America’s Different Election


The Horizo Kayode Komolafe 0805 500 1974

Still a Moral Leader?

In no way could the last week election of Donald Trump as the president of the United States of America be called a tribute to liberal democracy. The months of campaigns preceding the unusual election witnessed an egregious debasement of the much-advertised liberal democratic ethos of the West. And let no one say that the shocking outcome of the election is only the business of the U.S. America has not been minding its own business alone. With the emergence of Trump, America has lost his claims to moral leadership of the world.

A nation having as its Commander-in-Chief a racist, religious bigot and misogynist, at once, cannot be universally accepted as a moral and political leader. America’s unsolicited lectures about liberal democratic values, decent elections, freedom, globalisation, civility, humanity etc. will henceforth loose some audience around the world. After all, if you ask the American troops deployed in parts of the world what their business is at their posts, they would readily tell you they are there to promote “democracy and freedom.” As the African Legend, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, would put it, the rest of the world (especially the emerging liberal democracies) might soon be telling America that “teacher, don’t teach me nonsense.”

Not Yet the End of History

Perhaps the huge decline in American politics would be better appreciated if this uncertain moment in U.S. history is contrasted with the triumphalist mood in the West 24 years ago when Francis Fukuyama published his famous book, The End of History and the Last Man. In a moment of intellectual hubris, Fukuyama declared victory for liberalism in the great ideological battles of the last century which came to a climax post- World War II.

According to him, the apogee of political culture had been reached in liberal capitalist democracy. The book came out of the press amidst the ferment of “democratisation” across the globe. The Berlin Wall had fallen to the shock of communists. Soviet Union had become history. The bloody event of Tiananmen Square had happened in China three years earlier. American experts and consultants flooded Eastern Europe and even Russia itself marketing their model of liberal democracy.

In this age of Trumpism, it could be safely said that it is not yet the end of history. And this is certainly not the best of times for liberalism. For a long time thinkers would continue to ponder the import of what has happened to the U.S. To be sure, thoughts would be generated on an American electoral season at the end of which street protests erupted in an unprecedented fashion.

The Surprise of Bernie Sanders

If Trumpism is the different thing thrown up by the election on a reactionary note, the intervention of Bernie Sanders is surely the progressive story of the election. Boldly articulating his “democratic socialist” agenda, Sanders emerged a front-runner for the Democratic Party ticket. Indeed, Hillary Clinton had to wrestle with him ideologically for the ticket. His manifesto of “an economy that works for all, not just the very wealthy,” was received with noted enthusiasm within the Democratic Party. He spoke of socio-economic justice, humanness, job-creation, climate change and fairness in taxation. He proposed a “Plan to Re-build America” with a massive investment in infrastructure. A man of Jewish descent, Sanders supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying that the Palestinian “deserve a state of their own.” A good percentage of his supporters were drawn from the generation born after fall of the Berlin Wall.

Many young Americans could hear a message of hope in the campaigns of the 75-year old Sanders. Doubtless, Sanders has ideologically widened the frontiers of progressive politics in America. During the campaigns, Sanders courageously waged a war of ideas against the widening social inequality plaguing America. Four times, a famous Marxist, Gus Hall, contested American presidency on the platform of the American Communist Party. But before Sanders came to stage, the social-democratic agenda had never been so popularised in American politics. While Trump was busy poisoning the polity with hate speech, Sanders ennobled American politics with a tonic of progressive ideas. Now, that is historically significant.

For Hillary Clinton, A Consolation Prize

All lovers of gender-equity had expected that America, “the land of possibilities,” would record another positive history with a female president in a clear-headed and policy-literate Hillary Clinton. That was expected to be a fitting follow-up to the election of the brilliant Barack Obama as the first black president in 2008. American institutions are busy funding advocacy groups in other lands promoting gender-equality as part of liberal democratic culture. American politicians are wont to lecture other peoples on the place of women in politics.

Some of these recipient countries cannot claim to be on the same level of development in liberal democracy as America. Yet some of them have produced female heads of state and heads of government. Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) produced 56 years ago Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike as prime minister while Mrs. Indira Gandhi first became prime minister of India 50 years ago. It is almost 30 years that Benazir Bhutto became prime minister of Pakistan. Yet some American feminists would not mind teaching Indians, Pakistanis and Sri Lankans about gender-equality.

One of the shocks of the campaigns was the vicious attack on Mrs. Clinton by some women who simultaneously rationalised the videos showing Trump insulting the female gender. Senator Clinton has made a loud statement even with the loss of the election despite wining the popular vote. On July 4, 1776, the founders of America declared their nation independent proclaiming that, “all men are created equal.” It was not until 144 years later that women’s right to vote became legal nationally with the 19th Amendment to the U.S. constitution on August 18, 1920. All the 44 American presidents have been male.

Mrs. Clinton has gallantly lost the bid to be the 45th President. If it took 144 years for women to secure suffrage as men in that “land of democracy and freedom,” Mrs. Clinton should take solace in the fact that she was at least the first female presidential candidate of a major political party. Maybe the 50th American president would be a woman. Such a woman would then read the history that once upon a time a lady called Hillary Clinton inspired millions of American women and men with her spirited campaign for the presidency of her country. As they say, American women would get there someday.

The Factor of Russia

Still talking about a different election, former American president, Ronald Reagan, must be turning in his grave about another development. It was only in an unusual election that 33 years after Reagan infamously called the old Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) an “evil empire,” that the factor of Russia would loom large in the election of the U.S. president. Russia was the largest and dominant republic in the defunct USSR. More intriguingly, the candidate of the same Reagan’s Grand Old Party (GOP), the Republican Party, would express admiration for a former KGP (secret police) cadre turned Russian president, Vladimir Putin. At least, the Democratic Party has alleged that Russian agents hacked into the email of Candidate Clinton and that the agents engineered the leaks, which wreaked havoc on the Clinton campaigns. Clinton made this categorical allegation during the campaigns.

But American state agents ignored her. The received wisdom of American politics is that the farther right a politician is on the ideological spectrum, the more Russia is perceived as a mortal enemy. But a highly influential Russian newspaper reported the victory of Trump as follows: “In Trump We Trust.” Is Putin being cynical of Trump? Time will tell if indeed there is a genuine synergy of purpose between Putin and Trump. For now, another outcome of the different election to watch is the Trump-Putin alliance. It would also be interesting to know the target to which the alliance would be directed. China could be ruled out as a target because there is already a strong Sino-Russia cooperation away from the Western orbits.

When a Trump Speaks for the Working Class

There is yet one point to ponder in the unusual nature of the election. A loud voice from the extreme right claims to be the champion of the “working class.” It is the voice of Trump, a capitalist who could not be accused of being the champion of even business ethics in his relationship with fellow capitalists. It is the voice of a man who takes pride in out-smarting the tax authorities. When the transatlantic alliance of President Ronald Reagan in America and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in Britain “defeated” communism, the coast became clear for a borderless advance of global capitalism, euphemistically called globalisation. America has led the West in championing globalisation in the last quarter of a century. Now, the outcome of globalisation is grim. Globalisation has widened inequality between classes and nations.

More than two-thirds of humanity are not partakers of its benefits. It has created what development activists now call the 1% problem, a new situation in which one per cent of humanity owns more of the global wealth than the rest 99 per cent. The ravages of globalisation are now felt even in the U.S., the richest country on earth, in the form of job losses, stagnant incomes, homelessness, and shameful lack of social safety net. There is a universal rage against globalisation. This rage first became conspicuous with the activities of the Occupy Movement and anti-capitalist protests in western cities. The rage is on among the American working class.

Opportunistic populists are taking advantage of the anger of the poor in the metropolitan centres of capitalism by giving them a false voice. They pervert the anti-globalisation movement by attacking immigrants. The right wing extremists in the West cannot see the contradiction of a globalised world in which human beings cannot move freely. The false voice came in June in Britain as Brexit. Now Trump has emerged as the false champion of the American working class.

Incidentally, the same celebrated American political scientist, Fukuyama, who has been proved wrong on his projection of liberal capitalist democracy by history, almost predicted what happened in America last week. In his 2014 book, Political Order and Political Decay, ”Fukuyama identified the decay of the American political system: “Decay by definition is occurring in the United Stats today, and is the result of the intersection of two forces. On the one hand, American society has changed. It has become more polarized and class-ridden; Americans are sorting themselves out residentially in ways that make it easier for politicians to appeal to ideologically pure positions on the left and right.

At the same time, there has been a huge increase in the number and sophistication of on interest groups, which have been liberated from constraints on their rights to spend money on political campaigns by a series of Supreme Court decisions.”
All told, a different question to ponder is this: has globalisation come to a dead end with the Trumps of this world?