ONE of the reasons the United States of America is pejoratively called the policeman of the world is its insistence on global adherence to the values and virtues that have ennobled humanity over the centuries. The policeman was not always the best law and rights enforcer, and sometimes he showed himself to be clay-footed, but he projected human rights in ways that endeared him to many counties, made him denounce Chinese and Russian abridgement of those rights, caution and cajole African countries to embrace strong institutions instead of promoting strongmen, and often try to coax or discipline the rest of the world to embrace libertarian values. In short, the U.S., despite its own weaknesses and appalling race records, rose over the last hundred years to become the conscience of the world, especially when juxtaposed against Europe’s equivocation, malleability and vacillation. Whether acknowledged or not, it was this zeal to promote and defend human rights and other great human values that have propelled America to world leadership. Military machines are a small part of that greatness.
But that position is today threatened by the Republican Party’s Donald Trump’s victory in last week’s presidential poll. Hillary Clinton of the Democratic Party lost. Mr Trump’s life and ideas, if they are worth anything, brutally and arrogantly refute the foundations of America’s greatness. The vacuum a Trump presidency will, therefore, create will not simply foster fascist regimes, it will also obliterate any obstacle to authoritarianism, whether in Asia or more accurately in Africa, especially in places where there is no genuine democratic conviction. Even before Mr Trump won the election, some African countries had prepared their exit from the International Criminal Court (ICC), fearing that the court unfairly targets them. That exit may now be hastened. Since Mr Trump never believed in women’s rights, press freedom and the rights and liberties of minorities, his dangerous proclivity will encourage African countries like Nigeria already struggling with the constraining concept of the rule of law to pussyfoot.
Worse, in the near future, there will be no one to fill the vacuum the US. under Mr Trump will be creating: not China, not Russia, and not Europe. The U.S. may be confronting a major tragedy of untold proportions with the assumption of office of a businessman and politician who finds the inspiring philosophies and uplifting examples of the great framers of the American constitution an inconvenience, but the tragedy is worse for Africa whose rulers have never felt comfortable with constitutions they love to amend for entirely selfish reasons, or the rule of law, which they foolishly believe limits their elbow room to impose law and order. The scale of the tragedy will begin to manifest in the next one year or so as more countries take the liberty to enact and inspire their own cocktails of repressive measures to whip their countries into line, as the Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte has already done. With the emergence of the vacuous Mr Trump, there will be no one left to give voice to the voiceless, and no one found to defend the defenceless. With so repugnant a personality promoted into the White House by essentially economic and racist reasons, it is no exaggeration to say that American prestige and power will start to erode, and with it the signal virtues that had shaped human development in the past few decades, and which America was its chief custodian.
Commentators have focused almost exclusively on Mr Trump’s personal failings to justify their intense disapproval of him. He had trounced their darling candidate, Mrs Clinton, whose foibles are, however, not as shocking or off-putting as that of the Republican Party’s candidate. But in the end, even if reluctantly, the outraged world which had looked to the U.S. for leadership and had expected a fairly predictable and cerebral person to occupy the White House, has no choice but to concede to American voters the right to put anyone they like in office, whether that choice is sensible or not. The almost universally reviled Mr Trump will now have the distinguished honour of sitting on the chair once occupied and ennobled by George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
There are fears the president-elect will be unable, even incapable, of ennobling that distinguished chair. As many leading U.S. newspapers have said and defiantly reiterated in excoriating editorials even after the election, the president-elect ran a most divisive and appalling campaign that bore disturbing parallels to German fascist propaganda in the 1930s. But he won, obviously because his campaign and what he stands for resonated hugely with the electorate, especially the disaffected, anxious and dispossessed middle-class working American families, many of whom some analysts suggest would probably have voted for the Democratic Party presidential aspirant, Bernie Sanders, had the Vermont senator been picked. But whether Mrs Clinton’s loss had to do with her seeming inability to develop a resonating message or her character flaws, or with Mr Trump’s destructive manipulation of base and bigoted emotions, or with the meddling of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), or with other more arcane and complex issues, both external and local, the Democrats lost the election and must contend with that fact, including how to rebuild their party’s platforms going forward.
Whoever won the election would have had to contend with an obviously bitterly divided America. The idiosyncratic Mr Trump will naturally have a much tougher job of healing those divisions since he was in fact the major exponent of the polarisation certain to convulse the American system for a long time to come. His spontaneity, abrasiveness, coarseness, not to say his indefensible attitude towards the media, women and minorities, are bound to reverberate throughout the system. Mr Trump, as president-elect, should naturally be transforming from a campaigner to president, assuming he is capable of that separation. But there is nothing he has said or done before and after his victory that gives hope he is in fact capable of separating the two contrasting and presumably conflicting personalities: one so repugnant it is hard to imagine it on the American throne, and the other so abysmally flighty it is frightening to imagine what damage it could do to American prestige internationally. Either way, U.S. voters may soon discover they have probably bought a pig in a poke.
The American voter knows where the shoe pinches him, and therefore has the right to choose a president who may not necessarily fit into the perspectives, and cater to the sensitivities, of the rest of the world. But it is dangerous when, despite the developments around the world, that voter appears inured to the political events around him, especially events that have far-reaching consequences for U.S power and global peace. No candidate who understands the components of U.S. power and global dominance can afford to undermine or disregard his country’s media, or sneer at the values the country has projected over the decades, many of which have become universally accepted. By electing Mr Trump, American voters have not seemed to demonstrate the discriminating, nuanced and breathtaking understanding expected of citizens of a superpower country. They are not infallible. Nor does it seem they gave too much thought to the control insidiously exercised by outsiders on their electoral process through WikiLeaks and the alleged Russian-inspired hacking of the Democratic Party computer servers and Hillary Clinton’s emails.
Post-election protests will not reverse the outcome of the election. They’ll only probably remind Mr Trump that the country is more divided than he thinks, and perhaps also compel him to recognise that more people actually voted for his opponent than his electoral college dominance implies. It is not obvious he would be restrained by that fact, nor by the widespread protests against his victory. He is also unlikely to understand the implications of the resurgent and probably destructive nationalism his election will engender. That nationalism was triggered by Brexit which saw the United Kingdom exiting the European Union (EU). That nationalism, which the U.S. under Mr Trump will domesticate and encourage, may sweep through Europe dealing a final death blow to multiculturalism and the balance of power that had seemed to sustain peace on the continent for many decades. That nationalism, which may gradually morph into some form of isolationism in the U.S., will, however, be unable to anticipate and checkmate the nationalism of competing powers such as Russia and the stable and prosperous China. In fact, it may even partially weaken the intricate network of alliances and military coalitions that have guaranteed world peace and stability.
The U.S. president-elect cannot give what he does not have. Regardless of whether he surrounds himself with competent aides or not, and assuming his presidency is not hijacked like that of George W. Bush was captured by the demagogic exponents of the New American Century, Mr Trump will continue to his erratic, bombastic self. That self is, sadly, fundamentally at odds with the principles and practice of democracy. And though the simple arithmetic of his election cannot be questioned, that self really possesses instincts that are wrongly placed to detect just how pervasively his person and views chip away at the enduring symbols and ramparts of American superpower status.
Disturbingly, many analysts are beginning to fear that the cracks they see in the U.S. may be reminding them of Rome in the Fifth century, Macedonian Empire after Alexander the Great, and even Britain after World War II when a paranoid Winston Churchill mournfully complained that the exhausting and debilitating military victory achieved over Adolf Hitler had sapped Britain of its vitality and transferred global dominance into the hands of the U.S. That country across the Atlantic, added Mr Churchill gloomily, might be too naive or too inexperienced to understand the Soviet Union, and too bewitched and undiscriminating to understand the complex nuances of the geopolitics of power. Might history be repeating itself, or had finally a moron taken the White House who is both incapable of ennobling the American seat of power and of being ennobled by it, no matter how much the system tried?
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