EducationLiberal Democracy in Question

The Disaster Has Already Happened: Trump’s Victory Seen from Afar

Public Seminar Teach In

Trump’s Election has Already Been a Disaster

Contrary to those who say that after inauguration day we will face a disaster for democracy, I maintain that Trump’s election has already lead to a disaster. Yet, starting with a statement that Trump’s election has been a disaster does not mean we have to go into a catastrophist and panicking mode. People have projected onto Trump’s victory all sorts of fears (the coming of Fascism; the end of democracy; or the lurking of censorship of academia). I don’t think we have to look far into the future to see how dark things already are.

We just need to look at what has happened in the 72 hours that followed Trump’s election. We have seen threats, by word or deed, against Black people and their properties. We have seen students marching across university campuses bearing Confederate flags. We have seen women threatened and Muslims who have been verbally — at times physically — aggressed upon for wearing a veil.

That has been the real disaster. The gloves, for certain, are off, and some people feel they can take up violence with their own hands and use the bigoted, sexist and racist semi-innuendoes of Trump as a justification for physical assaults. This disaster is only deepened by the fact that, in the first handful of days following 11/9, there has been little condemnation of these hate acts, a deafening silence by party leaders and political figures — let alone the president-elect.

 The Problem of Double Standards

The second disaster we have already seen play out after these first 72 hours is the round of astonishing appointments to the coming Trump Administration and, again, the ensuing silences. To me, this begs the question: Why so many double standards when talking about “American democracy?”

I want to argue that double standards, with which people of the Middle East are so accustomed, are coming home and are being left mostly unquestioned. Why has there been so little confrontation of the anti-Semitism spread by white supremacists such as Bannon? Imagine the outcry if a Palestinian had expressed only a tenth of what the Breitbart website or Bannon himself have said about Jews! This is the point where one realizes that the idea that democracy in America is now, suddenly, in danger ceases to makes sense. Don’t people have an idealized vision of democracy that needs debunking?

Democracy is a political system, a set of procedures. It is also a substance, a series of principles (equality, dignity, freedoms). This is what commentators have in mind when they assert that Trump is a threat to democracy. But these interpretations are based on a methodological nationalism, the idea that democracy starts at the border of Maine and ends in California. Instead, if we want to assess the real vitality, the true quality of American democracy, we instead need to adopt an internationalist perspective. We need to ask about the democratic quality of the relations between the United States and those parts of the world in which it has intervened: Iraq, Palestine, and Egypt, for example. We need to inquire about the democratic quality of the relationships between the U.S. and all of the countries entangled in, or dependent upon, the United States’ goodwill.

People in the Arab Middle East have known and experienced for too many decades the hypocrisy of the discourse of democracy promotion. The standards of indefatigable liberalism at home are simply abandoned when it comes to foreign policy in the Middle East. As a colleague from Middle Eastern studies, Lisa Hajjar, poignantly put it the day after the defeat of Hillary Clinton:

“The election [of Trump] signal[ed] the demise of the myth of American exceptionalism — that is, a country deeply steeped in a self-image as a uniquely good and capable force in the world. What lent this demise its Schadenfreude quality is the fact that Americans had destroyed the myth themselves; they had proved to themselves and to everyone else incapable of self-government.”[1]

Why mourn when we have already seen the nefarious effects of such discourses and practices? To be serious about protecting democracy inside the U.S. means to relentlessly confront the double standards of American democracy both here and abroad. This also means acknowledging the past mistakes and the ongoing imperialist tendencies in some of the past presidents. It means acknowledging Obama as drone-killer in chief, it means acknowledging Bush Jr. as state-destroyer in chief.

An Opportunity?

Denouncing such double standards can offer an opportunity to develop a complex, nuanced, internationalist critique of Trump and of the risks to “democracy.” Democracy is often a fig leaf to cover exactions abroad. People want to preserve democracy? Then let this also be a fight for justice outside of this country. Martin Luther King knew it already 50 or 60 years ago when he proclaimed that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. What is so dangerous in Trump’s statements and appointments is that it combines a toxic mix that needs to be criticized in globo rather than as single issues. It is not only Trump that needs to be singled out as a danger for pluralism and social justice, it is also his political allies and the hyper-aggressive form of capitalism that has brought Trump (and now his crony friends at Treasury or Commerce) to the center stage.

I will finish with insights from a book on social movements and the politics of security in the Global South. Paul Amar’s book The Security Archipelago[2] invites the readers to go beyond the now ubiquitous critique of neoliberalism. In analyzing the transformation of protests in Cairo and Rio de Janeiro, Amar show how certain subjects (often women or sexual minorities) are said to be in need of security governance in the name of culture or the protection of “authenticity”. Thus, from the 1980s to the early 2000s, we moved from a neoliberal perspective geared at market-driven production of individualist consumers, to what he terms post-neoliberal human security governance. Thus instead of an effort by neoliberal policies to cover the entire globe, post-neoliberal ideas concentrate on isolated spots (hence the idea of archipelago in the book’s title) in which the securitization of subjects via new morality discourses comes to be deployed by a bizarre coalition of non-state and state actors. Public contestations over the limits of urban sexuality become a factor justifying securitization, according to Amar.

Looking at Trump’s nationalistic, bombastic law-and-order approach to governance, we may wonder if we are seeing the same transformation that Amar describes in his book, namely racialized and sexualized subjects that “need” evangelical humanitarian crusading, and the intervention of security or paramilitary groups, with the hidden or indirect blessing of a patriarchal political figure.

Let me conclude with two last statements.

First: More than future foreign policies, the disaster is the symbolic legitimation of violence against Muslims, people of color, foreigners and sexual minorities that Trump’s victory triggered.

Second: Let us not limit our discussion of the threat of Trump to only one issue. Only a few groups have understood the necessity of creating cross-cutting alliances rather than an ominous retreat to a single issue (defense of sexual minorities; of black lives; of women’s right to their body; environment; or of academic freedom, etc.). This is where the power of organization and the power to coordinate a long-term response matter. Confronting Trump and his allies means learning from people’s struggles internationally, making allies, and working in solidarity.

Footnotes

[1] http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/25456/schadenfreude-circa-2016

[2] AMAR Paul, 2013. The Security Archipelago: Human-Security States, Sexuality Politics, and the End of Neoliberalism, see: https://www.dukeupress.edu/the-security-archipelago

Also for you:

Benoit Challand

Previous post

The Tweets of a Clown, When No One Is Around

Next post

Politics of Small Things