Great white hope

Marginalised working class America has shown that democracy is the best revenge

Great white hope
You have heard it all by now. You know how Trump made his way to the presidency riding on the discontentment of the white working-class people of the American South and Midwest. The rust belt consisting of former industrial towns and mining colonies that provided a steady income for millions of Americans is now a wasteland where people have no jobs and no hope for a better future. You have also heard about the disgruntled Democratic Party supporters who abstained from voting for Hillary Clinton because of her questionable past. She had supported mass incarceration of Black youth in the 1990s, led wars and regime change efforts in the Middle East during the last decade, and deleted troves of emails from her computer over the last couple years. Consequently, Hillary attracted around five million fewer votes than what President Obama got in the 2012 elections.

It is easy to blame Donald Trump’s victory on his xenophobic, misogynistic and bigoted message, but these are only symptoms of the more fundamental issues brewing within Western societies. Advancements in technology and globalization in the last few decades have changed the dynamics of these societies and what we are seeing as racism or xenophobia is a fallout from their shifting socio-economic realities. The consolidation of European colonial powers in the 19th century and post-colonial exploitation of the third world in the 20th century established a nation-state model of wealth accumulation, in which resources from occupied or controlled territories were transferred to the colonizing nations. Although stark inequalities existed between the rich and the poor in these countries, the poorest inhabitants could sell their labour as soldiers or industrial workers to earn a decent living and had hopes that the future of their children would be brighter than theirs. The poor Spanish sailors who sailed toward the Americas in the 17th century, the British blokes who became ‘Nabobs’ through their exploits in India in the 19th century, and the American industrial innovators of the 20th century gained substantial advantages from the exploits of their ruling classes in foreign lands through wars or lopsided trade deals.

The rise of technology and globalization in the 21st century has dramatically altered this model and now the flow of wealth is determined more by technological skills and entrepreneurial investments than national identity. Technology-savvy engineering graduates from India and Chinese entrepreneurs with the right connections are attracting wealth from Western countries, and multinational corporations are increasingly investing in places with lower labour costs regardless of national boundaries. This has created a new global class of individuals whose access to wealth is determined by their education instead of their nationality. Take the example of the CEOs of powerful American corporations such as Google and Microsoft who are both Indian-born and relatively young. On the other hand, the underclasses in the Western world who do not have access to higher education are finding it hard to maintain even decent living standards. By voting for people like Trump in the US and Nigel Farage in Britain, these folks want to undo the new global economic model and return to the nation-state arrangement where the corporates would be forced to employ them as labour at higher rates instead of low-wage workers in Asia or Latin America.

While it is unclear at this stage whether Donald Trump can turn things around for working-class Americans, his victory has certainly provided an outlet for the seething anger within these communities. His ascension to the presidency has given a clear signal to the American establishment and corporate interests that rust-belt Americans refuse to be forgotten and that the upper-classes of their country cannot go on accumulating wealth in cahoots with the upper classes of foreign nations while ignoring the plight of their poor compatriots. Trump’s win is a big victory for democracy as vast marginalized populations broke through the established interests within the US political system that have controlled American elections since 1960s without much opposition. These results have saved the U.S. from potential disorder or militia-based violence in rural America like the one involving the Bundy Brothers earlier this year. The beauty of democracy is that it quells popular unrest by allowing people to express their discontent through the ballot.

On the dark side, Trump’s presidency along with the Republican control of the Congress, the Senate, and the Supreme Court is bad news for the environment, disadvantaged communities, civil rights, and scientific research. Pollutants from dirty coal energy and other fossil fuels will be freely pumped into the air, the LGBT community and women seeking abortions will face difficulties, and federal funding for scientific and health research is likely to go down in Republican America. Social welfare for the poorest Americans will decrease and the already deteriorating public k-12 education system will further crumble in the inner-cities.

Muslims, like other minority groups such as African-Americans and Hispanics, will see an increase in discrimination and race-based violence. Over the course of America’s 200-year-old history, the white working class has been taught by upper-class whites to blame their woes on African-Americans, and now they will extend these sentiments to all non-white groups.

Undocumented Latino workers who are exploited for their cheap labour by American corporations will probably face mass deportations as they are accused of stealing white working-class jobs. If that happens, the prices of agriculture and dairy produce and the construction cost of housing will increase as business owners will have no choice but to hire expensive white working-class labour. Consequently, wealth will flow from large businesses and urban middle- and upper-classes to the lower-class whites. The expulsion of Hispanics from the U.S. will have unimaginable consequences for Latin American countries like Mexico and El Salvador who heavily rely on remittances from America.

What these election results mean for Pakistan is hard to tell. Hillary’s presidency would have looked like Obama’s tenure but Trump is unpredictable. If we go by his pre-election rhetoric, Trump’s presidency will largely be non-interventionist and will not engage in regime changes abroad. He will increase the offensive against ISIS while working closely with Russia. He will also put pressure on Pakistan to abandon its support for Islamic militant organizations including Jaish-e-Muhammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba. This would be a much-needed step for the country, but given its history, our establishment is more likely to entrench itself with these groups rather than take rational decisions. If the Republican establishment seizes control of foreign affairs from Trump, we will see a continuation of Obama and Hillary’s neo-Liberal policies in the Middle East and U.S. relations with Russia will soar. Trump’s choice of Secretary of State and CIA chief will provide a clear picture of where the foreign policy of the country is headed.

Final words: Hillary’s loss has sent a resounding message to the Democratic Party establishment that people will not blindly support its candidate if she does not offer change and progress. This is an opportunity for progressive forces within the party to re-group and ensure someone like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren emerges as the presidential candidate to defeat Trump in the 2020 elections.

Obed Pasha is lecturer of Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He can be reached at or @ramblingsufi