By Imtiaz Alam: President Donald J Trump is on a rampage – creating chaos at home and uncertainty abroad. From a no-holds-barred presidential campaign, he is now disrupting what was known as the American dream. He is doing this without any regard for the serious consequences it has for the whole world order the Americans had built in the post-World War II and post-cold war times.
The safeguards that the founders of the United States of America had built into the American constitution to contain a would-be grave-digger of the democratic order are being put to a test at the hands of a bull in the China shop of the White House. His numerous executive orders are a practical example of what were being ridiculed as wild gimmicks during his presidential election campaign.
Just two weeks into power, Trump has issued executive orders that have created a storm both at home and abroad – the last being a ban on seven Muslim countries’ citizens travelling to the US. This order violates not just the First Amendment but also international covenants. The order led to stark scenes at American airports and stay orders were issued by federal judges, facilitating the stranded passengers’ entry from the seven ostracised countries. This is just the tip of the iceberg of what is being seen as the most unprecedented first 100 days of any incumbent of the White House; they will, however, set both the scope and the limits of his presidency.
Trump is being seen as a “malignant narcissist”, according to John D Garner. And according to other psychologists: “narcissism impairs his ability to see reality, so you can’t use logic to persuade someone like that”. He doesn’t care about the hodgepodge cabinet that he has picked from among the white supremacists, ultra conservatives and billionaires that he has around them. He runs the most powerful executive office the way he ran his casinos or his whimsical election campaign.
The architecture of the sole superpower-led world capitalist and imperial order is now at risk of being shaken by an ‘outsider’. He has turned down the Trans-Pacific Partnership framework that President Obama built and has sent a clear message to Trans-Atlantic allies to mind their own business and has also declared Nato an obsolete military block. Yet he would like to continue with torture centres and military outposts around the world. This may give birth to militarism in Germany, Japan, South Korea and elsewhere, and a multitude of realignment of forces across the globe.
Globalisation on the basis of free trade, the World Trade Organization (WTO), international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF, and Nafta and other trade regimes are now under scrutiny. While targeting China and even questioning the One-China policy, Trump is inclined to develop a new equation with an assertive Russia to renegotiate a world order that serves the interests of a protectionist US under his autocratic control, even if the European Union evaporates under the impact of Brexit and rising nationalism among various European nations.
Steve Bannon, Trump’s most influential adviser, is known to support ultra-rightwing nationalist and fascist parties in Europe who have Islamophobia and racism in common with him. The Trump administration’s strategic focus will be against the ‘Islamic terrorism’ that the president wants to eradicate from the face of the earth – even though he may end up fuelling religious extremism, xenophobia and terrorism. He will be tougher with both adversaries and allies.
What is quite discernible is that President Trump, despite constitutional restraints and a radical democratic opposition at home, is going to accentuate multi-polarity and, in some ways, a temporary reversal of globalisation. The greatest damage is going to be inflicted upon a whole range of civil and human rights and liberal-democratic values across the world.
A conservative Congress would be merely interested in the Republicans’ typical issues of lowering taxes, quashing Obamacare and environmental constraints, abortion and anti-LGBTQ rights. Although these issues provide a convenient convergence between a Republican Congress and a populist president, a maverick Trump will face formidable opposition on the streets and some resistance from the Washington establishment. He has not only demolished the old party that he grabbed, but also opened the way for the rejuvenation of a pro-establishment Democratic Party.
It seems that Trump will be instrumental in bringing down the imperial edifice of US power while taking an isolationist course to pursue the US’s exclusive strategic and economic interests. He will, however, find new allies to contain China and expand American militaristic designs at the cost of others. He could, at best, be the author of disorder in the world rather than, at worse, the grave digger of the institutional and pluralist edifice of a rising multi-polar world.
To start with, Trump faces a very powerful radical democratic movement across the US and resistance from traditional Western allies. His greatest resistance is going to come from a well-placed US constitutional order, public opinion and a threatened but vocal media.
What is quite worrisome is that the Trump phenomenon will give an impetus to the rise and strengthening of fascists, jingoists and communalists all around the world. A communalist Modi in India, a fascist in Turkey and an absolutist autocrat in Russia, a fascist in Europe and a fundamentalist in Iran and elsewhere in the Muslim world. To keep US hegemony, Trump will go to any extent to furiously exhibit US military might under generals ‘Mad’ Mattis and Flynn.
Unlike Obama, he will not undertake half-hearted interventionist military adventures that don’t allow room to manoeuvre to certain foot-dragging allies, like Pakistan. Though yet not clear, the Trump administration is likely to change military gear in Afghanistan and elsewhere – with, perhaps, far more devastating consequences.
Being a non-Nato strategic ally, Pakistan should be prepared for both the worst and best choices. The kind of flexibility and accommodation that the Pakistani establishment enjoyed over the decades may not be available anymore. Islamabad must be ready for big decisions, instead of finding solace in Chinese backing and an opening to Russia. We must do what was required of us before push comes to shove.
The recent measures taken against a banned outfit should not remain cosmetic. The time has come for a paradigm shift and we must reach out to our neighbours on mutually beneficial terms, rather than coalesce in on others’ terms later. Isn’t Trump a revolutionary-in-reverse for both the capitalist and neo-liberal order and the Washington consensus? Should we mourn it or rejoice it? I, for one, am not yet clear. However, what I do know is that we should stay in our limits and remove whatever skeletons are left in our cupboards.
The writer is a senior journalist. Email: [email protected]