Trump Cards and Trump Questions

12 Nov 2016

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It is rather surreal when one thinks about it - how deeply something that is happening on the other end of the world can affect the rest of it.

After all, an American election, while of deep consequence, should not take precedence over the myriad of problems that we are surrounded by every day as Pakistanis.

But there’s the rub, America’s not supposed to have our kind of problems and yet it seems that one of the greatest realisations 2016 is leaving the world with is that power, profit and prejudice operate the same everywhere.

This US election and the campaign that preceded it tells us a lot about America and Americans. Primarily, that what America thinks it is and what it actually is, are two very different things.

The rest of the world has known this for a while but Americans are generally blind to the fact. Donald Trump apparently knew this better than anyone has been able to give him credit for.

Let’s be honest, there is a tiny part in all of us that loves to hate America.

Perhaps it is an impulse born of imperialist aggression or perhaps it is a result of resentment spurred on by constant bombardment of a culture we are not privy to but over-exposed to.

Perhaps it is because all of us around the world are always on the outside looking in at America when the latter barely ever look out at us unless it wants something.

But our ‘hate’ is relative, certainly not more powerful than our ‘want’.

That side in all of us that jumps through hoops and stands in countless lines for a US visa. I know countless people in Pakistan who casually wanted Trump to win this election because they felt America ‘had it coming’.

I admit, I’ve fluctuated on that position myself, mostly because like everyone else, I never really thought it could happen and it felt good to poke fun at the country that feels the world owes it its existence.

Then, last month I received PhD funding to study Gender in the United States and suddenly it mattered very much who America elected. I could no longer focus on some misguided, symbolic sense of payback that the American people would suffer for the sins of their government.

This presidential election was about many things – Race, Class, Religion, the Democratic Model, Gender but above all, it was about Anger.

An anger that exists around the world and that the liberals of the world have long been ignoring at their peril. It is naiveté bordering on negligence when educated individuals pretend that switching up the status quo won’t have consequences.

This is not to say that one must not still push to do so but that we need to be responsible in how we do. It was naïve to assume that a country that calls its seat of power ‘The White House’ would collectively embrace its first black president without any backlash - or as CNN analyst Van Jones put it - ‘Whitelash’.

It is equally naïve to assume that men who are perpetually bombarded with images of women as sex objects, comfortable with a culture of rampant sexism and misogyny, will suddenly ignore the optics and begin to take them seriously in leadership roles.

When camps prevail instead of conversations and labels rule in place of logic - both liberals and conservatives in any society become culpable. Perhaps not equally so but everyone is answerable.

One thing this election proves is that a culture of navel-gazing has gone global, where liberals and conservatives simply cannot seek any common ground and essentially speak only to and among themselves.

It began with Modi’s win in India, then Brexit and now Trump.

This is no longer a fluke, it is a trend and we ignore the rise of intolerance around us at our own peril.

The world is collectively trying to pursue progressive ideals on human rights, immigration, climate change and gender concerns - naturally, these positions disturb the status quo. It is understandable that they will invite resistance from vested interests on every side.

The idea that one can power through that resentment is no longer feasible and left-leaning liberals need to recognise that some kind of dialogue needs to be maintained with people who we blindly disagree with.

And given the nature of the divide, it will have to be liberals who open this line of communication.

There are many answers being touted about as to why Trump won in spite of all the odds, those odds being experience, competence, coherence and basic decency to name a few.

Personally, I find that this is a better time for some uncomfortable questions.

Trump is an answer to many things, the worst possible answer but an answer nonetheless.

There is the basic question of Gender and misogyny. And while I do not hold that Hillary Clinton lost this election purely because she was a woman, I certainly believe Trump won it because he was a man.

That is to say, that Donald Trump managed to get away with the things he said and did because of an institutionalised patriarchy and baseline misogyny that exists at the heart of male privilege.

However, the sheer fact that over half the population of white women were able to overlook his comments and history on sexual assault shows that women too can be sexist if and when it serves their interests.

On one hand, structurally speaking, it is very important for women to be in leadership roles and in that sense Hillary Clinton’s win would have created opportunities, opened doors and shattered proverbial glass ceilings.

That said, while it is important for women to be in leadership roles, which women are in those roles is equally important.

Setting a feminist precedent doesn’t occur in a vacuum, and the wrong woman in a presidential role could just as easily hold women back than pull them forward. After all, there are many countries that have had female heads of state; Pakistan has had one serve twice.

Having a female Prime Minister did not collectively further the cause of women’s rights in our country. The optics of having Benazir Bhutto in office mattered, obviously they did, but not enough.

There are also questions of Race and Religion. These are issues the entire world is struggling with and back tracking on – immigration, Islam and inclusivity. Trump just accelerated that process by tapping into existing phobic rhetoric. In some ways, he ran such a viciously racist and xenophobic campaign that it made it easier for everyone else to be openly intolerant.

That’s the problem with a ‘nasty’ famous person at the helm, they can hold the baton on bigotry and others need only walk behind them or surreptitiously take to the ballot box in support.

There are questions about the Democratic model itself and the role of the Media as the fourth estate. The power of the vote is considered borderline sacred in a contemporary context and rightly so.

However, recent polling has demonstrated the fact that democracy is not always entirely egalitarian; the contemporary one-person, one-vote model was designed with a ‘certain person’ in mind. One who was capable of voting independently rather than being manipulated or mandated to do so.

The ideal of fairness necessitates that if we are all equal we must all have an equal voice - that same fairness also demands that we receive equal access to education, healthcare, public goods and basic necessities so that voice counts.

When we don’t, there will always be people voting out of sheer desperation, banking on promises made by politicians offering them the bare minimum that is their right by positing it as a luxury.

We all must have the right to choose our leaders but we all must also be empowered to make those choices. One of those rights is access to information that is not doctored or directed by vested interests, where presidential candidates face equal scrutiny and the press is not allowed to play a public to its own prejudices.

At the end of polling on November 8th, this election boiled down to questions of Class.

It is not uncommon for matters of money to become the basis for radical changes. Trump appealed to the rage of the white, middle class that has been abandoned by a partisan, elitist system and it was a powerful message.

Bernie Sanders had previously appealed to the same group but he was as much of a Left outlier as Trump was a Right one to sway the Democratic National Convention (DNC) out of its own vested interest in a seasoned Washington Hawk like Clinton.

This election left everyone with very few grey zones – it was Blue versus Red all the way. A polling of absolutes prevailed and therein lays the problem for both America and the rest of the world.

Perhaps we’re all being alarmist. We don’t know what a Trump presidency would look like for the US or the world but we do know what the man himself has said he wants it to look like. And that’s pretty scary.

Pakistan knows better than most countries how deeply the rise of an absolute voice can change the course of history. But then again, we did not elect Zia-ul-Haq into office.

When opposing camps view each other as enemies just because they have different ideas of progress it divides society at a fundamental level that is fast becoming standardised around the world.

Trump is a cautionary tale – and I have no vested interest in painting a happy face on fascism and making him look like less of a problem than he is.

However, the real problem we all face is that the world is getting smaller and louder at the same time and the last refuge of champions of the status quo resisting inevitable changes is always anger.