The American Nightmare
With Donald Trump’s election to US President, Americans seem to have voted for nationalism, isolationism and xenophobia. What kind of policy is to be expected of the narcissistic self-promoter and political novice, whose campaign was dominated by crude insults and polemics rather than content? And what does the election of the rightwing populist mean for Europe?
Not my president!” With this battle cry thousands of American citizens went to the streets to protest against the election of Donald Trump as US President. After the election on November 8, there were nationwide demonstrations in cities such as Chicago, Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Denver, Los Angeles, Oakland, Portland and San Francisco for several consecutive nights. The anger and horror of the protesters over Trump’s election victory are understandable given Trump’s unpredictable character and the fact that the Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton won the majority of votes at 47.9 to 47.2 percent.
However, according to the American electoral system only the electoral delegates count, and there Trump was ahead with 290 to 232. Contrary to all previous surveys that had predicted Clinton’s victory, Trump was able to win crucial swing states like Florida, Ohio and North Carolina and, surprisingly, won traditionally Democratic states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. A large number of white, elderly and predominantly male Americans living in the country voted for the Republican. Many votes came from the white working class hoping that Trump will bring back more jobs to the US. Strangely enough, female voters had a share of 53 percent in the victory of the political novice. Many women voted for Trump, despite his misogynic statements, his latent sexist attitude and the numerous allegations of sexual harassment from his past that kept emerging throughout his election campaign.
Trump stands for nationalism and xenophobia
Just as hard to explain are the 30 percent of votes each of Latinos and Asians for Trump. He had insulted Latinos, and especially Mexicans living in the United States, by calling them “criminals”, “drug dealers” and “rapists”, and he announced the construction of a wall on the border to Mexico. In addition, he agitated against Muslims during his election campaign, whom he would rather deny entry to the US. Moreover, he wanted to deport millions of illegal immigrants, some of whom have lived in the country for decades and are a vital part of the economy.
What is to be said of a country where so many people choose a politically completely inexperienced ignorant and proven liar as their leader, who despises women and minorities as much as the media and the whole political system of the U.S.? There is only hope because of the other half of the voters voted for Hillary Clinton. Unfortunately, the democrat did not manage to mobilize more of the voters who gave Obama two terms African Americans, Latinos and young voters aged between 18 and 29 years. Clinton’s decades of experience as First Lady, Senator and Foreign Minister were of little help, as the Clinton ‘dynasty’ is regarded by many as the personified status quo of Washington’s political Establishment, thought to be devoted only to its own advantage. In view of these tendencies, the Democratic Party must now ask themselves whether Bernie Sanders would not have been the better candidate. Even though the 75-year-old Senator lost against Clinton in the Democratic primaries, with his comprehensive reform proposals such as making public colleges and universities tuition-free, tax increases to minimize wealth inequality and expanding Social Security benefits, he scored especially with young Americans.
Debtas, Protectionsism, Isolationism
But what are Donald Trump’s political plans, what has he in mind in the areas of economy, domestic and foreign policy? Well, much is uncertain, as his election campaign consisted of general promises and polemics rather than content. What can be gathered from his statements are tax reliefs for big corporations, high-income earners and the repatriation of the profits of American corporations abroad. In addition, Trump promises to invest in infrastructure while reducing debts. However, quite a few economists doubt the financial viability of these projects. “I think he’s going to make massive debts like Ronald Reagan. And that weakens the dollar and damages Europe’s exports”, the economic expert Peter Bofinger told Süddeutsche Zeitung.
This is bad news for the export nation Germany, just as Trump’s protectionist plans on the introduction of tariffs on foreign products and rejecting the principle of free trade. The prospects are likewise bleak for the working class people who feel they have been left behind by the globalization. By protesting against the growing social inequality in America with their vote they have helped Trump get into office. However, the Republicans have never been a party of workers, and tax reliefs for big corporations and high-income earners will rather increase the disparity between the rich and the poor. Thus, the American economist and President of the Institute for World Economy in Kiel, Dennis Snower said shortly after the election: “Trumps greatest advocates will be his greatest victims.”
Top priority on the agenda remains the election pledge to build a wall on the border with Mexico in order to prevent immigrants from Latin America from entering the country illegally. Mexico is supposed to pay the construction costs of the wall, but Mexican politicians have publicly refused. In addition, the new president wants to quickly expel or imprison up to three million people without valid documents, as he announced in his first television interview after his election.
Trump’s election must be a wake-up call for Europe
Trump’s foreign policy attitude can be summed up by the motto “America First” – the country should act as isolationist as possible, pursue primarily its own interests and stay out of the affairs of other nations. There should be no longer any involvement in military actions without a direct link to national security. Protection, even for NATO partners, should only be given for cash payment as is the case in Trump’s business world. How realistic this policy will be in the cumbersome daily operations remains to be seen. Certain is, however, that the Republicans now have a majority in both chambers of the Congress and will probably soon have a conservative majority on the Supreme Court.
The “appropriate” staff for these plans has yet to be found. The selection so far, however, surprises and gives reason to fear the worst. One of Trump’s first decisions was to appoint his campaign manager Stephen Bannon to serve as chief consultant. Until 2011 Bannon was in charge of the ultra-right-wing news page Breitbart News, which acts as a platform of the so-called alt-right movement. The movement propagates a racially defined nationalism, which is very popular with American Neo-Nazis and the Ku-Klux Klan. It’s no wonder the news service Bloomberg described Bannon as “the most dangerous political operative in America”. Further disturbing news are that such politicians as Newt Gingrich are considered as foreign minister or Sarah Palin as interior minister.
Immediately after the election it became clear which politicians rushed to congratulate Trump on his victory. Among the first congratulants were not only authoritarian heads of state such as Egyptian President Al-Sisi or Vladimir Putin but also right-wing populists such as Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders, Viktor Orban and Frauke Petry. Currently, right-wing populist parties are represented in parliaments in 15 European countries, six of which have government participation. For Europe, Trump’s election must be a wake-up call in order to prevent these numbers from rising , with particular interest in the Dutch elections in March 2017, the elections in France in May 2017 and the Bundestag elections in autumn 2017. Politics must speak out for democratic and European values, fight social inequality, and it must not imitate populists in fear of electoral votes.
Ultimately, Donald J. Trump will be sworn in on January 20, 2017 as the 45th President of the United States. But the cultural struggle of the chauvinist and authoritarianist against the open and liberal America will keep the world on the alert and busy for the next four years.
This article is part of IFAIR’s cooperation with the Diplomatic Magazine and was published in Decembers’s issue under Ausgabe 12/2016.