Thursday August 17 2017

President Trump’s refusal to condemn racism, xenophobia is repugnant but hardly surprising

Daniel K. Kalinaki

Daniel K. Kalinaki  

By Daniel K Kalinaki

The Trump Administration in the United States of America is like an old dodgy sweater; you pull on the thread meaning to cut it off and keep the rest of the sweater intact, only for it to keep pulling apart, until it falls apart at the seams.
Right from his decision to run, there has always been something fantastic about Donald Trump’s intentions for America and for the world. A colourful real estate magnate with a penchant for reality television and wearing a flurry cat on his head, Trump ran – and won — as an anti-establishment candidate.
He was the anti-Washington elite candidate, the outsider with no experience in politics and a wonderful, if not edgy, guy-next door naivety around him. Now it is clear that Mr Trump isn’t just anti-establishment; he appears to be against many of the values and moral standards we have come to see as being synonymous with Western liberal democracies.
We can forgive Mr Trump’s attempts to repudiate all the flagship programmes of the Obama Administration, from the health care deal to the policy of rapprochement towards Tehran and Havana, as partisan Republican push-back against the Democrats.
But Mr Trump’s refusal to condemn the white separatists and their naked racism, in Charlotte, Virginia this week, is repugnant and repulsive, but not altogether surprising.
Mr Trump’s rise did not happen in a vacuum. Within America, it coincided with the emergence of disaffection among white, middle-class Americans over a future they always took for granted, but which now looks like a mirage. An entire generation of Americans in the Rusty Belt of once prosperous places like Detroit, Michigan, woke up to a future in which many of the manufacturing jobs their parents and grand parents had done for life had been carried off to cheaper countries abroad, or replaced by robots.
Their instinctive reaction was to externalise the blame; Mr Trump by threatening a trade and currency war against China, many of his supporters by blaming migrants, foreigners or Muslims – or all three – for daring to share in the American dream. Trump, therefore, isn’t an outlier, his views are shared by an unfortunately large number of Americans, beyond the liberal types we see on the East and West Coasts, or in Hollywood movies. But this xenophobia is not new, neither is it only American.
Across Europe, for instance, we are seeing the rise of insular nationalism by which populations, many of them migrants-turned-natives, concerned about their future economic prospects, are bolting their doors to keep out migrants and retreating into the narrow recesses of identity politics, defined by ancestry, religion and skin colour.
Despite its shortcomings, post-cold war globalisation has facilitated one of the most rapid improvements in living conditions and reductions in poverty, thanks to open markets, innovation and the emergence of a universal set of values we had come to take for granted.
The United States has been a beneficiary, exporting its goods, services and technology to a willing and captive world. From Kansas to Kathmandu, we Google, Facebook, wear Nike, stream Netflix or gorge on unhealthy, but sinfully and suspiciously delicious Big Macs.
Trump’s movement doesn’t seek to only reap the benefits of globalisation (cheaper goods, more market access) without paying the price (allowing jobs to move to low cost centres); as the presumptive leader of the free world, his silence towards racism, bigotry and xenophobia means America, once land of the brave and free, cannot be relied upon to defend Lady Liberty and Justice around the world. This isn’t an entirely bad thing. For far too long, those agitating for reforms at home, especially in Africa, have looked abroad, including to America for help and approval at the expense of citizen agency and often with outcomes that favour foreign interests.
African activists seeking US assistance against despotic regimes or minorities seeking protection against majoritarianism will think twice before asking for help from an administration unwilling to defend its own nationals from racial extremism.
African migrants swimming across treacherous seas to venture into lands in which they aren’t wanted, so as to slave away at jobs natives aren’t willing to do, are best advised to stay at home and improve things there. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side if you are a minority or a person of colour. We’ve known this about previous US administrations, but Donald’s trumps them all.

Mr Kalinaki is a journalist and a poor man’s freedom fighter. Twitter: @Kalinaki.