“Let’s make America great again” –Donald Trump
“We need to change everything so that nothing changes” –Giuseppe di Lampedusa, The Leopard
“This is a story of what I was, not what I am.” ― Robert Graves, Good-bye to All That
[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] T [/yt_dropcap]he slogan “Let’s make America great again” may appear at first sight to be aspirational, even inspirational. It has been asserted that it was such a genial slogan which assured the successful election of Donald Trump to the American presidency. In reality the slogan describes and predicts little that is surprising or original. It’s more like a movie that we have viewed before; and we already know its ending.
Nostalgia for past greatness is as old as Machiavelli who claimed the heritage of the Romans for a new Italy, then it was misguidedly adopted by Mussolini who fancied himself a Roman emperor, or Adolph Hitler who promised to make Germany great again after the humiliating defeat of World War I.
All of this can perhaps best be described through the lenses of three classical novels which, while admittedly prophetic, read like historical novels: in order of publication they are Good-By to All That by the English Robert Graves (1929), It Couldn’t Happen Here by the American Sinclair Lewis (1935), and The Leopard, Il Gattopardo in its original Italian title, by the Italian Giuseppe di Lampedusa (1956).
I have summarily described the last two novels, the second prophesizing the rise of fascism in America or anywhere else where the conditions are ripe; enter Donald Trump. The last one made into a famous movie by Luchino Visconti in 1963 dealing with Italian unification, and predicting that the great social changes expected at the outset from Italian unification would not only fail to materialize but that things would get progressively worse and force the emigration of one million Southern Italians.
Let us now examine the first book which, in some way, despite the fact that it came first chronologically, synthesizes the other two by announcing the disaster of fascism and of involuntary emigration and explaining those disasters via a nostalgia for making the country great again, enter Brexit and Trumpism.
Robert Graves’ book can perhaps best be described as a farewell memoir to his country called Good-Bye to All That. In it, Graves, a veteran of the Great War, offers us an glimpse of a world brought down by the myopia of a waning ruling class. British rulers yearned to restore a bygone age, to make Britain great again. No sooner did Good-Bye hit the bookstands than Western governments on both sides of the Atlantic, far from learning any lessons from it, responded to a financial crisis by throwing up trade barriers, turning currencies into weapons, plunging the world into depression, and then deporting, or later exterminating, foreigners as well as their own citizens.
We seem to have come full circle. With the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, the United States seems about to swerve in a similar direction, to go from leading the world as a stabilizer to leading the world as a destabilizer. What’s propelling this about-face is nostalgia for an earlier age of supremacy which basically covers seven decades from the mid-forties to today. The illusion of exceptionalism and supremacy (called “white supremacy when it assumes racial overtones) remains, but In truth, that supremacy that was economic, military and political, has long since passed.
America’s continued claim on global leadership is mostly an inheritance from the aftermath of World War II, when American leaders laid the multilateral foundations of what we now call globalization. Diplomats, economists, and philosophers charted a grand bargain for the world, a kind of global new deal. It rested on two pillars.
The first concerned cooperation in the world economy. To prevent a backslide into the protectionist, inward-looking policies that crushed the global economy in the 1930s and led to war in Europe and Asia, global rebuilders hitched national economies to norms, rules, and principles of free trade. The result was a boom. From 1950 to 1973, world per capita incomes grew by 3 percent per year — powered by a trade explosion of 8 percent per year. Cooperation triumphed; interdependence brought prosperity. The prophecy of “inevitable progress” by assorted positivists enamored of enlightened science and debunkers of tradition, religion and even philosophy seemed to have come about. Things would get better and better.
The second pillar concerned national policies. To cope with the dislocations of free trade and interdependence, governments created safety nets and programs at home to manage the risks and to shelter the castaways. From welfare to workplace protections, from capital controls to expanded education, national policies buffered market perils and helped families adapt to commercial and technological changes. What’s more, many of these programs extended to the dislocated who left home altogether, like those who departed Puerto Rico for the United States, Italy for Canada or the US, Algeria for France, Cambodia for Australia. Education, workplace protections, and pathways to citizenship were part of a bundle of rights conferred on immigrants. This was the global new deal that buoyed the postwar liberal order: a coherent, complementary set of policies that opened borders while protecting societies from the hazards of integration across those borders.
But alas, it proved unsustainable. Over seven decades, their foundations shifted beneath them. We are now witnessing, in Trumpism, its death throes. And there is no way to re-create the conditions that led to the original global new deal, and the years of relative stability and tolerance that came with it. All that is left now is nostalgia for past glory. That goes a long way in explaining Brexit and Trump’s fraudulent promise to restore America’s greatness in the 21st century. As in Brexit many have bought that promise wholesale but, as in Brexit, they may soon experience buyer’s remorse for one cannot live by past glory alone; one needs to envision a future too for the next generations.
What had once been a comprehensive, integrated system of policies that allowed free trade and social safety nets to work in tandem became, in the absence of strong global leadership, a race to the bottom, sustained by carbon and credit. Brand new polities like the EU were founded but lacking authentic cultural foundations for the union, centrifugal political forces began to take over. Domestic safety nets got torn up in a fever to make economies more nimble. Deregulators, privatizers, and a free market orthodoxy took hold, shredding the pacts that once eased the effects of globalization. Trade unions, once key to manufacturing the consent behind the global new deal, got crushed.
The fall of the Berlin Wall, the breakup of the USSR, and some gloating about the end of history created some sense of renewed American grandeur and the triumph of free markets. This euphoria, however, masked underlying structural shifts that eroded U.S. dominance still further; while the Soviet bloc collapsed, behind the scenes, there was a dramatic retooling of the Asian economies. The reckoning could not be put off forever. The dual addictions to carbon and credit are now under assault. The bill for relying on fossil fuels is turning up in the form of climate change, while swaths of the unprotected precariat work part-time jobs in Walmart and Home Depot to cover the monthly interest on their Visa cards.
David Cameron botched the Brexit campaign. Hillary Clinton stumbled through questions about the misunderstood Trans-Pacific Partnership and cringed whenever NAFTA came up. In the vacuum, wall-builders like Trump promise to revive a zombie version of American grandeur with more carbon, more credit, and a mercantilist crusade. And so, while Globalization had relied on the United States playing a vital stabilizing role which lasted for seven decades, what comes next is rather unpredictable. Were I asked to hazard a prediction I would go with “global instability.” Why do I say this? Because, the world has yet to master the idea of leadership without dominance. We no longer have statesmen, we have puny egomaniacal bullies hungry for power.
The long cycle of integration and relative tolerance forged by U.S. leadership since World War II is now headed in reverse and is giving way to nostalgia for past greatness: let’s make Germany great again, let’s make Great Britain great again, let’s make America great again, let’s go back to the glory of the ancient Greeks and Romans, the glory of the British empire, and, most important of all, let’s fool people, as Tancredi proclaims in the novel The Leopard by making them believe that all is changing and the good old times are on the way back, so that in effect nothing changes and they fail to realize that in reality things are getting progressively worse and the lights are fast dimming on a Western civilization mired in nostalgia of past grandeur. I say: let’s pray for the best but prepare for the worst while imagining a better world. This may well fall on deaf ears, but let those who have ears, let them hear.
Prospects for U.S.-China Relations in the Biden Era
The U.S. presidential election which will be held on November 3 is drawing ever closer. As the Trump administration performs poorly in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, where the death toll in the U.S. exceeded 210,000, the election trend appears to be very unfavorable for Donald Trump.
According to a recent poll conducted by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, Joe Biden led Trump by 14 percentage points in the national elections. It is worth noting that retired American generals, who have traditionally been extremely low-key in politics, publicly supported Biden this year, something that is quite rare. On September 24, 489 retired generals and admirals, former national security officials and diplomats signed a joint letter in support of Biden. Among them are Republicans, Democrats, and non-partisans, showing that they have crossed the affiliation, and jointly support Biden to replace Trump. Although the opinion polls do not represent the final election, with the election only being one month away, the widening of the opinion gap is enough to predict the direction of the election.
For the whole world, especially for China, it is necessary to prepare for the advent of a possible Biden era of the United States. During Trump’s tenure, U.S.-China relations have taken a turn for the worse, and China has been listed as the foremost “long-term strategic competitor” of the United States.
There is a general view in China that after the Democratic Party comes to power, U.S.-China relations may worsen. The reason is that the Democratic Party places more emphasis on values such as human rights and ideology and is accustomed to using values such as human rights, democracy, and freedom in foreign policies against China. However, as far as U.S.-China relations are concerned, it is too vague to use the simple dichotomic “good” or “bad” to summarize the relationship of the two countries.
However, it is certain that after Biden takes office, his policies will be different from Trump’s. An important difference between Biden and Trump is that Biden will follow a certain order and geopolitical discipline to implement his own policies, and he will also seek cooperation with China in certain bottom-line principled arrangements. It should be stressed that it is crucial for China and the United States to reach some principled arrangements in their relations.
From an economic point of view, should Biden become the next President, the United States will likely ease its trade policy, which will alleviate China’s trade pressure. It can be expected that the Biden administration may quell the U.S.-China tariff war and adjust punitive tariff policies that lead to “lose-lose” policies. If Biden takes office, he might be more concerned about politics and U.S.-China balance. In terms of trade, although he would continue to stick to the general direction of the past, this would not be the main direction of his governance. Therefore, the U.S.-China trade war could see certain respite and may even stop. In that scenario, China as the largest trading partner of the United States, could hope for the pressures in the trade with the U.S. being reduced.
China must also realize that even if Biden takes power, some key areas of U.S.-China relations will not change, such as the strategic positioning of China as the “long-term strategic competitor” of the United States. This is not something that is decided by the U.S. President but by the strategic judgment of the U.S. decision-making class on the direction of its relations with China. This strategic positioning destined that the future U.S.-China relations will be based on the pattern dominated by geopolitical confrontation. Biden sees that by expanding global influence, promoting its political model, and investing in future technologies, China is engaging a long-term competition with the U.S, and that is the challenge that the United States faces.
On the whole, if and when Biden takes office, the U.S. government’s domestic and diplomatic practices will be different from those of the Trump administration, although the strategic positioning of China will not change, and neither will it change the U.S.’ general direction of long-term suppression of China’s rise. However, in terms of specific practices, the Biden administration will have its own approaches, and will seek a certain order and geopolitical discipline to implement its policies. He may also seek to reach some bottom-line principled arrangements with China. Under the basic framework, the future U.S.-China relations will undergo changes in many aspects. Instead of the crude “an eye for an eye” rivalry, we will see the return to the traditional systemic competition based on values, alliance interests, and rules. Facing the inevitable changes in U.S.-China relations, the world needs to adapt to the new situation.
Third world needs ideological shift
As nations across the world have been pooling their efforts to contain the COVID-19 spread, the looming economic crisis has caught the attention of global intelligentsia. In the light of health emergency, The policy makers of Asia, Africa and Latin America have been struggling to steer the economic vehicle back to normalcy. Although, the reason for the economic slump could be attributed to the pandemic, it is also important to cast light on the economics of these tricontinental nations. Been as colonies for more than two centuries, these players had adopted the style of economics which is a mix of market economics and socialism. The imperial powers of the then Europe had colonised these nations and had subjugated them with their military and political maneuvers. Under the banner of White man’s burden, the Imperial masters had subverted the political, economical, social and cultural spheres of the colonies and had transformed these self-reliant societies into the ones which depend on Europe for finished products. The onslaught on the economical systems of colonies was done through one way trade. Though, the western powers brought the modern values to the third world during colonial era, they were twisted to their advantage. The European industrial machines were depended on the blood, sweat and tears of the people of colonies. It is clear that the reason for the backwardness of these players is the force behind the imperial powers which had eventually pushed them towards these regions in search of raw materials and markets i.e., Capitalism. Needless to say, the competition for resources and disaccord over the distribution of wealth of colonies led to twin world wars. Capitalism, as an economic idea, cannot survive in an environment of a limited market and resources. It needs borderless access, restless labour and timeless profit. While the European imperial powers had expanded their influence over Asia and Africa, the US had exerted its influence over Latin America. Earlier, at the dawn of modern-day Europe, The capitalist liberal order had challenged the old feudal system and the authority of church. Subsequently, the sovereign power was shifted to monarchial king. With the rise of ideas like democracy and liberty, complemented by the rapid takeoff of industrialization, the conditions were set for the creation of new class i.e., capitalist class. On the one hand, Liberalism, a polical facet of capitalism, restricts the role of state(political) in economical matters but on the other hand it provides enough room for the elite class and those who have access to power corridors to persuade the authority(state) to design the policies to their advantage. Inequality is an inescapable feature of liberal economics.
The powerful nations cannot colonise these nations as once done. The Watchwords like interconnectedness, interdependency and free trade are being used to continue their domination on these players. As soon as the third world nations were freed from the shackles of colonialism, they were forced to integrate their economies into the global economical chain. Characterized by the imbalance, the globalization has been used as a weapon by the Western powers to conquer the markets of developing nations.
The Carrot and stick policy of the US is an integral part of its strategy to dominate global economical domain. The sorry state of affairs in the Middle East and Latin America could be attributed to the US lust for resources. In the name of democracy, the US has been meddling in the internal affairs of nations across the developing world. Countries like Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, Libya, Iraq and Syria have challenged the US,a global policeman. Back in the day,soon after assuming the power, the Left leadership in Latin American countries had adopted socialist schemes and had nationalised the wealth creating assets, which were previously in the hands of the US capitalists. Irked by the actions of these nations, the US had devised a series of stratagems to destabilize the regimes and to install its puppets through the imposition of cruel sanctions and by dubbing them as terrorist nations on the pretext of exporting violent communist revolution. With the exception of the regimes of Fidel castro in Cuba and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, the US is largely successful in its agenda of destabilizing anti-American governments in the region. The US has a long history of mobilising anti-left forces in Latin America, the region which US sees as its backyard, in an attempt to oust socialist leaders. At present, by hook or by crook, the trump administration has been trying to depose Nicolas Maduro, the president of Venezuela, a socialist.
In addition,The US has been colonising the minds of the third world citizens psychologically with its cultural hegemony and anti-left indoctrination. It is important to understand that the reason for the neo-fascism, which is unfurling across the developing and developed world alike, is rooted in capitalism.The third world citizenry is disgruntled and the ultra-nationalist right wing forces in these countries have been channeling the distress amongst the working class to solidify their position. Growing inequalities, Falling living standards, Joblessness and Insecurity are exposing the incompetence of capitalism and have been pushing a large chunk of workforce in the developing countries into a state of despair.Adding to their woes, the Covid-19 has hit them hard.
The US, with the help of IMF and the world bank, had coerced the developing countries to shun welfare economics.The term “Development” is highly contested in the economic domain.Capitalists argue that the true development of an individual and the society depends upon economic progress and the free market is a panacea for all problems.Given the monopolistic tendencies in the economical systems across the developing world, the free market is a myth, especially in a societies where a few of business families, who have cronies in policy making circles, dominates the economical and social scene.The time has come for the governments of these nations to address these issues and ensure that the wealth would be distributed in a more equitable manner.
The Election Circus and an Event in the Cosmos
The election in the US is held on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. A Tuesday was chosen to allow people enough time to drive to the election site after Sunday, reserved for religious services and rest. Those were the horse and buggy days and it took a while. The people clearly had greater ardor for democracy then considering we get a less than 50 percent turnout now when voting sites are usually less than a five-minute drive.
Most states are either heavily Republican or Democrat so the results there are a foregone conclusion. The winners get the electors assigned to the state on a basis of population. The electors then vote for the nominees receiving the most votes in the state when the electoral college meets.
There are about a dozen battleground or swing states; among them Pennsylvania and Florida are prized for their high electoral votes — hence the repeated visits by the candidates. Trump won both in 2016. Will he this time?
Meanwhile two New York papers are busy running negative stories on candidates they oppose. The New York Times offers tidbits against Trump. The latest this week is that Trump has a Chinese bank account. The fact is not new since the information was filed with his tax returns — one has to report foreign bank accounts over $10,000 — but the news is intended as an example of Trump’s hypocrisy for he has been speaking out against doing business in China. The accounts in the name of Trump International Hotels have been moribund since 2015.
The New York Post, much less distinguished than the Times, is after Hunter Biden and through him his father, candidate Joe Biden. Last week the Post unearthed a dubious email purporting to show then Vice President Biden possibly meeting with Hunter’s potential business partner. This week there is a photograph of the Bidens, father and son, flanked by a Kazakh oligarch on one side and a former president of Kazakhstan on the other. The latest on the email issue has a certain Tony Bobulinski, one of the recipients, confirming the Post email adding that Hunter sought Dad’s advice on deals. There is also a proposed equity split referring to ’20’ for ‘H’ and ’10 held by H for the big guy.’
New York State may be a secure prize for Democrats but news stories these days are picked up on the internet and spread nationally and internationally. Surely the two newspapers have something really big up their sleeves for the week before the election.
Charges and counter-charges in the final presidential debate. Biden repeatedly blamed Trump for deaths from the Covid 19 epidemic. On almost everything Biden promised, Trump’s rejoinder was why he had not done it in the 47 years he was in public office including 8 years as vice president. This included mimicking Biden’s previously successful tactic of talking directly to the public. The same interests fund both major parties and they generally get what they want except that Trump mostly funded his campaign himself.
From all the ridiculousness to the sublime. Images of M87 are the first of any black hole swallowing whatever is within range. We are told of the discovery of a black hole in the center of our own Milky Way, presumably the eventual destination of everything in our galaxy. From this perspective the Trump-Biden debate, although quite important for our immediate future, seems to diminish to nothing in significance.
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