Homecoming to Nostalgia: The Inauguration of Donald J. Trump
“In a time of universal deceit,
Telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
— George Orwell
When the entire arsenal of impulsive and aggressive foreign policy is deployed in absolute desperation and without accomplishment by a declining power unaware of its imminent demise, first it resorts to self-aggrandizement and spectacle, and then suddenly and viciously turns on itself through self-flagellation and serious self-mutilation. This is a classic pretext that trumps the assorted reasons for the demise of Hillary Clinton and thus the bafflement of the U.S. political establishment and its coattail in the established media. This should concisely spell out the meteoric rise of Donald Trump, his populism, and his success in leasing the plush real estate at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. To be sure, “We make America great again” is the alter ego of America’s demise since the collapse of the Pax Americana (1945-1979). Recognition of this very transformation is in itself a radical act.
The moment of truth has finally arrived. The slogan of “Make America Great Again” is now at the center stage. The members of the wrecking crew in Donald Trump’s proposed cabinet are now waiting for their Senate confirmation to get to work. Donald J. Trump is now the president of the United States. And all three branches of government are in the hands of one party – a party that since Reagan’s presidency has seemingly been reduced to an apologetic bunch in retrograde politics suspended in history. The party that once took pride in being the party of Lincoln is simply taken over by a known-unknown outsider; George Soros went on to call him an “imposter.” Trump’s message though has been consistently the same: “Make America Great Again.” This “Again,” at the same time, conveys an acknowledgement of the glorious past, not-so-glorious present, and the possibility time-travel presumably to the pre-Civil Rights’ period on the domestic side and hegemony, leadership and respect (i.e., the era of Pax Americana) on the foreign policy side.
Turning Back the Clock
Contrary to the conventional wisdom and despite his rhetoric, Donald Trump’s presidency does not seem to correspond with American isolationism. Trump’s vision is rather more in tune with the reversal of time that supposedly transports America to the 1950s, an era in which a Junior Senator from Wisconsin’s witch hunts were in full swing. And a foreign policy that unilaterally engaged in coup after coup against democratically elected governments abroad with little cost – known as America’s Golden Age – under the umbrella of the now defunct, Pax Americana. Under the Trump administration, some even are horrified – for a good reason – by an idea that he may take us all the way back to the pre-Civil War period in race, gender, and social relations. The irony here suggests parallels with George Orwell’s 1984 in 2017 America.
The other party is not so innocent either. Democrats did not only tolerate the notorious war crimes by the Bush-Cheney administration in Iraq and Afghanistan; they nonetheless come in full circle with their own bloody misadventures in Libya, Syria, Yemen, Ukraine, to name a few, while they did some good with respect to Cuba and Iran. Overall, though, the Obama administration inherited and thus contributed to what the Bush-Cheney administration has wrought as a paranoiac state/surveillance state in America. On the foreign policy front, particularly in Libya (and the bloody overthrow of Col. Gaddafi), Hillary Clinton’s hand is bloody. On the toppling of the Libyan government and the murder of Gaddafi, Secretary Clinton bragged: “We came, we saw, he died.” The catch here is that the Obama administration had already promised the Russians at the UN Security Council that if they agreed to vote for the “no fly zone” in Libya (or abstain), it would refrain from overthrowing Gaddafi. With Clinton’s Julius Caesar-like enthusiasm, the Obama administration broke its promise. As is well known, President Obama also recently expressed his regrets for the involvement in Libya.
As for the pointless involvement in the coup, against Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine, the share of Secretary Clinton (via Victoria Nuland’s direct involvement) is not miniscule either. Again, as is well documented, this initial step eventually led to the ouster of Yanukovych and the chaos that brought the ultra-right takeover of the government through the infamous referendum in Crimea, which then paved the way for the Russian invasion.
Clinton Democrats utterly miscalculated the outcome of the election by betting on the wrong horse. They ignored the fact that the country (both the left and the right) is gasping for change by any means necessary. Clinton Democrats ignored the deep cleavage in income inequality combined with profound political polarization. They arrogantly resorted to the habitual course of action by attacking Sen. Bernie Sanders – a seemingly viable candidate that might have defeated Donald Trump if he had not been subjected to unfair, immoral, and indeed illegal shenanigans in the primaries. Thanks to WikiLeaks for revealing these very true heart-wrenching stories perpetrated by the Clinton camp and the Democratic Party that is presently on the teeter of disintegration. That is why those who care about the truth – and cause-and-effect in this matter – believe that Democrats’ cruel pomposity and crude self-assurance tossed their viable candidate under the proverbial bus. In the end, the “basket of deplorables” statement by frustrated Hillary was the one that finally broke the camel’s back.
The inauguration of Donald J. Trump is over and he is officially the 45th president of the United States. The factors that have led to his seemingly successful campaign toward his presidency are numerous, varied, and multidimensional, and historians will debate them for years and decades to come. Nevertheless, it is clear that the specter of change is in the air and that the sizable majorities on the right and on the left are challenging the status quo. The Pax Americana had collapsed in the late 1970s, but after-effects of its fall are still around with respect to both domestic and foreign arenas. The fact is that there is no hint of American exceptionalism in all this. The changes that transpired in the last few decades have taken us beyond the Pax Americana and beyond American exceptionalism. The United States is now as ordinary as any other nation in the new global polity in the making.
On the foreign policy side, the United States is not what it used to be, yet the forces of regression, and reaction, are insisting on being “Great Again.” On the domestic side, the fissure of deep economic inequality, political polarization, pernicious politics, blatant racism and “white supremacy,” bashing women, Islamophobia, and other social ailments are now overtly pronounced. This election has torn the veil of political correctness and peeled off nearly all opacities that are gingerly left underneath race relations in America. Donald Trump is the sui generis messenger and now, as president, the message of divided America. And in this manner, the whole nation is naked before our eyes. This nation (and by implication the U.S. government) is not exceptional; it is not pre-ordained for hegemony; it is not predisposed for the leadership of global polity in the making. There is a limit to what the United States can or cannot do with respect to domestic as well as foreign policy.
Therefore, “making America great again” is inevitably subject to such boundaries. The United States is a declining power and the election of Donald Trump is a hint of such a decline in both domestic and foreign affairs. We are just beginning to grapple with the after-effects of the loss of the American century and the painful consequence of the denial of the fall of the Pax Americana since the 1980s. On the foreign policy side, the setbacks have so far been unequivocal. It may take some time to digest the truth of the shrinkage of the middle class and the disguised class warfare in the form of overt racism, sexism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and other forms of prejudice and bigotry in the name of nationalism and patriotism. We need to fasten our proverbial seatbelts for a long, rough, turbulent, yet indefatigable ride on, in Robert Frost’s apt vision, “the road not taken” in these unflattering and uncertain times. •
An earlier version of this article was an address to a rally organized by students at the Morris campus of University of Minnesota during the inauguration of the 45th president of the United States on January 20, 2017.