Trump, Sanders and the Exhaustion of a Political Model


The presence, and even omnipresence, of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders at this stage of the US electoral race would have been difficult to predict only a year ago.

The participation of Trump, a populist and politically unwise businessman, would have been unthinkable a few years ago; just as that of a Vermont socialist who focuses on fighting inequalities, injustices and great fortunes. Even if –ultimately– neither had a real chance of occupying the White House in 2017, both allow us to understand the changes that are taking place in US society which eventually could come to change its very nature.”

These are views expressed by journalists Arnaud Blin and François Soulard in an essay published on April 27 by the Alainet network.

“Donald Trump is a typical all-American champion: White, Protestant and rural, whose unstable identity is viscerally linked to atavistic ideas such as the right to own a gun –long promoted by Hollywood and present in the dreams of several generations, but which today seems to be totally overcome by events.”

Bernie Sanders, in a way, is the perfect opposite of Trump and both embody the exhaustion of the American people.

Sanders –a politician with vast experience, the son of Polish Jewish immigrants, an atheist native of Brooklyn and a socialist– is the antithesis of White, Protestant, neo-liberal America. He is also the embodiment of the cosmopolitan urban movement that has become aware of the serious deficiencies of the neoliberal model.

It is true that Sanders will not be able to defeat Hillary Clinton, but the support he has managed to get shows how mentalities have changed. This also means that Hillary Clinton will have to take into account these new trends to govern effectively.

For anyone who lived in the US during the Cold War, the idea of a politician presenting himself as a socialist without landing somewhere other than a courtroom is almost unthinkable, Blin and Soulard say.

The outdated battle for the “America of the old days” that Trump is carrying forward is also bringing about the implosion of the neo-liberal Republican Party, and the emergence of a Hispanic “majority minority”. That these are transforming the US political and cultural landscape, and bringing about the re-emergence of a public opinion favorable to social rights are signs that the United States is entering a new phase of its history.

The need to adapt to this phase demands even more  –write Arnaud Blin and François Soulard– the knowledge of the inner reality of the US and the perception of its  uncertain evolution.

At the level of its internal policies, the US is today being overtaken today by several decades of irresponsibility and denial. While in 1945, Americans had half a century of progress ahead in relation to the rest of the world, today they are falling behind in many areas: education, justice, social security, infrastructure, etc. …, that is, the fields that define how a superpower is able to lead in the direction of History, for better or worse.

While the United States continues to lead in terms of economic dynamism and military power, that dynamism is suffering great imbalances and US power is inadequate for current requirements in terms of foreign policy and the use of force.

The United States has not known how to adapt to a globalization of which it has been the prime instigator and the strongest motor force. Hence, in the short and medium term, the US will face an important choice: to continue business as usual, with the possible risk of the progressive erosion –already visible—of its power, prestige and influence.

Or to make a strategic retreat that would allow it to invest its energies in a profound renewal of society and the regaining of its lost prestige. For this, it will have to reduce substantially its external activities and military apparatus. It would have to articulate its priorities better.

Faced with this dilemma, Blin and Soulard wonder if Hillary Clinton will be the Wonder Woman capable of carrying out the necessary change; or will she be content to navigate murky waters making small symbolic but insufficient changes?

“The combined clash of Trump and Sanders will, perhaps, serve as an electroshock to a political class that –as confirmed by most US Americans– refuses to look reality in the face. After declaring repeatedly and for  so long “we are the best”, it will be indeed difficult to accept that “we are not even very good”. This is Blin and Soulard’s conclusion.

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Manuel E. Yepe is a lawyer, economist and journalist. He is a professor at the Higher Institute of International Relations in Havana.

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