The significance of Trump’s victory has little to do with Trump
I have been writing about the Trump victory since the election. For me, the real issue and the real interest is not Trump, however, it is what a Trump victory signifies. Some have argued that it means that there really was not a choice at all, meaning there was no good candidate, so it came down to choosing the lesser of two evils. I understand that argument and think there is some merit to it. Despite what the mainstream media tried to make us believe, Hillary Clinton is far more dangerous for the world than Trump. This lesser of two evils argument also holds that if Bernie Sanders had been the democratic candidate instead of Hillary, he would have definitely defeated Trump.
Perhaps he would have, but perhaps not. I think that one of the things the Trump victory may signify is that people in the US desire a change that may not have come from Bernie. While Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are very different people with very different views, they both talked about things like job creation for the people. But Trump may have talked about unemployment in a way that tapped into things people have been thinking but are too afraid to say. When he talked about unemployment and limiting illegal immigration, for example, rather than interpret it as racism, some people may have interpreted it economically, and thought that limiting illegal migration could create jobs for Americans and increase the minimum wage for the working class. While illegal migrant labor is not the sole cause of unemployment, it is unrealistic to believe that it does not drive down wages to some degree in certain sectors.
I will return to this point later on. For now, I want to point out that even daring to say what I just said makes me unpopular, especially among “the left” — a camp I used to strongly identify with. The story goes that, if you are “left wing” then you must oppose Trump, not only because he ran as a Republican or right wing candidate but also, and especially, because he is racist. But Trump was opposed by almost the entire Republican Party. Does that suggest that he is not right wing in the “modern sense?” Or perhaps it suggests that the Republican Party is not conservative or right wing in the “traditional sense?” Or vice versa? It is all very confusing. And while he is accused of being racist, Trump actually received more minority votes than previous Republican presidential candidates: “When we compare Republican nominee performances in prior open elections … Trump made important gains among black voters and white voters alike.”
The end of limiting binaries?
For me, that is the real significance of this election; it is shaking up our understanding of traditional binaries such as “black and white” and “left and right” and hopefully leading to the abandonment of these binaries altogether. We are a world presently in crisis. Everywhere one looks, unemployment and debt slavery are on the rise and people’s ability to live a decent life is increasingly threatened and undermined on so many levels. For me, what matters most is finding realistic, feasible solutions to our common crisis.
It is not about individual politicians or outmoded binary thinking like “left” vs. “right” or white vs. black or male vs. female, etc. I say this as a former or traditional lefty (meaning one that does not practice identity politics), a woman, an immigrant, a brown person, and someone that was raised by Muslim parents.
I am looking above and looking beyond the left-right divide at the present historical juncture to argue that we need to be pragmatic and deal with the world as it is, in order to try and make it what we wish and hope it can be. The first part of dealing with the world as it is, and I think this has been highlighted by the recent US election, is to realize that “right and left” as we once thought of them no longer exist — and perhaps never did — and it may do well to move beyond this binary.
First of all, what is considered left or right today does not reflect what was once perceived as left and right, so when we use these terms today we are not necessarily describing what was once considered to be the left or the right. On the one hand, the traditional left — which was largely concerned with issues of class and employment at home and resisting empire and imperialism abroad — has been largely, though not entirely, supplanted by liberal identity politics and its support for “humanitarian imperialism” (i.e., imperial interventions aboard in the name of “human rights”). While on the right, things are even blurrier. Traditional protectionist-isolationist conservatives were supplanted by globalist, war hawk/imperial neoconservatives decades ago, only to have a recent emergence of an anti-neocon and anti-Empire “alternative right” faction, alongside the resurfacing of a quasi-racist or white supremacist extreme right in some parts of the world.
It is all very layered to say the least, and can get down right confusing! Instead of getting caught up in ever shifting and hard-to-agree-upon labels, it might be best to abandon these labels altogether and think in terms of problems and solutions. When we do, we may begin to see that things are far simpler and yet far more complex than right or left. This is what I — someone who use to “identify” as an old-fashioned lefty — have done for a few years now. The problems of the current historical juncture are very nuanced and require equally nuanced solutions. At the same time, the current situation or crisis is also pretty straight forward: militarized economic globalization, which requires and entails the destruction of local economies and work forces as well as endless imperial war and military intervention abroad, is destroying the world, for the majority of people.
When we get locked into labels it can prevent us from seeing the necessity of a dynamic and feasible approach that engages the present reality. For instance, when I hear a man like Donald Trump talk about limiting and reversing illegal immigration in the United States, I don’t interpret it racially, even though I am a brown immigrant. What I think is that illegal immigration drives down wages in certain sectors and that limiting illegal immigration could create jobs or a better wage for certain segments of the working class.
Limiting Immigration Is Not Always Bad?
And when I hear him talk about limiting Muslim immigration or reducing the intake of Syrian refugees, I don’t read it as Islamophobia, even though I am a Muslim immigrant in the West. As a sociopolitical analyst that has long been critical of US Empire, I am fully aware that in its imperial mission to try and oust the current secular Syrian regime, the US has allied with, supported and armed radical Muslim terrorists. I am also aware that as the West fails in its mission and as Syrians flee the now devastated country, it is possible for ISIS fighters to be among them. This is a form of blowback. So even though I am a Muslim immigrant, given that the West has been keen to fund and arm radical Sunni Muslims abroad, including and especially in Syria, I believe that scrutiny or vetting of Syrian refugees is a sensible idea.
At the same time, as a secular or non-practicing Muslim raised in the West by practicing Muslim parents, I am all too aware of the incompatibility of Western and religious Islamic culture. That is not a racist or xenophobic statement; it is a pragmatic truth. And it would be true of any traditional or strict religious worldview and a non-religious, secular worldview: A secular Jewish person with orthodox or Hasidic parents may say the same thing, as would a secular person raised by devout Orthodox Christians, Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is not easy for very religious and non-religious cultures to coexist. No one knows this more or more authentically than a person who had to negotiate and reconcile those two very different worlds their entire life.
Not all Muslims are traditional or very religious; there are many secular Muslims just as there are many secular people of all faiths. But for Muslims that are indeed very devout, the West may not be a place one can easily reconcile or fit into. I am not saying that Muslims should not be in the West but only that, if one is a religious or devout and practicing Muslim, they might find their beliefs and values incompatible with a Western, secular and or non-religious normative or worldview.
The Bottom Line
All of this is to say that, “as a Muslim,” I think of all of the above when I hear Trump or others talk about limiting Syrian refugees or Muslim immigration. I think of the reality of the incompatibility between very religious and non-religious cultures, or the irony of opposing radical Islam while covertly funding and supporting it abroad, and the very real possibility that Western-backed radicals could later come to the West as refugees. I think of all of that. And when I hear talk of limiting illegal migrants from Mexico, I think about the reality of ever-increasing unemployment and how illegal migration drives down already-low wages and essentially ‘off-shores’ jobs at home. I don’t think about racism and I don’t give into the distraction and diversion of identity politics, even though I am a brown, female, Muslim, immigrant! But saying any of this may make me very unpopular among “the left.”
At the same time, there are things that are championed by left-wingers like Bernie Sanders, such as universal health care and affordable and accessible post-secondary education, that I believe the US desperately needs but fear Donald Trump and other Republicans would never entertain due to their own hang ups over ideological labels. While a healthy and educated population makes sense and is actually “good for business” — i.e., people cannot work and or prosper if they are sick, poorly educated and or crippled by student debt — labels such as “communist” or “socialist” prevent certain segments of Americans from getting on board and seeing their usefulness. If they are not willing to accept these things out of care and compassion for their fellow citizens, they should at least see the long-term value of it. They should understand that a society where the majority of people are sick, injured and or uneducated would eventually break down. Every other industrialized nation understands this and has some form of universal health care and far more affordable post-secondary education. But America’s aversion to anything even seemingly socialist — i.e., its hang up on ideological labels — prevents it from taking a step that is actually utilitarian as much as it is humanitarian.
The reality is that the world is far more complex than left or right, especially given the ever-shifting meaning, and shifting priorities, of ‘the left’ and ‘the right.’ The US’ (and the world’s) problems are extremely nuanced and may require equally nuanced solutions, solutions that may include a mixture of both ‘right’ and ‘left’ thinking, so to speak, as well as a host of new things that have yet to be dreamed up. This is why people like Bernie Sanders are offering to work with Donald Trump, saying that if he makes good on his promise to be an economic populist challenging corporate America he is willing to work with him: “If Mr. Trump has the guts to stand up to those corporations, he will have an ally with me.” I echo Sanders’ sentiments. If Trump makes good on his promises, it does not matter if he is left, right, or other. All that matters to me is what he is willing to do to actually help everyday people.
If Trump is willing and able to rein in corporate oligarchy and economic globalization, thus creating employment for Americans, and if he were willing and able to reign in the imperial war machine, then he would have already surpassed the broken promises of the last administration. But if he, like so many others before him, fails to deliver on what he promised during his campaign, then the people have every right and reason to oppose him. While I am holding onto my guarded optimism about possible changes to economic and foreign policy, the names of potential Trump cabinet members that are floating around the rumor mill are making me increasingly nervous. It remains to be seen.
 This points to an undeniable contradiction or irony: While the West has claimed for years that it is opposed to radical Islam and Islamic terrorism, it has actually been creating, supporting and or bolstering it for decades, starting as far back as the Soviet-Afghan war. It has also repeatedly declared war against secular Muslim regimes, such as Sadamm Hussein’s Iraq, Momar Gaddafi’s Libya and, presently, Bashar Al Assad’s Syria.