There is widespread hearsay that with Donald Trump as the next American President, all bets are off. Anything can happen. The man is unpredictable.
Trump’s assumption of power could be the beginning of a sea change in America’s relations with the rest of the world. But it is not all up to him, or to America, even if the USA is militarily and economically the most powerful country in the world. We should bear in mind that there are always some enduring features embedded in the structures of our economies and global geopolitics.
Let us first make a poised assessment of Trump not as Presidential candidate but as President elect.
What difference would Trump make on assuming power?
Trump as a Presidential candidate said a lot of outrageous things. Equally, much of the political “left-liberals” in Europe and America reacted with what can only be described as hysteric panic attack. They said Trump will round up Muslims and Mexicans and put them in jail together with Hillary Clinton; encourage the Ku Klux Klan to return to the old days of slavery; unleash mass repression of women and LGBTs; abolish the health care; endanger the planet with his cavalier attitude towards the environment; appoint his racist and anti-Semitic friends in his cabinet; and bring an apocalyptic extinction of the liberal world order.
Among those who made a more balanced appraisal was, for example, the essay by Professors David Held and Kyle McNally: “Gold Plated Populism: Trump and the end of the Liberal Order”:[i]
Donald Trump’s electoral victory has startled the world. It seems to usher in an era marked by the triumph of fear and anger, brazen disregard for reason and truth, the weakening hold of liberalism, the fracturing of the postwar consensus, and the rolling back of gains made from an integrated world economy. On the horizon, by contrast, is protectionism, wall building, and deeply exclusionary practice.
Held and McNally go on then to say this:
Yet, little of this is Trump’s invention or design. The post-war order has shown cracks for many years; regional and international institutions have been weakened steadily; nationalism and xenophobia have been on the rise; militant and intolerant discourses have spread like wildfire and authoritarian populism has emerged across many parts of the world. The roots of this are deep and extensive.
So the question is: now that Trump is the President elect, would he act differently from his campaign rhetoric? It is still early; January is a Christmas away. Nonetheless, he appears to have pulled back some of his punches, whilst still standing firmly on some other issues.
In an interview with the New York Times[ii], Trump is reported to have said the following among other things:
He has dropped the idea of jailing Hillary Clinton.
On climate, he said: “I have an open mind to it”, and that clean air and “crystal clear water” were vitally important.
He said the Iraq war was “one of the great mistakes in the history of our country”, but he has “very definitive” and “strong ideas” about how to deal with the violent civil war raging in Syria.
He said it would be “nice” if he and Mr. Putin could get along, but he rejected the idea that any warming of relations would be called a “reset”, noting the criticism that Clinton received after her attempts to “reset” relations with Russia failed.
On the other hand, he defended his Cabinet appointments like Breitbart and Bannon saying they have been falsely accused of being racist and anti-Semitic. He said Mattis was being “seriously, seriously considered” to be secretary of defense. He also defended the appointment of his son-in-law, Jared Kushner as “special envoy” charged with brokering peace in the Middle East. He said he had no “legal obligation” to establish boundaries between his business empire and his White House. Later he elaborated to say that he would distance himself from his businesses, and that his “great business” is to focus on the Presidency.
So the future is still largely open-ended. Trump could try to make a difference, but whether he would succeed or not depends on many systemic and structural constraints at both national and global levels.
The Deep State and the Imperial Establishment
Among a section of the left in Europe and America there is scant understanding of the phenomenon of “the Establishment”. In my earlier blog on the choice for Africa between Clinton and Trump I gave its definition and history which is worth summarising. I traced it down to the creation of the British Empire towards the turn of the 19th Century, and associated with names like Cecil Rhodes, Alfred Milner, Lionel Curtis, Robert Brand and Adam Marris. A part of their strategy was to deliberately provoke wars – such as those leading to the British colonisation of South Africa. This is “the Establishment”. Rhodes died in 1902, but the Anglo-American Establishment lives on and has mutated over time. Now it is represented by the global corporations that effectively control the world’s major resources (gold, diamonds, oil, etc.), banks including financial services, and the institutions of global governance (such as the IMF, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation).
Others have referred to this as “the Deep State” – or state within state – which controls policy irrespective of what political party is in power. In the next segment we analyse the military-industrial-financial complex in the US as an essential part of the Establishment. But there are other aspects which are as potent as the military industrial complex. These include the academia (about which I will write another time), and the media.
The Media as part of the Deep State
The well-known investigative journalist, John Pilger, has a good description of the media as part of the Deep State in his “Inside the Invisible Government: War, Propaganda, Clinton and Trump”.[iii] The Western media such as the BBC, NBC, CBS, and the CNN, and “liberal” newspapers like the Washington Post, the Guardian, and the Economist, present themselves as “… enlightened, progressive tribunes of the moral zeitgeist – anti-racist, pro-feminist and pro-LGBT. And they love war”.
Pilger cites Ukraine as “media triumph” in conditioning viewers and readers to accept a new cold war. Russia is maligned when, in fact, the 2014 coup in Ukraine was the work of the American intelligence establishment. Once again, it is “… the Ruskies are coming to get us, led by another Stalin, whom The Economist depicts as the devil”. There is a systematic suppression of truth about Ukraine. It is, says Pilger, “one of the most complete news blackouts I can remember.” There is an all-pervasive “media joie d’esprit – a class reunion of warmongers … inciting war with Russia”.
Truth, says Pliger, is engineered. Human Rights don’t matter. The human rights record of Saddam Hussein or Gaddafi was just a ruse; they were irrelevant. The truth is that they did not obey orders from the USA and Britain and surrender their countries to the Empire. So they took matters in their own hands without a mandate from the UN Security Council, attacked Iraq and Libya, and murdered Sadaam and Gaddafi. The former British Foreign Office official, Carne Ross, who was responsible for operating sanctions against Iraq, told Pilger: “We would feed journalists factoids of sanitised intelligence, or we would freeze them out. That is how it worked.” Had journalists told the truth, the attack on Iraq would not have happened; hundreds of thousands of men, women and children would be alive today.
When the terrorists attacked parts of Paris in November 2015, President Francoise Hollande immediately sent planes to bomb Syria – and, predictably, more terrorism followed – the product, says Pilger, “of Hollande’s bombast about France being ‘at war’ and ‘showing no mercy’. That state violence and jihadist violence feed off each other is the truth that no national leader has the courage to speak,” says Pilger.
And, I might add, the West’s attack on Iraq, Libya, and Syria – this “war without mercy” – is the root cause of the massive exodus of refugees to Europe fuelling the anti-immigrant and Islamophobic hysteria – one of the main reasons for BREXIT and the triumph of Trump.
I cite Pilger as an example of a journalist who has the courage to tell the truth. He quotes the Soviet dissident Yevtushenko: “When the truth is replaced by silence, the silence is a lie.” A large part of the Western media is silenced by the Establishment.
Trump and the Revolt against the Establishment
We are back to the question: would Trump make a difference? To be frank, I don’t know. The odds are heavily against him.
The odds were against Bernie Sanders too. He contested Hillary Clinton, but later gave in to her. He had an enormous following amongst the younger generation – angry, frustrated, suffering from financial crisis, and rising inequality. The Gini coefficient is a measure of inequality in which 0 is perfect equality and 100 is perfect inequality, or one person owning all the wealth. According to one estimate, the Gini coefficient of the USA is 80.56. It is one of the most unequal countries in the world. [iv]
So why did Sanders step down? He probably realised that it was futile to challenge the Establishment that backed Clinton. With all the support he had among the people, only 29% of primary voters supported him compared 47% for Clinton. So what is the difference between Sanders and Trump? One important difference is that, unlike Sanders, Trump has his own resources. He did not have to depend on the Republican Party either politically or financially. Trump managed to become US president by tapping into the anti-establishment anger of a declining middle class – where Sanders failed.
How far would Trump be able to challenge the Establishment and the Deep State? This remains to be seen. In an interesting development, Sanders has said that he would be happy to work with Trump provided he saves the social safety nets. He would work with Trump on trade and keeping American companies from moving jobs abroad. “Financial deregulation, brought about during the Clinton administration”, Sanders said, “which allowed commercial banks and investment banks and large insurance companies to merge, created the pathway forward to the collapse of 2008.” [v] Here is Sanders distancing himself, again, from Clinton.
By Way of Conclusion
First, one must make a distinction between Trump the Candidate and Trump the President elect.
The Deep State, the “state within the state” is a reality. It is “the Establishment” that backed Clinton against Trump, but failed. Trump was able to feed on the anger of the people disillusioned with the Establishment.
One reason Trump succeeded where Sanders failed was his financial independence.
That does not ensure that Trump will deliver on his promises. The Establishment will try and direct him back to its own agenda. The media still remains part of the Establishment, though it seems it may kowtow to Trump opportunistically.
Bernie Sanders may try and “radicalise” the Democratic Party, just as Trump may try to “reform” the Republicans. Whether they succeed or not remains to be seen. But it is interesting that Sanders is prepared to work with Trump on certain issues.
Finally, those of us who are in the Global South can take a leaf out of Sander’s book – seize the space provided by the change in the US presidency. How we might do this is what I shall come to in the last segment of this series.