In Trump We Trust

Creating a myth around Donald Trump is among the most dangerous US political phenomena

09:00 | 22 март 2024
Обновен: 10:38 | 29 март 2024
Снимка: Bloomberg LP
Снимка: Bloomberg LP


By Iskren Ivanov

The Trump phenomenon – this is how his voters call him, perceiving the figure of the American businessman as the new Reagan. The comparison is, nonetheless, as inappropriate as equating President Joe Biden with his precursor from the Cold War era John Kennedy.

The main harm of such comparisons comes from the fact that they place the political figures in geopolitical situations which are fundamentally different. As if common American citizens were to ask themselves today ‘How would Reagan or Kennedy act, if they were in the White House?’.

Whatever the answer might be, it would be just an assumption without any possible empiric grounds. That’s why creating a myth around Donald Trump is among the most dangerous political phenomena in the US. It encourages his supporters and the slogan they have embraced – Make America Great Again – to lead the USA towards nationalism which has always been foreign to the world’s most developed democracy. It is foreign, because the unique US political model doesn’t differentiate American citizens on the grounds of their skin color or religious beliefs. It just ensures that laws are followed equally by all and that the rule of law works. These aspects, however, are somehow missing from the overblown and passionate Trump’s speeches.

Why is, then, the American businessman so successful? What makes so many people back him for running for US President? Is it the Dem’s fault or is it just a matter of charisma? Has, after all, populism made its way into American democracy which has long stood the ground against these influences in the free democratic world? The November elections shall definitely answer these questions, at least in part.

Trump’s rise: logic and paradox. Donald Trump first entered the public space thanks to the former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich. In 2016, while Trump and Hilary Clinton were competing for the presidency, in a long interview Gingrich described Trump as “a unique phenomenon in American politics, for the first time in decades”. His words had a huge echo in Republican circles and made many of them put their trust in the Trumpist fraction, as they considered Gingrich’s assessment constructive, on the grounds of his political experience. In this respect, the rise of Trump within the Republican Party was a paradox, given that some of his supporters refused to face the truth and to recognize that the time had come for the GOP to nominate an African American candidate, a woman, or at least another experienced political figure of the Veteran environment, such as the Senator Mitt Romney.

The Party chose the classic Anglo-Saxon candidate, instead, who would bring his voters nostalgic memories of the Cold War, the time when the older generation of Americans were young. What was paradoxical about it was that by blessing Trump the Republicans placed their national interests above US unity. And it reflected disastrously on American political years in the following years.

The second reason behind the rise of Trump is the Dem’s strategic approach and, most of all, the ex-President Barack Obama’s rhetoric. A charismatic politician and loyal supporter of the Neo-liberal wing, Obama focused a big share of his efforts on strengthening the health system, creating mechanisms of social security and spending big money to calm down inflation.

Although effective, these measures had a wide negative influence among the US society. The president was consistently referred to as “Obama the socialist” who came to destroy the American market model. Most of the people in the US seemed reluctant to get europeanized and more prone to put a stake at the self-regulation of the market as a sacred principle of American economy. This is how support for the Neo-conservative wings of the Reps returned and Dems were trapped in a political situation where the only exit seemed to be to nominee a woman like Hilary Clinton for the election.

Analogically, the foreign policy of Obama administration followed the pattern of semi-isolation. To prove the latter we can mention different events, such as the Russian annexation of Crimea; the chaotic withdrawal from Iraq which led to the birth of ISIS; the tensions with China, after granting them the opportunity to buy American Foreign Debt; and the loss of key trading positions in Africa which allowed Beijing to buy a big part of the ports on the continent. This withdrawal of the USA from global politics upset many Democratic lobbies who perceived that Obama was stepping back from the Neo-liberal model of Fukuyama. Hilary Clinton was among the disappointed and decided to ride the wave by promising that as president she would balance between the global engagement of Washington and the issues that common Americans face. The division peak was reached in 2015 when the US Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage which allowed it on federal level. Despite welcoming this action in front of their supporters, in order to not lose votes, many Democrats consider Obama’s decision to turn his back to foreign policy in favor of domestic issues to be a mistake.

All in all, Barack Obama’s policy met an ideological opposition from the conservative wing, especially after he refused to support Israel against the then raising Hamas and Hezbollah. This situation also reinforced Trump’s positions because of his remarkably good relationship with Benjamin Netanyahu and his strong criticism of the USA losing their positions because of global elites embodied by families such as the Clintons. American conservatives, tired of Obama’s liberal approach and of the crash of the trust in Washington, liked the populist rhetoric. Therefore, it was only logical for Trump to gain their Republicans’ and their voters’ sympathy, while more valuable pretenders, such as Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, were isolated and labeled as “globalists” and part of Clinton’s peer, according to Trump himself. The Republican Party tightened around this consensus and the idea that Trump was the way towards victory on the 2016 presidential election.

In this sense, the reasons behind Trump’s success are both paradoxical – for the Reps – and logical – as a result of Dem’s policy. That’s why Trump lost the vote of voters but won the vote of the Electoral College. The political status quo that he fought against was actually on his side, while voters preferred Hilary Clinton. Trump’s victory opened a long period of political turmoil which escalated with the assault of the Capitol in 2021.

Trump’s two percent – the golden key to the disunity of NATO. One of the golden principles of American foreign policy say that the US global leadership is based on a system of alliances created after the World War II. It’s easy to occupy and subordinate a country, if you’re stronger. What is hard is to earn and keep its trust. It took Americans several decades to realize it, before Europe’s light was shut down by the fire of the world wars. Thus, the USA decided to count on system of alliances to ensure the continuous American influence in global aspect, all guaranteed by the non-usage of nuclear weapons.

Out of all alliances in which the USA participates, NATO is the example of how two continents with shared values can guarantee mutually their security without starting conflicts with third parties. Long story short, NATO is a defense union which symbolizes the American global influence. Without the Alliance the US future would be similar to the late 19th century when Washington was fighting against Spain for the colonies in Latin America. That’s why Trump focuses on NATO in his rallies.

It’s worth noting that Trump won in 2016 not only because of paradox or logic. It was conquered in the context of strong Russian hybrid attack which aimed at dividing the public opinion on the eve of the election day and at confusing the voters. This fact is now recognized not only by the Dems but also by many powerful Reps, not supportive of Trump’s actions. We don’t mean a hacker attack or a cyberattack of the voting process itself, of course. There are no evidences thereto. But many American politics do believe that the Russian activity from this period has definitely helped Trump win the presidency. Objectively speaking, suggesting that a country is going to hell and needs a radical change does indeed result in radicalizing those groups who want change. There are plenty of them in the US because of a very simple reason – the decline of the middle class and the concentration of intellectual elite made up of informed voters, in the North-East Coast. Trump emerged as President from this disunity and led the country towards confrontation with Europe and China.

Another important point we need to make is that the principle of the shared burden is not Trumpist. It has rather been followed by each US administration after the end of the Cold War. Bill Clinton spoke about shared burden after the Yugoslavian crisis; so did George Bush-Junior after the 9/11 terrorist attacks; Barack Obama did it after the operation in Syria, while Joe Biden mentioned it as early as campaigning. Sharing financial costs, however, shouldn’t come at the price of US support which is – according to Biden himself – a sacred obligation pursuant to Art. 5 of the Washington Treaty.

The shared burden has always been a goal before Europe, in order to develop its defense forces in the frame of NATO. For Trump, it was pure political extortion of European allies who should either pay the whole check, or fight Russia on their own. This last statement of the ex-president does not only undermine the Euro-Atlantic union but it also destroys US reputation abroad. Many Japanese and South Korean political figures announced that they would stop relying exclusively to the USA for their defense, if the Republicans win the presidency. This can be a huge stroke for Washington, given that, unlike the East Coast, the West Coast is not as well-protected, especially considering the rise of China.

The big issue before the Republicans is related to the silent support granted to Trump by politicians like Mitch McConnell and Ron Paul. It creates the risk that the Elephants’ position is understood as putting the own political positions of the party before the national interest. The very fact that the US Congress adopted a law which bans the President from withdrawing the country from NATO unilaterally means that the Republicans still agree on the fact that America shouldn’t leave Europe alone. If Trump wins the election, however, it would be bad news for the Republicans themselves, since they will have to choose between their own interest and the political unity of America. For the last time, Abraham Lincoln had to make such a choice and, despite of being the most popular US political figure, he paid for the unity with his life. Nowadays, American political reality is pretty different from Lincoln’s times, though.

The next president’s choice regarding the foreign policy shall be more complicated than the decision of Lincoln. The new head of state shall have to decide whether to defend the US status of a superpower by preserving the alliances. Trump says that his policy would follow this line, but his actions show the opposite. It would be naive to believe that he would go back to isolation because he was the one who fired two missiles at Syria when Russia appeared in the region. But Trump’s strategy is far away from the rational thought which characterized ex-presidents Eisenhower and Reagan, for instance, or diplomats of the level of Henry Kissinger or Robert McNamara.

It is hard to explain it all by suggesting that Trump is a “man of Russia” or a “KGB agent” in the USA. It is more about the lack of political experience and the dire need of Trump himself to show that he deserves to be president and is able to win the competition. Those effects are psychological and are well described in the American professor Robert Jervis’s book How Statesmen Think. He states that egoism can be a very powerful factor for political inclinations which might result in a series of wrong decisions and a crash of influence of a country. The “Trump phenomenon” represents these dynamics at the threshold of the US election.

Tucker Carlson and Vladimir Putin. Only a year ago American viewers could read Tucker Carlson’s comments where he openly declared that he hated Trump and considered him a futile opportunist. Only months after Carlson went through a serious career upheaval as a journalist, things changed because he needed some political support in order to continue working. This is how he became one of the main supporters of Donald Trump and adopted his strategy to get closer to Russia against China. To make it even more gripping, Carlson decided to interview the Russian president Vladimir Putin – a well-known approach of the other camp which wants to “hear the opposite point of view”.

The interview – a monologue of the Russian president to be honest – showed Carlson what it is like to negotiate with Putin, giving him valuable political experience which few American presidents have had. It started with a long history lesson for Carlson which made Tucker look like the typical American who hadn’t studied anything about Russia or Eastern Europe at school.

Hence, the Russian president first humiliated Carlson and then tried to impose his own belief that America cannot understand Russia because… it doesn’t want to, and because Americans don’t know the history of the region. The fact that the historical review of how Ukraine appeared took half of the conversation and began with the conversion of the Kievan Rus to Christianity in the 9th century reveals that Putin just wanted to demonstrate his power by showing that there are two points of view – his own and the American one. Europe was part of the conversation only formally.

This leads us to the second moment which hurtfully coincides with the perspective of some American researchers, such as John Mearsheimer who believes that the expansion of NATO led to the Russian reaction. Even if Carlson is ill prepared in geopolitics, he is supposed to know that the USA never promised Russia that the Alliance was not going to expand. Shortly after Moscow attacked Ukraine, ex-President Bill Clinton reminded the world about his agreement with Boris Yeltsin that all the countries from the region would be free to define their own geopolitical development independently. Furthermore, the Maltese Consensus did not stop Bulgaria or Romania from joining NATO. The very well-known narrative was omnipresent in Putin’s answers which shows that the Russian government is firmly convinced in being right, so it doesn’t admit any dialogue on the topic.

The third conclusion from the interview is that Russia being prone to negotiate with the USA is based on a compromise which would impose returning to NATO’s borders from 1997. Thus, a wide buffer zone would be established, covering Central and Eastern Europe. However, the interview doesn’t mention any guarantees that this zone wouldn’t face the Ukrainian destiny soon after. On the contrary, Tucker Carlson listened obediently to all Putin’s accusations that Washington controls all media and influences Russia, too. These statements were backed by the Eurasian idea that America is a land of darkness and Russia – the land of light; that Russian culture is a culture of spirit, and American culture is material only; that the USA control global agenda and impose it on everybody else.

To conclude, this interview didn’t provide any new information nor did it dispute any previous Russian thesis. The good news is that a big part of what Putin said has nothing to do with the rhetoric of Trump. The bad news is that Europe can’t predict how far Trump can go in getting closer to Moscow in order to stop the rise of China. And even if the exit of the USA from NATO seems impossible because of the legal guarantees approved by the Congress, the option of Washington not supporting an ally would mean a crash of the global trust in the USA.

Analogically, the UK is losing an important part of their allies who see that putting a person or a territory Under British Protection doesn’t guarantee safety anymore. That’s why the options before the USA is clear – either to keep its statute of a superpower by guaranteeing the relations with the allies, or to sacrifice it for the sake of an abstract greatness promised by Trump.

THE BOTTOM LINE The paradox consists in that by blessing Trump the Republicans place their domestic political interests above the US unity.