K. RAZI NAQVI | 6 DECEMBER, 2016
A pregnant political motto works like a dose of soma, described in the Brave New World as a “euphoric, narcotic, pleasantly hallucinant [with] all the advantages of Christianity and alcohol [but] none of their defects”. Slogans and catchphrases attract supporters to rallies, entice them into believing blatant lies and deriving gratification from a shared hatred of those who are animated by a rival slogan.
The great divide between Trump, the champion of change, and the status-quo candidate Clinton was reflected also in their slogans, with Trump yelling “make America great again” and Clinton claiming that “America is [already] great because America is good”. There is as much humbug in these words as in their Islamic counterparts. An ISIS fighter burns, beheads, and enslaves infidels for the sake of making Islam great again, and a non-violent Muslim dissociates himself from such ferocious believers by insisting that Islam, since it requires submission to Allah (who is great and compassionate and merciful), cannot be but great and good. The complacence of peaceable ostriches (of either feather) might be mildly amusing, but the intransigence of the cut-throats is truly frightening.
What might we reasonably expect during Trump’s tenure at the White House? He has proved to be so fickle that no one would like to make a definite prediction, but no soothsayer should hesitate to consider two extremes or poles of possibilities, let the stream of time run its course, and see, after four years have flown by, where lies the performance of the 45th president. Before presenting the opposite poles, I must go over some preliminary questions and observations.
Donald Trump portrayed present day USA as a country reeking with failed institutions and rampant corruption; this resonated with tens of millions of Americans, especially the “new poor” among the white, who felt that America, whether a defunct state or not, had failed them, and that only Trump could make it great again. Bernie Sanders, for his part, simulated the effect of repeated blows of a hammer by speaking, in rally after rally, of broken this and broken that: “a broken criminal justice system”, “a broken health care system”, “a broken educational system”, “a broken financial system”. Even Jill Stein (http://edition.cnn.com/2016/06/22/politics/jill-stein-green-presidential-candidate/) insisted that “if we are going to fix the rigged economy we need to fix our broken political system”. As for the tax system, everyone found out, after the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/02/us/politics/donald-trump-taxes.html) leaked Trump’s tax returns for 1995, that the system was not just broken, but utterly pulverized, and fixing it would be no easier than resurrecting a body from its mortal remains at the crematorium. In contrast, Hillary Clinton put a brave face on things, probably more as a matter of tactics than out of conviction.
Clinton complained (http://edition.cnn.com/2016/10/10/politics/second-presidential-debate-international-issues/): “We have never in the history of our country been in a situation where an adversary, a foreign power, is working so hard to influence the outcome of the election.” Her sanctimonious indignation might have misled the uninformed into thinking that America regards it a mortal sin to deny voters in other countries the right to conduct free and fair elections.
The fourth and last word in Trump’s slogan (namely, “again”) implies that the preceding word “great” does not mean “militarily strong”, for America is already a mighty nation, the only superpower, as a matter of fact. The phrase “make America great”, whether followed by “again” or not, makes sense only if “great” is to be equated with “good”, and interpreted in conformity with the notion of “the Great Society” that was explicated, and partly put into action, by a former American president (see below). Should you disagree with his vision (which happens to be mine as well), I will not humour you by saying that you may be in the right.
The question to ask now is: How far back do we have to go until we get a glimpse of the great country that America once was?
Let us look at the years (1940–2015) for which data (https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/GINIALLRF) on income inequality are available, and let us focus on the 1970s, the period when this inequality was at the lowest ebb (and, presumably, blue-collar white communities were not seething with discontent), and non-white Americans had also reasons to be hopeful (see below). This happened to be the decade in which President Richard Nixon (nicknamed Tricky Dicky) instructed the CIA to sabotage the election of a socialist president in Chile, and to support instead a brutal military junta. Two sentences from a document prepared by CIA (https://www.cia.gov/library/reports/general-reports-1/chile/) will suffice for now: “The major CIA effort against Allende came earlier in 1970 in the failed attempt to block his election and accession to the Presidency. Nonetheless, the US Administration’s long-standing hostility to Allende and its past encouragement of a military coup against him were well known among Chilean coup plotters who eventually took action on their own to oust him.”
Corruption and chicanery, never absent from the corridors of power (the White House included), flourished during Nixon’s time: Spiro Agnew, the vice president under him, became the second vice president ever to resign, and the first one to relinquish office under criminal charges. Nixon appointed Gerald Ford as a replacement, and shortly afterwards, Nixon himself became the first president to resign (on account of a chain of scandals known collectively as “Watergate”). Ford granted full and unconditional pardon to Nixon a month after his resignation.
We enter, upon rewinding by one more decade, the Vietnam war era, and witness US soldiers carrying out horrendous atrocities amounting to war crimes (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-23427726). As for the deeds of American pilots, the words of the plain-speaking President Elect Trump are appropriate: they were bombing the hell (or sh*t) out of the inhabitants of North Vietnam.
There is no point in peering into the more distant past because we will begin to see increasing racial injustice in addition to an economic deprivation whose description (http://www.pbs.org/johngardner/chapters/4c.html) sounds like an echo (with time running backward, of course) of the current malaise: “In 1960, despite the prosperity of the times, almost one-quarter of all American families were living below the poverty line, and entire regions of the country, like central Appalachia, were bypassed by the economic growth of the postwar years. Moreover, technological advances in industry were also changing job requirements for American workers. The good-paying, unskilled jobs of the past were disappearing, and those without education and skills were being left behind.”
The Kennedy-Johnson epoch (1961–8) was a high point in the history of American liberalism (http://www.ushistory.org/us/56e.asp). Riding on a wave of sympathy generated by Kennedy’s assassination, Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) used the remaining portion of Kennedy’s four year tenure to push through some of the late President’s proposals, including the Civil Rights Act (July1964). After winning the next election in his own right, Johnson went on to put forward his own vision of “the Great Society” (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/primary-resources/lbj-michigan/). The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (April 1965) provided major funding for American public schools; Medicare was created (July 1965) to offset the costs of health care for the elderly, 44 percent of whom were without health care cover in 1964; the Voting Rights Act (August 1965) banned literacy tests and other discriminatory methods of denying suffrage to African Americans; the Immigration and Nationality Act (June 1968) ended discriminatory quotas based on ethnic origin. In the speech where he presented his vision of the Great Society, LBJ asked: “Will you join in the battle to make it possible for all nations to live in enduring peace as neighbours and not as mortal enemies?”
LBJ’s progress along the road to a Great Society was checked by the crippling cost of the military engagement in Vietnam, which was becoming increasingly unpopular among ordinary Americans. For reasons that cannot be detailed here, LBJ decided not to seek re-election. If only he had been true to his own ideals, and pulled out of a war that he had inherited from his predecessor, LBJ would have been able to use the resources thus freed for consolidating the Great Society, and he would have been rated, despite all the disagreeable traits in his personality, as a truly great president, a role model for future presidents. Nevertheless, the overall impact of the Great Society remains relevant for the current crop of leadership, including the President Elect DJT.
The above snapshot of American politics would fail to achieve its aim if the reader is not reminded of a fateful intervention whose aftereffect is the miasma that continues to foul the relations between Iran and the West. In 1953, a democratically elected government in Iran, led by the Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh, was toppled through a coup instigated by Britain and USA (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/19/cia-admits-role-1953-iranian-coup).
The stage has now been set for speculating the courses of action open to DJT. While speaking to a predominantly white audience, he appealed to the African American voters (https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/donald-trump-dimondale-michigan-african-american-voters-employment-jobs-crime-a7200576.html): “What the hell do you have to lose? You’re living in poverty, you have no jobs, your schools are no good … At the end of four years, I will gain over 95 per cent of the African American vote, I promise you.” These words, if meant seriously, imply that DJT does not want to be a one-term president; that he knows the importance of wooing the African Americans (and other minority ethnic groups) for ensuring his re-election.
Since DJT acknowledged that African Americans are poor, poorly educated, and “have no jobs”, I add for his consideration a statistical morsel (http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/crdc-college-and-career-readiness-snapshot.pdf): nationwide only 50% of high schools offer calculus, and only 63% offer physics, and a disproportionately large number of the students who do not have access to such courses come from African American or Hispanic families. DJT can demonstrate his determination to fight poverty, inequality and injustice by taking measures that will ameliorate the imbalance of opportunities.
DJT will win majority votes from most sectors and ethnic groups, not just from African Americans, if he starts where LBJ left, and does not repeat the mistake that thwarted the latter’s ambition to become a two-term president. DJT can confirm his concern for transparency and showcase his abhorrence of crimes committed in the name of national security by granting pardon to Edward Snowden, surely a far more deserving candidate for clemency than Tricky Dicky.
After this exhilarating glimpse of the positive pole, it is rather depressing to go over to the opposite pole and describe my worst fears. To soften the impact of the pessimistic scenario, I will use a parable. Although the incident has been attributed, in the scientific memoirs and anthologies, to a real person, the story is undoubtedly spurious, and I find it proper to make the protagonist anonymous by referring to him as ‘the sage’.
According to the story, ‘the sage’ was called in as a consultant by a committee deliberating on some grave issue. Throughout the morning session, ‘the sage’ remained silent. After a couple of hours, the chairman asked ‘the sage’ what he thought, and received the reply “I think it’s time for coffee”. The same scene was repeated in the next two sessions, but with “coffee” replaced first by “lunch” and next by “tea”. At the end of the fourth session, the chairman, expecting a verdict, turned to ‘the sage’, who got up and said, while preparing to depart, “Gentlemen I’m glad that it’s your problem and not mine.” DJT, who appears to be a clone of LBJ (in terms of temperament), might say, “Folks, here is the key to the oval office, and here is the nuclear code.”
(The writer, a professor emeritus in the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (in Trondheim), has recently published a book entitled “Can Science Come Back to Islam?”.)
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