By Izeth Hussain –
Sometimes the great writers get it right when all or most of the others fail to do so. They are not systematic thinkers and may be idiosyncratic in their views but they show an intuitive faculty that is uncommon. A famous example is that of D.H.Lawrence who went on a walking tour of Germany in the ‘twenties and was stunningly prescient about the eruption of the Nazis many years later. According to Harry T. Moore’s scholarly and scrupulously researched biography Lawrence, after a period of residence in the US, had declared that the Americans are “a dangerous people”. At that time, in the inter-war years, the US was isolationist and the Europeans seemed infinitely more dangerous than the Americans. But after the Second World War, with US intervention here there and everywhere leaving a trail of death and destruction, it was shown that Lawrence was spectacularly right. Now we have Donald Trump, an unguided missile equipped with a nuclear bomb.
According to a book by a member of the Monty Python Show, Hemingway – a lesser writer than Lawrence but assured of classic status – told a Cuban fisherman shortly before he left Cuba after the Revolution that the time would come when the whole world would turn against America. That was in the late ‘fifties and today the US is certainly a widely detested country. Trump may see to the consummation of Hemingway’s prophecy. Another American writer who was far above average, James Thurber, wrote in the ‘forties a great story satirizing the savagery underlying American civilization, The Greatest Man in the World. He was an aviator who accomplishes a stupendous feat, but the committee that was organizing a program to exhibit him all over America thought that would be impossible because he was so obviously a Neanderthal. At the end of the story he was pushed out of a high storey window in a pretended accident. Trump is a modern as a realtor of stupendous ability but he too is obviously a Neanderthal. Could his Presidency come to an abrupt, though not necessarily gory, end?
The truth, as the preceding paragraphs suggest, is that Trump is as American as apple pie. That can be seen very clearly in his nostrums for the ills facing the US. There have been a vast number of analyses appearing all over the world about what Trump’s triumph signifies. Apparently there is a very broad consensus that those ills are due to the failure or shortcomings of neo-liberalism. Trump’s nostrums emphasize nationalism, racism, populism, and semi-isolationism, all of which can be seen as embedded in American political culture. For example, the populist Governor Huey Long inspired Robert Pen Warren’s best novel All the King’s Men, which in turn inspired two Hollywood films, one in the ‘fifties and the other more recently with Sean Penn in the lead role. As for American racism, I need not expatiate on it. There is a great deal to be said about American nationalism and semi-isolationism. Suffice it here to merely mention that American semi-isolationism lasted until the Second World War, except for a brief spell of a few years during the First World War.
However, populism and all that goes with it is not the only strand in American political culture. There is also far more importantly liberal democracy, animating which is a culture that was capable of producing two waves of great literature, the first in the nineteenth century and the second in the first half of the twentieth. Not every society under the sun is capable of that kind of cultural achievement. We have to bear in mind the duality to which I am pointing, between the populist and the liberal in American political culture, in trying to make out what political developments might ensue from Trump’s triumph. We must also bear in mind the fact that in American philosophy the trend regarded as the most characteristic has been pragmatism, shown in the writings of John Dewey, William James, and others. That pragmatism has been so important in America that it can be expected to pervade to a significant extent the whole of American politics regardless of the duality to which I have pointed. Consequently, although Trump’s populism looks neo-Fascist and parallels have been drawn with the neo-Fascism of Marie le Pen and others in Europe, it is doubtful that Trump will be able to take make the US neo-Fascist to the extent that might be possible in some European countries. The tradition of liberal democracy in the US is probably far too strong for that. Besides, Trump’s own pragmatism, which must have weighed in his spectacular success as a realtor, could count in moderating his extremism.
But we know that power tends to corrupt, and it could turn out that Trump starts behaving like an unguided missile. I believe that it is that possibility, not the inability to accept defeat as is popularly thought in Sri Lanka and elsewhere, which makes the pro-Hilary protest crowds surge in the American cities. Those crowds, I hold, attest to the maturity of American democracy. That should be clear if we bear in mind the contrast with what happened in Egypt after Morsi was elected President. He could not have succeeded without the support of the pro-democracy groups but he assumed that his Moslem Brotherhood support represented a national consensus entitling him to introduce a Constitution shaped by the Moslem Brotherhood ideology. As Egypt did not have an entrenched democracy the pro-democracy groups turned to the army with fateful consequences. In the US which has a well-entrenched democracy those who want to ensure that Trump does not go in a neo-Fascist direction have taken to the streets. Those surging crowds have behind them the consciousness that Clinton won the popular vote. The chances therefore are that if Trump behaves like an unguided missile he will be making his exit from politics – speaking figuratively of course – through a high storey window.
In conclusion I must declare that I approve of Trump in some ways. In particular, I find exhilarating his strong disapproval of the US’ excessive intervention in the external world, which promises a semi-isolationism, and – most exhilarating – the decline and fall of the American Empire. His position was clear when at the time of the abortive coup in Turkey some months ago he declared that Americans should not pontificate on human rights abuses elsewhere when their own record in that regard was so dismal, and he was admirably outspoken against the massive death and destruction wrought by American intervention in the Middle East. The message was clear that Americans should first and foremost mind their own business, and – as his own spectacular career exemplifies – America’s business is business. That amounts to a retreat into semi-isolationism.
I call it a semi-isolationism because America’s isolationism was always, right from the inception, imbricate with American imperialism. The Monroe Doctrine was explicit that the US would not interfere in the affairs of Europe and Europe should reciprocate by not interfering in the affairs of the US. That was the text, but there was implicit in it a sub-text, which was this: the US would not interfere in the affairs of Europe and its empires and Europe should reciprocate by not interfering in the affairs of the US and its empire in Latin America. That empire was the
consummation of the US’ first imperialist drive. It began with genocide against the Red Indians and thereafter into the annexation of more than half the original territory of Mexico. It’s a pity that the Mexicans did not have the means to build a wall to exclude the racist American imperialists. Thereafter the US went into semi-isolationism, with its neo-colonialism over the whole of Latin America, until after the Second World War when it began its second imperialist drive. It has raged over a great part of the third world, with terrible consequences for its peoples.
I therefore find the prospect of the decline and fall of the American Empire exhilarating. But our Tamil brethren will find it depressing. The reason is that if Trump is true to his word the US will stop playing the lead role in pushing Tamil interests through the UNHRC. The time is opportune for our Government to present the case for a solution to the ethnic problem to the Government in Washington. There can be no solution through ethno-based devolution. We therefore want to apply the American model of giving fair and equal treatment to the Tamils through a fully functioning democracy.