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America First Bipartisan Consensus Underlies Trump-Hillary Face-Off

Updated: September 8, 2016 1:33 pm

Media reporting on the National Conventions which endorsed the nominations of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton slotted prime time for autobiographical stories and personal testimonies, even though the personal was not meant to be political there. The issues at stake were much bigger. America needs to be ‘restored’; America needs to be ‘great again’. How? Trump looks at the mud; Hillary looks at the stars. America’s face is smeared with mud, Trump says, and promises to ‘bring the state back in’ to re-establish ‘law and order’. Hillary celebrates America’s ‘uniqueness’ and dismisses Trump by saying that his ‘covering law’ does not cover America. She promises to ‘add another chapter to America’s greatness’.

Both Trump and Hillary lean on different profiles of America’s greatness in the past and speculate on America’s greatness in the future. Initially, it appears to be a call for intellectual judgment and historical evolution of America’s greatness.. Instead, the focus is on greening the choice. Going beyond verbal excesses of the campaign, it will be useful to briefly go over America’s political history for identifying various manifestations of this greatness.

America’s first moment of greatness came when it championed republicanism to defeat colonial rule. Ever since, it is flagged as America’s distinct contribution to politics of freedom. It becomes relevant today when juxtaposed in opposition to ‘inherited structures’ of ‘internal colonialism’ in post-colonial societies. Trump echoes George Bush, Sr. when in 1990 he delivered a speech titled ‘toward a new world order’; “Today that new world order was struggling to be born (sic) A world where the rule of law supplants the rule of the jungle, a world in which nations recognize the shared responsibility for freedom and justice’. Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait served as the rallying point then, like the Russian action in Crimea today. It appears that Trump, probably, overlooks the possibility of strong resistance arising, reminiscent of Tiananmen Square.

Using the republican idea as a frame for re-ordering the world is surely bold. This became evident from post-World War I gamble for pushing its frontiers by punishing the defeated nations and by imposing democratic institutions on them, and, further, by subjecting them to territorial reorganization and break-up. The dismantling of the Ottoman Empire had led to a variety of Islamic representations on the new situation and these took inspiration from different Islamic intellectuals of the earlier centuries. Jamal al-Din al-Afghani accepted reforms but only for the purpose of strengthening Islamic culture and society.  Mohammad al-Wahhab was totally rejectionist and gave a call for jihad and ‘holy war’. The list is long. Liberal optimism further sulked by events during the inter-war period, that expanding boundaries of education and commerce would move toward greater rationality and peaceful ways of doing politics. Rather, anti-liberal forces rose across Europe and the Far East and came together. The world was hurled into World War II which reached its crescendo in the use of nuclear weapons. Revival of liberalism received a further set-back when American and other scholars foregrounded national power as more relevant than reason in

 realizing goals in international relations. It is in the nature of power to appropriate the weak through processes of assimilation. No nation allows itself to be so appropriated and reacts to it. The Cold War was an expression of such an imperative.

Winning the Cold War was America’s second moment of greatness. It was hailed as the triumph of America’s political institutions based on the norms of liberal democracy. This was only half-truth. The other half was America’s advances in military technology garnered, in no small measure, by off-shoring research which eventually gave it an edge over its rivals. Expediency therefore advised its competitor, the former Soviet Union, to swerve. Both Trump and Hillary probably know this. Both probably also take a neo-Gramscian approach to neoliberal restructuring of capitalism with the aim of liberating it from the stifling controls of diverse national conditions.

These changes constitute two historical blocs within the political space of the United States. Trump and Hillary occupy these blocks, one each. Trump looks at America’s Cold War success and prefers to shift a little towards national capitalism and bring back jobs for Americans. Hillary, on the other hand, considers globalization of labour and capital a good thing as it leaves for America scope for calibrating leverage in relation to classes and masses for promoting republicanism. This strategy is focused on subordinate and subaltern groups whose ranks are swelling fast and who are becoming restive in the face of ecological destruction, loss of livelihood sources, drudgery, cheap clothes, fast food, sub-standard housing and recreational drugs. At the same time, they are not able to speak in one voice. Their sociality comes under the impact of virtual networks accessed on the screens of smart phones. This leads to their disaggregation. Their induction into the structures of transnational capital has been slow and so they are open to co-optation by vested interests. This adds urgency to issues relating to these people. Both Trump and Hillary understand this and are eager to address the issues from their respective ends of the historical necessity. They understand that the passage to America’s third moment of greatness is located in ‘transformative politics’, which, Stuart Hall, a British scholar, calls, ‘clintonian-ism’ (named after Bill Clinton), ‘you borrow from everything, and you create a mish-mash (Sic) which is neither one thing nor the other’.

(The writer is former Professor at J.N.U.)

By Sushil Kumar

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