Spearhead Opinion – 27.01.2017
By Xenia Rasul Khan Mahsud
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research
For a man who builds things, Donald Trump’s campaign speeches and inaugural address gave a preview of what’s to come in his tenure as President: to build things, he’s going to destroy them first. His speech had it all, from painting a doomsday scenario of an economy in decay, communities under siege, immigrants taking over, to fueling feelings of treachery by the ‘establishment’ – his diatribe was nothing short of all the Hollywood movies infatuated with the notion of aliens taking over and the world coming to an end. The savior, and American hero in this case: Mr. Donald Trump.
His are ideas that are dug up from beneath the dustbin of historical misgivings, set right by previous leaders of the world, and presidents of the United States of America – issues that were resolved, but he wants to revisit; abortion, immigration, protectionism, building walls and barricades, and a sheer vulgarity of politics breeding hatred and division.
Trump spoke of many things; He spoke of American generosity in enriching ‘foreign industry at the expense of American industry’, of making ‘other countries rich while the wealth, strength, and confidence of our country has disappeared over the horizon’, of defending other nations and subsidizing other militaries at the expense of America’s growth, and he finished it off with a promise: “From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it’s going to be – always – America First”.
In his speech, there was no call to resist authoritarianism, to defend human rights across the globe, or to push multilateral cooperation to address global problems. Rather, he distanced himself from the kind of democratic internationalism that values such initiatives, and is in reality under siege in his administration. However, Trump fails to recognize the historical baggage his slogan ‘America First’ carries, one that Democrats and Republicans alike agreed heralded disaster, and made space for tyrants. After the slogans linkage to the movement that campaigned in 1940 and 1941 to cut off U.S. aid to Britain in its battle against Hitler, and the disaster that ensued, the words were abandoned; the US assumed its role as the torchbearer of democracy, and embraced its responsibility towards safeguarding its allies and committing to economic prosperity. The American President, henceforth, became a ‘leader of the free world’, and Trump’s nationalist jingo is hell-bent on changing that.
Trumps supporters largely consisted of all the ‘forgotten men and women’ wronged by ‘a small group in our nation’s capital’, and while some apologists have considered it unfair to broad-brush all his voters as sexist, racist, xenophobes, it is rather interesting that if they were not, there’s a harrowing amount of resentment they were okay with.
US and Them
If Trump’s speeches in general are to be dissected, there’s a consistent theme running across – one of resentment, and a demarcation between us and them. It is with the help of building a narrative of antipathy towards the successes of other countries and individuals, by saying that “their victories have not been your victories” and pinning the white American man against the ‘other’ by saying that he needs to be separated with the help of borders both physical and metaphorical, Trump has triggered a jingoist attitude already fanned by the advent of cultural and religious wars.
During his campaign, Trump vowed to keep any new Muslim immigrants from American soil, and promised to close down mosques. A road frequented by many ‘Western’ leaders, he also tapped into the age-old tradition in establishing the image of Western/American identity and civilization in opposition to the image of the other: the Mexican, the Muslim, and the brown fellow. While he pledged to work in tandem with ‘moderate’ Muslim reformers, the likes of Tayyip Erdogan, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and even Bashar al Assad, his explosion on CNN in March 2016 that “Islam hates us” remains his official stance – the rest is all power play.
His choice of Vice President, and his Cabinet appointments have been largely conservative in nature. His national security adviser, Michael Flynn, is known for his Islamophobic remarks where he once compared ‘Islamism’ to Nazism and communism, referring to it as a “vicious cancer inside the body of 1.7 billion people”. His resume’ also includes his propagation of the Sharia law myth, which paints the law as an existential threat to the United States, where a possibility of radical Muslims infiltrating the U.S. government and establishing a Taliban-style theocracy is seen as a possibility.
Mr. Flynn is not the only one. His deputy, K.T. McFarland, the CIA director Mike Pompeo, and Attorney General Jegg Sessions, have all been open about their antipathy towards Islam, and have made similar inflammatory statements the likes of Mr. Flynn. Trump’s White House special Adviser Steve Bannon, who made Breitbart News a mouthpiece for the far right, is a poster boy and spokesperson of the clash of civilizations reality or myth, depending on which side you’re on. “We are in an outright war against Jihadist Islamic fascism”, a movement that wants to “eradicate everything that we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years”, he says. Deputy National Security Adviser-in-waiting K.T.McFarland joined the chorus: “Global Islamist jihad is at war with all of Western civilization”. It is as if America’s political scene has become a bad parody of itself, reaffirming conspiracy theories, and making the most vibrant claims, and setting exaggerated definitions in some places, and none at all where they are required. The world, the Muslim world (read: the Islamist Muslim jihadist world, minus the countries America truly needs) is at war with Western (read: American) – is what’s being narrated. This, in a country with 3.3 million Muslims, predicted to double by the year 2050. The trickle down effect of the acrimonious narrative of the Trump’s administration could be absorbed by American society to disastrous levels – a polarized people, triggering a domino effect with other countries falling suit – one that is already headed for the right.
Trump’s administration’s eagerness to undo internationalism is no secret, taking aim at not only institutions like the U.N. and the EU, but also targeting diplomatic triumphs of the Obama administration, including the agreement with Cuba, and the Iran nuclear deal. Trump’s address laid bare his intention to pull out of international institutions if they continue to take advantage of the US’s willingness to subsidize them – it is worrisome that this claim could possibly translate into policy.
Since these organizations are held together by notions of military, economic and moral dependency, they contrast with Trump’s worldview – one where America’s decision to be a part of organizations working towards international cooperation, through decades of generosity, has turned America into a loser. While American Presidents have worked towards an unceasing vision of American interdependence – Trump is all set to demolish these liberal values, if need be, to build a more prosperous America from the rubble.
A low IQ level, coupled with idiotic political statements, and an exhaustive vocabulary, might be Trump’s brand image – but it is a brand image that the majority of American public has subscribed to. Trump isn’t a lone wolf, his views aren’t just his; they are held by all the supporters who ticked in his favor. The American that elected Mr. Trump concluded that he was no longer willing to bear the burden of spreading democracy and liberal ideals, and wished for a divisive society that cared only for itself. That is the world we live in today – polarized, fractured, and headed for ruins.