A beautiful, ugly thing

Published November 13, 2016

“EVERYTHING burns,” says the Joker in the Dark Knight, a bit of modern-day American film lore.

Closer to the American political experience, there’s a favourite invocation of gun-rights activists and the like:

The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.

America has its patriot-tyrant.

It seems impossible. This is no Brexit. This is no Erdogan or Sisi. This is no French Le Pen or Hungarian Orban. This is America.

Even if you don’t believe in the shining-city-upon-a-hill exaggeratedness, you can’t be anything but astounded. Even if you don’t care about politics, you know you have to pay heed.

What will he do and what will it mean? Who the hell knows.

There is a near perfect correlation between those fear-mongering right now and the ones who thought victory was never possible.

Trump could wreck the world, unleashing the American military leviathan, but is it obvious that he will?

This, after all, is the candidate who crushed the latest Bush by excoriating the Iraq war as a disaster and calling his brother a liar.

And it’s not like the Republican establishment is in thrall to a cabal looking for expansive military adventures. If anything, no to endless wars is a standard Republican talking point.

Trump could wreck the world, unleashing the American military leviathan, but is it obvious that he will?

So there may be arrogance, but there aren’t obvious signs of foreign adventurism. Indeed, there is the counter-intuitive possibility: what if he turns out to be too much like Obama?

The over-cautious, over-correcting Obama who allowed vacuums to appear in some places. And in other places, the plain incompetent Obama.

Iraq will forever be Bush’s millstone, but Obama has a pretty ignominious record in Afghanistan — bizarrely, from every possible side.

It was Obama who ratcheted up American troops in Afghanistan to their highest-ever number — thrice the number under Bush’s forgotten war.

That went nowhere and, arguably, Obama himself ensured it would go nowhere by announcing his surge-and-exit plan in 2009.

Perhaps that wasn’t so bad — give the military what it wants before allowing the White House to assert its own vision — but it turned out to be terrible because there was no vision on Afghanistan.

No reasonable person can look at what Obama has tried in Afghanistan since the surge and claim that it has the semblance of a strategy or plan.

And then there are the real disasters, places like Libya and Syria.

There the Obama record has been even worse: not just changing his mind once, but seemingly changing his mind all the time.

Assad is out; Assad can stay. We’re going to fight IS, we’re going to fight the other groups; no, wait, we’re going to try something else.

And Libya is a horror show, one only fathomable because of the readymade blame on the tinderbox of tribal rivalries that Qadhafi suppressed for long. But even then, it borders on the unfathomable.

So, yeah, Trump may prove to be like a predecessor, but maybe just not the one that may immediately seem obvious.

There is, though, an obvious Trumpian danger: another 9/11-type attack on American soil.

There too, from an external, non-American perspective, Trump’s disregard for civil liberties and the determination to strengthen the steel cage that is the security net over the homeland may be a boon.

It may, in fact, further lower the possibility of another 9/11 inside America.

But no one thought 9/11 was possible until 9/11 happened and the determination of the militant enemy, whether homegrown or foreign-born, means the risk will never approach zero.

Trump confronted by a wild moment may turn out to be unhinged in response. And the world is a small place when the American leviathan stamps around in a rage.

So, if the right fears aren’t necessarily immediately obvious, could Trump prove to be a surprise in other areas?

Again, who knows.

But it is possible to separate some of the early noise. Trump could be divisive for America, but divisiveness in America is not fuelled by one side alone.

Well-meaning as it may be — though not necessarily and automatically so — liberal America has wielded its inclusive ideology as a stick with which to beat non-liberal America.

It ought to be obvious, but liberalism is not ecumenical — the diversity liberal America has embraced is built on a mocking disdain for conservative values and conservative America.

It is often dressed up as well-thought-out and superior, but often the liberal champions of, say, non-white America and multiculturalism are dismissive of red America as nothing more than racist know-nothings. Conservative America knows this.

Forget all the numbers and the electoral minutiae for a moment. Trump will be the next president of America because chunks of a so-called blue wall of Democratic states voted for him.

States that twice voted for a black man over conservative white men in the previous two elections.

The hideous screams and bleak ululating since Trump won have not obscured that basic fact — that whatever the racial component of Trump’s campaign, he didn’t win because of race.

If anything, Trump won for some of the reasons Obama won in 2008: America wanted change from a divisive president who could only deliver anaemic economic growth.

And therein lies possibly the greatness of it all.

Among the seeming bleakness, there is an unchanging reality that even Trump must know: if he doesn’t deliver, the very voter who has swept him to power will unceremoniously kick him to the kerb.

Democracy: it’s a beautiful, ugly thing.

The writer is a member of staff.


Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn November 13th, 2016



Updated 19 May, 2022

To be or not to be

The same decision taken weeks or months from now will have far more devastating consequences.
19 May, 2022

Impact on Punjab

THE Supreme Court judgement interpreting the issue of disqualification of parliamentarians under Article 63A of the...
19 May, 2022

Forest fires

THOUGH spot and forest fires have become a perennial phenomenon especially in peak summer, the recent blazes —...
18 May, 2022

SC on defections

THE judgement is monumental and will significantly influence Pakistani politics for years to come. After a nearly...
18 May, 2022

Karachi blast

THE frequency of urban terrorism incidents over the past few weeks in Karachi should send alarm bells ringing within...
18 May, 2022

Threats to Imran Khan

IT seems there is never a dull moment in Imran Khan’s life. First, it was a cabal of local and international...