The most bizarre election in American history has come and passed, and the victor—in what apparently has come as a surprise to many—was none other than the much maligned Donald Trump. Evidently, many did not learn from the lesson of last summer’s Brexit. But what is it that allowed Mr. Trump to succeed against the odds? As I wrote a few days ago, it is related to a global backlash against neo-liberal economics and a larger reverse within American politics; the left became the right while the right became the left. In becoming the new “right”, the old “left” represented by the Democratic party enlisted the help of many famous personalities. Counter-intuitively, this focus on fame actually is one reason for the backlash that manifested itself in what might be a revolutionary change in American politics. To understand its implications, it is useful to use some cultural metaphors—sports, after all, is a form of culture.
While many in the U.S. may be angry, it is refreshing that American voters finally saw through the racial barriers of American politics. It was clear that the presidency of Barack Obama did little to help black lives in the United States and that a change was in order; arguably, this election can be considered “progressive” (not in the liberal sense) if only for breaking the “political slavery” inherent in the American political system. The map of America is quite red at the moment which reveals the ills of American democracy.
Lots More Red Than Blue. Image Courtesy of the Author, From Fox News’ Election Night Telecast).
Vast areas of the country are red, while small pockets—generally corresponding to urban areas—are blue; this corresponds to an unhealthy (and ultimately) undemocratic relationship between rich urban whites and poor urban minorities (mainly black and latino/latina). This purely exploitative relationship is something that needed to be stopped, at least in the context of democratic society, since it basically ensures that one political party (in this case, the Democrats) had an interest in keeping “minority” groups in a low socio-economic state since that meant they would keep providing votes. If the platform is based on “improving conditions”, but no improvement ever comes even though the media narrative keeps saying it will, then votes will continually get exploited. This kind of toxic alliance between rich, establishment whites and poor minorities—formed against poor and middle class whites—has shown its weakness. For some statistical maps on this racial divide can be seen at BBC (http://www.bbc.com/news/election-us-2016-37889032 and USA Today (http://college.usatoday.com/2016/11/09/how-we-voted-by-age-education-race-and-sexual-orientation/ .
In Both Pennsylvania (Above) and Florida (Below) We See That it is Major Urban Areas Voting One Way and Rural Areas Voting Another Way. Images Courtesy of: http://www.bbc.com/news/election-us-2016-37889032
The Racial and Education Breakdown Are Also Interesting. We Can See How Democrats Have a Solid Base Among Minorities (Bottom), While We Also See that Education Has Opposite Effects; Whites Are More Likely to Vote Democrat With a College Degree While non-Whites are Slightly Less Likely to Vote Democrat With a College Degree (Top). Images Courtesy Of: http://college.usatoday.com/2016/11/09/how-we-voted-by-age-education-race-and-sexual-orientation/
As someone who grew up in New England, I might have also been shocked at the result. As one TV pundit implied, maybe it is because they lived in New York and LA that they dismissed this outcome as a possibility. It is probably true—and thankfully I did NOT live in New England my whole life. I thank my parents for allowing me to pursue my undergraduate education at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and I thank the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Florida for allowing me the chance to pursue post-graduate education. In the course of living in these distinct areas of the U.S.—the North, the (deep) South, the West, the Southwest—I have come to realize that not everyone is wealthy. Not everyone has equal opportunity. And (perhaps most importantly) not everyone is divided in terms of race; in fact many times class interests can trump (pardon the pun) racial issues.
Poor urban blacks and poor rural whites are not as different as politics tell you they are, and sports provides an example of it. Rapper Biggie Smalls (Notorious B.I.G) tells the story in “Things Done Changed” , rapping:
If I wasn’t in the rap game
I’d probably have a key knee deep in the crack game
Because the streets is a short stop
Either you’re slingin crack rock or you got a wicked jumpshot
Shit, it’s hard being young from the slums
Biggie makes the connection between sports and poverty; for him the only way out of the ghetto and poverty for urban blacks is music, drug dealing, or sports (in this case, basketball). For poor rural whites, it is no different. For former Boston Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz, baseball was his only way out of Texas. In other parts of rural America it is football that provides a possible escape as country music artist Aaron Watson sings; the hope was to get “across the county line” and football was one way to get across it.
In the blink of an eye high school flew by
You went your way and I went mine
But we swore we’d make it,
Our love could take it
Four hundred miles could stand the test of time
Well I left that fall to play college ball,
But my dreams would all come to an end
‘Cause you know the big leagues never called,
And you went and fell in love with him
We sure saw a lot of miles,
Never even crossed that county line
I would’ve bet the farm, given my right arm
So you’d always be mine
Did we crash and burn or make a wrong turn
Or run out of gasoline?
I lost you around 3rd gear and 17
In Turkey too there is a saying that became popular during the 1990s, an era of increasing materialism in society as Turkey enthusiastically joined the neo-liberal world order following an economic opening in the late 1980s under Prime Minister Turgut Ozal. It is “bu devirde ya topçu ya popçu olacaksın”, or “these days you got to be either a pop star or a [football] player”. Sports provides a way out of hopeless poverty the world over, and it certainly doesn’t matter what your skin color or nationality is. I am grateful for having been able to travel domestically and internationally, since it has made me more able to understand these nuances—and to make the connections between them. Specifically, it has allowed me to appreciate—and visit—the different areas in the United States and has broadened the sociological perspective I can take on my country.
It is in relation to these “forgotten” areas of the U.S. that I now move my focus. One TV pundit—rightly I might add—correctly noted that it is possible that these rural voters felt alienated by the likes of Jay-Z, Beyonce, Bruce Springsteen, and Lady Gaga. Great musicians as they all are, they are all wealthy…and make money off the (much) less wealthy. Such endorsements are not exactly gospel to the poor and struggling people within America. America’s obsession with race has ignored the fact that many people struggle to get by and their struggles have nothing to do with race. It has more to do with resentment for a culture that values consumerism and instant fame (by way of selfies and social media). Sports stars too got out to vote and looked to influence choice in one way or another. Sadly again, their perspective was not the most useful in terms of truly bridging the gap between urban and rural, rich and poor.
The fact that Mr. Trump’s speech even seemed heartfelt is enough for me in that someone actually showed joy in being selected to lead his country; it restores faith in a vision of positive nationalism. Of course we shall see what happens—while the state media apparatus The New York Times continued using deliberately polarizing language, focusing on the connection between “working-class” and “white”; which needlessly racializes voter preferences:
The results amounted to a repudiation, not only of Mrs. Clinton, but of President Obama, whose legacy is suddenly imperiled. And it was a decisive demonstration of power by a largely overlooked coalition of mostly blue-collar white and working-class voters who felt that the promise of the United States had slipped their grasp amid decades of globalization and multiculturalism.
State media wants to frame this as an attack on progressive values but I will argue that it could also be interpreted as the beginnings of a more truly progressive world. Politicians cannot be trusted farther than they can be thrown, but it is important to provide an alternative perspective at a time when so many people are going to extremes. When a University Professor—at an Ivy League institution, no less—cancels a test because of students being “emotionally distraught” over the election I know things are getting out of hand. As an educator myself, I know that education is vitally important for professional and, much more importantly, personal development. To deny that to students because of an election is morally criminal and cannot be accepted; that is why some alternative perspectives are vital.
The Ivy League! Image Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/jon_victor_
An interesting post I read came from The Saker blog (I first found it on southfront.org). It makes a case I have long believed, that the globalist era has elicited a sea-change in international politics and that—perhaps—the lesser of two evils may not be the worst thing to happen in our lives as citizens of the world. I too believed that a war with Russia (over Syria) may have been on Hillary Clinton’s agenda; and Trump’s victory speech seemingly rejected this possibility outright: “I want to tell the world community that while we will always put America’s interests first, we will deal fairly with everyone, with everyone — all people and all other nations. We will seek common ground, not hostility; partnership, not conflict.” As I said, I don’t really trust politicians and therefore all I can do is take what I hear at face value. And Mr. Trump’s words are not the worst of things to hear by any means. The Saker writes:
I have always said that the choice for the lesser evil is morally wrong and pragmatically misguided. I still believe that. In this case, however, the greater evil was thermonuclear war with Russia and the lesser evil just might turn out to be one which will gradually give up the Empire to save the USA rather than sacrifice the USA for the needs of the Empire. In the case of Hillary vs Trump the choice was simple: war or peace.
the crisis in Europe is entirely artificial, the war in Syria has an absolutely obvious solution, and the international order can easily accommodate a United States which would “deal fairly with everyone, with everyone — all people and all other nations” and “seek common ground, not hostility; partnership, not conflict“. The truth is that the USA and Russia have no objective reasons for conflict – only ideological issues resulting directly from the insane ideology of messianic imperialism of those who believe, or pretend to believe, that the USA is an “indispensable nation”. What the world wants – needs – is the USA as a *normal* nation.
I have always believed that the USA is the most abnormal country in the world, underlined by its “world police” mentality that emerged post-WWII (but arguably the roots go back to Woodrow Wilson’s era). This behavior was amplified after the fall of global communism in 1989-1991, and it gave the United States unilateral control over the world system. By pushing the Americanization/McDonaldsization of the world, the United States sought to (re-)build the world in its image: extreme capitalism and neo-liberalism. This, unfortunately, meant increased global inequality that favored the very rich in the United States and the global south and, to a lesser extent, the middle classes of the United States and wider global north while completely forgetting the poor of the United States and most of the global south. Perhaps, this is why the movement led by Mr. Trump against this system makes so many of the U.S. elites wary; the media have stressed that Mr. Trump’s presidency will threaten the global order as we know it because they stand to lose the most from it. After all, they won’t be the ones fighting the wars–it will be those from the rural “red” areas on the maps cited above that will have to fight.
As The Saker continues:
This is a direct blow to the credibility and legitimacy of the entire socio-political order of the USA: far from being a democracy, it is a plutocracy/oligarchy – everybody pretty much accepts that today. Likewise, the election of Trump has already proved that the US media is a prostitute and that the majority of the American people hate their ruling class. Again, this is a direct blow to the credibility and legitimacy of the entire socio-political order. One by one the founding myths of the US Empire are crashing down and what remains is a system which can only rule by force.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn used to say that regimes can be measured on a spectrum which ranges from regimes whose authority is their power and regimes whose power in in their authority. In the case of the USA we now clearly can see that the regime has no other authority than its power and that makes it both illegitimate and unsustainable.
Finally, whether the US elites can accept this or not, the US Empire is coming to an end. With Hillary, we would have had a Titanic-like denial up to the last moment which might well have come in the shape of a thermonuclear mushroom over Washington DC. Trump, however, might use the remaining power of the USA to negotiate the US global draw-down thereby getting the best possible conditions for his country. Frankly, I am pretty sure that all the key world leaders realize that it is in their interest to make as many (reasonable) concessions to Trump as possible and work with him, rather than to deal with the people whom he just removed from power.
I have bolded what I believe to be the most salient parts in what is, admittedly, a fairly harsh assessment since it contains some very valid points. The fact that so many supporters of Ms. Clinton were crying profusely tells me that much of America definitely did buy into the system and believed the “democracy”.
From the Looks of it, You’d Think Someone Had Died. Politics Should Not Be Taken This Seriously! Image Courtesy Of: https://ageofshitlords.com/pictures-clinton-supporters-crying/
It is unfortunate, because the United States was meant to be a democratic republic—not an undemocratic empire. After WWII—and especially after the Cold War—the United States embraced the idea of empire which took it farther and farther from its people and its founding ideals of democracy and equality. In the cultural realm, even revisionist interpretations of Star Wars show that people have been thinking along these lines; the United States in its current state has come to resemble Darth Vader’s Galactic Empire far more than the Rebel Alliance, represented by our favorite childhood heroes Han Solo and Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Chewbacca:
The story is not only about each man’s ability to choose good or evil, or how wars destroy limited republics and empires alike; it is also about how the subtle manipulation of power behind the scenes helps make it all possible. By fooling all of the various characters into thinking they are doing the right thing, or at least acting in their own interests, Darth Sidious (AKA Palpatine) implements the final phase of the Sith Lords’ long-term plan to take revenge on the Jedi and total power for themselves.
Another perspective adds:
All the steps in the Dark Lord’s rise to total power were enabled by the crises of wars that he himself engineered. The overriding theme of the first trilogy is that the star wars engendered galactic tyranny. This is a perfectly realistic narrative motif, because it is merely an interstellar extrapolation of Randolph Bourne’s insight that war is the health of the State. The emergency-propelled rise of the Sith also fits with Robert Higgs’s broader insight that crisis is the health of Leviathan.
Indeed, throughout history, rulers, regimes, and power cliques (just like Sidious and the Sith) have dragged their countries into wars in order to acquire, shore up, and enhance their power. This power play almost always works, because war activates in indoctrinated adherents of a State what Randolph Bourne called the “herd mind”: a sort of statist Protocol 66.
This is all eerily similar to American foreign policy from Vietnam to Iraq, and what has recently occurred in the Middle East under Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton’s leadership (regime?); in the name of defending freedom the United States has forcibly pushed neo-liberal economics on unwilling states (sometimes resorting to war as a Machiavellian means to an end). As I have often written, sometimes these policies have unintended consequences; Turkey (and president Recep Tayyip Erdogan) is just one example of how U.S. foreign policy often creates dictatorships. Sadly, the media in the United States is still missing the point by equating Mr. Trump with Mr. Erdogan.
In order to best understand the changes we are undergoing, I—as a marginal sociologist—will quote the writing of fellow (but not marginal) sociologist C. Wright Mills who coined the term “power elite”:
Is it not, in a word, the enormous enlargement and the decisive centralization of all the means of power and decision, which is to say—all the means of history-making? In modern industrial society, the facilities of economic production are developed and centralized—as peasants and artisans are replaced by private corporations and government industries. In the modern nation-state, the means of violence and political administration undergo similar developments—as kings control nobles, and self-equipped knights are replaced by standing armies and now by fearful military machines. The post-modern climax of all three developments—in economics, in politics, and in violence—is now occurring most dramatically in the United States and the USSR. In our time, international as well as national means of history-making are being centralized. Is it not thus clear that the scope and the chance for conscious human agency in history-making is just now uniquely available? (C. Wright Mills The Sociological Imagination 1959, 183).
Mills was writing in 1959, a crucial year—a time that, indeed, “human agency in history-making” was still available—while the United States was also beginning to show similarities between itself and the Soviet Union in many odd ways. Two years later, in January 1961, outgoing president Dwight D. Eisenhower warned against the military-industrial complex. His full speech can be seen here, the transcript here. He may have seen the writing on the wall, the nascent stages of American politics’ close relationship to war. A year later, in 1962, President John F. Kennedy resisted nuclear war after compromising with the Soviet Union during the Cuban missile crisis. A year later, on a November day, he was shot dead in Dallas, Texas. Other U.S. presidents to resist the dominant state narratives—Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan—also fell victim to gunmen with the former assassinated and the latter surviving. It is food for thought, especially given that media have already begun a narrative of international conflict as a response to Trump’s election win to discredit it; ABC news (a branch of state media) reported that Cuba just announced military drills as a response to an American “threat”.
Given this background, I am left wondering how bad Donald Trump’s presidency really will be, if at all? As someone who respects nationalism, I love America. And that means loving the values that it stands for—freedom and equality. Sometimes it doesn’t always work out as it should, and the imperialist era of American geopolitics has not reflected well on the country (just like earlier epochs, like that of slavery, were equally abhorrent). A change to this would be welcomed. Intervening in foreign lands does not show respect for freedom or equality; the neo-liberal world order which detests nationalism as a concept has equated nationalism with fascism (and spawned comparisons between Mr. Trump and populist leaders like Hitler). I argue that nationalism does not have to be bad, one can love America country without believing in American exceptionalism or American empire. I can see America as just one country among others, a “normal” country as mentioned above, not necessarily “better” than any other. Maybe it can be a “normal” country like the other one I know, Turkey. In both countries we have seen attacks on nationalism (salient, since both are very nationalist): The erasure of national identity was evidenced in the U.S. by criticisms of the Confederate flag, and in Turkey by the muted celebrations of Republic Day in recent years. But take the ad “there some debts you cannot repay” commemorating the anniversary of the death of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Turkey’s founding father. It is spine-tingling for any Turk (myself included), and it celebrates a leader who fought against imperialism and who founded a modern,secular, and democratic republic out of the ashes of an empire. Despite some flaws, it was still a functioning state. In the context of modern meddling though, driven by the neo-liberal agenda, it is being torn apart by conflict. The world over, leaders like Ataturk have been thwarted by foreign powers in the past and it makes me wonder, sometimes, what the world would have been like if the post-colonial stage of nation formation during the Cold War hadn’t necessitated that states subscribe to either of two paths to development: The Soviet model or the American model.
Most importantly, as someone who believes in true equality and not lip service, is that America—the main exporter of “democracy” and “freedom” in the world—should practice what it preaches. From the standpoint of equality, the fact that Mr. Trump may become the first U.S. president to come from neither a military or political background is something to be celebrated; arguably it is more historic than Ms. Clinton’s bid to become the first female president. It is a shame that this important fact is being lost in the maelstrom since if we are to believe in true democracy, then we should all have the chance to become president regardless of our backgrounds or career choices. For me, this is a good thing because it allows one to resist the pre-existing biases of the “establishment”. The mere fact that outgoing President Barack Obama is taking the unprecedented step to meet Mr. Trump on 10 November is telling: Perhaps he will warn Mr. Trump that the “establishment” line must be followed…a warning Mr. Trump could ignore at his own risk, of course.
Politics is a murky business, and that is why I have become a marginal sociologist instead of a politician. Unfortunately, however, it has trained me to always think critically and that in itself is a valuable tool to use when viewing world events. I can see the irony in Ms. Clinton’s reluctance to concede when the worry was that Mr. Trump wouldn’t just as I can see the irony in Bruce Springsteen supporting a hawkish supporter of war like Ms. Clinton–what happened to the message of “Born in the USA”? And I can see the irony in the fact that many of the anti-war left are the main detractors of Mr. Trump, who has shown less inclination for foreign interventions than his rival Ms. Clinton. It is my hope, as always, that the United States under a President Trump lives up to its values and represents a republic—not an empire. American exceptionalism is not safe for the United States, and it is not safe for the world. If the United States can move away from that mode of thinking, and return to seeing itself as just one state among many, we may well see positive developments over the next four years. If not? Then, unfortunately, the future is very bleak indeed. I will prefer to remain optimistic despite it all because–sometimes–thinking outside the mainstream not only essential, it is our duty as human beings.
Image Courtesy Of: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:USA_Flag_Map.svg