THE American mood is difficult in a time rife with worrying about the future and concern about “the other”, amid resentment against the political establishment, fear of terror, and a sense of escapism regarding the definition and purpose of the US superpower and its responsibilities on the international arena. The general mood reflects the lack of confidence in the Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
This week, the Democratic National Convention focused its efforts on marketing Hillary the approachable woman, in the hope this win over the hearts of the Americans who have not been comfortable with her “robot-like” demeanor. Indeed, Hillary had worked hard to enter history with cold calculations, giving little care to her lack of charisma, compared to her husband former president Bill Clinton. Hillary is an experienced candidate who has assumed public office, climbing up the ladders of power gradually and with tact, forging close ties to the poles of the ruling US establishment in the military and the civilian institutions, inside and outside government.
She is the antithesis of the Republican nominee Donald Trump, who snatched the nomination against the will of most traditional Republicans and jumped on the White House-bound train amid dismissal by the political class and intellectuals. But the media grew fond of covering Trump’s entertaining and sensational news, or so they thought until the joke stopped being funny. A mysterious class of Americans have turned against the elitist class, proving that solidarity with the establishment is a failed bet. I say mysterious because the followers of Donald Trump are a combination of angry and scared voters, as well as xenophobes, isolationists, and those who are eager to teach the politicians in Washington a lesson. Many are also blue-collar workers, who accuse Washington of exploiting them, and are in awe of Trump’s wealth, success, and lifestyle as though he was of the working class like them despite having received a one-million-dollar check from his father at the start of his life. Yet a segment of white-collar educated Americans will vote Trump because they cannot stand Hillary, and see her as an extension of Barack Obama and her husband Bill Clinton. There are also Americans who are categorically opposed to turning the Clintons into a ruling dynasty in America, especially after Bush’s dreams of becoming one were shattered.
The calculus behind the election of the 45th president of the United States is then related to the personality, ambitions, and domestic concerns of the American people, rather than foreign policy, at least so far. Interestingly, it is Donald Trump who has brought in national security, terrorism, and immigration into the calculations of American voters, manipulating their fears and concerns. This week, Trump set a new precedent by inviting Russia to hack his opponent’s email and expose her scandals. Donald Trump wants the Russian president Vladimir Putin to be an honorary voter in the US elections, and has praised him repeatedly and hinted they would agree on many issues. Trump wants to stoke fear of groups like ISIS to present himself as the president who will shut down immigration and protect America from foreigners, taking isolationism to a new terrifying level.
The isolationism of Barack Obama and the exclusionism of Donald Trump benefit Putin, because both approaches put him in a stronger position to lead in more than one region of the world. Putin has been lucky ever since Obama decided that Iran is a priority for him, to the point of forging an implicit partnership with Tehran in Syria to fight ISIS and similar groups.
In Syria, Putin is now the master player, having intervened there militarily to settle the civil war and settle the political outcome. In Syria too, there is a silent partnership between the US and some in the coalition it leads, and the Damascus Axis comprising Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, the Kurds, and other militias. While Saudi Arabia cries foul, US and Iranian intelligence collaborate secretly in European capitals, to determine Syria’s fate. However, Putin is not comfortable about this; he does not trust the US in principle, and has differences with Tehran regarding the future of the Syrian army and the regime backed by Iran, as the latter seems to prefer the militias to take over in order to retain control of Syria.
Perhaps Donald Trump wants to assign Putin to represent him in Syria, because he is not interested in the fate of Syria and in the cost Russia would pay in its war on ISIS, Nusra Front, and similar groups. Trump’s recipe to protect the US homeland and national security from terror is to banish Muslims from the country and prevent immigration. At the same time, he has hinted that he welcomes others’ wars on others’ territories, or at least, does not mind it in the least. And if the strategic Russian-Iranian partnership in Syria turns into rivalry, this would be good news for Trump, who has claimed he has the opposite position on Iran of that of Barack Obama, who is almost in love with the Islamic Republic.
A mysterious class of Americans have turned against the elitist class, proving that solidarity with the establishment is a failed bet.
This does not mean that the CIA would stop cooperating secretly with Tehran. But in truth, this is where one can find convergence or divergence between the administrations that rule and the establishment that remain long term, and that includes vital departments such as defense, national security, and intelligence.
In other words, the United States is not susceptible to becoming a fully-fledged dictatorship. There is no comparison between the powers of the US president and those the Russian or Turkish presidents have gifted themselves. In the United States, there are checks and balances, and the system does not give absolute powers to the executive branch represented by the elected administration or the legislature represented by Congress. The president may veto Congress, but the Supreme Court remains the highest constitutional authority in the country.
If Donald Trump becomes president, the institutions of power will not collapse. He will not become overnight a president with extraordinary powers. However, any US president has immediate global authority. If he is an arbitrary, exclusionist, and isolationist president, the foundations of the global order could be undermined, from NATO to the UN and its agencies. If he is a provocative, trigger-happy president, the instability this will cause will be of a global scale. The whole world could enter into unchartered territory, as mysterious as the rise of Trump and his proximity to the Oval Office.