The nature of the Trump presidency in the United States has been much discussed but little understood. The American liberal media (including the New York Times, and Washington Post) have been vociferously opposed to the presidency and their international influence has meant that there has been little independent assessment of the meaning of the Trump presidency for the rest of the world. However, it is important that the rest of the world assess Trump’s actions objectively, rather than purely on the basis of rhetoric.
First, the United States has been the foremost imperial power since the end of the second world war. They have been involved in imperial wars, prominently in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan but also in sponsoring coups, whether in Chile, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Nicaragua or their unsuccessful terrorist attacks on Cuba. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, there has been the emergence of a unipolar world. One can get a sense of the dominance of the American military over the world by the fact that they have a military base in almost every single African country under the aegis of AFRICOM.
However, recent events going back to the financial crisis of 2007-2008 have created internal strife in America, and raised a question over the sustainability of the American empire. This has led to two insurgent movements within the two major parties, the Bernie Sanders movement within the Democratic Party and the Trump movement in the Republican party. Bernie Sanders can be best described as a social imperialist, one who talks of social benefits for American workers, but is silent on issues of American war and plunder abroad. The politics of Trump has been much harder to understand, and has been described by various adjectives like “crazy”, “unpredictable”. His election has created a situation which has been aptly described as “Chaos in the White House”.
Two events have had particular significance in the past year. The first has been the talks towards peace between South and North Korea, facilitated by the Trump presidency. It is quite unlikely that these talks would have been possible if Hillary Clinton had been elected president. The second is the recent decision to withdraw troops from Syria and Afghanistan. The withdrawal of troops from that region work in the favour of Iran, Russia and Turkey.This has faced severe resistance from inside the American administration with the Defense secretary James Mattis resigning. In fact, these events are not isolated but represent a position that Trump has held consistently since his election.
In an early article in November 2016, Christan Parenti had written an article called “Listening to Trump”. Commenting on his campaign speeches which he extensively researched, Parenti reported that “Contrary to how he was portrayed in the mainstream media Trump did not talk only of walls, immigration bans, and deportations. In fact he usually didn’t spend much time on those themes…the heart of his message was something different, en ersatz economic populism, which has been noted far and wide, but also a strong, usually overlooked, anti-war message. Both spoke to legitimate working class concerns”. In fact, there is a disconnect in America between the elites and everyone else. In a book on the Trump presidency, Bob Woodward reports (though this is hidden inside the book) that Trump had consistently questioned the justification for American troop presence around the world. The Pentagon and Secretary of Defense James Mattis had to work hard to counter Trump’s consistent insistence with regard to American troops, “Let’s bring them all home”.
One can debate over how serious Trump is about his proposed imperial retreat. It is also clear that this retreat is not a wholesale retreat, and his stance on Israel, Iran or Venezuela has been consistent with the American imperial project. However, to expect Trump to do something that only a strong people’s movement could do inside America would be a mistake. Rather, there is a need to understand that Trump represents a crisis within the American political system. It would be incorrect to merely dismiss him as right wing, or a fascist. If this were indeed true, why would the extreme right wing forces in the American government including the CIA, Pentagon and corporate mass media (who do not run for office) be against him? Moreover, their attacks on him have focused on his relationship to Russia. The Russia investigation has so far not reported any direct evidence of collusion between Trump and Russia, but the amount of hyperbole the American media has created around it is comparable to cold-war propaganda. One must understand that imperialism itself is in crisis. A unipolar world under American dominance seems more and more unsustainable. There are two contradictory tendencies in America, one which wants to continue the unipolar empire, and one which recognizes the emergence of a multi-polar world.
For the rest of the world, particularly the third world, this crisis presents an opportunity to move forward. It creates space for people’s movements to resist imperialism. For this, it is important that we assess the Trump presidency correctly and see it as a whole rather than merely concentrate on his rhetoric.
How do we assess the effect of Trump inside America? First, it is under-reported how authoritarian American society is. It is often offered as a model of freedom and democracy. To the contrary, America is an authoritarian society and has the largest number of prisoners in the world. It has only 6% of the world population but 25% of the world’s prison population. Moreover, it is clear that the prison system is racial with almost 40% of prisoners being African American (even though they are only 12% of the American population). The police force is overwhelmingly white and is brutal in its use of violence particularly against African Americans. This kind of authoritarianism is objectively much more significant than the Trump’s rhetoric. Second, the policy of free borders was in fact started by Ronald Reagan. The labor movement has been opposed to it, and has suffered due to it (since immigrant labor has often replaced unionized labor). The lowest rung of the working class in the United States, is the Black working class, which has also suffered due to immigration. Hence, there is a significant section of the working class within the United States which is opposed to the immigration policy, and Trump’s economic populism appeals to them. Immigration is both a political and an economic issue and must be discussed as such.
It is important that we be completely clear. None of this is to say that Trump is a revolutionary leader, or that we must not be skeptical of what he does. However, we must recognize that Trump represents a profound crisis of the American political system. This presents an opportunity for the peace movement to re-invigorate its activities and to again push the agenda of South-South solidarity. We cannot expect Trump or any American president to do our job.However, we must recognize this historical opportunity, and continue the fight for world peace.
(Based on a discussion meeting held in Indore on 21st December between Dr. Anthony Monteiro, activist in Philadelphia and some participants in Indore including Vineet Tiwari, Jaya Mehta, Abhay Nema, Sarika Shrivastava, Kalpana Mehta and Archishman Raju)