People who says they know what Donald Trump’s next move is are high. Flying either on their own understanding of the world or because they belong to clubs of people here and there serving narrow interests or because they are, simply stated, substance abusers. Ever since the United States (US) elected Republican Donald Trump to the democratic world’s top job, most of us, especially journalists, commentators, foreign policy analysts, think tank experts and even diplomats in the ‘free’ world have become captives of our own ignorance. The world had, in a sense, got used to the broad lines of thinking of both the Democrats and the Republicans and parallels of that in Europe, but here we are looking at a person whose basic line appears to be winner takes all. His cabinet formation and involvement of his family members in the transition team generously sets that tone. There is no conflict of interest for the Trumps – there are only interests, left, right and centre.
Templates are crashing with every announcement from Trump’s office or Twitter account. On climate change, he has all but shredded the Paris agreement, on trade he will protect America’s interests (what happens to multilateral commitments ?), on immigration, doors are beginning to shut and he is opposed to American jobs travelling abroad. And here is the problem – does the US have the several hundred thousand qualified people to Make America Great Again (MAGA) ? The short answer is no but other than usual noises, I have yet to read well argued pieces or listen to discussions on why this is possible or not. My reading may not be comprehensive, but it is regular, rigorous and diverse.
Ideas like post-truth (which none can explain), western ideals etc. sound empty and we have been twiddling our thumbs wondering what next, looking for the slightest cue to jump on. In more ways than one, we have not gone past the first block after election day, lost in labyrinths we have built over decades. Journalists have complained that Trump went to play golf without informing them and there are any number of reports about how Trump is breaking with tradition. Wasn’t the vote against status quo ? Clusters of people – mostly from US and to a lesser extent from Europe – are seen huddling in groups, brows and arms crossed, trying to stump Trump. Instead of looking for electoral fraud, the Democrats would have served themselves and the world better with constructive commentary on what comes next. For that they should have had their ear to the ground which they obviously did not.
Never since the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989) has such uncertainty (reported that is) prevailed across vast international sectors of political, economic and social activity. For that matter at a stretch we can even say never since the guns and cannons fell silent in Europe in 1945 has such absence of understanding of a major political event occurred. Indeed we don’t know what happened in the Afghan war, the Gulf Wars, the Soviet Union in the Cold War era and other ‘west’ compliant attacks on sovereign countries and the toppling of legitimate governments to install puppets. But we know all governments, given a chance, will do it. Russia does it, the US does it and if India could, it would too. I do not believe in simplistic answers especially when it comes to war and peace i.e. I do not subscribe to the narrative that a wave of right-wing leaders are getting elected to destroy the world or keep it white, rich and Christian. I have far too much faith in human beings to fall into that trap. In my over three decades of work as a journalist, a UN diplomat and as the head of a company in Switzerland, I can say this with confidence – politicians have no wings other than those that can carry them upwards. Towards their goals, they co-opt commentary, eager-beavers, sycophants and narratives wherever they can find one that matches their ambitions.
The question I ask myself is this – what are we fighting today, rather what are we fighting for today ? For me the struggle for millions of people to get food, water, health and jobs remains the same with an additional twist of fear and xenophobia, but it would be arrogant to say that Brexit and Trump voters are stupid. I then ask myself this – will the world’s most powerful democracy cut the branch it is sitting on and if it does, what must be the role of people who disagree with Trump’s policies - not his election – do ? Talk of threats to western-style liberalism, western democracies, western ideals and German Chancellor’s possible re-election next September as the last bastion of western democracy does not stand the test of basic scrutiny, let alone anything more systematic and rigorous. They are built on fanciful assumptions that left-wing and right-wing parties work for the good of the people. I am reminded of the late French comic artist Coluche who said the difference between capitalism and communism is this – one is exploitation of man by man and the other is the opposite.
Throwing up our hands in despair is not a foreign policy statement or a constructive method of engagement. There is one school of thought that believes Trump will have to calm down once he formally assumes office while others say that is wishful thinking. In a few weeks from now, the Syria talks will commence, once again in Geneva giving the Trump team and the world a first look at how he proposes to move. Or not. In the meantime it would be a great help if former and future leaders stop tweeting inanities about whipped up fears and inexistent ghosts. Trump was democratically elected and he must be fought democratically. Anything else would be ridiculous, even more ridiculous than Trump’s team denying global warming, keeping difference and diversity out and branding people based on their colour or faith.