By Zamir Akram
For those familiar with American political commentator Michael Moore’s works will recognise the title of this article as being inspired by his best-selling book Stupid White Men which was a stinging critique of US domestic and foreign policies under the Clinton and Bush Administrations. It should also be acknowledged that Moore has been among the very few liberal Americans who had argued well before the results of the last US election that Donald Trump would win. The basis of his argument was that the Conservative White Americans of the bible-belt or the US heartland, the so-called alt-Right, would unite against the “liberal” agenda of the Democrats which they blame for their marginalisation. After Trump’s victory, the liberals maintain that this is the result of the choice made by these “Stupid White Americans”.
It must be admitted, however, that it was not much of a choice. Lamenting the decay in the American political system, eminent British historian Andrew Roberts, commented recently that this was a choice between a “clown and a crook”. He went on to argue for a change in the US electoral system that has indeed become archaic and dysfunctional.
For those who support this complicated political system, the belief is that the electoral vote, which is indirect, will always be consistent with the popular vote, which is direct. But, as in the latest instance, this has not been the case: Hillary Clinton won the direct vote but lost the electoral vote. In recent times, this happened in 2000 as well when Al Gore won the popular or direct vote but lost to George W Bush in the Electoral College polling. For a country that is more than 200 years old, surely it’s time to adjust to the more representative form of direct democracy.
It is also the substance of American democracy that raises questions. Why is it that serious contenders like Bernie Sanders who made eminent sense about what needs to be done in the US lost the Democrat primary to a charlatan like Hillary Clinton?Admittedly, on the Republican side, the choices were pretty limited but anybody would have been better than a candidate like Trump who had flaunted his bigotry, Islamphobia, racism, sexism and misogyny among other prejudices. Part if not the entire answer is in the role of big money. The candidate who raises the most campaign funds, wins.
Trump defenders have explained his victory due to his promise to address the concerns of the White majority — about economic marginalisation, unemployment, housing, social security, health-care and (Conservative Christian) values, allegedly under threat from Mexican immigrants, Muslims, transgender, women and liberals. Though coming as a surprise to many inside and outside America, this claim is true. Trump did speak and behave in a manner that appeals to the majority of Conservative Christian Americans who live in the American Central Heartland and not in the liberal East or West Coasts. For these liberals living in New York or Los Angeles the people who voted for Trump are the “Stupid White Americans” — barely educated, bigoted,politically ignorant and deeply religious, who are increasingly concerned about their traditional way of life which they think is threatened by blacks, foreigners and Muslims. In effect Trump has been voicing concerns and views that are in the hearts if not on the lips of the majority of Americans.
American liberals who profess shock at Trump’s victory are in fact in denial about the socio-economic and political trends in their country. They forget that the conservative Christian movement in the US started way back in the mid 1990s when after several decades,the US Congress came under Republican Party control, led by Newt Gingrich as Speaker who strongly supported the Christian Right. Not surprisingly,thereafter, the Neo-Conservatives (Neo-Cons) under the George Bush administration came to power, among whom were groups such as the “Christian Zionists”. Though defeated by the Obama led liberal backlash, the far right movement surged ahead with the “Tea Party” faction in Congress that challenged even the values of the mainstream Republicans. Therefore, the election of Donald Trump is consistent with the trend in US politics towards extremely conservative faith-based values that are deeply held by the majority of Christian White Americans.
The strength of this movement can be judged from the fact that even an avidly liberal Democrat like Obama with his commitment to reverse George Bush era misdemeanors, ended up abandoning his over progressive agenda to the extent that his policies were dubbed “Bush-lite”.
Looking into the future, some Trump loyalists and optimists believe that campaign rhetoric will not translate into policies: once Trump is in the driver’s seat, national interests will ultimately guide his policies. This could be true and precedents support this view. However, Trump’s choices for his Cabinet — Homeland Security, CIA, National Security Advisor — are people who have also expressed extreme views about immigrants, Muslims, use of torture etc that raise concerns. Moreover, the election campaign has unleashed dark forces such as even the Nazi Party and the Ku Klux Klan who have come into the open with their hate-mongering. Already, according to some sources, hate crimes since the election result have increased by 600 per cent. America is, therefore, likely to face chaos at home.
On the external front as well there remains great uncertainty about the Trump Administration’s policies. While he may not be able to easily extricate the US from Syria/Iraq and Afghanistan, as he suggested during the campaign, due to prevailing strategic realities, Trump may end up speeding up the growing deterioration in Sino-US relations over trade and Taiwan. Similarly, there are question marks about his policies towards Europe and Russia. However, this initial period of uncertainty would not last long as US Foreign Policy is determined by national interests on which no American leader can compromise. Therefore, the existing trends are likely to continue — competition with Russia and China for global supremacy in partnership with Europe in the West and Japan, South Korea, Australia and India in the East. Hence the world could become an even more dangerous place.
Those in Pakistan who are enthralled by Trump’s comments over the phone are in for a disappointment. His loose talk indicates lack of experience with foreign affairs rather than a true foundness for Pakistan or its leaders. Moreover, we should remember that, as pointed out by noted Indian writer Pankaj Mishra, there is “the incendiary appeal of demagoguery” between Trump and Modi, the Hindu supremacist, who no doubt is heartened by Trump’s claim that he is “a big, big fan of Hindu”.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 21st, 2016.