassador to the US sent out a tweet. “It is the end of an era. It remains to be seen what will succeed it. Apparently, after Brexit and this election, everything is now possible. A world is collapsing before our eyes.” Indeed, overnight, the world was entering an uncharted territory.
During his campaign, Trump had been threatening to upend what is called the existing order, the network of treaties and multilateral institutions that govern much of global relations. Besides questioning US commitment to the Nato alliance, he said, he would tear up and renegotiate multilateral trade treaties. Now, as world braces to make sense of Donald Trump, a different kind of leader altogether in contemporary world, it is immaterial who voted for him or what led to his victory. What matters is that America has elected him as its next president and is moving ahead with its normal transition process. He is already selecting his cabinet.
Inevitably, however, there are fears and concerns all around the world over his stated radical agenda and on how he intends to turn his ideas into policy under his personal leadership. What aggravates the scenario is that Mr Trump is inheriting a world in chaos. In his final State of the Union address, President Obama himself admitted that the world he was leaving behind was in a terrible flux. He even warned that “instability will continue for decades in many parts of the world—in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, parts of Pakistan, in parts of Central America, in Africa, and Asia.” What, in fact, he said was that his successor will be the proud owner of a world in chaos.
Will Trump measure up to the myriad global challenges in the fast-changing and realigning world? No doubt, the change of leadership in Washington provides a watershed opening for a change of direction in America’s thinking and behaviour toward the rest of the world. Trump has no magic wand but with his business skills, he could, at least, restore America’s credibility and moral standing so that it recovers from its global alienation and negative perception as an ‘arrogant superpower’ which is “interventionist, exploitative, unilateralist, and hegemonic.” First and foremost, besides he will have to do his own image-building and then redress the ‘root causes’ of global anti-Americanism.
Americans have always believed that America is the light of the world. But somehow not many, including a very large number of Americans and Europeans, share this belief. They see very little consistency between America’s values and ideals and its actual practices in the world. In its efforts to perpetuate its monopoly of power and dominance of the globe, the US has shown scant regard for the principles of equity and justice and international law. It is creating its own standards of peace and democracy. Palestine and Kashmir are the real examples of these double standards. Trump must understand that, to make the world safe for every peace-loving nation, unless justice is done to others, it will not be done to you.
If the turbulent history of our region had any lessons, Washington’s engagement in this region should have been a source of stability — not instability — in our region’s volatile security environment. It should have been eschewing discriminatory policies in its dealings with India-Pakistan nuclear equation, the only one in the world that grew up in history totally unrelated to the Cold War. But this never happened. Trump must avoid being on the wrong side of history. He has just seen how his predecessor who so confidently associated himself with the tide of the future ended up presiding over a political wipeout that will send much of his legacy into the dustbin. History, indeed, has a keen sense of humour.
Now beyond a sense of disillusionment and hope, what does Trump’s election mean for Pakistan? We should expect no big change in Washington’s Pakistan policy template. Terrorism is an issue above party lines and evokes equal concern over Pakistan’s crucial role in fighting the ‘roots’ of this scourge. The modality of the new administration’s pressure might perhaps shift from direct military operations to greater diplomatic and economic engagement. Our objective must not be to weaken this important relationship but to strengthen it by infusing in it greater mutuality-based political, economic and strategic content. It must no longer remain a ‘transactional’ relationship and must go beyond the issue of terrorism.
While seeking a normal, friendly and mutually beneficial relationship with the US, we must give up excessive reliance on US economic or military assistance. We need to avoid drawing in the US to influence our domestic dynamics. Our own political, economic and social strength must be our main asset. This requires us to free ourselves of our domestic weaknesses and vulnerabilities.