Post-Trump America with Biden – not to mention Kamala Harris
Say what you like against Donald Trump, the man was a phenomenon. Whether the legacy he leaves behind is good or bad is a judgement that will be determined finally by those who will feel the impact of his regime in the years to come. Win or lose, (he is losing at the time of writing) he will be remembered as the leader who articulated and released the underlying undercurrents that had been dormant in the political landscape, awaiting a leader to take up the challenge. Trump is the leader that represented the subterranean forces which the pundit class had never expected to rise to levels raised by Trump.
Though Trump seems to be doomed at the polls (midday – Friday) Trumpism he generated has the force to haunt US politics in the foreseeable future. One of his ambitions has been to make his mark in history. He would achieve that place as the most unorthodox, controversial and unpredictable President ever who bucked the system and won. In short, he has changed the style, the substance and the contours of American politics with the arrogance of an outsider spitting into the inside.
His aggressive confrontations have traumatised America and raised the political heat to a boiling point. In Michigan FBI has arrested six pro-Republican men who were plotting, with 200 men, to provoke a civil war ‘leading to a societal collapse.’
They were planning to abduct the Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and try her for treason. As usual Donald Trump has been silent, refusing to condemn undemocratic violence which has the consent of the President. His call to the white supremacists ‘to stand by’ is ringing in their ears. The post-election period is threatening to be nasty and brutal.
A wounded Trump is not likely to lie low. Trump admitted at a recent press conference that he is a bad loser. Even before the votes have been counted he has been preparing the ground to find excuses for his loss. Predictably, he has been blaming his opponents.
But even Republican lawyers have condemned his tactics of trying to undermine the democratic process. They said that “his allegations of voter fraud and false declarations of victory are premature, baseless and reckless.” Against all odds he is going ahead with legal challenges believing that the Democrats had stolen victory from him. His capacity to believe in his own lies is an incurable disease which is sapping all his energies.
Refusing to concede to the rising tide against him he is hoping that he could stop the counting of votes coming in late and reverse the fate awaiting him. But the unrelenting developments are eroding his power by the minute. At the moment he is tilting at windmills, twittering fire at selected targets which are not going to work the way it did when he was in office. The danger is that he still has time to wreak havoc till January. He will be concentrating more on trying to save his back than the nation facing Coronavirus and the economy struggling alongside Covid-19 to recover. But he seems to have run out of steam in mid-election. His election was a rerun of the campaign against Hilary. He tried to revive the lock-her-up slogan against Biden but it did not click the way it did with Hilary.
Against Hilary he was the rebel promising to clean up the swamp in the White House and Washington. This time around he was seen as the swamp. He threw mud at Biden but it did not stick the way it did against Hilary.
Nevertheless, he managed to garner over 70 million votes despite the massive onslaught from the mainstream media. In the main, his base has not abandoned him. Despite the race riots, despite the minorities crying “I can’t breathe!” echoing the words of George Floyd who was choking under the pressure of a Police knee, despite receiving the benefits of Obama care, and despite the deadly blows from Coronavirus Trump received a substantial bloc of votes, particularly in Florida, to run a close race, running neck-and neck with Biden. The fact that he managed to be in the race against the massive mainstream media onslaught is a testimony to his bouncing energy and his instincts to read the mood of the electorate better than the pundit class.
His unbounded energy seems to flow from an inexhaustible inner source. He was like a multi-barrel gun firing non-stop. His below-the-belt red tie sits prominently on his protruding belly as a symbol of his below-the-belt politics. At 72 he is buoyed by self-belief of greatness in everything he does and in himself, in particular. He stands out as an unabashed egomaniac who is driven by the arrogant belief that he can do whatever he likes and get away with it. He has survived two divorces, one impeachment, 26 accusations of sex misconduct, and estimated hundreds of law suits on tax evasion charges. Many more cases of tax frauds are awaiting him in the Federal and State courts after he leaves the White House. And yet he hopes to carry on like Johnny Walker in whiskey bottle labels.
All this is at the personal level. The political man, despite all his missteps, misspeaks and monstrous mendacities has turned out to be the most fascinating political performer on the American stage. He, of course, belongs only to this age at this point of time. Other periods did not create the culture needed for a Trump to triumph. It is a populist cult that combines McCarthyism with Hooverism.
This duo rose and survived in the fear-driven ethos of the Cold War. In an atmosphere of fear, it is easy to sell lies. Both McCarthyism and Trumpism thrive on lies.
The fear of a red under the bed enabled McCarthy to manipulate and ride the fears of the day to his political advantage. But they remained as a marginal cult, with considerable power no doubt. Tramp also has the McCarthyist tendency of lying through his teeth to create fear and thrive on fears of real and imaginary foes. He also has the Hooverish iron-fist to rule the roost with vindictive terror.
Above all, he had crafted a new style of politics that has thrown tried and tested conventions and formulas into the winds. He has got away with never ending lies which has reduced fact-checkers to exhausted statisticians keeping useless records. His idiosyncratic style is in a class by itself.
The pundit class overloaded with Cassandras are left puzzled by each unpredictable turn of events. The latest is stunning. When he got the first whiff of losing to Biden he ordered that the polling booths should stop counting. And he added even before the count had finished: “We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election.”
He steams and explodes like a volcano bubbling with hot lava from time to time to divert attention away from the problematic issues confronting him. He dances on the stage. He chants with the mob. He performs on the stage like an African leader railing and swinging to the rhythms of his tribe. He fires them up with hate politics.
The symbiotic relationship is electrifying. It has been his effective counter-attack against the traditional forces, including some in the Republican Party, who had rejected from day one. He is plugged into his base – one of the most dynamic sources of hidden American power — as no other President “in history” had done before, to use one of his favourite phrases. He is wont to compare himself with some figure in history to make him look like a unique figure destined to tower over the American giants that dominated history.
His power to polarise is magnetic. His ‘them-vs.-us-politics’ is designed to keep his electorate loose and tight – loose enough to cover a broad church of diverse ethnics and tight enough for his white base to follow him unswervingly as their leader. He acts as if America owes everything to him for its greatness. He rocks and he mocks as he markets the cheapest politics that has no relevance to the greatness of America either in the past or the present. On one occasion he claimed to be even greater than Abraham Lincoln, the revered holy father of American political culture. He parades as the enabler and the enforcer of all that is great in America without acknowledging that America has in reality dwindled in stature after he took over. He came promising to make America great but it is being dwarfed every day by China. Great leaders come up and thrive only in a culture that is conducive for the rise of greatness.
The post-World War II culture that threw up the Roosevelts and the Kennedys seemed to have exhausted its power to produce greatness. After them came the loud-mouthed wheeler-dealers trying to make a fast buck either on their way to the White House or out of it.
In essence, he represented the ‘whitelash’ of American racism. The white supremacists too were happy to embrace him as their messiah. America has embraced Trump as the man who had come to fulfil the needs of their time. And he too is playing up to that expectation with his rhetoric, theatrics, swagger and lies. In appearance he resembles more like Mussolini than Hitler – the man who made the trains on time. Trump was equally committed to build walls and keep the people apart rather than open the doors to communal harmony.
Halting and reversing Trumpism is the main task before Biden. He has to begin by discarding the mumbo-jumbo of medieval science and bring back America to the 21st century.
He will have to tell the God-loving policy-makers in the Senate that Jesus did not charge a cent for giving sight to the blind and healing the sick. He will have to make the Americans understand that if their Constitution guarantees equality to all men, and if all men are entitled to life, liberty and happiness then all Americans are entitled to the same kind of treatment that Trump got when he was hospitalised for Covid-19. He will have to go all out to deal with Coronavirus with courage and scientific evidence.
Coming nearer to home, the new President has become more relevant to Sri Lanka more than Trump. Trump’s policies were confined mainly to the overall strategic interests of America in the Indian Ocean Rim.
America tended to keep a distance without interfering too heavily in the internal affairs. America’s interests in Sri Lanka were focused on balancing its interest with China. But with the coming Biden a new element has crept in: his Vice-President, Kamala Harris with direct Indian connections linked to Sri Lankan Tamils. Her presence in the White House has added a new dimension and a deeper meaning to US-Sri Lanka relations. Her personal links to the Tamils, and India in general, can play a significant role in future relations with the White House.
Her presence in the Oval Office can make all the difference to Sri Lanka. The well-oiled Tamil lobby in USA now has a golden opportunity which the Tamils never had before: a direct line to the White House. It is gift made in heaven for the Tamils. Her role cannot be underestimated as the ageing President may not be able to bear the increasing burdens of office.
This means that she is likely to take on a greater share of foreign policy. Besides, in the most unlikely event of something happening to President Biden (absit omen!) she is the next in line to step into his shoes. So, the real and the potential power of Kamala Harris has to be weighed in every step of the way.
Since the Tamil diaspora is quick to grab any opportunity that comes their way they would have made moves early in the elections campaign to infiltrate her domain. In the previous election they ran a campaign openly declaring “Tamils for Hilary” hoping to get into the White House through her.
They were also heavy contributors to Democratic Party fund. The Tamil diaspora consists of seasoned campaigners who know when and where to sow their seeds to reap the harvest later. Knowing that they have a sympathetic ear in the White House now they would move with all their resources to exploit Kamal Harris to pull out their political chestnuts from the fire.
Besides, through her Delhi too will have easy access to White House to craft common programs that would serve the foreign policy objectives of both parties, particularly, with the new Quad playing a central role in managing the Indo-Pacific region. In other words, the international pressure on Sri Lanka is bound to increase, with both India and America operating jointly to twist Sri Lanka’s arm. The Indo-American combination is likely to come down like a ton of bricks on Sri Lanka. The likely outcome of this will be to throw Sri Lanka into the arms of China in a big way.
There is no other pathway for Sri Lanka to prevent any likely moves to interfere in its sovereignty and internal affairs. Any attempt to meddle in the internal affairs will open up the Pandora ’s Box all over again. Of course, both America and India are aware that the IPKF misadventure in Sri Lanka was America’s Vietnam, all over again.
Any direct intervention is most likely open the door for China to step in. The Tamils, on their part, will move heaven and earth to get America involved on their behalf. In addition to the American Congressmen and the Senators in their lobby they now have a Vice-President too.
Sri Lankan diplomacy will have to rethink its responses to the emerging situation. The Tamils too are likely to seize the opportunity and go all out to increase pressure. Some provocateurs might even instigate internal violence to destabilise the nation, hoping to benefit by it. This, it must be emphasised, represents only a likely scenario not an inevitability.
The fear is that personal relationship can be developed to harmful ends. While the personal relationships tend to come and go the ground situations can remain with devastating consequences.
The Biden-Harris administration has a greater responsibility and duty to pursue foreign policy on the tried and tested ground realities to stabilise a volatile region rather than pursue polices based on personal preferences that may spell disaster to all parties concerned.
BY H. L. D. MAHINDAPALA