New US President Donald Trumps flurry of activity on assuming office has been focused on foreign policy. This reflects the reality that he might have been elected because of the economic woes faced by many Americans, but those woes have been translated into a xenophobia that has meant the intrusion of the Great Unwashed into the rarefied corridors of diplomacy, from which they had been carefully excluded.

The USA has always been uncomfortable with the art of diplomacy, because it has always meant the exclusion of the populace. One major difficulty has been the need to accommodate the will of the people. Diplomacy has been about accommodating the will and wishes of the various monarchs heading the various countries. The USA was the first intruder into this world, trying to bring the will, not of its president, but also of the people he was elected by, into this small world.

This dichotomy was somewhat balanced by the emergence of other European colonies as independent countries, but as republics. The monarchies have not all disappeared, but many have, and monarchs personal conduct of diplomacy has virtually ended, and the US model of the popular will is now the dominant one. As a result, trade and other economic issues have emerged to the fore in diplomacy. It therefore made sense for trump to campaign on the basis of not just transforming economic policy, but also foreign policy. His slogan of Making America Great Again should not be seen solely as triumphalism, but also exceptionalism: that the world owes the USA a living, not because it has a better product to sell, but because it is what it is.

Trump has a programme so radical that many commentators expressed the hope that the responsibilities of the office would force a certain moderation on him. This did not include just supporters, but opponents who felt his programme was too radical to be executed. It is telling that one of the main criticisms of Trump during the election campaign had to do with his conduct of foreign policy: that he was unfit to be in control of the nuclear codes. This criticism was made not just by his opponent, Hilary Clinton, but by US President Barack Obama. Obama not just had current responsibility for those codes, and Clinton, who had been his Secretary of State, was not just one of his advisers about their potential use, but as Bill Clintons First Lady, had also got a unique perspective on their use.

It should be noted that the initial steps taken by Trump contain nothing that he had not promised repeatedly. They have been dismissed as placating his electorate, but this is to force an examination of what else he has promised. It is also worth noting that he has not really taken any of the steps he promised to revive the economy, which is not only the plank on his platform which attracted him the most votes, but the driver of the xenophobia that he is practicing. As promised, he has ordered the building of a wall on the US-Mexican border, though it is not clear how he will make Mexico pay for it; he has also issued orders that refugees are not to be admitted to the USA, that visas are not to be issued to applicants from seven countries (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Sudan. Yemen, and Somalia) with Muslim populations, that visa applications from other Muslim countries are to be scrutinized more aggressively. Such countries as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, Indonesia and Pakistan, which have been long-standing US allies, are now waiting to have their visa applications banned.

Apparently, this move is economic, to stop refugees and other Muslims from coming to the USA and taking away jobs from native Americans. However, the motivation is racist. Native Americans also face a lack of consideration for their rights, with one of Trumps initial steps being to allow the Keystone XL pipeline to go ahead, after it was stopped because its construction would have destroyed certain Native American burial sites. The objection is not so much to foreigners taking jobs that would have gone to Americans, as non-whites coming and taking jobs that would have gone to whites.

However, the objection to people of a darker hue than whites like Trump extends to dark people born in the USA, specifically blacks, who have mostly been not just born in the USA, but who can trace their ancestry to people forcibly brought over at least longer ago than Trumps German-immigrant grandparents came over themselves. The USA has not recovered from its slavery experience, but Trump seems to represent a whiplash, an attempt by the white majority to put back the clock while it is still in a majority.

The experience of having had a black President does not seem to have helped, even though that President, Barack Obama, had several important aspects to differentiate him. He had a white mother. He had no contact with the slave experience, being the son of a Kenyan, and not the descendant of a slave. He was Harvard-educated, and was personally not exposed to the kind of inner-city poverty that produces some of the worst aspects of the black experience, and which is exploited and propagated so assiduously by whites, who coincidentally also support Trump.

It is almost as if Trump is circling in on African Americans by first targeting Muslims. It should be noted that many Africans, particularly in the areas from where slaves were taken, are Muslim, and there is even one African country (Somalia) on the list of banned countries. Thus the people brought over included a large proportion of Muslims. This religion was harshly suppressed by slave-owners, and it seems that that atavistic impulse has once again gripped American whites. Then there are still memories of the Black Muslim movement of 50 years ago, and the charismatic Malcom X.

The whole sale sacking of US envoys, coupled with the walkout of the State Departments top management, may be exaggerated by the normal turnover because of a change of party, but it is also probably a reaction to Trumps initial foreign policy moves. It is not so much a protest as a walkout by professionals who cannot see their way to implementing the new policy.

This bodes ill for Pakistan, not just because it is a Muslim country, but because there is a preponderance of Trumps inclination towards India. Pakistan had hoped for better treatment from a Republican President, but his inclination towards India was celebrated there by fundamentalists, who found Trumps anti-Muslim campaign rhetoric coinciding with theirs. Hindu supremacists would also find Trump less likely to criticize their human rights violations in Held Kashmir. Considering his congruence with Narendra Modis pro-growth promises, Trump is likelier to help him pursue his agenda.

It should be remembered that Pakistani policymakers, who have always been pro-American, may have painted themselves into a corner by their pro-Chinese stance, especially with Trump poised to turn China into the USAs primary rival. It remains to be seen how he reconciles that with drawing closer to Russia, which is cosying up to China. That balancing act should provide pointers to Pakistan on maintaining both the US and Chinese relationships.


The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as executive editor of The Nation.