Trump, Trumpism and Triumphalism
By N Sathiya Moorthy
It is anybody’s guess if she would have reacted the same way if outgoing US President Donal Trump were to have continued as the incoming US President, come tomorrow. But US Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Alaina B. Teplitz’s pubic expression of her deep disappointment with the appalling incidents in Washington on 6 January, when Trump’s Red Necks carried the day all the way into the sacred precincts of the nation’s Democracy is commendable all the same.
That Ambassador Teplitz volunteered to come out with a statement on her nation’s Capitol crimes and sins is still an expression of American democracy, all the same. “Our institutions have been tested and proved resilient through the years – but recent events remind us, once more, that democracy needs constant tending and renewal by leaders and citizens alike,” she said, adding Sri Lanka and Maldives, the two nations under her current care, to complete the royal ‘we’.
“Providing opportunities and outlets for common understanding is what it takes to address the past, and lay the foundation for a more inclusive future,” she said, in what could be a possible unmentioned reference to the pending/ongoing UNHRC processes regarding host-nation, Sri Lanka. Possibly, she did not include her nation in such an international introspection on what is wrong with America, and what all wrongs it has been committing inside and outside, and what more it is capable of committing – and without firing a shot.
Man with a mission
After full four years, or 1460 nights to be precise, world leaders can go to sleep in peace tonight, in the full knowledge that there won’t be a midnight knock on his bedroom door, and an aide on the night watch waking him up to tell him what President Trump had tweeted just now. There was no such fear of North Korea’s Kim, China’s Xi or Russia’s Putin. The unpredictability of the man, but with a mission of his own, made him more dangerous than all the three and all of Americas other ‘evil powers’ the world has seen, sans Adolf Hitler and Uganda’s Idi Amin.
No, Trump can never be blamed, even remotely, for the cruelty attached to the other two names – but in the 21st century crude decisions, taken when you alone is awake and even your Cabinet colleagues and military commander are sleeping, can be as dangerous as any decision of the other two. Imagine situations that Bob Woodward has mentioned in his ‘Fear: Trump in the White House’ (2018), especially some of the decisions that his aides had buried or destroyed without the most powerful man in the US even recalling either, any of them going on stream could have caused tremors across a major part of the world.
For instance, the Trump decision that they withdrew American troops from South Korea if the latter did not pay up for the upkeep. If implemented, South Korea may have become a tempting target for North’s Kim. It is not about Kim having his way, but is about the possibility of regional tensions and a possible war with unpredictable ramifications for the whole of East and South Asia. Who knows, it would have been another Vietnam in the making. Considering that the US entered Vietnam consciously and with full preparations would make another Korean imbroglio even when it won’t be an American war – rather, it would not be an American war any more.
Considering that the US without Trump was already on the winding up process in Afghanistan after Iraq, even a serious discussion on Trump’s proposal on cost-cutting, or making South Korea pay for its security, would have led to a global discourse on America’s ‘withdrawing beyond Suez’ moment for the UK, after the Second World War. Any South Korean acceptance of Trump’s unpublished condition would have made the American armed forces in that country a commissioned security guard, more appropriately described as a ‘mercenary force’.
In the contemporary context, such wooly-brained decisions may have led to all of America’s allies across the world to look for their turn as the all-American sacrificial goat at the altar of American economic expediency or political sagacity passed off as an economic condition. Throughout, the US has acted only as much, but Presidents in Donald Trump’s place had been more sophisticated and methodical in their ways that the bleeding goat until the last minute actually believed that it was a surgery at its best by a surgeon who is ‘the’ best, and all for the goat’s own good.
If his voters and more so fellow-Republicans thought that Trump was there to win back the presidency for the party and the pre-Vietnam pride for America, they were mistaken. He promised to ‘bring back jobs’ to America, from, say, China. They instead went to China. He also promised IT jobs back from India, with his H!B visa regimes, but the global economy of his times and Covid corona later ensured that there were fewer jobs now for Indians to lose.
Trump’s kind of election campaign and all that has since followed after the polls up to rival Joe Biden’s Inauguration tomorrow have ensured that there is no stock-taking, at least as yet, on Trump’s poll promises on the home front against actual delivery, Covid or no Covid. Instead, the stock-taking is on what America ought to have been but is not. He has wantonly or otherwise shifted the accountability issues of his own making to all America.
‘Justice is coming’
Going by US federal prosecutors’ court affidavits, the Capitol rioters had plans to ‘capture and assassinate officials’, possibly beginning with Senators and House Representatives. That is also the prosecutors’ choice of the term ‘assassinate’ indicate.
Then you have the infamous Arizona man, Jacob Chansley, the conspiracy theorist who wore a pair of horns, while leaving behind a note for his own Republican Vice-President, Mike Pence, now retired, at his seat on the Senate podium: “It is only a matter of time, justice is coming.” It reads like a Biblical curse, but then the prosecution has since withdrawn this particular sentence from their court filing. Yet, it is the kind of curse and mindset the Chansleys of America still possess, living in a world that is yet to become modern and liberal for them, long after the American Civil War ended, with victory for the liberals that President Abraham Lincoln, in Trump’s place, won – and gave his life for.
America’s success since then has been in its ability to package itself better for the market economy it heralded and headed all along. The ‘all-ugly’ America’s back side is kept away from world view. According to a study a few years back, only 18 per cent of Americans earned more than $ 100,000 a year – and much of the nation’s income owned to a few multi-nationals connected to a dozen WASP families or so. In his 2004 presidential campaign, Democrat John Kerry repeatedly talked about how most American children were school drop-outs, to pick up a job in an ice cream parlour or some such place, get a girl-friend, a few credit cards and a lot of debt. He promised to change all that. But when Ohio happened, and his running-mate John Edwards came out to tell supporters, Every vote counts and we will make every vote count”, Kerry went back on that commitment. He conceded the election without a contest. It was obvious, he big-ticket financiers did not want him to rock the all-American boat.
The low education and income levels of most naturally leave behind an America of have-nots, which it did. These have- nots are what they are because of the manipulated labour laws and consumer laws could not and/or did not protest – and excessive consumerism and the death of Christian norms of families that were caring, not daring.
Voters as shield
Candidate Trump’s success was in tapping on them, bringing them out in the open, and claiming to speak for them – and acting for them, and making them, too, also to act for him, in turn. That’s the sordid Capitol story, simplified for easy consumption. For an incumbent who has lost his re-election bid still using the 75 million American who had voted for him as a shield was a message that neither the party, nor the ‘liberal’, nor the ‘neutral’ America too serious enough.
Independent Ross Perot’s 20-per cent vote-share in the 1992 presidential polls sounded the bugle, but the bipartisan approach was to declare that “we will not allow this to happen”. No, they were not talking about not creating a socio-economic situation where an increasing number of voters would be frustrated with the existing system. It was about ensuring that another Ross Perot did not rise. If anything, Perot lost out miserably in Elections-1996, and no one dare risk a chance like that. The hanging chad and else followed, so did America’s global war on terrorism, post-9/11. No, America did not plot it, but once handed over, America did externalise the ugly inside.
That was long after Ronald Reagan had taken courage to pick up a domestic issue, and address the economy. But his Reaganomics was meant to only make rich people richer and keep poor people poorer. It achieved it. After Americans got stuck in Iraq and Afghanistan, a Barack Obama was the right choice for the right post at the right time, again to divert the nation’s attention from the real American problems.
If Trump was not there, one, America would have discovered. He was a Republican by practice by a Red Neck by belief. He gave leadership and commandeered those that came to the Capitol, as if pushed by a divine force from inside – like one of those suicidal religious clans that believe in that the ‘Day of Reckoning’ had arrived. Trump’s storm-troopers were already there, hidden by the pomp and power of America, and came out on the day they were told was the ‘Day of Redemption and Re-discovery’ for America. They triumphed, and that was also the triumph of Trumpism at its peak – or, at least thus far.
As Joe Biden begins his term in office, he has a choice. Either to white-wash the sins of Trump, Trumpism and their triumphalism – or, hold them ‘accountable’ for their crims and sins. It’s the kind of crimes and sins that the US has been conveniently holding up against inconvenient regimes elsewhere. That includes the incumbent in Sri Lanka. Amen!
(The writer is Distinguished Fellow and Head-Chennai Initiative, Observer Research Foundation, the multi-disciplinary Indian public-policy think-tank, headquartered in New Delhi. email: [email protected])