American democracy & clash of civilisations

President Donald Trump’s executive orders are ill-conceived and deeply flawed. They speak volumes of the style of governing of a man who won his race to the White House more as a populist that as a Republican. We are unquestionably at the cusp of the most shockingly despotic Presidency the US has ever seen.

by Shelley Walia

( February 10, 2017, New Delhi, Sri Lanka Guardian ) Even as the most developed countries take welfare steps to enhance the lives of the poorest citizens, we are experiencing a fascist movement towards rising demagoguery and populist nationalism. This promotes the restoration of a polity based on perceived assumptions of the superiority of race, ethnicity and culture resulting in hate-mongering. Broadly, the move towards a closed, inward-looking nationalist political mindset visible in the construction of the wall on the Mexican frontier and the ban on Muslims has sent shock waves through the international system.

The common assessment of Trump’s executive orders suspending travel to the US by citizens of seven nations is that they are misguided and deeply flawed. Any law divorced from justice is not a law; it is an instrument of tyranny, and in this case of the white supremacists persecuting in the name of origins or nationality. However, it is also possible to consider a more sinister theory: Trump and his coterie of radical right wingers like Steve Bannon, the member of the National Security Council, whose agenda sets out to rock the very foundations of the polity, appealing to their base and further solidifying the “us-vs- them” narrative.

In such a dismal scenario,Trump, the all-powerful bully firmly ensconced in the Oval Office, can dismiss the attorney general for insubordination, and take on the role of the messiah to the White masses in the inevitable clash of civilisations. The Press, which is the voice of reason and can speak truth to power, has been gradually and purposefully delegitimised in a post-truth world. Thus, in the absence of a powerful counterpoint in the Republican-controlled Legislature, even though the emperor has no clothes, what emanates from Trump is now the word of God. The executive order speaks volumes of his nativism and bellicosity, a style of governing by a man who won his race to the White House more as a populist that as a Republican. We are unquestionably at the cusp of the most shockingly despotic Presidency the US has ever seen.

People on the margins who have always been an asset to the American economy now find themselves to be outsiders. Those who helped America to fight her wars against terrorism find themselves in an indeterminate state. The Silicon Valley has slammed the decision. As the history of the last few decades tells us, the 9/11 terrorists had origins in Egypt, Lebanon, UAE and Saudi Arabia, while the killings in Orlando, San Barnardino or Charleston were committed by either US citizens or white supremacists. Not a single American has been killed by terrorists from these seven nations (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and Sudan) in the last four decades, while 2,369 American citizens have been killed by terrorists from Saudi Arabia, 314 from UAE and 162 from Egypt. Moreover, Iran or Iraq who stood up against the terrorist organisations should not have been banned.The most notable omission is perhaps Pakistan, the locus of a number of terrorist groups.

Apparently, there is no rational basis for this provocative policy which in reality would further stimulate Islamophobia, a provocative western discourse that is a substantiation of the core narrative of the clash of civilisations and thus a victory for the terrorist agencies.It has been seen that the key ways in which power operates in societies is by setting up groups and versions of the “other” who can be both excluded from the opportunities of support and well-being that society may offer and scapegoated as the cause of social and political problems. The Western liberal discourse constructs the idea of the orthodox or superstitious East or a rabidly fundamental Islam, ignoring the overwhelming contributions of marginalised groups who over time establish themselves as integral components of a civil society.

Donald J. Trump’s ban on immigrants is easily the most divisive, racist and authoritarian move, bitterly reviled by the liberals and ardently praised by the conservatives. His slogan to “Make America Great Again” is largely to take back America from the hands of the “vile” immigrants, who contaminate the White race with their peculiar identities, language and culture. Mexicans are rapists, Muslims are terrorists, and Blacks are self-destructing in a maelstrom of drugs and violence. Never mind the foundation of American democracy built on a non-discriminatory political system that permits millions to journey to its shores to seek a better life. Immigration, and with it, the healthy blend of diversity and multiethnic racial, religious and cultural identities is the cornerstone of any democracy.

The eruption of protests against the desultory attitude of the state indicates the extent to which a multicultural society can be deemed to be morally and culturally pluralistic. Reactions from Paris, London and Berlin have come fast and furious. President Trudeau’s invitation to refugees to alternatively settle in Canada or the German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s elaboration of the essence of the Geneva Convention are open rebukes to Trump’s anti-liberal embargo. We see increasing disgust and despair as the public protests against the rise of ethnic nationalism and xenophobia. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has supported the protest against the ban on the grounds that it violates due process of law, the equal protection clauses of the constitution, the federal statutes, the Immigrant Nationality Act, and more than anything the 1st Amendment which prohibits discrimination on ethnic or religious grounds. The judicial review of the ban would hopefully work as a bulwark against unconstitutional acts of the state.

In keeping with the exploitation of fear-mongering that underpins Trump’s entire political career, he has chosen to punish innocent people fleeing persecution and hardships. At the moment 60,000 refugees seeking asylum have undergone the tedious process of passing the rigorous immigration tests, including biometrics, but are now in a limbo.The ban is indeed an attack on the basic American values and its national policy of unequivocally allowing refugees into the country — a compelling testament of American democracy with its inherent vouchsafing of human rights and diversity. The robust backlash against the flurry of Trump’s injunctions signifies an act of resistance. It gives the people an opportunity to enter the field of hard politics and helps bolster the legitimacy of their stand. Behind the debate lies the hope for a meaningful change in racial attitudes, through an enraged fervour seen in progressive movements expressing existential anxieties and political responsibilities when a psycho-social distress overwhelms the land. Trump’s actions have indeed, generated an environment of overwhelming power and rancour threatening any meaningful dialogue between diverse religious and ethnic groups. Faith in reason seems to be at stake.

The writer is a Professor, Department of English and Cultural Studies, Panjab University.


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