President Trump corrupts American democracy

Liberality and Democracy : Donald Trump's America is endangering Western values

The Americans voted and made up their minds: against the political establishment in Washington, against their role as a global regulatory power and against the liberal America, which was a role model and orientation for many people around the world. Donald Trump, the 45th President of the no longer so United States of America, was able to prevail, although he - or worse: because he disregarded the rules of human decency and democratic principles.

Trump was sure of his cause: "I could shoot someone in the center of New York and I wouldn't lose a voter," he boasted to journalists who were amazed at his crossing of borders.

Almost 60 million Americans who voted for him ignored the fact that he made fun of the disabled, demeaned women, incited against Muslims, stigmatized Latinos as "rapists and criminals" and his rival, the "corrupt Hillary "threatened to put her behind bars as soon as he was in office. "Lock them up!" Was the unifying battle cry of the Trump "movement".

With this mud fight, which is also entertaining for many, the demagogue Donald Trump managed to get people back into the political scene who had long since said goodbye. It gives the powerless a perspective and, more importantly, a voice. Because more and more white Americans are afraid of relegation. They fear that African-Americans, Latinos and Asian immigrants will outstrip them.

America's position in the world also appears to be in jeopardy. Trump reinforces these fears, but at the same time gives the strong leader who offers simple solutions to complicated problems, initially to put Hispanic immigrants and global challengers like China in their place.

While most of America's problems are homemade, Trump blames others: immigrants or competitors. He fuels negative nationalism because he defines his followers and America in terms of demarcation from others. With his xenophobic slogans, he delights his followers, who are primarily white, less educated Americans.

This group of voters, which the party establishment of the Republicans ignored, looked down on the favorite of the Democrats with contempt. Hillary Clinton denounced these voters as a "basket of deplorable" people. The human fisherman Trump, on the other hand, assured the despised of his special affection: "I love the uneducated."

With his announcement that he wanted to "make America great again", he profited from the feeling of inferiority of social losers who feel that they have been abandoned by both parties. By interviewing voters directly, Trump made them feel that, unlike established politicians, he actually took their needs seriously.

Deep aversion to "business as usual"

Every time Hillary Clinton, saturated with facts and intellectually polished, taught Trump wrong in the television debates and ridiculed him for his simple language and ignorance, she unconsciously played him a trump card: It increased the solidarity of his supporters against the elites and the established ones, desired by Trump Politics and, above all, against yourself.

In the end, Trump even received the votes of some supporters of the left Democrat Bernie Sanders, who was defeated in the primary campaign.

Most America observers, who only know the east and west coasts and ignore the Midwest known as the "Heartland" and the southern states, the "Bible Belt", of the USA, were surprised that Trump also received the blessing of the Christian right, especially that of the evangelicals and Catholics who are conservative on questions of social morality. The last Republican president owed four out of ten votes to this "base" of Republicans.

In addition to their elitist origins, George W. Bush and Donald Trump have something in common: They were both laughed at by educated global citizens at home and abroad and underestimated when it comes to their ability, even peasant cunning, the mood of their compatriots - their "angry citizens" - to understand and respond to them.

The internationally oriented Republican financial elite and intellectual neo-conservatives have seen Trump's success come with astonishment and horror. However, they could not prevent its meteoric rise. The reason: In the USA there are no parties as we understand it. They play no role in policymaking, there is no parliamentary group or party discipline.

Most Americans today have a deep dislike of mainstream politics

They have even lost their minimal function as electoral associations to interest groups and billionaires - thanks to the rulings of the Supreme Court, which approved donations as a form of freedom of expression that should not be curtailed.

Most Americans today have a deep dislike for mainstream politics, for "business as usual". The most important issue for them in the run-up to the elections was therefore the conviction that a handful of their compatriots had too much influence on politics and that this political system was corrupted. Significantly, in this situation, the billionaire Trump was able to win the confidence of his voters by saying that nobody could buy him because he already had a lot of money.

Trump frankly said that he himself gave money to politicians as a businessman and always achieved what he wanted - for example, Hillary and Bill Clinton married their third wife, the Slovenian-born Melanija Knavs and future "first lady" Melania Trump, attended.

With this argument he was also able to eliminate Jeb Bush, who had hoarded over $ 100 million in campaign donations before the announcement of his candidacy and was therefore considered a safe political bank. At the same time, the self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders put Hillary Clinton into a mess in the Democratic primary.

Clinton's biggest target, which Trump later exploited extensively in the main election campaign, consisted in the massive support of her election campaign and the enrichment of her private fortune through the financial industry, whose unbridled behavior had contributed significantly to the financial crisis of 2007/08.

If you look at the degree of integrity of elections - like the democracy researcher Pippa Norris from Harvard University - then the USA, with 52nd place out of 153 countries, is not exactly one of the model students. Even Croatia, Greece, Argentina, Mongolia and South Africa are now ahead of the former model democracy.

The main criticism is that interest groups and wealthy individuals exert massive influence on the elections, that electoral districts are politically motivated and that African-Americans and Latinos are discriminated against when registering for elections, as well as the low turnout. The fact that voter queues are still forming in many places in the US elections is due to the inadequate technical equipment - as in countries of the "Third World". None of this fits into the self-image of a high-tech nation.

AfD and Front National will imitate Trump

We must therefore question the clichés and illusions of the "land of unlimited possibilities" that are still in the minds of many. We shouldn't be blinded by the glossy statistics of the business media. They are often Potemkin villages, at best average values ​​that hide the underlying inequalities and structural problems.

The situation is not as miserable as Donald Trump explained to his voters for electoral reasons. But it is also not as rosy as it is drawn by good ambassadors from the New World, by American "Public Diplomacy" (formerly known as propaganda) and by admirers on the old continent.

Donald Trump is also more appearance than reality. He learned his trade in various reality TV shows and created a fictional character, a media figure, of himself. Every American knows Trump's reality TV show The apprenticein which he said, "You are fired!" incompetent workers fired. Trump himself is an icon for success, although he has had many failures in real life.

Regardless of this, he maintains the media image of a successful and powerful businessman who can put America back on the road to success. His political success in American media democracy was inevitable. America and the western world can no longer get rid of the ghosts that the sorcerer's apprentice Trump called.

Donald Trump is not the main problem, however. Rather, the entrepreneur Trump understood how to exploit not only the social misery of many of his voters, but also fundamental deficits in American economics and politics for his own ends. And Germany also has these problems, albeit not to such an extreme extent.

The feeling of material security has also been lost

Anyone who compares the meteoric rise of Donald Trump and the so-called Alternative for Germany (AfD) nevertheless sees one important thing in common despite all the differences: dissatisfaction with the political class.

Liberal democracy is under pressure. Neither in America nor in Europe does the state manage to make its citizens feel safe. The feeling of material security, the feeling that as many as possible get something from economic prosperity, has also been lost.

However, it would be a prerequisite for citizens to support the state and established politicians. The resulting legitimation crisis is evident from the fact that populists on both sides of the Atlantic can exploit the massive discontent: Trump in the USA, the AfD in Germany.

The election strategists of the AfD or the French Front National of Marine Le Pen will analyze Donald Trump's recipe for success very carefully and try to imitate it. In doing so, they are supported by the right-wing conservative medium Breitbart News actively supported, whose managing director Stephen Bannon orchestrated Trump's election campaign attacks and who, as future chief strategist in the White House, will listen to the president.

According to Alexander Marlow, who is editorially in charge of the medium, which sometimes also spreads right-wing extremist positions, editorial offices will soon be opened in Berlin and Paris. The aim should be to support right-wing populist politicians.

In other respects, too, we in Europe will be affected by developments in the USA: During Donald Trump's term in office, we should be prepared for the fact that the social rifts in the USA will deepen and the political fronts will harden. The social division and political radicalization will put the democracy of the Western ruling power under further pressure and also affect Europe and the world.

The more the USA is concerned with itself, the less it can exercise its global regulatory function. There is also the risk that internal strife can also lead to external aggression. In the worst case, Commander in Chief Trump could even try to divert attention from domestic problems with a more offensive foreign policy.

The nationalist snail shell as a golden way

Can a peaceful, liberal world order exist when the hegemon, the guardian who is supposed to maintain it, is no longer liberal?

Should Trump keep his isolationist credo "America First" and, as threatened in the election campaign, ruthlessly push through American interests, ignore security alliances such as NATO and start trade wars, he would at the same time bring about the western-oriented world order that the USA has cherished since the Second World War to destroy.

While the new US administration could see the withdrawal into the nationalist snail shell as the golden path, China with its comprehensive Silk Road initiative ("One Belt, One Road") does not shy away from diplomatic initiatives and economic investments to reorganize world trade in its favor.

In Europe, we will have to prepare for several scenarios and have to make our own thoughts about how we want to align ourselves in this rapidly changing geopolitical power constellation. We need to find out how the possible turmoil between the changing social, economic and political systems of the USA and the world order that it has helped to shape can play out.

After all, we all need a world that promises us a more or less good existence.

Dr. Josef Braml is the USA expert of the German Society for Foreign Policy (DGAP) and is the editor of the International Politics Yearbook. On December 16 His book "Trump's America - At the expense of freedom. The sellout of American democracy and the consequences for Europe" is published by Quadriga-Verlag. We are publishing an excerpt here in advance with the kind permission of the author.

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