The US is facing its own ‘American Spring’

opinion November 12, 2016 01:00

By Pornpimol Kanchanalak
Special to The Nation

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The triumph of Donald Trump in the US presidential election was widely unexpected as much as the victory of President Barack Obama in 2008. But its nature and reactions could not be more starkly different.



In 2008, the prevalent response to the victory of the first Black president was that of joyful pride – “Isn’t America a great country?” The world was in awe.

On November 8 evening, many rational Americans were seriously pondering about buying one-way tickets to somewhere else in the world. Reactions to the word “President-elect Trump” ranged from “Don’t call him president, it’s gross”, to “Now the country belongs to the deplorable”. Thomas Friedman of the New York Times penned an op-ed entitled “Homeless in America” on the morning after.

While the Obama win was taken as a testimony of how great democracy in America worked, Trump’s victory was taken as how democracy had failed America.

Islamic State supporters were among the first to issue a reaction to the Trump victory. “The world is on the verge of exploding,” they said. “Trump will put the final nail in the coffin of America” and “this stupid who came to power will push the button of defeat”. The reason? These supporters explained that Trump’s absolute control and Islamophobia would lead to the demise of America versus the ISIS. One ISIS spokesman once wrote that he had asked Allah to deliver America to Trump.” In fact, ISIS supporters with their sophisticated social network were working to drum up support for the candidate it had called “The Perfect Enemy”.

Meanwhile, on election night in California, anti-Trump protests broke out. Demonstrators set fire to a likeness of Trump, smashed storefront windows and set garbage and tyres on fire in downtown Oakland, across the bay from San Francisco. A few miles away, University of California, Berkeley students protested on campus. They chanted, “You are not America, we are.” In New York, the opposite side of the coast, people took to the street. Protests continued for days after the November 8 election that made Trump the US president-elect. 

Around the world, the reactions range from unease, to confusion, to disdain, to gripping anxiety, and to fear of disastrous times ahead in terms of the world order. Trump’s victory caught many of the world leaders off guard. They were totally unprepared. Even China, which knows full well how vital a role the US could play in the region, was facing the one element it was not prepared to embrace – a surprise. In response, it curiously issued a statement criticising Trump for one of his less obnoxious stances – climate change. A sarcastic prognostication in Asia was that Trump would negotiate a clear demarcation of the sphere of influence with China in Southeast Asia, not unlike the pact between Spain and Portugal during the colonial era that divided the world into two pieces of pie – one belonged to Spain and the other to Portugal. Neither side would cross that line of separation and everything worked fine. Both were free to pursue their utmost exploitation of their respective “territories”. As for Japan, it’s conceivable that President Trump would tell Tokyo that if it still wants US presence, it would have to pay for it. Countries around the world have begun to research who in Trump’s inner circle influences his foreign policies. So far, they have no clues, no leads. The fact is there is no one. To date, the only person running the whole show is Donald Trump. One sure thing is his children would be a power bloc. In the White House, there could be two first ladies –Melania, and Ivanka. 

How did the US get to this unimaginable point?

If one looks for the common denominator of what Trump called his “movement”, one would find one glaring common thread in all his pronouncements — discontent, hatred and racism, and the three are not mutually exclusive. These three brutes have been rearing their ugly heads throughout the tenure of the Obama administration out of plain sight. It is like the highly combustible methane bubbles lying beneath the dense pack of ice in the arctic. No one paid attention to the existence of these bubbles until the thinning of ice exposed them to plain sight. All of a sudden, we saw them, not one or two, but thousands and thousands. All of a sudden, they are everywhere.

David Duke, the de facto leader of the Ku Klux Klan, celebrated Trump’s ascension to the White House. He called it a great victory for “our people”. He had disappeared from the social and political scene for years until now.

Trump’s constituents comprise a band of discontented people. Their votes were against something big and small, sound and absurd. But they were votes of rebellion. Together, they represented what could be called the “American Spring”, similar to the Arab Spring that started in 2010 and ended up leading to disastrous end results in many countries such as Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Libya, Sudan.

As the United States is now called Divided States, the Trump phenomenon could be the US’ second revolution.

If one has a hard time finding a redeeming quality in the homophobic 70-year-old businessman who has evaded taxes for decades and is proud of it, one who Michael Bloomberg called a “con man”, one who lives in a gold-plated apartment and flies in a gold-plated plane, one who equates trash talk with straight talk, one will find his/her place in the crowd of the defeated majority. As for Americans, it may be apt to quote HL Mencken (1880-1956), an American journalist and satirist:

“As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

Ladies and gentleman, the president of the United States...

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