Donald Trump thrives because Americans now only care about themselves – not America
With the rise of Donald Trump and the politics of pandering to people’s baser instincts, the following question becomes more crucial; can the current wave of racism, anxiety and cultural despair in American society accelerate America’s decline?
Of all the factors that are causing the decline, cultural despair and politics of cultural despair are the most threatening.
America’s decline has been stirring quite a debate worldwide for a few decades now. This topic cannot be answered in a plain yes or no; rather it merits a multi-layered analysis. With the rise of the rest, the shade of this debate has gotten gloomier.
Joseph Nye, in his book Is the American Century Over? adds a rather optimistic shade to it. He believes that “leadership is not the same as domination.” Nye also believes, “Influence matters more than military might.” He is right as the most potential rival to American dominance, (China), can compete with its military and economic might, but not in its influence in the international institutions (global power structure) and advancement in education, science and technology.
Analysed by this perspective, no other country appears to be in a position to challenge America’s global influence. Yet the greatest threats to its global pre-eminence are domestic. Of these domestic threats, Trump has been viewed as the largest and the most lethal. Behind it, there is many a reason – his egregious lack of qualification, disgusting rhetoric and absurd policies. The worrisome factor is not Trump, but his rising popularity in America.
Something similar happened in Germany a century ago.
Trump played the same card Hitler had played. Hitler played the card about Germany being a victim, whereas Trump played the card about America being a victim. Hitler fed upon this cultural despair, during which Germany was defeated in World War I – but that was only one factor.
As coined by Fritz Stern, the term Politics of Cultural Despair fits best. It is more dangerous than just pandering the basic sentiments of voters, which is more common in the developing world.
The problem is the culture, values and attitude that are at the heart of Trump’s support. It is this pessimism that is gripping the American nation. For the first time in America, the CNN/ORC indicated that a significant proportion of Americans (56%) believe that their children will be worse off.
JD Vance, in his insightful book Hillbilly’s Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis explains the alienation and anger of America’s white working class. Based on their life experience and daily observations, the cohort believes that their incomes have stagnated, cities crumbled and dreams vanished. The cohort is in crisis – the children abandoned, drug abuse sky rocketing, violence increasing. To this significant segment of American society, the country is doing poorly and abandoning its own citizens for some good-for-nothing overseas issues. Americans are pragmatic and realistic people; therefore, it is the Americans who should come first – not the foreigners who are snatching jobs from them.
Whether Trump wins or not, this segment of American society is going to stay in the United States of America and so are their concerns. If Republicans win, over-trenched policies and the US-domestic-centric policies will be defining its foreign policy. America’s decline is possible either due to its ‘maximalist’ or ‘over trenched’ policies. Trump’s policies are over trenched, but if he does not get elected, we may safely presume that the American decline has reversed.
If Hillary wins, through being hawkish, she won’t be able to shift the focus from domestic affairs to foreign affairs either, unless a catastrophic event like 9/11 happens.
This is for two reasons.
First, given the pessimism prevalent in the country, America’s economic well-being will remain a top priority for the next US president. Second, even if Trump loses, the Republicans will sit in the Congress and give a tough time to the Democratic president. After all, the US foreign policy is not what the US president says standing in the Rose Garden of the White House, but what the Congress approves.
America ruled the world because it extended its influence in the global arena, established its overseas military bases, hunted down its enemies, and assimilated people of every identity from world over. Thus, it became the most attractive country in the world. To sustain its global supremacy, it must continue its assertive policies. It is how America gained strength over the years.
America’s power is its alliance system, which will shrink, if it focuses on domestic politics. Right now and for the next five years, America’s well-being is of top concern. This is the reason Trump’s slogan, “Make America Great,” is selling like hot cakes.
Americans want to see the Americans great again, not America. What is accelerating America’s decline is not its declining political influence worldwide, but the nourishment of culture of despair and its eventual outcome, politics of cultural despair. The end product of politics of cultural despair is over trenched policies and a shrinking sphere of influence on the world stage.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.