Friday, August 26, 2016

al-Jareeza MIN WASHINGTON - “Donald Trump and the World: a Return to Unorganized Chaos?"

I recently had the pleasure of appearing on al-Jazeera Arabic’s program, Min Washington (From Washington).  The program was broadcast on August 16-18.  The host was Mr. Muhammad al-Alami and the guests were Dr. Khalil Jahshan, Executive Director of the Washington, DC Arab Center, and myself. (
The topic of the program was Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s foreign policy.  Does Trump have a coherent foreign policy?  Does he have an effective strategy for addressing the major security threats which currently face the United States?  If so, what exactly does he propose?
Trump woos Arab clients while arguing that Muslims must be barred from US
Understandably, there is great interest in Donald Trump outside the United States.  This is especially true in the Arab world and the larger Middle East where most countries have Muslim majority populations.  In light of comments he has made about American Muslims, and Muslim beyond the borders of the United States,  Trump’s use of terms which many Muslims find objectionable, e.g., “radical Islam” and the need to subject Muslim immigrants to the United States to “serious vetting,” have created serious concerns.
Trump and Husayn Sajwani, DAMAC Group CEO, Dubai
A problem the Min Washington producers encountered was that there are few Muslims in the United States who support Trump and who would appear on the show to defend his policies.  That fact indicates a serious problem facing Trump should he win the presidency.  Muslims, both in the United States and in the Arab world, hold very negative views of him.  Few in the Middle East trust Trump and thus he would start his presidency with a substantial deficit in the eyes of most Middle East governments and politically active citizens.

Dr. Jahshan and I noted the absurdity of Trump’s statement that President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were the founders of the so-called Islamic State (Dacish).  Apart from the patently false nature of the claim, what exactly did Trump mean when he made it?  How in fact did Obama and Clinton establish the IS?  

Dr. Jahshan pointed to the fact that 50 former top American security officials, all Republican, signed a document disavowing Trump who they consider unqualified to hold the office Commander-in-Chief, precisely because he makes absurd and contradictory statements about both domestic and foreign policy.  

The question hovering over our discussion was how could someone with absolutely no foreign policy experience become a candidate for the most powerful political position in the world?  I offered two arguments to address this issue.  

First, Trump has been very clever in exploiting the anger and fear of a large segment of white middle aged male voters who are losing their jobs to US corporate off-shoring and technological change.  The need for higher levels of education and robots are making many blue collar jobs redundant.

Second, the Republican Party is no longer unified.  In fact, it is divided into three different trends.  First, there is the traditional free trade and security hawk Republicans.  Good examples are Paul Ryan and William Kristol.  A second trend with the GOP is the Tea Party.  While the junior senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, didn’t win the nomination, he did demonstrate the strength of this wing of the party during the Republican primary season this year by beating Trump in several of the contests.

A third and powerful wing of the party is what formerly was referred to as the “Reagan Democrats,” namely white working class voters who are socially conservative and favor a strong defense.  However, since the 1980s, this group has been transformed into what we may call “resentment voters.”  The promises of the Reagan era that cuts in government spending would improve their standard of living haven’t materialized.  Indeed, the opposite has occurred, as members of this demographic have seen a secular decline in their wages.

What I emphasized was the isolationist tendency of resentment voters, the core of Trump supporters.  Despite Trump’s claims to the contrary, manufacturing is at an all-time high in the United States, having increased over 45% during the last 25 years.  The problem is not the lack of manufacturing but the increasingly high skill levels required of workers and the continued replacement of workers by robots.

If the next president doesn’t address this issue, the anger and frustration of resentment voters will only increase.  If the Republican dominated US Congress continues to refuse to allocate funds for stimulating economic growth, particularly infrastructure development, then new construction jobs will not materialize and the economic conditions faced by high school educated white voters could lead them  to support extremist politicians and groups, even farther beyond the political mainstream than Trump.

Isolationism is the last thing the United States needs in an era of spreading global terrorism, reckless regimes such as Iran and North Korea, and the aggressive behavior of a Russia which, under Vladimir Putin seeks to project a much greater level of power and influence on the world stage.

In the end, Trump is only the tip of a very dangerous iceberg.  He symbolizes the degradation of American politics where hope in the future is replaced by fear, anxiety and decreasing trust in democratic institutions. 
The beginning of the 21st century cries out for statesmen, not short-sighted, self-centered and narcissistic politicians.  It calls for political leaders who can offer new policies with which to tackle the complex and dangerous problems which face the global arena. 

That Donald Trump is only an election away from becoming leader of the most powerful country in the world - the country which remains in the forefront of providing international leadership - is disconcerting.  That Trump evokes only the dark and mean-spirited side of American politics, and knows nothing about the problems he would face were he to be elected president, represents a disturbing sign of the times.

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