VINEET TEWARI | 28 DECEMBER, 2018
Trump has consistently opposed the US empire
Based on a discussion meeting held in Indore on December 21 between Anthony Monteiro, a Philadelphia activist, and participants including Vineet Tiwari, Jaya Mehta, Abhay Nema, Sarika Shrivastava, Kalpana Mehta and Archishman Raju.
The nature of the Trump presidency in the United States remains much discussed but little understood. The American liberal media including the New York Times and the Washington Post have been vociferously opposed to the presidency, and their international influence has meant that there is little independent assessment of the meaning of the Trump presidency for the rest of the world. However, it is important that we assess Trump’s actions objectively, rather than purely on the basis of rhetoric.
The United States has been the foremost imperial power since the end of the Second World War. It has been involved in imperial wars, prominently in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, and in sponsoring coups, whether in Iran, Chile, Nicaragua or the Congo, or unsuccessful terrorist attacks on Cuba.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of a unipolar world, one can get a sense of the dominance of the American military over the world by the fact that they have a military base in almost every single African country. The US government’s military expenditure is estimated to add up to half the world’s total.
However, recent events going back to the September 11 terrorist attacks and the financial crisis of 2007-2008 have created internal strife in America, raising a question over the sustainability of the American empire. This led to two insurgent movements within the two major parties, the Bernie Sanders movement within the Democratic Party and the Trump movement in the Republican party.
Sanders is best described as a social imperialist, one who talks of social benefits for American workers, but is silent on issues of American war and plunder abroad. The politics of Trump is much harder to understand, and has been described by various adjectives like “crazy” and “unpredictable”. His election has created a situation which has been aptly described as “Chaos in the White House”.
Two events have had particular significance in the past year. The first has been the talks towards peace between South and North Korea, facilitated by the Trump presidency. It is quite unlikely that these talks would have been possible if Hillary Clinton had been elected president. The second is the recent decision to withdraw troops from Syria and Afghanistan. The withdrawal of troops from that region works in favour of Iran, Russia and Turkey. The decision faced strong resistance from inside the American administration, with Secretary of Defense James Mattis resigning.
In fact, these events are not isolated surprises, but represent a position that Trump has held consistently since his election.
In early November 2016, the journalist and academic Christan Parenti wrote an article called ‘Listening to Trump’. Parenti reported from Trump’s campaign that “contrary to how he was portrayed in the mainstream media, Trump did not talk only of walls, immigration bans, and deportations. In fact he usually didn’t spend much time on those themes… the heart of his message was something different, an ersatz economic populism, which has been noted far and wide, but also a strong, usually overlooked, anti-war message. Both spoke to legitimate working class concerns”.
There is in fact a disconnect in America between the elites and everyone else. Hidden inside his book on the Trump presidency, Bob Woodward reports that Trump had consistently questioned the justification for American troop presence around the world. The Pentagon through ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis had to work hard to counter Trump’s insistence with regard to American troops, “Let’s bring them all home”.
One can debate how serious Trump is about his proposed imperial retreat, or whether it precedes his assuming office. It is clearly not a wholesale retreat, and Trump’s stance on Israel, Iran and Venezuela has been consistent with the American imperial project. However, it would be a mistake to expect Trump to do something only a strong people’s movement could do inside America. Rather, there is a need to understand that Trump represents a crisis within the American political system.
It would be incorrect merely to dismiss Trump as right wing, or a fascist. If this were indeed true, why would the extreme right wing forces in the American government including the CIA, Pentagon and the corporate mass media (who do not run for office) be against him?
Moreover, these institutions’ attacks on him have focused on his relationship to Russia. So far the ongoing Russia investigation has not reported any direct evidence of collusion between Trump and the Russian government - but the amount of hyperbole the American media has created around it is comparable to Cold War propaganda.
One must understand that imperialism itself is in crisis. A unipolar world under American dominance seems more and more unsustainable. There are two contradictory tendencies in America, one which wants to continue the unipolar empire, and one which recognizes the emergence of a multipolar world. For the rest of the world, particularly the Third World, this crisis presents an opportunity to move forward. It creates space for people’s movements to resist imperialism. So it is important that we assess the Trump presidency correctly and see it as a whole, rather than concentrating merely on his rhetoric.
How do we assess the effect of Trump inside America? First, it is underreported just how authoritarian American society is. It is typically offered as a model of freedom and democracy. To the contrary, America has the largest prison population in the world, and the world’s highest rate of prison incarceration. It has only 6% of the world population but 25% of the world’s prison population.
Moreover, it is clear that the prison system is racial, with almost 40% of prisoners being African American, even though they are only 12% of the American population. The police force is overwhelmingly white and is brutal in its use of violence, particularly against African Americans. This kind of authoritarianism is objectively much more significant than Trump’s rhetoric.
Second, the policy of open borders was in fact started by Ronald Reagan, following on Lyndon Johnson’s Immigration and Nationality Act. The labour movement in the US has been opposed to it, and has suffered due to it, since immigrant labour has often replaced unionised labour, which is disproportionately white. The lowest rung of the working class in the United States is the Black working class, which has also suffered due to immigration.
Hence, a significant section of the working class within the United States is opposed to a the existing immigration policy, and Trump’s economic populism appeals to them. Immigration is both a political and an economic issue and must be discussed as such.
None of this is to say that Trump is a revolutionary leader, or that we must not be sceptical of what he does. But we must recognise that Trump represents a profound crisis of the American political system.
This presents an opportunity for the peace movement to reinvigorate its activities and to push once more the agenda of South-South solidarity.
We cannot expect Trump or any American president to do our job. We must recognise this historic opportunity, and continue the fight for world peace.