The victory of President Donald Trump in the United States and rise of Conservatism elsewhere in the West have been described, among other things, a direct consequence of the failure of liberalism and the moderate leadership of the world.
The massive political transition is an occasion for examination of the immediate past, continuation of historical factors that shape the contemporary world and the future prospects that President Trump has before him.
Since President Franklin D Roosevelt led the United States out of recession at home and to a historic victory in the second World War, liberal and conservative politics have had a sea-saw pattern.
Both domestic and international issues have been factors in determining politics of of conservatism and liberalism.
But the 2016 election is all the more interesting as Republicans came from behind – putting aside almost all national polls including conservative surveys. Trump’s victory is unique as he relied on his own wealth and ideas – some of them clashing with traditional Republican thinking like his opposition to free trade – and made the Republican victory possible, when analysts had written off the party.
After 9/11, the threat levels were so high that people were willing to accept whatever their leaders would tell them. The country was taken to a bloody war in Iraq – which had nothing to do with 9/11 attacks – on the false pretext of weapons of mass destruction and hundreds of thousands people perished. The masses did not make much noises and accepted to sacrifice their freedom which the Constitution provided them because of the exaggerated threat perception created by the George W Bush Administration.
The media generally failed to inform people about the realities on ground, like the Iraq war and instead focused on the news reporting competition.
President Barack Obama’s victory in 2008 elections gave some hope that the United States would pull back from the dangerous course of confrontation. A lot of voters expected Obama to change the direction of history where the imperialistic ambitions of some forces in the U.S. would be irrelevant and Iraq and Afghanistan would be brought to acceptable calm.
In the beginning, Obama pledged to work with other world leaders and use their influence to resolve Israel-Palestinian issue, India-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir, Iranian and North Korea issue but he soon found limitations of powers and failed to live up to these expectations, partly due to constant pressure from the House and Senate. He was unable to make any progress with Russia on different US-Russia relations. When India refused to cooperate with US vis-à-vis its relations with Pakistan, President Obama abandoned his pledge to help resolve 60 year Kashmir problem between India and Pakistan.
The Obama White House also faltered in its response to the Arab Spring of movements for democracy, and even supported the new era of dictatorship in Egypt in the form of General Sisi’s rule.
On the domestic front, Obama did well to stabilize economic recovery. The unemployment declined steadily during his office and went down to 5.1% compared to Bush administration’s 7.2%. His healthcare plan has also been received well.
But he did not pay much attention to America’s inner cities, small towns and depleting levels of manufacturing in states like Michigan, resulting in a widespread discontent with the Democrats’ way of governance focusing on cosmopolitan centers.
It was this discontent, which Trump and the Republican media exploited to the fullest to mount a scathing attack on the Democrats and liberal policies on trade, immigration and globalization..
On the world stage, it was the foreign policy where a series of retreats from the wold stage made people uncomfortable and provided hardliners both inside and outside the United States a platform to spring up.
Afghanistan continued to fall into more troubles as the Obama Administration failed to have a productive relationship with Pakistan and hold Kabul to account for its incompetence.
In South Asia, India and Pakistan moved to the verge of a conflict, Israel started its settlements in the occupied territories, the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) — a framework under the Heart of Asia/Istanbul Process of 2011, which included Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States, whose main manifesto was to facilitate talks between the government in Kabul and the warring faction — went in the virtual dormancy, and now the Russia, China and Pakistan have formed another group to deal with Afghan issues.
In Syria, President Obama totally ignored the growth of ISIS and did not accept Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s idea to impose a no-fly zone over Syria, at very early stage of conflict when there was no chance for Russia to get involved. But America’s lack of leadership on Syria and Iraq and the fight against ISIS Russia free hand to control the skies over Syria. On the nuclear deal, Obama deferred too much to Iran which ran amok across the region with state-backed proxies and terror groups.
WHAT HISTORY SAYS
History tells us this is not the first time, liberalism has been dealt a severe blow. During the early 20th century, the first World War had devastating consequences. The new fault lines, created after the war, brought more conflicts and violence because of the national and religious pride and land ambitions of groups inside newly formed countries. The winners of the war at the other hand distributed lands to have their military bases against the consent of the local population like the secret Sykes–Picot Agreement officially known as the Asia Minor Agreement of May 1916 between France and Great Britain, which defined their mutually agreed spheres of influence and control in the Middle East. To this day, this controversial agreement is blamed for the region’s present-day conflicts.
The aftermath drove the world to Second World War. Hitler won huge support from the people by exploiting the public anger in his favor and convinced masses that the political parties have failed to deliver. Hitler banned all the political parties, imposed strict censorship on the media and public gatherings.
In Italy, a dictator Benito Mussolini rose to power in the wake of World War I who was a leading proponent of Fascism. After several liberal governments failed to rein in the “threats” from the communists and socialists, the fascists had increased their public profile by highly visible punishment expeditions to supposedly crush the “threat.” Mussolini allied himself with Hitler and the world paid a heavy price in terms of losses of human lives, infrastructure devastation, and spread feelings of nationalism and blew away notions of brotherhood and unity.
It was only American involvement that saw an end to one of the largest massacres and destructive chapters in the human history. The United States emerged as the undisputed champion of human liberty and a beacon of hope and capitalism.
COLD WAR AND A BATTLE OF IDEOLOGIES
But a new era of Cold War meant a large part of humanity under Soviet rule would live under constant narrow-minded policies.
Both the US and the USSR supported autocratic regimes. The aggressive policies to win the war created even more lethal enemy who can travel anywhere in the world and strike at will. Same “allies” of Cold War were responsible for the horrors of 9/11.
After the 9/11 incident, the world entered an era which Ralph Keyes called as the “Post-Truth Era”. Keyes introduced this term in his book “The Post-Truth Era: Dishonesty and Deception in Contemporary Life”. He notes “At one time we had truth and lies. Now we have truth, lies, and statements that may not be true but we consider too benign to call false. Euphemisms abound. We’re “economical with the truth,” we “sweeten it,” or tell “the truth improved.” The term deceive gives way to spin. At worst we admit to “misspeaking,” or “exercising poor judgment.” Nor do we want to accuse others of lying. We say they’re in denial. A liar is “ethically challenged,” someone for whom “the truth is temporarily unavailable. This is post-truth.”
WAY FORWARD FOR TRUMP
President Donald Trump has an opportunity to fix what President Obama could not do or handle properly. His pledge to make America Great Again is a big project. But he has started off controversially, bringing in a number of people, who are not representatives of traditional Republican values.
It is understandable that 2017 is a changed context with changed ground realities but the Trump Administration has to come out of the election campaign mode and trying to forge political bipartisanship.
Despite rhetoric and a number of incidents against Muslims, America is indeed a nation of tolerant people. The systems are resilient and do not allow any individual or any group to get their ways using the power they were given by the Constitution, no matter they enjoy very high levels of authority. But the ban on travel from seven countries sends a wrong signal to Muslims both at home and in the outside world. Fighting terrorist groups like ISIS needs cooperation of both American and world Muslims.
The victory of President Trump looks a direct consequence of the failure of liberalism and the moderate leadership of the world.
Since 1990s, the alternate rise and fall of liberalism and Conservatism has a message – people want results, and that it is American domestic issues have been most of the time more crucial in setting a political course for Washington.
When Bill Clinton became president, he turned the wheel of the history, after Ronald Reagan’s successful republican rule and George H Bush’s one-time presidency.
George W. Bush came into office and by exploiting peoples’ fears, and created a mess for another generation of Americans to clear. The US is still living with its implications. President Obama – a liberal and an intellectual proved to be a weak and ineffective leader. His vulnerability brought anxiety among the masses although they were enjoying better economy.
This unease provided President Donald Trump – who was never taken seriously by the media, and even by his own Republican Party colleagues – to benefit from the opportunity, mainly on promises of creating more jobs and securing American interests, which he said were compromised under globalization.
Now that President Trump has everything – a Republican dominated Capitol Hill and an international stage unclear of the future – to deliver, has a big challenge ahead. One thing that Trump must display is clarity on addressing domestic issues and managing international relations, fighting militancy and preserving America as a place for the best and the brightest from around the world.