The Trump Presidency: A landmark in the History of America’s Right
The Trump Presidency: A landmark in the History of America’s Right
The history of the US is full of exceptional events and personalities. On the other hand, there have also been many names which became hostage to historical circumstances that would redefine priorities and develop new concepts.
Since the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, many great American politicians such as Henry Clay, William Jennings Bryan, and Adlai Stevenson failed to win the Presidency; while others of lesser qualities, like John Tyler and Warren Harding, managed to occupy the White House, thanks either to certain circumstances or political deals.
Of course, there is no unanimity on rating leaders or their terms in office; as analysts may have their own political preferences and bias, while it is difficult to pass and justify judgements and excuses. Still among the leading criteria to judge the success or failure of any president is the enduring significance of his achievements or the changes he effected during his term in office.
Well, here some might point out to the fact that there were periods when certain partisan viewpoints dominated the political culture, and influenced it. As an example, we note that period when three consecutive Republicans (Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover) occupied the White House. This happened between the end of WW1 and 1933, including the Great Depression period, between the terms of two Democratic Presidents, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
That was a period of inward looking, strident laissez faire economics, and harsh pragmatism, as opposed to the policy of openness and international involvement of Wilson and FDR. However, the Great Depression rearranged the priorities and necessitated the New Deal in its first (1933-1934) and second (1935-1936) parts; which helped compensate the painful results of the Depression. Later on, WW2 justified cementing the social safety net, and strengthening anti-trust policies.
Indeed, after WW2, the US lived through three political climates:
1- Increased internal fear of Communist threat as a result of the ascendancy of the USSR, and the emergence of China as a Communist giant in East Asia. This fear gave rise to the extreme rightwing populist phenomenon of ‘McCarthyism’ (named after the Wisconsin senator Joseph McCarthy), with all its cultural and social repercussions.
2- The same fear was reflected on the international scene through the ‘Cold War’ that resulted in the ‘Policy of Containment’ built around three pacts or ‘belts’ created to contain the spread of the perceived Communist threat through security treaties with anti-Communist regimes. They were: SEATO in South East Asia, CENTO (formerly the Baghdad Pact) in the Middle East, and NATO in Europe.
3- In conjunction with the above, and influenced by the Korean War, the US decided to economically and industrially rehabilitate Japan, its devastated old war enemy, in order to help in confronting the rise of Communist China.
The extreme right, of which McCarthyism was the most salient example, demonized American liberals and intellectuals many of whom were ruthlessly accused of being Communist sympathizers.
Among those targeted were many Jews, Afro-Americans and members of other minorities. But in the opposite direction, a broad, progressive and liberal interest-based coalition was gaining momentum; materializing in the Civil Rights Movement, which helped turning party politics in the states of the ‘Old South’ upside down.
Historically, the Democratic Party was the stronger party in the South, but the American Civil War in which Abraham Lincoln, a Republican President, defeated the Southern Confederates, virtually decimated the Republicans, and turned the South into a Democratic bastion for many decades.
However, from the early 1950s, and later thanks to the Democrats’ nationwide support of the Civil Rights Movement, under the leadership of President John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, and the increased awareness and activism of the Afro-Americans, the situation radically changed. Conservative Southern Democrats began to leave in droves their now ‘too liberal’ party, and join the Republican Party. Indeed, the Southern states which gave the Democrats three out of their last four presidents (Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton) are now safe Republican strongholds.
This trend has continued throughout the last few decades, as the Republican Party becoming the platform of the Conservatives and right-wingers, while the Democratic Party became the natural home for Liberals and even left-leaning Socialists. This culminated in the election of Barack Obama, as the first Afro-American president, for two consecutive terms.
Yet, during the same period, a new kind of fear began to appear, fueled, in part, by Obama’s presidency and his national and international policies. But as important, were other factors:
1- The rapid advance of globalization that has shaken many Americans’ trust in the free movement of goods and services.
2- The fast growing ‘New Technologies’ with their apocalyptic threat to old jobs and practices; particularly, to unskilled labor.
3- The demographic change which is expected to turn the White Christian European-Americans majority into a minority in the US. In the meantime, the new majority is expected to consist of the Hispanics, Afro-Americans and Asian Americans; who now already form a sizable percentage of populations in the country’s three most populous states: California, Texas and Florida.
This new fear felt by White Christian European-Americans, particularly, the unskilled and lesser-educated, has recently found those who exploit, harness and market it. Then, along came Donald Trump to carry it to the highest national political platforms.
Next November’s US elections will be another test of how strong is the base created and given a political voice by this fear. It is the ideological and interest-linked base that made Trump, not made by him. This is very similar to the base of fighting ‘the Evil Empire’ that created Ronald Reagan’s legacy, and the ‘neo-con’ school that created George W Bush’s.
Before the 2016 elections, few Americans expected a Trump victory. However, when said that he can shoot someone in Fifth Avenue and still not lose, Trump showed that he knew precisely what his voters were. He knew how they think, perceive things and react; and so he knew how to talk to them and what to tell and prompt them.
This is why Trump’s opponents within the Republican Party collapsed, as proven by the successes of his candidate in most primaries, in a populist wave that made light even the threat of Covid-19 and Trump’s bad handling of the pandemic.
On the other hand, the Democratic Party, divided between traditional liberals and up and coming Leftists – who emerged with Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign – can do nothing but mobilize its voters to defeat Trump rather than secure victory for their candidate Joe Biden in November.