Original by Dmitriy Drobnitskiy published by politconservatism.ru; translated from Russian by J.Hawk exclusively for SouthFront
“At first they don’t notice you, then they laugh at you, then then fight you. And then you win.” –Mahatma Gandhi
It was impossible not to notice eccentric billionaire Donald Trump’s entry into the presidential race, since the Washington establishment, political experts, and mainstream media started with the second phase mentioned above–everybody had a laugh at the expense of the non-system candidate (who at the time was not leading in the polls).
It was good manners to laugh at Trump in ABC, Fox, CNBC, and CBS broadcasts. Whoever didn’t laugh at him might as well not participate in discussing the election campaign at all.
The magnate became the most quoted politician in the media without having spent even a penny of his own money. Then he started to make bold and sometimes eve sharp statements which are wholly consistent with his promise to fight political correctness which he made when he announced his candidacy.
At one point it even seemed that Trump had gone too far and gave feminists, LGBT-activists and Mexican immigrants to rise up in righteous anger. In only a couple of weeks the usual jokes aimed at Trump were joined by statements that Trump buried himself.
But that’s when he became the leader in the polls. Nobody was laughing at him by the second GOP debate. People started to attack him, which meant the start of Gandhi’s second phase.
However, Trump did well in the second debate. It would seem that everything that was said about him was going to “restore order” in GOP’s ranks. Pollsters predicted his rapid decline.
Pollsters were wrong.
The first attack on Trump had the opposite effect. All three top spots were occupied by people whose profession was not politics. Trump kept his first place, followed by former neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former H&P CEO Carly Fiorina.
Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, a young, successful, and no doubt promising politician withdrew his candidacy and called on his colleagues to do the same in order to fight “Trumpism” more effectively. Perhaps if there were 4-5 candidates and not 10 on the same stage as Trump, it might be easier to deconstruct his populist tendencies. But it might not guarantee success.
Here’s what Trump says in practically every appearance:
“I’m not a politician. Politicians talk without end and don’t do anything. I’m a businessman. I’m a man of action.”
That’s what apparently attracts the GOP voter to Trump. And, after Trump, toward Carson who likes to say:
“I’m a doctor. And I have to tell you the country needs healing.”
Carly Fiorina also talks of her business, not political, background, being her strong suit. She said during the debates:
“The country is in crisis. Politicians placed it in a debt pit. Now we need crisis management.”
Although right now Fiorina has dropped to 5th or 6th spot, she’s still only a couple of points behind Jeb Bush whose nomination seemed inevitable only a few months ago. In Iowa, which will hold the first party primary (February 1) the businesswoman is in third place, as before.
Trump and Carson, in the meantime, have a double-digit lead over the rest of the pack.
Moreover, recent ABC News and Washington Post survey shows that Trump is not only the leader of the pack, he is expected to win. About 32% of registered Republicans and Independents leaning Republican are ready to vote for him. Unless something unexpected happens, that’s enough to win in the primary season.
Surveys among core Republicans are somewhat more surprising. 42% believe he’ll be the nominee. 43% believe he has the best chance to win the general election.
By comparison, Ben Carson gets 15% and 16%, respectively, Jeb Bus 12% and 13%, Marco Rubio 5% and 11%, Ted Cruz 3% and 4%.
There was a tactical pause after the initial unsuccessful attacks on Trump, during which the non-system candidate became the sought-after guest on all the major TV channels. And now he’s speaking more sloly and solidly, and the interviewers no longer pester him but rather patiently listen.
Washington Examiner published an article with a telling headline: “Panicking establishment is preparing to war against Trump.” National Review likewise writes: “Establishment is thinking the unthinkable–Trump could win the party nomination.” Joe Scarborough of MSNBC had the best comment on the disarray:
“People from the GOP establishment have started to say, unofficially, that this guy (Trump) could win. I heard this from everyone. And I’m no longer hearing that he can’t win the nomination.”
The first attempts to make sense of what’s happening have already appeared. The neoconservative David Brooks wrote in his New York Times piece “Enter the Age of Outsiders” that the collapse of the two-party consensus led the Western establishment to lose faith in itself, it its ability to analyze the situation and act:
“Sensing a loss of confidence in the center, strong-willed people on the edges step forward to take control.
This happens in loud ways in the domestic sphere. The uncertain Republican establishment cannot govern its own marginal members, while those on the edge burn with conviction. Jeb Bush looks wan but Donald Trump radiates confidence.”
Brooks is seconded by the political historian Jay Cost who writes in his Wall Street Journal article “The Politics of Distrust” the following:
“Today’s broad-based skepticism of expertise isn’t surprising, but it strikes at the heart of our postwar political economy. This disbelief has facilitated the rise of outsiders, not only Mr. Trump and Dr. Carson but also Mr. Obama. These days, inexperience actually seems a qualification for high office.”
Still, Washington establishment hardly deserves to be pitied. First of all, it painted itself into a corner by trying to satisfy all manner of lobbies and special interests. Secondly, a professional politician inspires the same feelings among the public as a professional liar. The slogan, “I’m not a politician”, on the other hand, sounds like a…sound political meme.
After all, today’s GOP icon Ronald Reagan was accused of the same thing in the ’70s as Donald Trump is today. Reagan was called a “small time actor,” a “attention-seeking governor,” and also an “outsider.” The Tea Party movement which started to capture the GOP and Congress starting with 2010 is also composed of “non-politicians” who rallied the voter to fight the professional Washington word fog and corruption.
Still, there is one major difference between Reagan and Tea Party on one hand and Trump, Carson, and Fiorina on the other.
Reagan, the Tea Party “godfather” Ron Paul, young Tea Party leaders such as Rand Paul and Ted Cruz have never said they were not politicians, no matter what their political past was. These were people imbued with the idea the supremacy of the Constitution, freedom, minimal government, etc.
Trump is saying something wholly different. He insists on the non-political approach to dealing with the outstanding US issues by propounding business methods and not political procedures. If it works in a corporation it will work in the state. Enough politics–now is the time for crisis management. For rational bureaucracy, according to Max Weber.
People have been long arguing whether his approach can be used with success. Moreover, it’s up to the Americans, not us, to evaluate the proposal. But is this a beneficial and rational approach to foreign policy?
Or, to put it more bluntly: is it safe?
* * *
At first blush, it seems that US foreign policy is overloaded with ideology and is suffering from the political divide and constant struggle between parties and branches of government.
Of course, one can discern the US desire to pocket someone else’s resources in every of its actions, but that model makes sense and suffers from no internal contradictions only when described by comedians, and even then it would take a talented comedian. After all, the struggle for resources (own and foreign) is the natural task of the state. The question is not whether one should fight for resources, but how, and which strategy is the most promising.
The Middle East is overflowing with resources, but there is no agreement in the US on Middle East policy. Obama administration opted to reconcile with Tehran but instantly provoked a storm of neoconservative protests, who in turn are accused of all manner of sins by realists and libertarians. As far as trade with South-East Asia and Pacific Rim countries, even the Democrats haven’t reached consensus on the degree of free trade in the larger Pacific zone.
The already mentioned neocons, whose ideology is rooted in neo-Trotskyism and in radical Baptists sects, have come up with several doctrines and concepts which influenced US international behavior to a much greater degree than the price of Middle East oil. The infamous post-Cold War unipolarity and the dead-end War on Terror are the direct consequence of the Wolfowitz Doctrine developed by the neocons.
The unpleasantness on the territory of former Soviet republics, Georgia and Ukraine especially, are to a big extent caused by our “partners” using the science of transition research and their belief that the final destination of the transition is the establishment of a democratic regime. The chaos in the Middle East was caused by the same prescription…
The concept of foreign policy realism in its classic form also had its dark sides. It’s not accidental that on the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War Henry Kissinger is being subjected to well-deserved criticism for the lengthy isolation of Iran and for the death toll caused by Pol Pot’s regime in Cambodia. But even this wholly cynical concept, which rids international politics of any notion of morality and treats it as an alien notion, retains its ideological potency. The belief that the protection of US national interests requires the creation of balancing forces to all the potentially powerful actors is simply a strategy adopted by a GOP faction at a certain point in time.
And since one needs money in party and fraction battles, professional politicians engage in legalized corruption in the form of lobbyism, and sometimes even in criminal corruption.
All of that could not help but irritate US citizens. Hence Donald Trump’s popularity, who promises to “take care” of everything in his capacity as an effective manager.
This raises the natural question whether things will simply become worse if all the lobbying efforts clash not in the context of two-party and three-branch system struggle, but directly in the Oval Office of the White House? It won’t be possible to simply send everyone away and deal with problems in accordance with one’s managerial preferences. It’s one thing to win an election using own money, something else to try to reconcile irreconcilable interests, such as Israel’s and Saudi Arabia’s, Russia’s and Germany’s, Pakistan’s and India’s, China’s and Japan’s, especially when one keeps in mind that many of the countries are US creditors.
But let’s imagine the ideal outcome. Imagine that Trump is sufficiently agile to maneuver among his international partners and still remain a reliable and trustworthy leader.
As a matter of fact, Trump is citing his business acumen, leadership qualities, and negotiating skills when he says that his “relations with Putin will be absolutely wonderful.” His Fox News interview indicates that he sees Putin as a man of action and a pragmatists, a strong and respected leader with whom one can find a common language–of business and profit.
It would be something akin to a breath of fresh air to the Russian public after a year and a half of Western sanctions. From the start of the sanctions stand-off, experts and media have been claiming that Western economic interests will soon triumph over ideology and the disagreement over Eastern Ukraine and Crimea will soon be forgotten like an misunderstanding it really was. However, as time went by, West continued to demonstrate its ideological cohesion.
But now there appeared a strong presidential candidate on the other side of the ocean who thinks in terms of interests and not ideologies, because “he’s a businessman, not a politician.” And this man has arrived at the conclusion we’ve been waiting for: the relationship with Putin will be wonderful. Even the mainstream US media are calmly swallowing that rhetoric. The voters who are tired of Washington bureaucrats are continuing to support the non-system candidate who increases our chances to reach a businesslike accommodation with the US.
At long last? It’s finally happening?
Let’s not rush to conclusions.
States are different from corporations in that corporations answer to the law, so that not every business deal is actually necessarily legal. The law enforcement system nearly always has the wherewithal to rein in a corporation which ignores the law.
The idea is that states ought to respect law–international law. However, all the international institutional arrangements are much weaker than serious states so that they are useful only when multiple states unite against one, and even then not always. Any effort to “bring to order” a nuclear weapons state might turn out to be very costly. Use of force against a weak state, on the other hand, can take place without other states giving their consent. In such cases international law is cited only for its rhetorical uses.
So who would get in the way of a businesslike agreement between two powerful states on a specific issue, even when it goes against the international law?
While in this particular instance this might actually a plus rather than a minus, in the longer term the erosion of international law might backfire on both countries. If Russia and the US do what they please, why can’t Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, India, and China? Or even Iran and Turkey? And what if what’s convenient to them is inconvenient to Russia and/or the US? How would we deal with the matter then? By force? Or by continuing to put our hopes in Putin’s and Trump’s business acumen?
It’s no accident that all world wars occurred against the backdrop of international law and norm erosion.
Therefore it is crucial to reach an agreement not on specific mutual dealings, temporary alliances, and sphere of influence division, but on the general rules of the game.
This is extremely difficult to do, because there is no international investigative committee or police force. The collapse of the post-Yalta world means the system of checks and balances created during the many years of US-USSR confrontation has collapsed as well. It will have to be built anew. In such a way that it will work in at least a majority of cases.
But that’s what a political system entails.
It’s very good that the Washington hawks have to contend with a businesslike guy who respects our president and who is ready to reject old ideological dogmas and reach out to Russia.
But this elation should not lead to the ignoring the need for a lengthy political process of building a hopefully somewhat just world order.
Because such a process will have to be long term. Reaching an agreement with Trump, or any other US president, is simply a tactical task for the next two-three years.