Hillary Clinton had portrayed the Trump campaign as divisive. Even she quoted Abraham Lincoln saying “A house divided against itself cannot stand”. But Trump is not the cause of the division within the American society rather a symptom of the division. Perhaps such erroneous perception and inability to figure out the real troubles of the American society played a role in Clinton’s defeat. This may help to understand why Clinton lost while the more puzzling and key question is what the secret of Trump’s victory is?
In order to discover the secret of Trump’s astounding victory, two crucial components of his campaign should be identified: who are the electorate that voted for him and how he had persuaded them. Data on voters clearly show that white Christian mainly working-class Americans with conservative views constituted the core of Trump’s electorate. The Clinton campaign had largely missed to consider this particular majority group of population as she had been much obsessed with minorities leading to disregarding hence alienating the majority. “Though Clinton’s platform was inarguably more progressive than Trump’s, she failed to communicate those policies to the voters who needed to hear it most. Instead, she focused on girl-power anthems and cultivated wealthy celebrity surrogates who were incapable of addressing the grievances that fuelled Trump’s campaign” says Sarah Jones from the New Republic.
In a way, election campaign is an intimate communication between voter and candidate. A voter identifies problems and figures out which candidate is likely to help solve them. Meanwhile the candidate identifies his/her potential target electorate and figures out how to persuade them. The Trump campaign skillfully caught up with the pulse of the time. Meanwhile Hillary Clinton built on her previous campaigning experience and failed to send a proper message to white working-class Americans. Hillary often referred back to her time as Secretary of State and cited her past successes while Trump’s backlash was “Hillary Has Experience, But It’s Bad Experience”. He lambasted her failures such as the Benghazi tragedy and email scandal. More importantly, Trump tapped into the veins of angry white Americans providing a ‘forward-looking’, often wishful and mesmerizing though, vision for the future to come.
Not various minorities such as Latinos, Muslims, women, Afro-Americans, LGBT communities but the majority white Christian Americans decided the outcome of the US election 2016. They had become fatigue of talks about both minorities and external problems and threats. They utterly needed a domestic focus. The Trump campaign caught the moment by emphasizing the domestic focus. However, Clinton got stuck in appeasing already attracted minorities and focusing on external issues to the apparent irritation of conservative white Americans, who were increasingly feeling minority with the domestic problems remaining unattended despite their factual majority. This portion of population is dissatisfied with demographic change, living standards, unemployment, and lack of social benefits, and feels frustrated by the previous administrations, which have let them down. “Trump has been able to appeal to a certain group of folks who feel left out or are worried about the rapidity of demographic change, social change, who, in some cases, have very legitimate concerns around the economy and are feeling left behind”, Obama said. But the president maintained that these people do not make up “the majority of America”. It appears that Democrats failed to properly assess the scale of folks, who had bought into Trump’s promises, and turned out to be crucial in the defeat of Hillary Clinton.
Trump’s electorate perceives Muslims and immigration as a threat to the socio- economic welfare and a threat to their identity. Trump came up with one solution for the two problems: his identity-based solution was to address both the threats to socio-economic welfare and to the identity. His radical proposals on banning Muslims’ entry to the US, deportation of illegal immigrants, and construction of the wall in the Mexican border were seen through the lens of white Christian Americans as a solution to the imminent threat to their identity, and ultimately as a solution to the socio-economic problems. Many Americans view immigrants as grabbing their jobs and sucking taxpayers’ money as social benefits. Yet drug trafficking and criminal activities are often associated with those of Latino background. And almost all presidential candidates had talked about and promised tackling the immigration issue. They all forgot their promises once the election campaign had ended.
In his first interview after the election victory Trump said that “We’re losing this country. That’s why I won the election. And by the way, won it easily”. Trump chose to play the identity card instead of lecturing on liberal values and detailing economic and other programs. He skillfully addressed the sentiments and emotions rather than the intelligence of potential voters. Trump’s identity-based policies represented a temptation to both those who are concerned over the identity threat and those who are concerned over socio-economic problems.
The previous US administrations had used identity politics to rally domestic support for external interventions in Muslim countries. Now trump played the same card but just for the election campaign. Moreover, the previous administrations and election campaigns had scapegoated Islamic extremism and immigration in particular from Mexico and other Latin American countries for problems and failures for nearly 15 years. Also media and opinion makers had depicted Muslims and Latino immigrants. Apparently, most voters for Trump genuinely perceive Muslims and immigrants as a major source of threat to their welfare and life-styles. “Muslims have become popular scapegoats in every election since George W. Bush became president” says Daniel Bush from PBS. But what Trump did differently from the previous campaigns is that he scapegoated the administrations and Washington establishment for failing to settle the problems regarding Muslims and immigrants, and offered radical solutions such as imposing total ban on Muslims’ entry into the United States, and deportation of millions of Mexican immigrants. In fact, Trump won primaries due to such radical statements, which boosted his popularity.
Interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq didn’t solve but amplified the problem. For around 15 years of the so-called war on terror, Americans felt fatigue of too much talk about Islamist extremism with little effect of counter-extremism policies and actions. The war on terror and interventions drew enormous amounts of funds and resources, which could be used for the well-being of American citizens. Yet these massive military campaigns failed to produce the intended outcomes. Instead, the US got stuck in the Middle East and elsewhere, and had to go through troubled times with Russia. “Trump, under the rubric of “America First ,” was critical of military interventions driven by a particular internationalist narrative such as the global war on terrorism or the responsibility to protect rather than interventions to advance traditional notions of national interests”. And here is another issue: amid growing tensions with Russia, the US allocates big funds to defense systems in Eastern Europe for NATO. Tensions with Russia over Ukraine and Syria, on-going turmoil in the Middle East, and related US and NATO efforts and actions have captured the focus of media and administrations hence diverting attention and resources from immediate socio-economic needs of Americans to outside problems.
Trump would seek to bring into reality some of his pre-election promises and could retreat from some others. Many checks-and-balances are in place in the US. So, the president alone is not able to implement significant portion of policies. Even if the president was able to make sure necessary support from proper authorities, just the practicalities wouldn’t allow for successful implementation. Just a few quick examples: how one can identify who is Muslim and who is not. If citizens of a whole Muslim-majority country is banned from entering in the US, what about non-Muslim citizens of that country? If all Muslims are banned, how they would identify Muslim citizens of non-Muslim countries? Yet alone there are so many economic, business and lots of other sorts of vital ties between the US and Muslims and Muslim countries, where Americans are utterly interested, and billions of dollars from Muslim countries are invested or deposited in the US. Another example is that how one can pack millions of illegal Latino immigrants into busses to send to their home countries. These are just a few very simplistic practicalities. In Trump ’s telling , “America’s problems are simple, self-inflicted and easily reversible, once the right man is sitting in the Oval Office”. Yet there are most complicated issues concerning NATO or free trade. NATO is not just about security and military alliance. The US is much dependent on global integration in general and transatlantic integration in particular. Revising the terms in NATO and free trade agreements is much easier said than done. Neither NATO nor free trade is American charity, and both are as much beneficial to the US as no less than that to other participants. Leaving trade agreements and increasing taxes and levies on imports into the US will trigger consequences. The United States’ trade counterparts like China, India, Brazil and others will seek retaliation and substitute for imported US goods and services. Yet one can imagine creation of jobs at home by bringing back US companies from China, India, Bangladesh, Cambodia and the likes, where salaries are incomparably lower than in the US, means rising costs at the domestic market and much less competitiveness abroad. Yet large portions of the American consumers perhaps many of who voted for Trump would encounter higher price US-manufactured goods at Walmart stores instead of Chinese-made cheap alternatives they have used to have. Many immigrants do such ‘dirty’ or low-paid jobs in the US many Americans wouldn’t. A white working-class American would feel the impact of his vote when he will have to pay much more to a white American nanny or nurse than the immigrant. Of course, this is not most Trump voters hope for. “History shows it can be hard to fulfill vows that sounded easier to make in front of cheering crowds on the campaign trail”.
One absolutely significant point is that some republicans opposed Trump not because of his statements, but just because they didn’t expect him to win. Even many republicans understood concerns of white Christian Americans but they either didn’t dare or didn’t want to do what Trump did. House Speaker Paul Ryan “repeatedly criticized Trump throughout the campaign, slamming his call to ban Muslims and at one point calling his attacks on a Mexican-American judge the “textbook definition of racism,” only to embrace him in the election’s closing days”. Ryan immediately congratulated Trump on “His Big Night” and also spoke with his running mate Mike Pence”.
“I think Trump has the idea that things move very quickly in his world, but his world is very different than the political world,” said Behrends Foster, a partner at Bluestone Strategies. But Trump is well-aware of that a big deal of his proposed solutions and policies are too unrealistic to be implemented due to a range of reasons. As a star reality showman, he is skilful in dealing and even playing with emotions and sentiments of people using the problems they face. Trump was lucky enough as he led the potential electorate to buying into his unrealistic promises. Trump’s electorate just ignored Clinton’s calling him ‘Putin’s puppet’, serial sexual misconduct accusations by women, and wider anti-Trump because he had already won their hearts. In order to bring his presidency ambition into reality, he made quite controversial statements and magnetic promises to appease angry white Christian working-class Americans with conservative views and mesmerized them into voting for him.
From the moment of Trump’s victory speech, he has started to show signs of retreatment from his previous statements. “He offered unusually warm words for Mrs. Clinton, who he has suggested should be in jail”. It is likely that his tone would increasingly change for more realistic and less emotional. Yet his first meeting with incumbent president Barack Obama is another sign of such a change in tone. Furthermore, much of his pre-election promises are missing in his plan for first 100 days. But that is not the change his voters expect. They expect him to deliver what he has staunchly and enthusiastically promised. Now it is not clear whether he would be able to deliver. What is clear at this point is that the history has repeatedly demonstrated leaders such as Trump quickly rising in the wave of high popular expectations is likely to end up face to face with frustration of those people in case of failure to deliver. Yet possible conflict of interests between Trump’s business and presidency is and will remain under the spotlight of media and public. Imagining the public frustration to be seen in the light of that conflict, it would just add more fuel to the anger and discontent.
A conclusion is that white Christian Americans feel that their identity and socio- economic wellbeing are threatened by Muslims and immigration. US administrations had scapegoated Muslims and immigration for many problems and failures for many years. Moreover, media and opinion-makers have played a significant role of demonization of Muslims and immigrants. In that context, many Americans view the Washington establishments as too incompetent to address those imminent problems. At this point, Donald Trump stepped in the election campaign 2016 with his anti-establishment agenda to play the identity card. He was courageous enough to be politically incorrect and offer unrealistic and drastic solutions and policies to win hearts and votes of Americans. Ultimately, he mesmerized white Christian Americans into voting for him to become the president of the United States of America. But it is too naïve to expect the Trump presidency to cause a drastic change in the US foreign policy. Trump would struggle between efforts to realize the expectations of his electorate and uniting the much divided America. Yet another challenging task is to do all that without harming vital US interests abroad. Furthermore, once he is in the Oval office, Trump will have access to absolutely confidential reports, which would probably soothe his defiant temperament and anti-establishment rhetoric. Anyway, the Trump presidency would definitely refresh both the foreign policy and the domestic policy. Whether that refreshment would turn out positive or negative is much dependent on Trump’s ability to deliver, which is anyone’s guess.
Will Geneva Be Any Different Than Helsinki?
Any meeting between the leaders of Russia and the U.S. is inevitably an important international event. At some point in history, such summits decided the fate of the entire world, and the world held its collective breath as it followed Kremlin-White House talks on strategic arms or the two sides seeking agreements on urgent regional problems or any political signals coming from the superpower capitals prior to another round of negotiations.
The bipolar era has long been gone, and the Russia-U.S. relations are no longer the principal axis of international politics, although the suspense over bilateral summits remains. As before, the two countries are engaged in “top-down” interaction. Summits give the initial impetus to Moscow and Washington’s cumbersome bureaucratic machines, then diplomats, military personnel and officials start their assiduous work on specific issues, collaboration between the two countries’ private sectors and civil society perks up, the media gradually soften their rhetoric, bilateral projects in culture, education and science are gradually resumed.
Still, there are annoying exceptions to this general rule. In particular, the latest full-fledged Russia–U.S. summit in Helsinki in July 2018 failed to trigger improvements in bilateral relations. On the contrary, Donald Trump’s meeting with Vladimir Putin in Finland’s capital aroused massive resentment among the anti-Russian Washington establishment. Ultimately, on returning home, the U.S. President had to offer awkward apologies to his supporters and opponents alike, and relations between the two countries continued to rapidly deteriorate after the summit.
Surely, nobody is willing to see another Helsinki scenario in June 2021, this time in Geneva. Yet, do we have good reason to hope for a different outcome this time? To answer this question, let us compare Donald Trump and Joseph Biden’s approaches to Russia-U.S. summits and to bilateral relations at large.
First of all, in Helsinki, Trump very much wanted the Russian leader to like him. The Republican President avoided publicly criticizing his Russian counterpart and was quite generous with his compliments to him, which inevitably caused not only annoyance but pure outrage in Washington and in Trump’s own Administration. Joe Biden has known Vladimir Putin for many years; he does not set himself the task of getting the Russian leader to like him. As far as one can tell, the two politicians do not have any special liking for each other, with this more than reserved attitude unlikely to change following their meeting in Geneva.
Additionally, in Helsinki, Trump wanted, as was his wont, to score an impressive foreign policy victory of his own. He believed he was quite capable of doing better than Barack Obama with his “reset” and of somehow “hitting it off” with Putin, thereby transforming Russia if not into a U.S. ally, then at least into its strategic partner. Apparently, Biden has no such plans. The new American President clearly sees that Moscow-Washington relations will remain those of rivalry in the near future and will involve direct confrontation in some instances. The Kremlin and the White House have widely diverging ideas about today’s world: about what is legitimate and what is illegitimate, what is fair and what is unfair, where the world is heading and what the impending world order should be like. So, we are not talking about a transition from strategic confrontation to strategic partnership, we are talking about a possible reduction in the risks and costs of this necessarily costly and lengthy confrontation.
Finally, Trump simply had much more time to prepare for the Helsinki summit than Biden has had to prepare for Geneva. Trump travelled to Finland eighteen months after coming to power. Biden is planning to meet with Putin in less than five months since his inauguration. Preparations for the Geneva summit have to be made in haste, so the expectations concerning the impending summit’s outcome are less.
These differences between Biden and Trump suggest that there is no reason to expect a particularly successful summit. Even so, we should not forget the entire spectrum of other special features of the Biden Administration’s current style of foreign policy. They allow us to be cautiously optimistic about the June summit.
First, Donald Trump never put too much store by arms control, since he arrogantly believed the U.S. capable of winning any race with either Moscow or Beijing. So, his presidential tenure saw nearly total destruction of this crucial dimension of the bilateral relations, with all its attendant negative consequences for other aspects of Russia-U.S. interaction and for global strategic stability.
In contrast, Biden remains a staunch supporter of arms control, as he has already confirmed by his decision to prolong the bilateral New START. There are grounds for hoping that Geneva will see the two leaders to at least start discussing a new agenda in this area, including militarization of outer space, cyberspace, hypersonic weapons, prompt global strike potential, lethal autonomous weapons etc. The dialogue on arms control beyond the New START does not promise any quick solutions, as it will be difficult for both parties. Yet, the sooner it starts, the better it is going to be for both countries and for the international community as a whole.
Second, Trump never liked multilateral formats, believing them to be unproductive. Apparently, he sincerely believed that he could single-handedly resolve any burning international problems, from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to North Korea’s nuclear missile programme.
Biden does not seem to harbor such illusions. He has repeatedly emphasized the importance of multilateralism, and he clearly understands that collaboration with Russia is necessary on many regional conflicts and crises. Consequently, Geneva talks may see the two leaders engage in a dialogue on Afghanistan, on the Iranian nuclear deal, on North Korea, or even on Syria. It is not at all obvious that Biden will succeed in reaching agreement with Putin immediately on all or any of these issues, but the very possibility of them discussed at the summit should be welcomed.
Third, Trump was not particularly fond of career diplomats and, apparently, attached little value to the diplomatic dimension of foreign policy. The Russia-U.S. “embassy war” had started before Trump—but not only did Trump fail to stop it, he boosted it to an unprecedented scale and urgency.
Sadly, the “embassy war” continues after Trump, too. Yet President Biden, with his tremendous foreign policy experience, understands diplomatic work better and appreciates it. Practical results of the Geneva summit could include a restoration of the diplomatic missions in Washington and Moscow to their full-fledged status and a rebuilding of the networks of consular offices, which have been completely destroyed in recent years. Amid the problems of big politics, consular services may not seem crucial but, for most ordinary Russians and Americans, regaining the opportunity for recourse to rapid and efficient consular services would outweigh many other potential achievements of the Geneva summit.
From our partner RIAC
“Choose sides” is practically a bogus idea for US military partners
“Choosing sides” is practically a non-starter for US military allies such as Japan and South Korea. These nations, first and foremost military allies of the US, are forging cordial and productive ties with other countries based on military alliances with the US. The nature and level of partnerships varies greatly from those of allies, despite the fact that they appear to be quite heated at times.
Military concerns have been less important in the postwar period, but economic concerns have been extremely heated, social and cultural interactions have been close, and the qualitative differences between cooperative relations and allies have gotten confused, or have been covered and neglected.
Some unreasonable expectations and even mistakes were made. In general, in the game between the rising power and the hegemony, it is undesirable for the rising power to take the initiative and urge the hegemony’s supporters to select a side. Doing so will merely reinforce these countries’ preference for hegemony.
Not only that, but a developing country must contend with not only a dominant hegemony, but also a system of allies governed by the hegemony. In the event of a relative reduction in the power of the hegemony, the strength of the entire alliance system may be reinforced by removing restraints on allies, boosting allies’ capabilities, and allowing allies’ passion and initiative to shine.
Similarly, the allies of the hegemonic power are likely to be quite eager to improve their own strength and exert greater strength for the alliance, without necessarily responding to, much alone being pushed by, the leader. The “opening of a new chapter in the Korean-US partnership” was a key component of the joint statement issued by South Korea and the United States following the meeting of Moon Jae-in and Biden. What “new chapter” may a military alliance have in a situation of non-war?
There are at least three features that can be drawn from the series of encounters between South Korea and the United States during Moon Jae-visit in’s to the United States: First, the withdrawal of the “Korea-US Missile Guide” will place military constraints on South Korea’s missile development and serve as a deterrence to surrounding nations. The second point is that, in addition to the Korean Peninsula, military cooperation between the US and South Korea should be expanded to the regional level in order to respond to regional hotspots. The third point is that, in addition to military alliances, certain elements in vaccinations, chips, 5G, and even 6G are required. These types of coalitions will help to enhance economic cooperation.
Despite the fact that Vice President Harris wiped her hands after shaking hands with Moon Jae-in, and Biden called Moon Jae-in “Prime Minister” and other rude behaviors, the so-called “flaws” are not hidden, South Korea still believes that the visit’s results have exceeded expectations, and that Moon Jae-in’s approval rate will rise significantly as a result.
The joint statement issued by South Korea and the United States addresses delicate subjects such as the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea. Of course, China expresses its outrage. It is widely assumed that this is a “private cargo” delivered by Biden’s invitation to Moon Jae-in to visit the United States.
Moon Jae-in stated that he was not pressured by Biden. If this is correct, one option is that such specific concerns will not be handled at all at the summit level; second, South Korea is truly worried about the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea concerns and wishes to speak with the US jointly.
South Korea should be cognizant of China’s sensitivity to the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea concerns. When it comes to China-related concerns, the phrasing in the ROK-US joint statement is far more mild than that in the ROK-Japan joint declaration. Nonetheless, the harm done to South Korea-China ties cannot be overlooked.
South Korea highlights the “openness” and “inclusiveness” of the four-party security dialogue system, which allows South Korea to engage to some extent. South Korea will assess the net gain between the “gain” on the US side and the “loss” on the Chinese side. China would strongly protest and fiercely respond to any country’s measures to intervene in China’s domestic affairs and restrict China’s rise.
Political Violence and Elections: Should We Care?
The next Sunday 6th of June, the Chamber of Deputies along with 15 out of the 32 governorships will be up for grabs in Mexico’s mid-term elections. These elections will be a crucial test for the popularity of the president and his party, the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA). They currently hold majority in the Lower Chamber of the national Congress, and these elections could challenge this.
Recent national polls indicate that the ruling party, MORENA, is still the most popular political force in Mexico, and they are poised to win not only several governorships, but also several municipalities. They are also expected to maintain control of the Lower Chamber, although with a loss of a few seats. In order to ensure MORENA keeps its current majority in the Congress, they have decided to pursue an electoral alliance with the Green Party (PVEM) and the Labout Party (PT). It is expected that with this move, they will be able to ensure the majority in the Chamber of Deputies in the Congress.
There is, however, another aspect that is making the headlines in this current electoral process: The high levels of political and electoral violence, The current electoral process is the second most violent since 2000. The number of candidates that have been assassinated is close to 30% higher than the mid-term electoral process of 2015. More than 79 candidates have been killed so far all across the country.
Insecurity in Mexico has been an ongoing issue that has continued to deteriorate during the administration of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO). AMLO has continually criticised his predecessors and the valid problems of their approaches to insecurity in Mexico along with the War on Drugs policy. However, to date, he has yet to offer a viable alternative to tackle the security problems he inherited. During his campaign, AMLO coined the phrase “abrazos no balazos” (hugs not bullets) to describe his approach toward improving security in Mexico. He believed that to successfully tackle the worsening crisis of insecurity, the structural conditions that forced people to commit crimes had to be addressed first: Namely inequality, poverty, low salaries, lack of access to employment etc. To date, insecurity in Mexico continues to worsen, and this had become evident during the current electoral process.
This nonsensical approach to insecurity has resulted in the first three years of his government reaching over 100,000 murders, along with the nearly 225,000 deaths as a result of the pandemic.
What should be particularly worrying in this spiral of violence, is the prevalence of political and electoral violence during the current process. Political violence represents not only a direct attack on democratic institutions and democracy itself, but it also compromises the independence, autonomy, and integrity of those currently in power, and those competing for positions of power. It affects democracy also because political violence offers a way for candidates to gain power through violent means against opposition, and this also allows organised crime to infiltrate the state apparatus.
Political violence is a phenomenon that hurts all citizens and actors in a democracy. It represents a breeding ground for authoritarianism, and impunity at all levels of government. This limits the freedoms and rights of citizens and other actors as it extinguishes any sort of democratic coexistence between those currently holding political power and those aspiring to achieve it. Political violence also obstructs the development of democracy as it discredits anyone with critical views to those in power. This is worrying when we consider that 49% of those assassinated belong to opposition parties. This increase in political violence has also highlighted AMLO´s inability to curtail organised crime and related violence.
Assassination of candidates is only the tip of the iceberg. Organised criminal groups have also infiltrated politics through financing of political campaigns. Most of electoral and political violence tends to happen an municipal levels, where it is easier for criminal groups to exert more pressure and influence in the hope of securing protection, and perpetuate impunity, or securing control over drug trafficking routes. This should be especially worrisome when there is close too government control in certain areas of the country, and there is a serious risk of state erosion at municipal level in several states.
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