The Americans reached an important milestone in their more than two-century long political history in 2008 by electing the first African American, Barack Obama, as president of the United States. So, it was believed that the long-cherished dream of Martin Luther King had finally come true. However, this optimism only remained short-lived as exactly eight years later, Donald J Trump, a person who was dubbed a ‘White Supremacist’ and ‘Racist’, rose to the Presidency of the US. Sadly, this time, Hillary Clinton, a Democratic nominee for president, also failed in breaking the glass ceiling by being elected as the first female president of the US. Noticeably, Donald Trump has become one of the most controversial, and rather most criticized American presidents. Probably, he is the only president in the US who became so unpopular soon after being elected.
The political ideas and policies of President Donald Trump are generally referred to as ‘Trumpism’. Trumpism has widely been perceived as a political philosophy which is closely related to the concepts like White Supremacism, Racism, Nativism, Islamophobia and anti-Feminism or misogyny. Similarly, the so-called Trumpism also favours the adoption of a typical Neocons strategy to establish American supremacy internationally. During his presidential election campaign, Donald Trump has constantly been shaping the primary contours of this very political thesis. Worryingly, he now looks quite inclined in substantially using Trumpism as a tool to achieve his ultimate objective to ‘Make American Great Again’.
The slogan ‘Make America Great Again’ has been the central theme of Trump’s presidential campaign since mid-2015. In fact, this slogan is somehow closely related to the concepts like Pax Americana and American exceptionalism. American exceptionalism, which essentially believes in the special character of the United States as uniquely free nation in the world, based on the ideology of individualism, liberty, egalitarianism, democracy and laissez-faire economics. Moreover, it also believes that the US is qualitatively differs from other developed nations due to its unique historical evolution as well as distinctive political and state institutions.
The Republicans in the US are best known for their strong orientation and inclination towards the idea of American exceptionalism. They just portrayed the US as the Biblical “City upon a Hill”, a phrase coined by the early British colonists in the North America, which is exempted from historical forces that have affected other countries. During the Bush administration (2001 to 2009), the so-called Neoconservative (Neocons) adhered to this concept in some way. Now the Alt-Rights are also observably inclined towards promoting this idea in the US. The only difference being that the Neocons favoured the adoption of some proactive or rather hawkish foreign policies to establish American supremacy overseas, while the Alt-Rights want to make the US a great global power primarily through domestic economic stabilisation.
Pax Americana was the post-World War II international order in which the US extensively projected its national power to shape the globe. However, during this period, it deliberately refrained from unnecessarily interfering in the internal affairs of other states by adhering to the principle of non-intervention. Instead, it tried to extend its influence in the world affairs by effectively employing the tools of military and economic cooperation. So it helped rebuild the West European economies after World War II under the Marshal plan. During this period, it also promoted multilateralism in global affairs. But in the post-Cold War era, the US chose to adhere to unilateralism by pursuing some hawkish policies in the world. Under Bush Doctrine, it launched its so-called Grater Middle East Initiative to articulate and achieve its broader strategic interests in the Middle Eastern Region through military means. This sort of unilateralism not only destabilised this region but also gave rise to the phenomenon of Anti-Americanism in the world.
In the face of newly-emerging power centers in the contemporary world in terms of both military and economic might, the US is no longer the sole global super power. Russia has proved its mettle as a global player by significantly regaining its lost turf in the international arena over the last decade. Despite strong opposition from the US and many European countries, it has successfully annexed Crimea. In the Middle East, the Russia and its regional allies have visibly foiled the intended US plan to reshape this troubled region. Similarly, China has also emerged as a major global economic power. Now it is only a matter of time that China will be the largest economy in world. This very fact itself is of great significance as there has been witnessed a paradigm shift from the geo-politics to geo-economics in the contemporary world.
President Trump has pledged to put ‘America First’ by adhering to two simple rules: ‘Buy American, Hire American’. Primarily for this purpose, now he is also trying to introduce some extensive protectionist trade policies as well as strict anti-immigrant measures in the United States. At present, the US is facing a number of internal and external challenges which are the major impediments in the way of making it a great country in the world. The US economy is currently experiencing enormous recessionary and inflationary pressures. The problems like low economic growth, rising unemployment rate, large fiscal and trade deficit continue to plague its economy. The Federal Debt, which has already surpassed 100% of GDP, is likely to touch the alarming figure of $20 trillion soon. Obviously the US can’t rise to a high position in the world without overcoming these multiple domestic economic challenges.
This is an era of globalisation. The US has been the major proponent of this globalisation process. In this interconnected and interdependent world, no country can absolutely adhere to any extensive protectionist regime. The WTO also restricts its member states to unilaterally pursue the protectionist trade policies in the world. In fact, it is not the US alone whose economy is not performing well, but almost each country in the world has been hit by the current wave of global recession in some way. Therefore, instead of becoming over-protective about its economy, the US needs to be more competitive economically. It should focus on improving its economic fundamentals. It also needs to diversify its economy.
The founding fathers of America- Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, John Jay, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton- were genius and statesmen. They just played a pivotal role in the evolution of the founding ideology of the United States. They certainly thoughtfully opted for this very ideology after taking into consideration the unique character of the American nation. A vast country, comprising thirteen large colonies, was just going to house a multiracial ‘nation of immigrants’. So, the American republic was primarily founded on the idea that “all people are created equal” and these people have some fundamental rights, such as liberty, free speech, freedom of religion, due process of law, and freedom of assembly. The Constitution of America guarantees these fundamental rights to all Americans irrespective of their color and creed. Therefore, regardless of their origin, now each European, Native American, African American, and Asian American proudly calls himself an American in this ‘land of opportunities’.
As a matter of fact, the so-called Trumpism is diametrically opposite to the founding ideology of the US, which essentially stands for pluralism, egalitarianism, multiculturalism, inclusiveness, individualism and fundamental freedoms. This ideology forms the underlying basis of American Exceptionalism. It is also a strong cohesive force in a vast country with a diverse and complex racial and religious configuration. It certainly has an important role to play in the national integration. Therefore, the Americans should not deliberately abandon, or otherwise undermine this ideology, which is the most effective tool to hold a large and diverse nation within a single geographical entity. Undoubtedly, Trumpism can by no means help ‘Make America Great Again’. Instead, this flawed political philosophy is likely to make the very ideological pedestal crumble, upon which both ‘American Republicism’ and ‘American Exceptionalism’ jointly rest.
The writer is a lawyer and columnist based in Lahore.