Unravelling the Trump phenomenon
I deluded myself into believing that human nature is capable of transcending selfishness, greed and hatred
I have to admit that my forecast regarding the outcome of US presidential election was wrong, even though I have observed American affairs for decades, having lived under the “Western democracy” since 1978.
I deluded myself into believing that human nature is capable of transcending selfishness, greed and hatred for “the other” if it gets the opportunity to freely express itself. Perhaps I should have paid more attention to recent developments, in the UK in particular, when citizens voted to leave the European Union in a move known as Brexit.
I should have considered two facts: That the American voter is not necessarily more tolerant or mature than the British; and that a high percentage of Brexit supporters were immigrants. Some of them were even, until a few years ago, refugees who took advantage of British tolerance to live on the UK territory. But they proved selfish, voting for those who promised to deny access to other immigrants who are suffering today perhaps more than they did when they decided to leave their countries.
I should have also been more realistic with regard to the notion of coexistence in the US where, for eight years, the identity and faith of the first African-American president was always doubted by far-right “birthers” and nativists. With polls telling us that President Barack Obama was enjoying a 53-55 percent public approval rating toward the end of his second term, I failed, like many serious American analysts, to probe the depth of racism of the white population in rural America and the antipathy the semi-cultured segments had for the black president.
I also failed to gauge the strong hatred harbored by the right-wing Catholics, Protestant-Anglican and conservative politicians for the Democratic Party liberals. The American presidential election served as an opportunity for them to get revenge on multiple enemies in a single swing.
The Founding Fathers established the United States of America as a haven for immigrants. Now, the same country voted for building border walls and denying entry to emigrants based on their religious identitiesEyad Abu Shakra
They hit back at the political “establishment” in Washington by consistently voting for Trump, who is not a politician but won the Republican Party’s nomination against prominent political figures, and by supporting Bernie Sanders, who although not a member of the Democratic Party, got 40 percent of the Democrats’ votes in the initial race for the party’s nomination. Racist white people sought to address a political situation they perceived as threatening the demographics in the US and having the potential to become “permanent”.
For example, statistics show that the white population of European origin under 25 years of age will become a minority in the US (compared to those of Hispanic, African or Asian ancestry) by 2020, that is, by the end of Trump’s first term. This, in addition to the reality that the three most populous US states — California, Texas and Florida — are dominated by “minority” majorities. Trump and other far right demagogues focused on “the necessity to save America before it’s too late” propaganda.
Indeed, this strategy paid off greatly, and it is now feared that it could negatively affect not only the coexistence of ethnic groups in the US, but also the principle of separation of powers, which represents the key guarantee of any democratic system, the US included, because the Republican Party, which increasingly drifts toward the extreme right, has won not only the presidency (the executive power), but also kept control of the two Houses of Congress (the legislative power), which gives Trump the opportunity to appoint partisan judges who back Republican policies on the Supreme Court (the judiciary).
The angry white voters
The third target of the angry white voters was globalization. This was used by a number of Republican candidates before the Republican nomination went to Trump, the most outspoken candidate in favor of racism and isolation.
Trump had earlier pledged to ban Muslims from entering the US and to build a wall along the US-Mexico border. Even the speech of Ben Carson, former Republican presidential candidate of African-American descent, was racist and fanatic, particularly against Muslims.
This means that those candidates understood the nature of the voters and tried to incite their hatred and stir up their feelings of fear and despair in order to gain their votes. The fourth backlash was against technological and scientific progress, which is interrelated with globalization.
There were remarkable similarities between the speeches of leftist Sanders and right-wing Trump, as well as of some Republicans, talking about the suffering of the working class in the US due to the fall of barriers to market movement, jobs and goods. Trump gained a significant proportion of the votes of blue-collar workers in Northeastern states, the so-called Rust Belt, whose once-powerful industrial sector had shrank.
In fact, Trump won the presidential election after securing the votes of three northern states (Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, along with Ohio), which were supposed to vote for his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
The ongoing protests in some US cities are in response to the shocking Trump win. Protesters fear that tolerance will no more exist in their country where voters decided to do away with time-honored principles and human decency.
The Founding Fathers established the United States of America as a haven for immigrants. The country developed, guaranteeing openness, pluralism and acceptance of the other — regardless of color, race or religion. Now, the same country voted for building border walls and denying entry to emigrants based on their religious identities.
The US, which was founded on the principles of individual initiatives, free economy and open market, eliminated all kinds of restrictions and enacted legislations against monopoly, is now working against the interests of its industrial companies, which were forced by the competitiveness of the capitalist system, to reduce production costs by building factories abroad.
America, which boomed thanks to the scientific progress, encouraging creativity and embracing scientists from around the world, is now bidding for the votes of anti-progressive parties. It may even suspend scientific research under pressure from the radical Christian right, whether in the field of the stem cells, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology or information technology.
This is Trump’s America in the 21st century. And the world will have to pay the price even though it did not vote for him.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on November 19, 2016.
Eyad Abu Shakra (also written as Ayad Abou-Chakra) began his media career in 1973 with Annahar newspaper in Lebanon. He joined Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in the UK in 1979, occupying several positions including: Senior Editor, Managing Editor, and Head of Research Unit, as well as being a regular columnist. He has several published works, including books, chapters in edited books, and specialized articles, in addition to frequent regular TV and radio appearances. Eyad tweets @eyad1949