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The Rise of Trumpism

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] W [/yt_dropcap] ith the elections over and a new president elected, half of the electorate is still reeling from the surprise upset created by Donald Trump. Due to the mechanisms behind the American democratic system, Donald Trump has managed to assume the highest office in the US and perhaps the world.

Trump managed to break all electoral rules and surprised the media and pollsters by the different electoral demographics he won. Trump’s victory is not so much a testament to his campaigning ability but more of the people’s ennui and wearisome of politicians, both parties, and the system. Trump represents the repudiation of the system. Trump managed to tap into the distress among people of all ages, color, creeds, and education level. Despite what he may have said about certain groups, the majority of the country had reached a boiling point with the status quo and decided to elect him to change things up.

After 8 years of George Bush and his failed adventurist foreign policy in the Middle East as well as enlarging the leviathan that is government by skirting constitutional restraints, Barack Obama swept into the presidency with the promise of hope and change for a new generation of voters and those looking beyond failed wars and a languishing economy. Unfortunately to the chagrin of many supporters, Obama became a wolf in sheep’s clothing, as Oliver Stone put it. Obama dismayed, disappointed and pushed many voters away from the Democratic Party.

After decades of hoping either Democrats or Republicans would help remedy the concerns of the American voters, people became exhausted, hoping that a new kind of candidate, even one not fully qualified, would bring the change and hope they yearned for. But in a larger picture, the world is undergoing a rise in populism once again. Countries are beginning to turn away from the so-called establishments that have ruled their countries to populist candidates. Trump may have begun the domino the effect that will see a rise in populism Trump-style or Trumpism.

Why Trump Won

Voter Apathy

As the media continues to scramble to explain the major surprise of why Trump won, most of the mainstream media that had blatantly opposed Trump in favor of Clinton characterized the victory as “Whitelash”. The media did what it was best at, sensationalized the election as a reflection of identity politics. White America was sick and tired of a black president and vociferous minorities; at least this is how the media was able to explain their failure in not being remotely close to predicting the victory of Donald Trump. As a result, a large group of voters have begun to protest the presidency of Donald Trump by chanting, “Not my President.” Yet these same voters claimed bigotry about those who protested against Obama as not my president. The media characterized the Trump campaign as racist and sexist. While the campaign did, without a doubt, engage in questionable and downright unsavory actions, the victory of Trump isn’t due to a racist or sexist America, but a failed America due to decades of neglect by America’s elite.

It’s the economy again, stupid. Despite claims of the sexism, almost 45% of all women voted for Trump. Trump managed to outperform previous Republican presidential candidates in winning the minority votes. Finally, Trump’s key to victory was being able to demolish the “Blue Wall” as it was labelled. These rustbelt voters in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, etc. tilted to Trump and his promise of bringing jobs back. The white working class here that voted for Trump was the same voters who had elected Obama in the previous two elections. Nobody can deny that certain racist voters came to show their support for Donald Trump due to the nationalist tone he took during the campaign, but the preponderance of his white working class voters came from those who had formerly supported an African-American Democratic president in the previous elections. So despite casting this election as a repudiation of a Black president by white voters as the media is doing, it is perhaps a refutation of his predecessor and his policies, especially the failure in his ability to revive the economy as he promised in the past 8 years.

Economy

The main reason Trump won was due to the economy and the failure by the Obama administration to resuscitate it in the past 8 years despite what the President claimed. Despite the administration asserting that the unemployment rate dropping to new lows, in reality for those who do not understand, the job reports is an example of accounting voodoo that goes back several administrations. A more realistic indicator is the participation rate, which is still stagnating at 63%. The unemployment rate that is conveyed is one value of many. It doesn’t include those who have given up for work and trapped in part-time jobs wanting full-time. Accounting for those, the unemployment rate climbs up to at least twice as much it is now, 10%, if not more. Some economic experts believe it hovers even higher around 15-20%, reflecting recessionary and even depression-like numbers.

In addition, the quality of jobs is not accounted for. Most jobs that are created are service type jobs rather than high-skill high-paying jobs that many Americans are nostalgic for. The country has become a 1099 economy focused on service jobs such as uber. In addition, the so-called utopia that globalization promised to produce has failed instead resulting in more outsourcing of low and high-skill jobs abroad while corporations amass wealth.

The economy is key to any leader’s longevity. Not only has the American economic recovery failed but the global economy is flailing as well. The European Union is on the brink of collapse and with Brexit, it needs just an additional domino to bring that whole entity down. China, the second largest economy, may end up being the black swan for bringing the entire global economy into another depression. China is currently buried under a series of bubbles, whether it is the stock market or real estate, one market or another will trigger its meltdown.

Media

The media is another medium that has turned off many voters. The mainstream media who has been trusted as the fourth estate to check the overreach of the government has turned into the fifth column. The failure of the mainstream media is abundantly clear in its overall dropping of viewership whether it is Fox, CNN, or MSNBC. The incestuous relationship between the media and politicians is explicit and recognized by many. The media has created a bubble around themselves that is absent of reality and this was perfectly displayed by the election results in claiming a landslide victory for Clinton by all media outlets. Nontraditional outlets on the internet as well as WikiLeaks helped show the aristocratic system that has been in play for a long time between the media and political institutions. Despite their many attempts to hide Hilary’s failing, Trump with his many faults won. This election has begun to reveal the dislike of the voters, on both sides, for the establishment class.

Clinton – The Weak Candidate

One thing that many voters are continuing to overlook in their distaste for Trump is that the flaws that Hilary Clinton possessed overshadowed Donald Trumps. Despite Trump’s lack of depth in certain subjects as well as flip flopping on others, Clinton epitomized the pinnacle of the establishment class. She represented everything wrong with the system and the voters used that as a target for their rage. Clinton lacked credibility and trust with the voters; despite her credentials, her shortcomings dwarfed her strengths. While Trump stated certain statements that brought fear to many rightfully so, Clinton demonstrated through actions her hypocrisy and failures as a president to be. Even though the economy was the overriding factor in the elections for many, for more educated voters, Clinton’s actions demonstrated a failed to be president versus the unknown that a Trump presidency would be. Clinton not only supported the Iraq War, which resulted in at least 1-2 million people dying, but continued to endorse the neoconservative agenda for war. She was deemed the hawk candidate between the two major party’s candidates. Clinton not only supported trading treaties that would have further enhanced globalization such as the TransPacific Partnership (TPP), but she helped orchestrate the myriad of wars that continue to plague and destroy nations in the Middle East and the world such as Libya, Syria, Ukraine, Yemen, Somalia, etc. along with Obama. In addition, she continued to support the growing government security apparatus with Obama by helping craft the NDAA or Patriot Act 2.0. Clinton created a veneer of progressivism to appease the Democratic base but in reality she was more of the same. This façade of being genuine is what perhaps hurt her more so than anything else.

The Rise of Trumpism

With the economic downturn in America and the rest of the world, people are turning to populist leaders to help give that last iota of hope; first was Brexit and now Trump. As the economy of the world continues to languish, the marching victory of populism will continue with the Italian referendum. Italy will vote on amending the constitution in a big way since the end of its monarchy. If the vote does not go in the direction Prime Minster Renzi expects he will resign, which is most likely the case. Italy will probably be the next major country to depart from the EU as well, perhaps initiating the end of the economic union altogether. In France, President Hollande sits on single digit approval ratings with Marine Le Pen’s national front in the lead in recent polls. Once again, a populist candidate/platform appears to be heading to victory. The tide appears to turning against Merkel in Germany as well. Other nations are undergoing this trend as well with the recent ushering of President Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, the Filipino Trump.

One by one countries around the world are turning towards strong leaders that are populist in nature rather than the establishment. As the global economy slides towards recession once again, more Trump-like leaders will begin to rise. It has been said that good times lead to weak leaders and weak leaders lead to bad times, perhaps society is undergoing such a phase.

Luis Durani is currently employed in the oil and gas industry. He previously worked in the nuclear energy industry. He has a M.A. in international affairs with a focus on Chinese foreign policy and the South China Sea, MBA, M.S. in nuclear engineering, B.S. in mechanical engineering and B.A. in political science. He is also author of "Afghanistan: It’s No Nebraska – How to do Deal with a Tribal State" and "China and the South China Sea: The Emergence of the Huaqing Doctrine." Follow him for other articles on Instagram: @Luis_Durani

Americas

Biden: No More “Favourite Dictators”

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Joe Biden
Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

 Former US President Donald Trump shared a strong personal rapport with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi. Trump made no bones about the fact, that he got along well with authoritarian leaders – especially in the Middle East. At the G7 Summit in 2019, Trump while looking for Egyptian President had even said, “Where’s my favourite dictator?”

Statements made by Biden before taking over as US President

On the other hand, Joe Biden before taking over as US President had repeatedly criticized Erdogan, MBS and Sisi for their poor human rights record, and had unequivocally stated that none of them would have a free pass in a Biden Presidency.  Biden had on numerous occasions flagged the dismal Human Rights record of Saudi Arabia, especially MBS’ involvement in the murder of Saudi Journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and lashed out at Trump for soft pedaling on the issue because of his personal rapport with MBS. Similarly, in August 2020, Biden had dubbed Erdogan as an ‘autocrat’ and also expressed the view that the US needed to lend support to opposition parties in Turkey. Biden had also issued a warning to Sisi, saying that there would be “no more blank checks for Trump’s ‘favourite dictator’.”

How President Biden has approached relations with the three leaders

During the Biden Administration, ties with Saudi Arabia have witnessed a change. A report which clearly points to MBS’ role in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was released (Trump had refused to release this report). The US has withdrawn support for the Saudi war in Yemen, and defence agreements signed between the US and Saudi Arabia, during the Trump Administration have been put on hold. Yet, Biden while sanctioning Saudi officials in connection with the Khashoggi case, in addition to those sanctioned by the Trump administration, refused to impose sanctions on MBS owing to the strategic importance of Saudi Arabia in the Middle East (Saudi support is essential for the revival of the Iran Nuclear Deal/Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action-JCPOA) and the strong US-Saudi relationship. It would be pertinent to point out, that Biden’s decision not to impose sanctions on MBS has drawn strong criticism from many including members of his own party.

If one were to look at the case of Turkey in recent months, the Turkish President has himself toned down his Anti-West rhetoric and described his meeting with Biden on the sidelines of the recent NATO Summit as fruitful. While commenting on the meeting with Biden, Erdogan stated that ‘ We believe there is no problem that cannot be resolved in Turkey-US relations,’

The US President also said, that the meeting with Erdogan was positive and expressed hope that the bilateral relationship would improve in days to come.

While the meeting between Biden and Erdogan was positive, differences between both sides still persist over Turkey’s purchase of S400 missiles (the Trump administration had imposed sanctions in its final days and Turkey had also been removed from its F-35 fighter jet program)

Turkey’s strategic relevance

Turkey has stated that it is willing to play a role in security in Afghanistan, and guard Kabul airport, after the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Turkish President did say that Turkey would require diplomatic, logistic and financial support that the United States. The Biden administration’s outreach to Turkey indicates that in spite of differences over key issues, Istanbul’s potentially important role post the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan is something, the US will not ignore. Erdogan on his part needs to have a reasonable relationship with US, given the fact that the Turkish economy has slowed down significantly.

If one were to look at the case of Egypt, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi role in the ceasefire between Israel and Palestine, was acknowledged by the Biden Administration. While the US President during a telephonic conversation hailed Sisi for his ‘successful diplomacy’ in the Israel-Palestine ceasefire, the Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said:

‘We have had in Egypt a real and effective partner in dealing with the violence, bringing it to a close, relatively quickly. And now, we are working closely together to build something positive’

It would be pertinent to point out, that during his telephonic conversation with Sisi, in May 2021, Biden did flag the need for a ‘constructive dialogue’ on human rights in Egypt

Conclusion

While it is easy to criticise Joe Biden, he has the onerous responsibility of striking a  balance between values, which he has repeatedly referred to even after taking over as President, with US interests. Given the complex geopolitics of the Middle East, Biden while refraining from taking steps, which may be counterproductive has flagged his concerns with regard to Human Rights, and sent out a strong message that bilateral relations will be dictated by substance and not mere personal chemistry or optics. At the end of the day it is important not to forget Miles’s law — ‘where you stand depends upon where you sit’.

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Americas

The liberal international order has not crumbled yet

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Since 2017 when Donald Trump took office, the “liberal international order” erected in 1991 has been under serious challenges raised by the United States’ relative decline, the Trump administration’s isolationist policy, and on top of that, the outbreak of COVID-19. Indeed, this order is greatly plagued, which is evidenced by its dysfunction. Against this backdrop, its endurance in the upcoming time is questionable. Nevertheless, the liberal international order has not collapsed yet. It will even revive, and endure in the post-pandemic era.

The victory of Biden 

Notwithstanding facing great threats, the liberal international order is far from crumbling. On the contrary, it is gradually reviving. In the Western world, countries are making effort to reform their order that is on the verge of collapse. This is true in the US – the world democracy’s leader. Joe Biden’s victory against Donald Trump may be a positive signal for the US and the global democracy. As a strong advocate for values including democracy, multilateralism and international trade, at no doubt, President Biden will be opposite to Trump in his policy, both domestic and foreign ones. Indeed, during his first 100 days, Mr.Biden has implemented some meaningful things. Regarding the pandemic, he has a stricter approach than his predecessor’s: Mandatory mask wearing, a $1.9-trillions bill, historical vaccination campaign, to name a few. All of Biden’s actions have been so far effective, when the new cases and deaths are steadily declining, and the number of vaccinated people is substantially high. This lays a foundation for Biden to reinvigorate his country’s ruined democracy and governance system, as his efficiency in countering COVID-19 may help him regain American people’s trust on the future of American democracy.

In terms of foreign policy, President Biden has some radical changes compared to that of Trump, which might be favorable to the Western world. At first glance, Biden embraces multilateralism much more than his predecessor, with the hope of saving the American global leadership. He supports Washington’s participation in international institutions, which is illustrated by the rejoining of WHO, Paris Agreement and several multilateral commitments. In tandem with this, Biden values the US’ alliances and strategic partnership as vital instruments for the US’ hegemony. Unlike Trump’s transactional approach, Biden prioritizes early and effective engagement with allies to tackle regional and global issues, especially major ones like NATO, G7. In Asia, he also seeks for further cooperation with traditional allies such as Japan, Australia, New Zealand and deepening partnership with Vietnam, Singapore, India and ASEAN countries.

More importantly, President Biden’s policies towards the US’ competitors and “rogue states” are far different from Trump’s. Granted, despite seeing China as the biggest threat to the American global leadership, Biden adopts a more flexible and multilateral policy. His administration looks to cooperate and compete with China, which implies a different trajectory of the US-China relationship in the upcoming time. Additionally, as noted above, instead of unilaterally escalating tensions with China as Trump did, Biden has been forging relations with traditional and potential Asian allies to contain China together, given China’s increasing assertiveness. With regard to Iran, Washington is now working on the Iran Nuclear Deal with other six parties, promising a potentially positive future on the relations of Iran with the US and the West. The bottom line is, a radical change in Biden’s foreign policy will be a clear message to the world that the US will still try to save the liberal international order and make this world safer for democracy.

The European Union is recovering 

Things are happening in the same pattern in Europe. European leaders are also closely cooperating, both inside and outside the bloc, to defeat COVID-19. That said, they are ardently supporting multilateralism. So far, the EU has spent billions of dollars in vaccine development as well as humanitarian support, demonstrating its solidarity in the battle against COVID-19. As such, if EU leaders can successfully lead their bloc out of the current crisis, they can reform this currently plagued institution in the post-pandemic era. Not only seeking further intra-bloc cooperation, but also European leaders are working with other major actors around the world to substantiate the global battlefront against COVID-19. Recently, German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged her country and China to jointly develop COVID’s vaccine in an open, transparent way, and to a further extent, maintain good and stable bilateral partnership, regardless of two sides’ differences.

Similarly, the EU has been putting the Transatlantic relationship among the priorities of its foreign policy agenda. After Biden’s election, the European Commission has proposed refreshing the US-EU alliance and establishing a Transatlantic Trade and Technology Council, being seen as an informal tech alliance with the US to prevent China from dominating this critical sector. The Transatlantic relationship is perhaps one of the pillars for the liberal international order, given its long history and its contribution to maintain the global stability. In the last decades, this axis has been damaged by numerous issues, from economic to security, which is one of the main causes for the decline of liberal international order. Thus, a fresh Transatlantic relationship is conducive to the re-emergence of this order. In this respect, the EU’s effort to strengthen the Transatlantic alliance, despite being questionable in terms of feasibility and outcome, is still paving the way for reinvigorating of liberal international order. More notably, the most recent G7 Summit has illustrated the Western’s solidarity, when there is a convergence in most issues related to global governance and maintaining the Western-based order. This may be a harbinger of the liberal international order’s revival, at least in a foreseeable future.

Non-Western world is struggling 

The dynamics outside the Western world is also changing in a more favorable direction. Many non-Western countries, once were effective in combating against the pandemic, are now struggling with a greater threat. Taiwan, in spite of being praised as one of the most successful states in the battle against COVID-19, is currently facing another wave of pandemic when the new cases in this island are surging recently. Other successful stories, let us say Thailand, Japan or South Korea, are questionable of maintaining their momentum in preventing the virus, showcased by their relatively inefficiency during this new wave, in implementing strong measures and getting their people vaccinated. This raises question about these countries’ model of governance, which was used to be praised as a better alternative for a plagued, dysfunctional Western one, thanks to its merits in helping those above-mentioned states contain COVID-19.

Major non-Western blocs are in the midst of COVID-19 crisis as well. The clearest example is the BRICS. Except China, all other countries in this bloc have been tremendously suffering from the pandemic. Due to this, they are far from being recovered quickly. This failure in dealing with the virus undermines the bloc’s previous effort in establishing its position as a major, effective one, not to mention building a new, non-Western international order. This is also the case with ASEAN, as the organization was sharply divided by COVID-19. There are countries doing well with controlling the pandemic such as Vietnam, Singapore, but the Philippines and Indonesia are unable to do so, making this bloc suffering from institutional sclerosis without having any coherent COVID-19 policy. Therefore, non-Western blocs and countries are far from being more efficient than Western ones, implying they are unable to come up with any better international orders than the current liberal international one.

More importantly, Western values underpinning the liberal international order are universal. This is noteworthy when arguing for the long-lasting of Western order, as its existence and endurance mainly hinge on the universality of Western values. These values have been embraced by many countries for a very long time. Hence, despite being deteriorated in recent years, they cannot be easily changed. On the other hand, non-Western values are also not as highly embraced as Western ones. China, desiring to topple the US, is initiating numerous projects and agreements to spread its values around the world, making the world less Western and more Chinese/Asian. Nonetheless, Beijing has yet achieved any remarkable achievements in making their values more widespread and embraced by the rest of the world. Even worse, its image has been tarnished due to its rising assertiveness. Its projects in developing countries, especially BRI-related projects, have been notorious for a large number of problems related to environment or local corruption, and it is raising strategic uncertainty in the region by its increasing militarization, particularly on the South China Sea. These movements have turned China into a “malevolent” major power, hindering its process of disseminating and socializing its values to the world.

It is also worth noting that although Western values have declined, they have been proven to be benevolent for this world. Most recently, it is Western countries that have successfully developed good COVID-19 vaccines to save themselves and save the world from this unprecedented health crisis. Non-Western countries, for instance China and Russia, have their own vaccines, but they are not as welcome as other developed countries in the West in the vaccine race, because their vaccines are relatively less effective than Western-produced ones. Democracy, liberty, lassaiz faire are values that help Western countries or ones embrace such things able to produce massive amount of effective vaccines, and more broadly to develop a strong science and technology foundation. Producing and distributing vaccine for the rest of the world would make the West become a savior, which is good for saving the liberal international order.

Without doubt, the liberal international order has been in its worst time since 1991 when it reached its heyday. However, thanks to its merits, the liberal international order will not die. Instead, most countries will jointly save it, because they have been benefitting from this order for a long time, and will be so in the future. The order’s founding members are recovering, and cooperating closely to reform it, as well as there are no better international orders that can replace the existing one. Given these circumstances, the liberal international order would re-emerge as a dominant form of ordering this world after the pandemic, and would be perpetuated.

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Americas

Who benefits more from the Biden-Putin summit in Geneva?

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With the Putin-Biden summit in Geneva around the corner, the question is who actually benefits more from the meeting in the small Swiss town.

Mainstream media and right-wing foreign policy thinkers alike have argued that a joint press conference would “elevate” President Putin to the level of the American President.

Ivana Strander, the Jeane Kirkpatrick fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington DC, argued that the upcoming Geneva summit is actually “a gift” to Putin.

In a CNN story, Kaitlan Collins and Kevin Liptak mention that “officials who have been involved in arranging past US meetings with Putin say the Russian side often pushes for a joint press conference, hoping to elevate Putin’s stature by having him appear alongside the American leader”.

Whether as a subconscious bias or an actual reflection of attitudes, prevalent is the idea that coming close to the US President is a privilege that other leaders can only dream about. But who gains more from the upcoming summit?

In fact, it is the American President who is vying for other leaders’ approval and acceptance once again after a humiliating period – not the other way around. American is emerging from Trumpism, which revealed the other, ugly face of America. Trumpism is not gone and the other face of America is still there.

This week, US President Joe Biden is eager to show the world that America is “back”. In meetings with the G7, NATO countries’ top leaders, the NATO Secretary General, the Queen of England, and President Putin in the same week, Biden is asking the world to forget the last four years. And he is not doing this from the position of power or superiority. That’s why assuming that other heads of state, be it Putin or anyone else really, can only gain by coming close to the superiority of the American President is a misplaced and misguided. The US President is asking the international community to take America back – not the other way around.

President Putin doesn’t need the US President’s acceptance – Putin already got that. That happened back in 2018, in Helsinki, when President Trump sided with Putin over the US government’s own intelligence agencies, by rejecting the idea of Russia’s meddling in the US presidential elections. Trump slapped across the face and humiliated the US intelligence community in front of the whole world. Ever since, the US intelligence community has tried to figure out ways to prove Trump wrong and show him otherwise. And they have gone to incredible lengths, only so that they can get their pay pack of a sort, and prove Trump wrong. So, Putin already got what he wanted. He doesn’t need more “elevation”.

What’s also striking is that in Geneva, the UN is absolutely missing from the action. Geneva is the home of numerous UN agencies and international organizations, and not one is actually involved, which speaks volumes to questions of relevance. It is the Swiss government from Bern which is organizing the Summit. The UN is nowhere to be seen which is also indicative of the current Biden priorities.

If Trump was about “America First”, then Biden is about “America is still number one, right?”. But as the United Kingdom learned the hard way recently, it is sometimes best for a declining power to perhaps elegantly realize that the rest of the world no longer wants to dance to its tune, or at least not to its tune only. Discussions about how much Putin gains from coming close to the presence of the US President are misguided. In trying to climb back on the international stage on crotches and covered up in bruises, America is not in a position to look down on other big powers. And as regards who benefits more from the Summit, it seems like one side is there with a clear request asking for something. My understanding is that it is Biden who wants Putin to hand cyber criminals over to him. Putin still hasn’t said what he wants from Biden, in return.

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