“In 2008, the two presidential gladiators forced the Americans to think about what the United States was all about; the Obama victory only aggravated the American society and its political divisions. The 2016 contest, too, will invite the Americans to reaffirm certain basic principles and commitments which for more than 200 years have sustained the American experiment — and, for which the world has admired and respected the United States……In the 2016 presidential contest, the world will see America’s rather un-pretty face. The reason is simple. Donald Trump has forced his way to the very top of the Republican presidential pile entirely on his own terms. And, these terms were cheap, shoddy, vicious and racist”, says the author.
Two days ago, the American presidential line-up got firmed up. Hillary Clinton clinched the Democratic Party’s nomination and will take on Donald Trump of the Republican Party. Just as in 2008 the Americans found themselves having to choose between two very different, almost starkly opposite candidates —Barack Obama, a black man, and John McCain, a Vietnam war veteran and very much a white man — they will now be called upon to decide between a woman with a record of steady legislative and administrative service and a maverick billionaire, who has not held any public office. The presidency is the first public job Donald Trump is applying for.
In 2008, the two presidential gladiators forced the Americans to think about what the United States was all about; the Obama victory only aggravated the American society and its political divisions. The 2016 contest, too, will invite the Americans to reaffirm certain basic principles and commitments which for more than 200 years have sustained the American experiment — and, for which the world has admired and respected the United States.
And, as the United States remains the world’s largest economy and also the world’s strongest power, the American presidential choices are a matter of interest — and, concern — to the rest of the world. The American presidency is a powerful office. And, just as he does at home, the President of the United States also makes more than a difference in the world. The American presidential contest may be a matter to be sorted out by the Americans themselves, but the world will have to live with the consequences of their choice. Arguably, that proposition has been valid since the end of the Second World War, but today America is a different place. As a nation, the Americans are definitely in an angry mood. They feel frustrated and cheated. The American political system seems to offer no corrective solutions to the excesses of capitalism and the consequent economic inequalities. Jarringly enough, these inequalities are only getting entrenched. The “mainstream” leadership, both of the Democratic and Republican varieties, is hopelessly beholden to the “Wall Street”, and, offers no intellectual solutions or even political slogans to address the Americans’ economic grievances.
America is also in an ugly mood. Much of this ugliness can be traced to the relentless rise of the religious right. The Republican Party is virtually a religious party. It is in thrall to what Kevin Phillips calls the “Armageddon hucksters.” Post ‘9/11’, the Christian right feels righteously confirmed in its prejudices and bigotry by the rise of Islamic groups and their demonstrated ability to wield violence. Some kind of religious madness has seeped into the American soul. The religious right has so deeply polarized the American domestic political theatre and its actors that the United States is no longer able to project a comforting and comfortable liberal visage to the rest of the world.
And, what is worse, America is in a mood to blame the rest of the world for its manifest decline. Every conservative ideologue easily subscribes to the totemic chant, “our country is in decline.” And, that is where the new Republican presidential standard-bearer steps in to tap the Americans’ fears about a world Washington no longer seems able to control. And, most fearful among the Americans is the white middle class, which feels squeezed in not just economically but also culturally and politically.
It is an America that has come to resent — and resent deeply, unapologetically and righteously — its own President, not just because he is a black but because he is cerebral, has the benefit of a Harvard education, and is not given to shabby populism, and professes to be a reasonable man. This resentfulness has been incessantly fed and nurtured by the American religious right; and, the liberal voices and opinion-makers have had no answer to this creeping fashionable bigotry. And, this closing of the American mind would invite unpredictable responses from forces outside.
In the 2016 presidential contest, the world will see America’s rather un-pretty face. The reason is simple. Donald Trump has forced his way to the very top of the Republican presidential pile entirely on his own terms. And, these terms were cheap, shoddy, vicious and racist. He did not care for the so-called “Republican establishment” and its gentrified protocols. He made no secret that he gave a damn about the liberals’ notions of “political correctness”, and he deliberately, provocatively massaged the white Americans’ dormant racial fears of the “outsider”. Above all, he is openly contemptuous of the global institutional arrangements and their obligations on the United States. Trump has sent every establishment economist in a tizzy with his aggressive advocacy of “economic nationalism”. But he has stayed with his message of protectionism and unilateralism. And, that is where the world will watch with considerable trepidation how the Americans sort the two candidates out during the campaign. Admittedly, between now and the first week of November, both Clinton and Trump would have ample opportunities to finesse their presidential personas. The prolonged ritual of campaigning carries with itself opportunities and pitfalls. Hillary Clinton is a familiar face and a tested name. She promises to stay firmly in the center of political reasonableness and public policy choices. But this is the first time the Americans would be called upon to decide whether they want a woman as their commander-in-chief. These last eight years of a black President have, paradoxically, made America a mixed-up, pixilated society, troubled by overt political correctness and plainly uncomfortable with liberal notions. For all her proven record of public service, Clinton is unpalatable to very many Americans. Just as Senator Bernie Sanders was able to instigate doubts among the Democrats about her baggage, Trump can be expected to be vicious and unrelenting in rattling skeletons in the Clinton cupboard. She will definitely need to reinforce the Americans’ trust in her competence and probity. A Clinton meltdown cannot be entirely ruled out.
And, the same will hold equally true for Trump. Untempered as he has been with any public responsibility, Trump’s persona is cast in stone. Whereas Clinton promises to carry out more of the Obamaesque steadfastness, Trump will cater to the American impulse to punch difficult customers in the face. Above all, the Trump political insurgency has already emboldened all those leaders and groups around the world who believe in politics of national resentments, identity antagonism, demagoguery, and — personality cult. A right-wing fever is already claiming new victims in Europe. A Trump presidency would simply subvert the established world order and its accepted value system. The collective wisdom of the American people may be too feeble to stop that dangerous man. Considerable turmoil is in store for the global community.