Feeding 'the Donald' - Why Trump Won and What it May mean

When on Donald Trump's birthday earlier this year, photos were circulating of Modi Bhakts in Delhi feeding cake to cut outs of ‘the Donald’, few people actually expected that Trump might soon be President of America. That a man with his record of boasting about sexual abuse, open links to far- right groups and chumminess with Vladimir Putin, would be elected seemed highly unlikely.

Trump's eventual victory was at first ascribed by some commentators to the anger and resentment of white working class males who had been thrown on the scrapheap by neoliberalism, people who had been neglected by the Democratic party and the Washington elite, who now saw Trump as their champion. In this sense, they argued, the Trump victory was a blow to neoliberalism itself while Clinton was, according to CNN contributor and historian Stephanie Coontz, “simply unable to present herself as a forceful defender of everyone who has been left behind by the march of globalization, professionalization and the emergence of a new just-in-time, winner-take-all economy.” And Cracked’s David Wong, in an article with nearly ten million views, wrote of rural support for Trump: “To those ignored, suffering people, Donald Trump is a brick chucked through the window of the elites. ‘Are you assholes listening now?’”

But this analysis (like the assessment by many Indian and international commentators of Modi 's 2014 victory) is far from the whole story. While white working class votes played an important part in Trump's victory, particularly in the Rust Belt of the American Mid-West, the once booming and now deindustrialised and increasingly deprived states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, ‘this narrative paints a misleading picture of the typical Trump voter, and by doing so, lets off the hook an entire class of voters who are at least as responsible for Trump’s victory [and who again have a similarity with the BJP's support base] : middle-class and wealthy suburban whites, who also came out in droves for Trump and who make up a larger part of his coalition' many of them young college educated men and women radicalised on line by ultra-right organisations.

Other analysts have suggested that Trump had won because of 'whitelash' - the violent unleashing of deep-rooted racism and xenophobia of white Americans by a loss of privilege. In the words of writer Toni Morrison: 'So scary are the consequences of a collapse of white privilege that many Americans have flocked to a political platform that supports and translates violence against the defenceless as strength... On Election Day, how eagerly so many white voters—both the poorly educated and the well educated—embraced the shame and fear sowed by Donald Trump. The candidate whose company has been sued by the Justice Department for not renting apartments to black people. The candidate who questioned whether Barack Obama was born in the United States, and who seemed to condone the beating of a Black Lives Matter protester at a campaign rally. The candidate who kept black workers off the floors of his casinos. The candidate who is...endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan'.

As more details have become available, however, it is becoming clear in the words of the Black Marxist historian Robin Kelley that ' It is not a matter of disaffection versus racism or sexism versus fear. Rather, racism, class anxieties, and prevailing gender ideologies operate together, inseparably... White working-class men understand their plight through a racial and gendered lens...even though Trump’s call to deport immigrants, close the borders, and reject free trade policies appealed to working-class whites’ discontent with the effects of globalization, Trump’s plans do not amount to a rejection of neoliberalism. Bill Fletcher writes, “Trump focused on the symptoms inherent in neoliberal globalization, such as job loss, but his was not a critique of neoliberalism. He continues to advance deregulation, tax cuts, anti-unionism, etc. He was making no systemic critique at all, but the examples that he pointed to from wreckage resulting from economic and social dislocation, resonated for many whites who felt, for various reasons, that their world was collapsing.” Yet Fletcher is quick not to reduce white working-class support for Trump to class fears alone, adding, “This segment of the white population was looking in terror at the erosion of the American Dream, but they were looking at it through the prism of race.”

Trump's project of 'making America great again' and ‘bringing back’ manufacturing is clearly a Jumla on the scale of Modi’s ‘Achche Din’. More significantly though, the protectionist policies he is currently proclaiming specifically target China, proposing slapping tariffs as high as 45% on imports from China. This has alarmed some corporate commentators who argue that ‘If Trump carries out his campaign pledge, China’s exports to the U.S., worth $483 billion in 2015, could collapse. Needless to say, American exports to China, estimated at $116 billion as of 2015, will plunge as China retaliates’ But others suggest billionaire Trump will be more pragmatic, and we will see business more or less as usual. This combined with an escalation of hostility to China on the geopolitical level, seems the more likely outcome, given the emerging character of Trump's team so far, which has been described as a collection of ‘Neocons, War Criminals and White Nationalists’ and ‘Christian Supremacist Militants’.

The long-term impact of the Trump victory on US foreign policy remains murky. He has stated that Iraq should never have been invaded, and that the US should not be the policeman of the world, and this together with his apparent friendliness towards Putin’s Russia (and pro-Trump propaganda produced by Russia as a result) has disturbingly led some Leftists to take the position that a Trump victory is a positive outcome for anti-imperialists. However, Trump has made it clear that he is virulently hostile to Iran, and alongside the rampant anti-Semitism of his team and supporters, he is increasingly coming out as strongly pro-Israel. Significantly Trump has offered the National Security Adviser position to Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, well known for calling Islam a "cancer" and claiming "fear of Muslims is rational." As investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill explains, Flynn is ‘a very important figure in the evolution of dirty wars post-9/11. Flynn was the intelligence chief for the commander of the Joint Special Operations Command, which effectively operated as a kind of Praetorian Guard for the most sensitive operations being ordered by the White House under Bush and Cheney. You know, they killed their way through Iraq. They had set up a notorious prison called Camp Nama in Baghdad....Flynn, himself, would personally sit in on the interrogations... and there were wide allegations of abuse and torture at Camp Nama and then later at Balad, where Flynn was. He then went on to... Afghanistan, under President Obama, where they ... implemented the same kind of sort of systematic, mathematical kill operation that they had built up in Iraq’.

What all this suggests is that far from a return to the largely mythical American ‘isolationism’ of the past occasionally invoked by Trump, which is neither possible nor desirable for the corporate elite, we will see continued devastating imperialist war-mongering with an intensified targeting of Iran and hostility to China, with particularly dangerous implications for the South Asian region. Potentially exacerbating this further is Trump’s closeness to Modi and to Hindutva organisations in the US. RSS affiliated groups in the US organised a number of pro-Trump initiatives including the Republican Hindu Coalition event where Trump took to the stage to mouth ‘Ab ki baar, Trump sarkar’, and the campaign ad by the Indian American Advisory Council of Donald Trump for President which featured this slogan. This relationship appears to be already being consolidated with moves such as the possible appointment of noted Modi supporter and Democrat politician Tulsi Gabbard as UN Ambassador.

Since Trump became President-elect, as with Modi’s Prime Ministership, his supporters have clearly felt that violent persecution of certain groups has been validated and legitimised. Within hours of the election results reports began to pour in of assaults on Black, Latinx, Muslim,and LGBT people and women by avowed Trump supporters. Even schoolchildren were targeted by their classmates. This systematic violence cannot be understood only in relation to Trump’s vile rhetoric however: it also reflects his link with America’s far-right organisations, which he is now entrenching within his government. Steve Bannon, recently appointed as Chief Strategist to Trump and previously the CEO of his campaign is known as the head of Breitbart News, an outlet which he recently bragged he had transformed into "the platform of the alt-right movement." As civil rights activist Shaun King writes, ‘the alt-right movement is simply the Ku Klux Klan without the hoods. They are skinheads with suits and ties. They..are fueled by the same hate and the same philosophy as previous white supremacist and Neo-Nazi movements’. On 19 November Richard Spencer, a prominent alt-right leader addressed an alt-right conference held in a federal building in Washington, quoting anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda in the original German, calling white people the marginalised ‘children of the sun’ who in the era of President-elect Trump, were ‘awakening to their own identity’ and ending with the slogan ‘Heil the people, Heil Victory’ which was met with Nazi salutes from the cheering audience.

Trump’s election, the rise of UKIP in Britain which fuelled Brexit (Trump and UKIP’s Nigel Farage are close allies), and the growing popularity of Marine Le Pen of the fascist National Front in France’s upcoming Presidential elections all point to the rapid development of fascist forces in the context of the crisis of neoliberal capitalism, posing huge and urgent challenges for the left. 

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