The Trump phenomenon and how Americans came to distrust their politicians

The forty fifth president will not inherit the US that Barack Obama thinks he has moulded with his policy of appeasement and non-aggression

Raghida Dergham
Raghida Dergham
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While the forty fourth president Barack Hussein Obama weaves his historical legacy to the tune of reconciliation with enemies, celebrating the end of America’s wars to appease public opinion, US public resentment and even wrath is growing against government policies and political influence, with growing racism, vindictiveness, and arrogance in the American arena. The forty fifth president, be it a man or a woman, will therefore not inherit the US that Barack Obama thinks he has moulded with his policy of appeasement and non-aggression.

The new president will inherit an America divided about its options, gloomy about its conditions, paranoid about the world, and reluctant to exercise its superpower role and unique position in the unipolar era that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. The next US president, be it the Democrat Hillary Clinton or the Republican Donald Trump, whose candidacy will come against the will of the Republican party, or be it a “distinguished” Republican personality that could come as a deadly surprise to Donald Trump, will not be an appeasing president.

Most likely, it will be a confrontationist president who will seek to restore America’s prestige and firmness, breaking away with dithering and prevarication. Perhaps the US needed the eight years of appeasement and de-escalation that the Barack Obama era represented, keeping America out of others’ wars though at the cost of the erosion of principles and values the US long boasted of having. This was the choice of a majority of Americans whose demands Obama fulfilled. But today, political populism is angry and begrudged.

A segment identifies with Donald Trump, who has adopted anger, hatred, and racism as a political platform reflecting part of the American mood as he saw it. Another segment of the popular pro-Trump base supports him because he represents their aspirations and promises to revive them, including their aspirations for a return to the original capitalism: the capitalism that gives citizens opportunities not the capitalism that has been hijacked by major corporations. For their part, young Democratic voters are leading an important revolution calling for socialism in the United States.

The Trump and Sanders phenomena have demonstrated that average Americans have lost trust in Washington, and want to send out a clear message that they are angry and want to rebel against the status quo

Raghida Dergham

An incomplete revolution

It is an incomplete revolution, however, because America is angry against the exploitation by the government and the corporations of capitalism, but is not ready for socialism, even if it is indeed a panacea. For this reason, Bernie Sanders will not be the next president or even vice president. America is not ready despite its absolute dissatisfaction with its political and financial leaders, as the polls show, where both Hillary Clinton and Trump seem to have popularity and trust problems with the electorate.

Republicans have voted down the Bush dynasty, not only because of the unpopularity of George W. Bush and anger against his aggressive policies, pre-emptive doctrine, and his wars, but also because Jeb Bush’s personality as seen on TV during the debates was obnoxious. The Bushes were voted down because Americans are averse to dynasties that might come to believe they are entitled to own the US presidency.

Democrats, meanwhile, have not been won over by the Clintons, especially as reports emerged Bill and Hillary were grooming their daughter Chelsea for senior political positions. Bill Clinton became president thanks to his competence, personality, and charisma, but he would not have never become president without his ambitious political partner and wife Hillary. Then Bill stood behind Hill – as they are nicknamed – the day she fought the election for the New York Senate seat and then the presidential primaries that she lost to Barack Obama.

Today, Hillary Clinton is vying for the Democratic nomination for the presidency against an older, socialist competitor who has proven to be a tough nut to crack. She had grown complacent thinking the nomination was guaranteed, but accusations against her and her husband of having a cosy relationship with major banks through the Clinton Foundation (which they deny) have left her battered. She remains relatively unpopular, while lacking the charisma of her husband and his talent for winning over people.

But Hillary Clinton will still reach the Democratic convention next month carrying a number of delegates enough to secure the nomination. So far, it appears that Clinton will be the one to face off with the Republican nominee. Some don’t believe this, however. They believe it’s not possible for America to topple the Bushes but keep the Clintons. They point to the investigations into her use of unsecured e-mails during her tenure as secretary of state, and say the outcome will hurt her. Others have cited her health issues, including an episode during which she fainted and fell almost two years ago.

However, the majority think Clinton will be the Democratic candidate, and that her battle, which she believed would be easy, will be very difficult against the presumed Republican nominee, who snatched the needed delegates this week but who remains under threat until the Republican convention is held in mid-July, days before the Democratic convention.

Donald Trump, once known as The Donald, has taking a liking to now being called Mr. Trump. He is a phenomenon that most Americans and most in the world belittled, thinking it was temporary, until it snowballed and became a firm reality.

The Donald was a figure known for his acumen, talent for negotiations, and deal-making abilities, a successful businessman. Ordinary Americans are impressed by him because he is a rich, successful man who marries supermodels. Many ordinary Americans wish they were like the Donald, smiling, boastful, and happy about his success.

When Trump entered the election battle, some were astonished, others dismissed him. He said he would fund his own campaign, something that deeply impressed those who were already fans of the Donald. Trump then shed his smile and laugh, and adopted anger and condescension, either as a temporary mask for the elections or as an official trait for his Mr. Trump character or as President Donald Trump.

The tactic he has chosen is challenging and tackling just about anyone. He made his ego a successful marketing ploy. He used his startling stances against Muslims, Mexicans, women, and African Americans as a shock publicity tactic. He injected hope among the frustrated, in a way that left no room for logic, as his followers in their enthusiasm forgot to ask about the difference between fantastic promises and empty rhetoric.

One Trump supporter showed off his collection of mugs, t-shirts, and similar items all branded with the word Trump. He said he bought them all to support Trump. To be sure, since Trump is funding his own campaign, he cannot receive donations, but he found another way to raise money: selling Trump paraphernalia for profit. Many supporters are convinced Trump would be a president for small businesses and will not be the Establishment’s man, having challenged it all the way to the White House.

Reaching out

In truth, Donald Trump has started reaching out to the poles of the ruling establishment in the United States, which comprises top companies, intellectuals, capitalists, defense industries, banks, oil companies, and technology companies. Trump’s current tactic is to challenge the establishment to appease ordinary Americans angry at their dismal economic conditions in the country of the super-rich. But Trump, preparing for the near future, is seeking reconciliation and partnership with the same establishment, beyond his current tactics. Like Clinton, he understands the structure of power in America.

It is Bernie Sanders who has brought about a significant change in the American landscape, by declaring with confidence and unequivocally that he adopts European socialism, along the lines with socialism in a country like Sweden. Barack Obama had paved the way for this, but he did so subtly without admitting to any socialist tendencies. America’s youths have supported both men, and Hillary Clinton has been struggling to catch up in both instances.

The Trump and Sanders phenomena have demonstrated that average Americans have lost trust in Washington, and want to send out a clear message that they are angry and want to rebel against the status quo and against the performance of the politicians and the government in the US capital. The two phenomena also suggest average Americans have had enough of the major corporations’ sway over the economy and decision-making.

The difference is that Sanders might leave his mark on the Democratic party without snatching an official post, while Trump has caused a radical shakeup of the Republican Party, and now he seems determined to fight the election to its bitter end.
If Republicans choose another candidate, Trump fears this could cost him greatly in a tripartite battle. He believes he can fight and win against Hillary Clinton today.

What will happen come January? Undoubtedly, despite all the global coverage of the US election, it is early to predict which way the election will go, and who will it favour, Hillary or Trump. From now until October, there may be many surprises. Pressures will increase on the candidates, each will be tested in various ways. But from now until mid-July, it is also a mistake to discount any event that could hurt Clinton and Trump, because everything is possible in US elections.

Regarding the foreign policy of both Clinton and Trump, the general reading of their attitudes suggest the book will be closed on Barack Obama’s appeasement, and that the US will enter a phase that Americans and their establishment want to be more assertive and aggressive against foes and opponents.

This article was first published in Al-Hayat on Jun. 03, 2016 and translated by Karim Traboulsi.
Raghida Dergham is Columnist, Senior Diplomatic Correspondent, and New York Bureau Chief for the London-based Al Hayat newspaper since 1989. She is dean of the international media at the United Nations. Dergham is Founder and Executive Chairman of Beirut Institute, an indigenous, independent, inter-generational think tank for the Arab region with a global reach. An authority on strategic international relations, Dergham is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and an Honorary Fellow at the Foreign Policy Association. She served on the International Media Council of the World Economic Forum, and is a member of the Development Advisory Committee of the IAP- the Global Network of Science Academies. She can be reached on Twitter @RaghidaDergham

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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