No democratic advert
Trump’s victory could destabilise the established world order. However, there are mixed reactions to the new administration, says Yassamine Mather
Vladimir Putin: reasons to be cheerful
All in all, well before the results were announced, the US presidential campaign had become a farce - the constant exposés of both candidates’ misdemeanours could hardly be presented as an advert for democracy. Every week new allegations of corruption, deceit or misogyny were exposed by one candidate against the other and often the allegations turned out to be well-founded. No-one, not even Donald Trump, could deny the terrible comments he made about women in the tape released by the New York Times, while Clinton had no defence to allegations that she accepted money from Qatar and Saudi Arabia - according to her own emails, the countries that funded and continue to aid Islamic State.
On the other hand, we know that Trump, the US defender of the ‘middle classes’ (in reality the working class), the billionaire who claims to be concerned about the plight of the downtrodden inhabitants of impoverished US cities, has avoided paying taxes on a huge scale for most of his adult life.
The man who wants to bring back jobs to the US, the man who presents himself as the warrior against globalised capital (neoliberalism) himself owes his fortune to free-market global capitalism. In fact the fortune he spent in the presidential election campaign had been amassed thanks to the kind of exploitation and so on he claims to oppose: cheap labour outside the US, etc. According to the Washington Times,
Trump shirts were made in China, Bangladesh, Honduras and Vietnam. PolitiFact Virginia found some Trump sport coats made in India. The Clinton campaign pointed to import data from 2007 that showed a Trump men’s shirt shipment marked as made in South Korea. Some of the Trump suits on Amazon.com show they were imported, Made in USA or both. BuzzFeed ordered a suit that was listed as both “imported” and “Made in USA” - and ended up with a label showing the suits were made in Indonesia.1
His supporters fail to understand, or in some cases pretend they do not know, that globalisation is the inevitable consequence of free-market economics. The sad part of all this is that many blue- and white-colour working class immigrants supported Trump, because, in their limited understanding of global economics, their jobs can be ‘saved’ thanks to Trump’s protectionist economics. As if the free movement of capital to parts of the world where labour is cheap was a conspiracy by a ‘corrupt’ minority.
Iranian supporters of regime change from above have been relatively silent on the US presidential elections. Many had wished and some had campaigned for a Clinton victory, but, as doubts were raised about her prospects in the last two weeks of the campaign, there was a return to neoconservative allies in the Republican Party. However, following Trump’s victory, interesting reactions have also come from repressive regimes, such as Putin’s Russia, as well as Iran’s Islamic Republic. Russia has never made any secret of its support for what it thought would be a non-interventionist Trump and within an hour of the official result the official Russian media was celebrating. Vladimir Putin was amongst the first international leaders to congratulate Trump, adding that he hoped there could be a “constructive dialogue” between the two countries.
Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the Emirates of the Persian Gulf were all in shock - not just because their favoured candidate had lost, but because of all the money they had spent on the Clinton campaign - tens of millions of dollars, if we are to believe the leaked emails. Clinton had promised a much more pro-Saudi, pro-Qatar interventionist position, although it is hard to see how US policy in the region could be more interventionist.
Both the Israeli lobby in the US and the Israeli state itself were also rooting for a Clinton victory. Her promises to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee were clear: your security in the Middle East is paramount. Of course, Israel has nothing to fear from a Trump presidency either - his main allies include well known pro-Israeli neocons in the Republican Party. And in fact a number of rightwing members of the knesset from Israel’s ruling party, Likud, welcomed the result. “It appears the American people are tired of hypocrisy and political correctness and prefer straight talk,” said Yakuda Glick.2
As far as Iran is concerned, after years of enduring insulting remarks about its lack of respect for women, racism towards non-Iranians, discrimination against gays and transgender people, and corruption within the highest ranks of the state - remarks that have often emanated from US human rights and women’s rights groups and have been echoed by Iranian pro-western opposition groups - Iranian leaders celebrated the fiasco of the election ‘debates’ and took every opportunity to remind their fellow countrymen that the situation in the ‘great Satan’ is far from ideal.
In fact, a week before the results were known, Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, used a talk to university students to ridicule the US electoral process:
In the US presidential debates two candidates revealed facts and calamities from the US about which we had been told before, but some did not believe ... The trampling of human values and human rights, racial discrimination and racism are the reality in American society.
He also described the US administration as consisting of “liars, untrustworthy, deceitful and backstabbers” - another reason why he still opposed any direct negotiations with the US following the nuclear deal.
Last month president Hassan Rowhani described the two candidates as “bad and worse,” without specifying which was which. His main concern now will be Trump’s plans to “tear down” the Iran deal, although many Republicans doubt if Trump will act on this particular election promise. The deal did, after all, have an economic rationale, in that the United States does not want to lose out to the European Union when it comes to new markets in Iran. Contrary to the hopes of ultra-conservative groups in the Islamic Republic, then, Trump is unlikely to revoke the deal, however much he may up the rhetoric against Tehran.
According to the Islamic Republic News Agency, in his first reaction to the election results, Rowhani said:
The results of the US election have no effect on the policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Iran’s policy for constructive engagement with the world and the lifting of nuclear-related sanctions have made our economic relations with all countries expanding and irreversible.
He added that Iran’s nuclear deal with six world powers has been reflected in a United Nations security council resolution and cannot be dismissed by one government.
Of course, the likes of Rowhani and Khamenei, who preside over one of the most misogynist governments of the world, could hardly say much about Trump’s sexist comments. However, given the populist backlash against political correctness in the US, the open expression of racism, sexism and homophobia by one of the candidates, and accusations of sexism, abuse of power and corruption against the other, Iranians and other citizens of the Middle East do wonder if western claims about overcoming sexism, racism and homophobia, and a determination to clamp down on corruption, can be taken seriously.
Clinton kept telling election meetings that in her many visits to over 100 countries she constantly fought for women’s and LGBT rights. Yet the election campaign made it clear that she should have spent some more time combating sexism and racism in her own country, and even in her own home.
There are very good reasons why Trump’s racist, sexist talk galvanised so many Americans. Capitalism has not addressed issues of race and gender in any depth. Faced with the demands of the protest movements of the 1960s and 70s, it was easy to make concessions on paper, in guidelines and so on, but there was never any intention of following this process through, by creating the economic and social conditions for genuine equality and an end to discrimination - not just for the elite, but in every section of society. Neoliberal capitalism increases inequality, thanks to job losses and economic hardship making life more difficult for sections of the working population who voiced in the election their opposition to the status quo by voting for Trump.
However, many fell into the trap of accepting the populist, racist discourse of his campaign: Latinos are to blame for taking our jobs and illegal immigrants must be deported (this from a man whose wife had been working illegally in the US herself). Muslims must be banned from entering the country because the people of the Middle East - themselves the victims of US political and military interventions - are dangerous unknowns.
Meanwhile, those who thought creating little zones free from racism or sexism on a campus or within an organisation was the way to protect women or national, religious and sexual minorities in an unjust capitalist world have only compounded the situation.
It is true that, amongst the political and economic elite at least, open sexism and racism has become taboo, but in some ways you could say the same is true of the elite in most Middle Eastern, African and ‘third world’ countries. Whether this reflects a genuine change in attitude or carries with it levels of self-censorship is open to debate. However, we live in an increasingly unequal world. The elite make up an ever smaller proportion of the population, the gap between the rich and the poor is widening and, as illusions of a more equal society (courtesy of free-market trickle-down) is exposed, sections of the population will more readily listen to populists such as Trump, who blame the most vulnerable sections of society for the poor housing, poor education and general impoverishment of the ‘middle classes’.
So it is no surprise that Khamenei - that other defender of free capital - has seized on some of Trump’s remarks to point the finger at the obvious defects in US society:
A few days ago, during his campaign, he said that if you are a person of colour, if you are black or native American, when you are walking on the streets of New York, Chicago, Washington or California, and similar such places, you cannot be confident that you will be alive in another few minutes ... He also talked about poverty. He said that 44 million people go hungry in the US. He said, and others also have said, that less than one percent of the population owns 90% of the wealth in the US.
In what was interpreted as support for the Republican candidate, the supreme leader failed to mention the fact that openly racist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan supported Trump. Khamenei also continued his attacks on the current US administration of Barack Obama and John Kerry, and described Clinton as “a liar, a deceiver, a breaker of agreements, a back-stabber”. While she is shaking your right hand, she is “holding a bunch of stones” in her left hand ready to throw and “hit you on the head”.
Khamenei also liked Trump’s assertion that the Obama administration and Clinton, his former secretary of state, are responsible for the creation of IS - a comment applauded by Hassan Nasrollah, who leads the Lebanese Hezbollah. Like Putin, Iran’s supreme leader was also worried that Clinton’s interventionist foreign policies would lead to more direct confrontation between the US and countries like Iran in the Middle East.
For the left the current situation in the US has many lessons. After all, just over half of those who voted gave their support to a racist, sexist, global warming denier, a man who used part of the fortune he made as a result of free-market global capital to launch a presidential campaign based on promises of a return to a protectionist economy. Meanwhile, the other half voted for someone whose husband embodies the sexual abuse of women, whose campaigns have been financed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar as well as top US companies - on a platform of fighting for gender equality and ‘human rights’ everywhere in the world!
Those of us who do not believe human beings are born racist or sexist, those of us who believe humans are made so by the social conditions they inhabit, know there is only a minority whose class interests are served by exploitation, war and destruction, who are responsible for racism and sexism. In this respect both US presidential candidates fitted the bill.
So, in the post-election period, we cannot continue arguing for ‘safe spaces’ as the best way to fight nationalism and xenophobia. Instead we must patiently explain the history of colonialism and imperialism to those who have been duped into believing such divisive nonsense. The only way to deal with xenophobia, misogyny or Islamophobia is to confront it head on. We are not in the business of falsifying reality. We should once more reject the idea that racism and sexism can be fully defeated under capitalism and refuse to go along with the notion that slogans, regulations, gender quotas, ‘safe spaces’, etc will bring us equality. We must argue that the system relies on divide and rule, that racism and sexism are by-products of the prevailing economic order and that the central issue is class. Our main focus is on capitalism itself - we are revolutionaries, not reformists.
Neither in the United States nor in the United Kingdom can more jobs and better pay be achieved by keeping out immigrants. The problem is capitalism and its efforts to find the cheapest labour wherever it can - it is our responsibility to explain this to those sections of the working class that blame foreigners for job losses, low wages, poor housing and cuts in services. We do not seek to create non-racist zones, where migrants can be protected from racist or chauvinistic attitudes. We want to change the world, not escape from it.
A Clinton presidency would have had little or no effect on the plight of women worldwide, in the same way as the election of a black lawyer eight years ago did not change the lives of the black urban poor in the US.