They mocked the Germans as blinkered, the French as spineless, the British as scheming, the Russians as thugs, the Chinese as regimented, the Japanese as restricted, the Arabs as degenerates, the Iranians as draconian, the Turks as narrow-minded, the Africans as laggards, the Latinos as useless.
They lectured the world on political inclusivity. They hectored nations on democratic plurality. They wagged fingers at others for following dreadful leaders. They invaded alien countries, spent trillions, displaced millions and killed hundreds of thousands in the name of teaching others their way of life. They uprooted perfectly functional constitutional orders and imposed (actually wrote with their hands) new constitutions for the un-willing, or those they vanquished. They termed every sign of resistance to their imposition as insurgency.
They did all this and much worse. And then something happened. After centuries of preaching to the international community, they got themselves a man who in even a moderately civilised society would be recommended for serious counselling. In about two months the Americans will have a natural born racist showman as their president.
Already the much-trumpeted American dream has become a nightmare, detested by more than half of the electorate (so much for the will of the majority whose virtues American policymakers cannot tire of telling others about) touching off unprecedented protests against what many call the president-derelict.
The world should be forgiven for thinking that the arrival of Donald Trump on the US presidential scene is divine retribution for America’s institutionalised low view of other nations. Or God’s rebuke to their persistent boasts, backed by military might, that they, collectively, are their own greatest gift to humanity. But, while justified, this view misses profound issues that the Trump presidency can potentially raise for different parts of the world, particularly the part we live in.
To be sure, this won’t be the first time idiocy would invade the White House. We have vivid memories of George W Bush (eight years) at the helm. The man, literally, could not tell right from left, and when he was not spending time puking on dinner tables, he was busy turning the world upside down – a bit like the books he held before cameras.
Some years before him there was Ronald Reagan. His capacity to process a two-layered idea competed with, and lost to, a grade-three student. However, he flourished purely on crafted imagery of greatness and glory that an unquestioning media happily lapped up and reproduced with exaggerated effect for a gullible public.
There were others too. In the 1920s, there was Warren Gamaliel Harding, the ‘average American’. His best past time was playing poker with the Ohio gang), some of whom were involved in crass corruption. Historians record how once Alice Roosevelt Longworth, T Roosevelt’s daughter, walked into the president’a office and was shocked out of her wits to see “packs of cards all over the president’s desk, tall glasses of whisky (in the middle of Prohibition), the air heavy with cigar smoke and the Ohio gang sitting with legs on the table, and their vests unbuttoned.” And of course we remember Bill Clinton who was notorious for lying through his teeth and cheating through his pants exactly at the time he was taking consequential decisions on global matters.
But Trump is unique. He is already discovered for what he is. No hundred days are needed to test him out. He has tweeted his twisted mind and his dark heart to the world. He and his tactics are best described in a recent article in the New York Times:
“In many ways, the performances of Donald Trump remind me of male chimpanzees and their dominance rituals…In order to impress rivals, males seeking to rise in the dominance hierarchy perform spectacular displays – stamping, slapping the ground, dragging branches, throwing rocks. The more vigorous and imaginative the display, the faster the individual is likely to rise in the hierarchy, and the longer he is likely to maintain that position… a chimp… maintains his dominance by kicking a series of kerosene cans ahead of him as he move(s) down a road, creating confusion and noise that (make) his rivals flee and cower.”
The danger is that the Chimp will continue with his dominance dance after occupying the White House. He has no reason to change. His verbal violence and unbridled authoritarianism has been his key to exceptional political success. Also there are no checks on him. He owes his party nothing (since almost all of it was working to undermine him) and yet he will benefit from the dominance of Congress and the Supreme Court by the Republicans. He can legislate at will. He has done what nobody had imagined he could (bookies had his victory odds at 1 against 150). You have to be in his shoes to know how high he must be flying.
His presidency can mean bad news for regions like ours. He is a red bull in a china shop and can be totally unpredictable. Yes his focus is likely to be on domestic issues, but he has promised his voters the moon. The reality is that jobs will not come back to the US in a year. Hillary will not be prosecuted in three months or ever. The wall with Mexico will not be built overnight.
What does he do to divert attention from internal demands to deliver quickly and ‘heal’ the wounds he himself has inflicted on the American body politic?
He may turn towards foreign policy to find short-term relief. Fighting terrorism with new vigour can become his rallying cry. Military expeditions can become his refuge from domestic disorder. Remember he has gone to the extreme to achieve his goals. He has used every despicable card in the pack (racial slurs, fear mongering, threats a la KKK ideology) to garner support for his presidential bid. If he can divide his own country for power, he can do much worse to the world to preserve it at home.
It is possible that, given his foreign policy illiteracy, his party may manoeuvre to create a group of advisers around him to keep his bipolar temper in check. But that scenario too is fraught.
The genie of division that his election has generated will not go back just because he is keeping his trap shut. The US is on fire with fear and uncertainty and there are millions who simply cannot get over the fact that they have been Trumped. The blacks, the Hispanics, the Muslims and many liberal whites won’t be placated easily. There is little that can be offered to the divided Americans at this point as a middle ground. Little except the old idea that the US can be made secure by creating foreign policy success. A spectacular spectacle outside the US can generate the much-needed bond to connect the two poles.
Inevitably, the topmost issue in such a situation will be terrorism, which Trump and the Republicans’ warped worldview associates with all Muslim countries. Here their gaze will turn towards Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Of the few things that Donald Trump has spoken about that have resonated within his own party one is dealing with the Islamic State (IS). He has promised to hit them so hard that they would cease to exist as a threat.
Of late more than one prominent American official has mentioned the Islamic State’s changing base, from the Middle East to Afghanistan, closer to Pakistan’s borders. The two recent terror strikes, one on lawyers and the other on policemen, in Pakistan have both been claimed by the IS. There are groups on this side of the border that openly claim being the IS’s extension. In a deeply divided America there is a dangerous convergence of interests and policy between the Democrats and the Republicans on how to deal with such threats.
Only time will tell whether Donald Trump is an isolationist or an interventionist. But he will not balk at being an adventurist if it secures him domestic glory and temporary unity. In this respect he can be like Narendra Modi who came to power by splitting his nation at the seams and is now trying to win national legitimacy by waving the threat of terrorism. A Trump in Modi mode can be a truly dangerous thing. We better watch out.
The writer is former executive editor of The News and a senior journalist with Geo TV.Syed Talat Hussain, "Trump in Modi mode," The News. 2016-11-14.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Supreme court , Foreign policy , Islamic state , Democracy , Diplomacy , Democrats , Extremism , Donald Trump , Ronald Reagan , Warren Gamaliel Harding , Japan , Iran , IS