Sunday, 24 July 2016

Why Donald Trump May become the Next US President



 
By Biodun Jeyifo
 
It is the early hours of Friday, July 22, 2016 and as I have been doing in the last three days, I have been sitting up late into the early hours of the new day watching television broadcast of the Republican Party’s National Convention on the CNN channel. Because I am in Berlin, Germany that is six hours ahead of the Eastern Standard Time (EST) of the United States, tonight as in each of the last three nights, I have to persevere till the wee hours of the morning. This is unusual for me as the only thing that I normally watch on television this late is tennis and then only when it is one of the four so-called “Opens” – Australian, French, Wimbledon and American. So what is there in the Republican National Convention that has kept me so bewitchingly glued to the television for hours on end? The answer to this is simple and unambiguous: the coming American presidential election in November 2016 is so portentous, both for the United States and the rest of the world, that I want to see and hear everything that leads to it. More on this point concerning the portents of this year’s American presidential election for the rest of the world later.
For now, it is difficult for me to hide my gladness that many things have gone wrong with and in the Republican Convention, from the deliberate and en massabsence of most of the “heavyweight” leaders of the Party; to the widely discussed plagiarism of Michele Obama’s speech at the 2008 Democratic Convention by Melania, the wife of Donald Trump,in her speech at the Convention on opening night; and the refusal of Ted Cruz, who was one of Trump’s rivals during the primaries, to endorse Trump in his speech last night at this Republican Convention.One of the much touted claims of Trump in his electoral campaign is that nearly everything in America is broken and only he, Donald Trump, can fix things. Well, how come then that so many things in his Convention are so broken that it is not only embarrassing for his Party but calls into question his claim of heroic, superhuman and technocratic deal-making efficiency? Can a man who cannot run a Party Convention smoothly and efficiently run an entire country, that country being the richest and most powerful nation in the world?
Above everything else in this Republican Convention and far beyond the sheer noise and spectacle that we get in all Conventions, I have been struck by the extreme level of mob and herd instincts driving the thousands gathered at the Convention. It is nothing less than what you would get at a mass, open-airprayer meeting of one of our evangelical denominations, especially the sort of Dionysian frenzy that you see and hear at a gathering of the Mountain of Fire and Miracles – halleluiah!Last night, one of the featured speakers, Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, drove the crowd at the Convention into an apoplectic frenzy of violent rage against Trump’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, with shouts of “Jail Her! Jail Her! Jail Her!” that sounded very much like “Kill Her! Kill Her! Kill Her!” I solemnly swear that the last time that I saw an electioneering gathering get driven into such a paroxysm of hate, anger and violent words and expressions was in my childhood in the early 1950s in colonial Nigeria when electoral politics was no more and no less than the continuation of warfare in the domain of politics. This observation leads directly to the theme of this piece, this being the portentousness of this year’s American presidential election for the rest of the world, particularly the West.
Many things are by now so well known all over the world about the demagoguery, xenophobia, misogyny and racism of Donald Trump that there is no need to restate them here. What is of relevance here is one particular issue that though it has not been ignored, it has garnered far less attention than it deserves. Permit me to state it very clearly if only because of its novelty: in Donald Trump we see the kind of extreme and uncompromising rejection of free-trade neoliberal globalization that for the most part, we have seen only in the Third World and hardly ever in the Western countries. Let me be very specific and unambiguous about this point. Xenophobic and anti-immigrant anti-globalization is quite common in the rich countries of the West and it has been so for about a decade now. As a matter of fact, this is the ideological and political fuel that powers the nationalism of many of the extreme, far-right parties of Europe. What is perhaps unique of Trump and the mass movement that he has fostered is a very plain, very explicit rejection of free-trade globalization and its many transnational practices, protocols and treaties, so much so that he has openly and vociferously stated that if elected, he will rescind all the free-trade treaties that Obama and the Republican presidents before him have signed with partners in Europe, North America and Asia. Trump has in particular singled out China in his tirades against currency manipulations that underwrite indebtedness and huge trade deficits of America to that country. And he has stated that as President, he will reinstate open protectionist policies to reinvigorate industrial factory production to create hundreds of thousands of jobs for American workers. Sounds like demands you usually get from the anti-neoliberal Left in Africa and many other parts of the developing world? Unquestionably so, except that this is a candidate of one of the two major ruling class parties of America, the heartland of neoliberal globalization, making these demands.
There is an even more uncanny similarity of Trump’s anti-neoliberal globalization to the ideological views of progressive activists in the developing world and this is to be found in Trump’s claim that while neoliberal globalization has generated unprecedented quantities of money wealth, the lion’s share of that wealth has gone to a few rich thereby immensely widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots.The careful regular reader of this column might have noticed that this was indeed a point that I made again and again in my recent two-week series on global political economy before and after neoliberalism. On this particular point, let me say again that while our peoples in Africa and the developing world have been continuously SAPPED (SAP – Structural Adjustment Programs of the IMF) for close to three decades now, the middle class, the working people and the poor of the rich countries of the global North have been experiencing SAP only in slightly less than one decade. All the same, SAP is SAP and Trump is the first major aspirant to very high office in a Western country with a chance to win that has articulated a fierce opposition to neoliberal globalization in terms that seem uncannily similar to what we have been saying in the global South for a long time now. Is this a hopeful portent? I don’t think so, especially if one considers the fate of Bernie Sanders during the Democratic Party primaries to that of Donald Trump in the Republican primaries.
At the risk of oversimplification, I would argue that Bernie Sanders, whose anti-neoliberalism was at least as passionate as Trump’s if not more so, could and would not connect his anti-neoliberalism and economic nationalism to racism and xenophobia as Trump did and this is why Sanders was defeated by Clinton. In this respect, the fate of Sanders is very much like the fate of progressive European opponents of neoliberal globalization who have consistently stopped short of attaining lasting or even sustained electoral victories precisely because demographically, those marginalized or altogether excluded by globalization in Europe are nowhere as numerous as in the Third World. In other words, in one part or region of the world, the wealth generated by and from free-trade neoliberal globalization has in many places left as large as 70% of the population desperately poor and marginalized, while in another part or region of the same world, the percentage of the truly disadvantaged and poor is (only) 25% overall. Of course, for many countries of the global North 25% of desperately poor people in the total population is a historical high, but so far this has not been sufficiently weighty enough to tilt the balance in the direction of an all-out assault on neoliberal globalization as we have it in Donald Trump. Which is why we have to zero in on the dimensions of xenophobia, racism, fascism, Islamophobia and misogyny as the factors that finally secured the electoral victories for Trump that eluded Bernie Sanders.
As I listened to Trump’s acceptance speech faraway from America in Berlin in the early of this morning, his fascism and xenophobia seemed to me the most insistent, the most clamant dimensions of the economic nationalism that is the core of the appeal that he potentially holds for white, blue-collar workers in the so-called “rust belt” region of the country. Fascism also once rose like a titanic force here in Berlin less than a century ago; and also, its hordes of frenzied supporters such as those at the Republican Convention, were drawn mainly from tens of millions of deeply disaffected blue-collar workers and déclassé middle class white-collar professionals. Is this a portent, a frightening portent of what lies ahead of us? No, I don’t think so. This will be our starting point in next week’s continuation of the series.

Biodun Jeyifo bjeyifo@fas.harvard.edu


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