Trump’s success at winning the White House will encourage many like him to give it a shot
Donald Trump is likely to lose the US presidential election on November 3, 2020. More than a third of the votes have already been cast. Most pundits are confident that this time there won’t be any 2016-like prediction disaster, in which, in the end, Trump won, by taking a few key states where less than 1% popular vote -- thanks to the late madness of FBI Director James Comey in his mindless act against Hillary Clinton, who won the nationwide popular vote by a huge 3 million.
Even if Trump loses, his legacy is bound to linger on. If he wins with another miracle, it’s unlikely that he will change in any big way, given his deep-rooted hateful convictions. The legacy will probably be even stronger after the next four years.
There is perhaps hardly any doubt about Trump’s behavioural and thought process issues. History has shown that half-mad leaders can be populist politicians and Trump has brought that to the American political landscape.
It’s particularly significant because the US isn’t any other country. It’s still the largest economy in nominal GDP and the sole superpower in the globe. The entire post-Cold War world order still revolves around the US. Crazy steps by the POTUS can jeopardize not only the lives of the Americans but also the same people in other places, especially the contentious ones.
With Trump at the helm, this has already happened. A dangerous trade war has broken out between two of the world’s, by far, largest economies -- the US and China, who are similar in size. The free world has worked hard to bring China within the folds of the world system and make it open up. It did, and now Trump is out to destroy that.
Despite his hyperbole to be tough with China and get the best deal from it for the US by upending the huge bilateral trade deficit, he failed to achieve anything more than a miniscule bit.
The rest of the world, including the vulnerable developing nations, have always looked up to the US for security and geopolitical stability in their respective regions. This crucial international arrangement emanates from the post-World War II and post-Cold War realities. A powerful US implied a guarantee for such security and stability, based on some kind of principle and fairness.
The US commanded a kind of respect for this role across the globe as the sole and dependable superpower. Moreover, the greater stability of the world is significantly dependent on this arrangement. Trump, obsessed with his crudely populist America First approach, stepped back. He made NATO less effective, bringing back security worries for Europeans from Putinist Russia. Trump also moved away from the US' role of an honest broker in Israeli-Palestinian issues and also withdrew mindlessly from the multiparty Iran nuclear deal to appease the Zionist lobby at home.
All these have not only jeopardized the status quo and the prospect of lasting peace in these regions, but also taken down the credibility and stature of the US as the responsible world leader. Trump’s lack of understanding of world affairs and incompetence in international matters are plentiful.
Domestically, the main claim of success by Trump is about economy, GDP, employment etc. There were some movements in the economy as he went for tax cuts for the rich and the corporations. But, as always, the GDP growth figures, which were just slightly better or at par with the Obama period, were deceptive. Nobel laureate US economist Joseph Stiglitz has shown that even back in pre-Covid times in January 2020, Trump’s performance in the economy was just average, and no way near the miracle he promised.
In these protracted Covid times, the US economy has slumped like nothing before in recent history. Trump could not do anything to reduce or control the spread and effect of the pandemic which many other countries were able to do. Rather, with his relentless loose comments, he has confused Americans in how they should respond. The US is the worst affected among the large developed countries with more than 230,000 deaths.
In personal traits, Trump is a kind of president the world has never seen in any advanced Western state in the modern era. He is highly talkative, impulsive, says a lot of lies, hugely lacks composure, is a misogynist, has a predatory past with regards to women, and is a kind of white supremacist. Forging a coalition across the White World could be the only explanation for his love for the traditional US rival Russia and Putin.
Attributes were well-known
All being said, the fact is, many of these personal attributes of Trump were well-known when he first pitched for presidency back in 2015 and won the Republican nomination and the election after two years of public scrutiny, sending shockwaves across political spheres home and abroad.
The GOP was in tatters. The party never had a major politician as bad as Trump, and the mainstream, decent Republican leadership didn’t know what to do. Finally, the sober ones went to the sidelines and pragmatists like Mitch McConnel and cohorts took charge of swallowing the bitter pill of cooperating with Trump for the sake of keeping the party and its bases intact and united, which they thought critical for the election and reelection of Republicans to the public offices at the state and federal levels.
But Trump’s bizarre success, being an outsider conservative of his own weird style and philosophy, in bagging the GOP nomination in 2016 and being able to ascend to the Oval Office, is already having far-flung implications. Centre right politics in the US has probably changed forever. Even war-mongering Bush and cohorts stuck to certain civilized norms and decorum of American politics. Trump just blew all of that up. In the pre-Trump days, even a slight gaffe by a top US politician was big news.
Now, big gaffes and public blunders of even the president have become normal. At policy level, he doesn’t seem to have much principle. He often contradicts himself, GOP ideologies, and at any second takes a U-turn.
Trump expresses hatred and discriminatory opinions openly -- be it towards the liberals in the domestic arena, or China, India, the Islamic world, or African countries internationally.
He doesn’t just stop at talking. He dangerously follows up with policy decisions along those lines. And there arose in the scene a sizable number of politicians and socialites who are ready to defend Trump come what may -- be it a gaffe or big policy error -- eg, Rudy Giuliani, Mike Pompeo, Mitch McConnel, and so on. The signs of deterioration in the political culture at the apex level in the US is ominous. Crude conservatism and white populism coupled with spiteful divisiveness are becoming commonplace in US politics.
As low as they come
American politics and statecraft never stooped as low as this. Standards of policy and the style of doing things have been compromised in a lot of arenas of governance and international relations. Even a robust system as that of the US has struggled to cope with Trump's madness. He has been able to create a substantial dent. He went through a long investigation at the very outset of his presidency, as he tried to persuade the FBI director, unethically and unlawfully, to clear his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who hid information before his appointment.
Later, Trump was impeached by the House of Representative due to his attempt at influencing the Ukrainian government to open an investigation against the son of his then potential rival Joe Biden. The Republican-dominated Senate saved him from being removed from office. Impulsive, Trump kept changing his cabinet members and White House staff so randomly that it was unprecedented. He often irrationally contradicted members of his own administration.
The few sane and competent people who were on board initially, later left or were removed by Trump.
The most worrisome thing is, whether he wins or loses this time, he has already triggered a new raw stream of populism and majoritarianism in conservative politics in his country, and has split the Republican bases. He has brought out an evil among many Americans, with all his vengeful articulations and policy manifestations.
That doesn’t go away easily. He has done a Modi in the US. Even his one-time success will encourage future populist conservatives to follow his path. It’s not unlikely that the mainstream Republicans of various levels of US politics will become mindful of the rise of the Trumpist sect within their bases and will be tempted to take them aboard to ensure numbers in elections.
All future Republican candidates unwillingly or willingly, might have to incorporate some Trumpist policies domestically and internationally to have winning chances. If Trump loses this time, which many decent Republicans are also secretly hoping for, there will probably be an attempted resurgence of the old GOP mainstream.
But, they may not be able to wish away the Trump phenomenon.
Sarwar Jahan Chowdhury is an opinion contributor to Dhaka Tribune