Trump has won. But before you close this window in expectation of another smug diatribe on what this supposedly means for the “free world” you might want to give me a few seconds consideration. For one, I don’t consider a politicised competition between a misogynistic moron and a machiavellian psychopath posing as a feminist to be of any immediate note. Psychopathy, intrigue, and endemic narcissism are hardly novel when it comes to any serious look at the American social and political landscape. Personalities as unpardonably foul as both Trump and Clinton are hardly unknown, inside and outside of the corridors of power.
What has indeed been missing from what currently passes for political “analysis”, however, is any attempt to grapple with the US as a broader and more integrated historical and political entity. The current narrative is largely fixated on a sequence of ephemeral outbursts, generally those confined to the literal spoken words of either Clinton or Trump, rather than any attempt to expose the causal factors behind American violence abroad and hypocrisy and incoherence at home. The US is presented as a power that has always been there, and will always continue to be, regardless of the egregious (and openly genocidal) nature of its founding and propensity for catastrophic murderousness in the present. Indeed, Americans themselves are portrayed as an enduring and legitimate cultural body, alternating between seeing themselves as just another face (warts and all) in the rich tapestry of humanity to collectively comprising a perpetually benevolent hegemon, one that, despite a few mistakes (just a few!) still has the interests of the “international community” at heart, regardless of how many citizens of said community happen to suffer and die at their hands.
Clinton and her supporters arguably make up a particularly striking example of such peculiarity. For American “progressives” it would appear that getting more “women in power” is necessarily an end in itself, rather than attempting to de-construct the nature of said power and examine both its origin and consequences on the broader social/political fabric. Power, as currently manifest in the American context in the form of tens of thousands of US troops stationed overseas, in addition to those personnel actively engaged in acts of violence and subjugation against foreign nationals, is not necessarily a point of objection. The gender of those wielding said power, is, however, a hot topic, with “progress” apparently being achieved by establishing greater gender parity within the mechanism of US political, economic and military dominance.
This variant of faux feminism, specifically, is further exposed by a casual glance at Clinton’s approach to foreign policy. After overthrowing the elected government in 2009, the governing authority in Honduras has since proven fairly palatable to the Obama administration, despite the ongoing crack down on dissenting citizens. That many of these dissidents, feminist activists also, appear to have suffered greatly for their audacity seems to be of minimal concern to US policy makers, Hillary Clinton included, a point that is not lost on Hondurans themselves. Whether this facet of Clinton’s “feminism” was ever fully understood by Democratic voters is a mystery, although nobody could be blamed for coming to the conclusion that Clinton’s concern for women tends to stop at the US border, if not before, rather than entertaining any troublesome notions of universality that might take the full impact of US foreign policy into account.
Indeed, her now thankfully relatively silent husband has a curious track record in “progressive” policies impacting on women, himself being instrumental in military attacks on both Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan, all of which presumably took place in the spirit of progress and rational discourse in foreign affairs. Whether Iraqi, Afghani or Sudanese women were necessarily consulted beforehand on whether they might like to lose a husband, son, brother or father (or indeed be killed themselves) in another bought of US military aggression doesn’t seem to have occurred to policy makers, although Hillary herself no doubt gave the issue serious thought as a champion of women’s rights internationally. In the case of Sudan, specifically, the US bombardment had the effect of decimating national pharmaceutical production, given that the Americans curiously mistook a factory producing medical supplies for an installation affiliated to “terrorists”. Whilst insisting that the facility had been producing components for chemical weapons, the White House were soon contradicted by the United Nations, who noted that the factory had indeed been producing medicinal supplies, some of which were destined to be exported as part of a humanitarian mission to Iraq. Yet another innocent mistake that, all the same, cannot impinge on the “progressive” credentials of the Democratic Party.
Elsewhere, the Clintons’ deep concern for women also doesn’t appear to have stopped them being instrumental in the economic and societal meltdown that took place in Russia under President Yeltsin’s tenure, with good old Bill giving his considered support to Yeltsin’s use of tanks against his own legislature after it had the temerity to oppose “free market” reforms. As the Supreme Soviet burned, the “modernising” efforts of both Yeltsin and the IMF had a free hand to work their magic across Russia and much of the former Eastern Bloc, something of deep benefit to women in particular as previous social welfare schemes were cut, plunging millions into dire poverty.
Between 1995 and 2000, some five hundred thousand women were thought to have been trafficked from the former USSR, many of which no doubt were originally attempting to escape the economic and social conditions themselves instigated by American policy as it rushed to “aid” former Cold War adversaries in the “transition to democracy”. Of the multitudes of Slavic women participating in “sex work” today, trafficked or otherwise, it is no doubt of tremendous comfort to them that a woman came close to winning the presidency of the USA, and they naturally look with sincere interest to seeing more “empowered women” in American politics in future.
This narrative, not to mention my habitual sarcasm, will no doubt make for uncomfortable reading for some. Many will react with outrage to the possibility of foreign criticism, especially from a “limey” whose country only exists (apparently) due to the charity of American assistance against the Third Reich and the incessant villainy of the USSR. A foreign voice that does anything other than rejoice at the prospect of Hollywood dross, the slime-coated barbarousness of McDonalds “fast food”, or indeed myriad other facets of American “culture” is generally not appreciated. Ominous threats to “beat” my “ass” or enact a similarly fearful scenario seem likely to ensue.
Yet others may be eager to stress that they may not “agree” with “everything our government does”, as if governments and the policies they implement can be neatly separated off from the wider citizen body and the society that manifests them. This latter point is particularly relevant, given that some of the more violent episodes in US history took place in the context of disinterest or active opposition from central government. Indeed, what powered much of the colonial expansion across north America was initiated by non-state actors, at times eagerly violating established treaties between myriad indigenous nations and Congress. This is, unsurprisingly, something that heralds right back to the onset of the American “Revolution”, where British insistence on respecting existing treaties with indigenous tribes that had assisted them in the Seven Years War proved unpalatable to colonial interests set on further expansion westward. Ultimately this tidal wave of settler colonialism manifested as precisely that; a tidal wave of settlers, at times actively assisted by central authorities, but always more than willing to act independently in committing acts of egregious violence out of the same sense of “manifest destiny” lauded as a central attribute of the American experience.
Another remarkably well celebrated episode in American history is a case in point. The Battle of the Alamo, generally viewed as a tale of heroism against unaccountable government and generic tyranny, was in reality more a case of localised resentment against an authority that had had the temerity to outlaw slavery. A great many of those who fought in the resulting conflagration were themselves US citizens looking to carve out a space for themselves at the expense of a fragmented Mexico. That this “space” would be “carved” by black slave labour was of precious little consequence, unless of course you yourself happened to be one of those slaves, or indeed a representative of a Mexican government forbidding such a practice. Either way, such “heroism” was snuffed out under the orders of General Santa Anna, only to be avenged years later via the violent dismemberment of Mexico’s northern territories. The question as to whether such an expanse of land would go on to be utilised by enslaved or “free” labour proved to be so controversial that it contributed decisively to the outbreak of civil war.
The point being made is that it makes no sense to continue to indulge in the facile commentary that has accompanied this presidential campaign. There is nothing to be gained from fixating on an assortment of sound bites from either candidate, in the process feigning outrage at the apparent insensitivities or political ineptitude of those you deem most offensive for whichever superficial reason happens to spring to mind. What is required is a thoroughly historical and authentically political analysis, one that steps outside the pretentious waffle of “American exceptionalism” and fully grapples with the fabric of colonial society, past and present, and its modern manifestation at the heart of world imperialism.
Likewise, a superficial and alarmist mentality will also prove counter-productive. The office of President is, bizarrely, not akin to that of an absolute monarch. Trump will not be able to inflict egregious harm on anyone he randomly decides to take aim at, despite the current hysteria being displayed by American liberals evidently still in shock that American society is fertile ground for both incompetence and maliciousness in striking abundance. Trump has also shown a sporadic willingness to part ways with the hypocritical posturing and warmongering of the outgoing Obama administration, instead, seemingly, preferring to entertain the possibility of dialogue with a Russian Federation ill at ease with rapacious NATO expansionism. Whether he is sincere, or even capable of mustering the wit and fortitude to grapple with the complexities of international relations (unlikely) remains to be seen. In any case, this marks an interesting change from previous policies that have seen an inexcusable escalation of tensions in Eastern Europe, something for which the US, as the primary aggressor across much of the globe, must accept the blame for, regardless of how “progressive” their then President claims to be.
In any case, it seems likely that, even at this stage, Trump’s support base will start to fragment. Given the man’s status as a rather cognitively challenged individual, he’ll no doubt struggle to adjust to the pressures and nuances of the White House, in the process alienating swathes of former supporters when they realise he’s neither about to deport Muslims en mass nor is capable of obliging Mexican Enrique Pena Nieto to throw him some spare change in order to build a massive wall. Popularism, as a political phenomenon, has always been prone to disunion, and Trump’s particularly incoherent, nonsensical brand won’t be any exception.
If your analysis is to be genuine, however, then it must take account of factors that go deeper than a personal preference for those who appear to be the most “presidential” in temperament, cutting through the superficialities so abundant in American politics and grappling with the historical, cultural and indeed social factors that have contributed to the emergence of the US as a persistently violent and dysfunctional hegemon. If not, then we simply go on as before, in the process failing to examine the factors that are integral to explaining the emergence of characters like Trump and Clinton. Once that is done, we can only look forward to an endless rehash of supposedly “controversial” statements, repetitious analysis by smug journalists on both sides of the Atlantic, and an aggravating fixation on the superficial and myopic, all of which serve to entirely omit any attempt at a vigorous, in-depth analysis of what the US is, presently and historically, and why it behaves in such a brutal fashion. In other words, more show business and celebrity gossip. And that’s just not good enough.