On the 8th November 2016, many Americans went to the polling stations to select the next President of the United States of America. The 2016 election year saw a difficult choice between two candidates: one a populist businessman demagogue whose rhetoric and seemingly bigoted policies have alarmingly resonated with a large portion of (‘white’) European Americans; the other, an experienced politician with questionable past practices while in political office who will no doubt continue the policies of the current administration.
As with every election time, the election campaign generated an implied myth that the Presidency election was going to result in a complete and radical change in the direction of the United States.
As news of Trump’s election victory came in on the morning of the 9th November 2016, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth, with many people – globally – falling to despondency, fear over what comes next, and dread. Almost equally, there was jubilation and celebration amongst the right-wing supporters of Trump, and many others who voted for him across America, believing that a ‘new era’ was coming.
However, like all successful myths, most of the American people have been misdirected to focus on the specifics of the candidates, while forgetting or not fully realising the true reason for the election and the important role it plays in the design of the U.S. system of government.
“Change” is no Change
First off, both sides seem to forget that the President of The United States (POTUS) does not possess absolute power and authority in the U.S. and cannot, of their own power, create radical changes.
This has been deliberate in the design of the United States government. The U.S. has separate executive (Whitehouse), judiciary (Courts) and legislative (the lower and upper houses) branches, so that no one branch can act completely unilaterally. For example, the POTUS cannot declare war on another country without the approval of Congress (the US government’s lower house). Likewise, POTUS cannot simply make up new laws without support from Congress and the Senate.
Much concern has been drummed up around Donald Trump. What is being circulated is that, if elected, he would implement severe policies that would discriminate against African Americans, Latino Americans and American Muslims. There were also fears that Trump would implement foreign policies that will result in many Muslim deaths around the world. However, the question that few ask is, how is that different to what has been happening under 8 years of President Obama? Has a mixed ethnicity European/African president in office for 8 years prevented recurring and systematic ethnic discrimination against African Americans in the U.S.? Despite his pleas after every mass shooting, was he able to repeal the constitutional right of Americans to buy and own firearms? Have Latino Americans been treated better under Obama than under his predecessor George Bush? Has the government ceased spying on its own people? No. In fact, in many cases, these problems have increased.
Why is that? Well the clue is in the name of the branch of government occupied by POTUS: ‘The Executive’. As the name implies, the role of that branch is to execute the laws and functions of the U.S. government, not to make new laws or changes, or even judge people according to the law. In fact, the POTUS has little ability to change the policies of Police departments, Homeland security or the NSA. Under President Obama, Muslims have been thrown off aeroplanes before travel for, well, being visibly Muslim while flying. Muslim visitors have been turned away from America either before getting on the plane, or (more cruelly) after arriving in the U.S. after a long flight from overseas. It is common for Muslims to report having been ‘randomly selected’ for screening every time they boarded a flight through the U.S. Obama has used more drone strikes and caused more civilians deaths by them than George Bush. Furthermore, the Muslim world is in greater turmoil now than ever it was during Bush’s time.
Some people cite concerns over the restrictions on Mexicans coming to the U.S., despite the fact that the USA already enacts one of the strictest immigration policies amongst any Western country, and there is already a diligently patrolled border fence on the U.S. southern border with Mexico. The only new proposition Trump put forward was to make it bigger and concrete (which he may abandon as a policy once he sees the price tag). Political analyst Arun Kundnani has already pointed out that everything we fear from Trump is already happening and on the increase.[i]
Reasons for the Rise of Trump
There were some conspiracy theories floating around that the Democrats covertly supported Trump and allowed him to gain primacy within the Republican nominations so that they could ensure that Hillary Clinton would win. There is not really much evidence to support this and the success of Trump’s election campaign has a more straightforward explanation; he did exactly what the system requires of him.
There are also some other considerations people seem to have forgotten. Many videos have resurfaced from years ago of Donald Trump having left-wing liberal views compared to the ostensibly conservative views he touts to his right-leaning Republican supporters. How then did he do a 180 degree turn in his opinions in the run up to this election? It is simple; he is a businessman, and if there is one thing a businessman knows how to do it is marketing. Trump marketed himself to the largest demographic and the lowest common denominator he could think of, the average European American. By doing so, many political analysts have observed that he has revealed the underbelly of ethnic discrimination, prejudice and ethnocentric politics that underpins America.[ii] Of course, what most people do not realise is that his biggest selling points in his campaign have been his promises to reinvigorate the American economy with pro-nationalist policies and provide jobs to the working classes in the US. This has resonated hugely with many demographics on the ground. Left-wing liberal, Michael Moore, observed this and blamed the US government for causing it in his recent documentary[iii].
During his election campaign, Trump has highlighted the corruption of U.S. lobbies and the receptiveness of American politicians to receiving bribes as well their duplicity. Of course, Donald Trump’s business history raises the same questions, but that is not the point. Trump exclaims these issues not because he is immune to them but, rather, because he knows it resonates with the people and recognises how effective such rhetoric is.
Trump’s election victory was quite simply the result of his enfranchising a majority of voters into his message. However, it is not really the message Trump was touting that is important to the U.S. system per se, but his ability to enfranchise the majority of the people to vote.
The U.S. System of Secular Liberal Democracy
Within every Western Secular Liberal Democracy, as with all other human governments, there is a natural power structure that lies beneath it.[iv] [v] It is not a conspiracy. It is just hierarchies that develop over time as people stablise a chain of influence/command between the powerful and rich elites and the administration of public institutions. More importantly, the purpose of the creation of the USA was to protect the wealth of people from being taken by ‘unfair taxes’ from the King of England (which was actually just the parliament of England). However, as protected as the rich now are, there was always one overriding concern: how were they to protect the rich elites from their own people? In order to prevent the American people from rising up against the government, like the American colonists who rose up against the British government, the U.S. government needs to regularly enfranchise the people into accept the government’s authority. The only way to do this was to have the people believe they make a choice in government and that the government ‘represents’ their interests. This is despite the fact that the constitution cannot be voted on by the people (and therefore the protection of wealth given by the constitution to the rich is above public power).
The purpose of the U.S. government having two houses and a constitution (like most Western governments) is lost on the general public. The purpose of the Constitution, Upper House (Senate), and independent judiciary is to check the power of, as the founding fathers put it, ‘the mob’.[vi] However, over time, the lower house of directly elected representatives (Congress) grew to also be controlled by money, election campaign advertising, investment and powerful party structures which added another layer of control and stability to the power structures.
This additional layer allows established party structures, which are funded and directed by elements of the wealth power structure, to weed out those who may be ‘trouble makers’. They are those who might use the position of POTUS as another type of political platform to incite grassroots civil revolt such as Bernie Sanders (Democrat) and Ron Paul (Republican).[vii] [viii] Party structures also ensure that independent parties or candidates remain small and unknown. One example of this is the fact that most people do not know that there were six other candidates in this POTUS election. These candidates are either from independent parties or are independents themselves. However, the last three biggest televised presidential debates did not include any of them on stage because these events were organised by the well-funded private organisations not obliged to invite anyone else.
In fact, in the U.S. more so than in European republics (misnamed ‘Democracies’), there are more ‘fail-safes’ against the people directly ruling. The U.S. uses a system whereby the people do not directly vote for the POTUS but for electors as intermediaries who each individually ‘pledge’ to vote for a particular candidate. Most Americans are probably unaware that the legally binding and official vote to elect the President of the United States is actually, under U.S. law, on the 19th December 2016.[ix] On this day the electors form into colleges and cast their votes on who will be the next president (usually they vote on the candidate they promised). However, this system means that it is not necessarily the candidate with the most votes by the people who will become President. Al Gore lost an election to George Bush despite being voted for by the majority of Americans.
This system arises from one the intellectual founding fathers of America, John Locke. He believed that the people always place the leader into power but that it could be under any structure, whether monarchy, oligarchy or Democracy. In his book, Two Treatises on Government, he leaned towards a system of republicanism (elected representatives) because he believed it was a system that would most disincline people to revolt out of all the alternatives, while at the same time preventing the ‘mob’ from removing the wealth from the rich – as a [real] Democracy would do as all citizens would vote on every law.
John Locke made clear that the government’s ability to tax (effectively taking the wealth of) the people was only possible if they vote, which gives consent by the people to the government.
This sounded all well and good to the founding fathers of America. However, there was one recurring problem – how could they make the people vote (consent to) and feel enfranchised in the system? As such, every four years much pageantry, pomp and circumstance must be generated around elections in order to make people feel that a special ‘turning point’ is about to happen and that they must vote. The concern is that if people lose hope in elections they may search for other means to realise their interests which could include a radical re-evaluation of the American system itself (something the inherited power structure obviously cannot accept, lest it lose privileges).[x]
“I think the American people are deluded…that the institutions that provide the public face actually set American national security policy. They believe that when they vote for a president or member of Congress or succeed in bringing a case before the courts, that policy is going to change. Now, there are many counter-examples in which these branches do affect policy, as Bagehot predicted there would be. But the larger picture is still true—policy by and large in the national security realm is made by the concealed institutions”.
Political scientist Michael J. Glennon, Tufts University, USA
Everyone remembers how much public ‘hope’ and fanfare was around Obama’s election. However, afterwards there were eight years of crushing disappointment. The problem was now getting people voting again the next time.
Enter Donald Trump
The problem of getting people to vote and continue their consent of the U.S. government after so much disappointment was solved by Donald Trump. He is a polariser, and that is exactly what the U.S. government and power structure could use. The media have both highly publicised him and (the same outlets) then heavily criticised him in turn. In doing so, they created a group of people who strongly love and support him enough to vote and another group who strongly hate, fear and revile him enough to vote. Such was the purpose Donald Trump served.
“Re-establishing a higher degree of true consent should be a central goal of those wanting to address the discontent so evident in our body politic today.”
Simon Rosenberg, former member of the Democrat National Committee
Come every election, the system does not actually want your voice. There is no place on your ballot to write down your opinions. The system just wants your vote. You will have to accept the outcome of the election regardless of who you vote for and whoever wins. This is the implied condition in the contract of you voting. Voting is consent and it is also your (bayah) pledge of allegiance to continue the system and give the government legitimacy.
Whether Donald Trump won or Hillary Clinton won this election, the reality would have always been the same: a resounding victory for the continuation of the same system.
Abdullah is an international speaker, thinker and intellectual activist for Islam and Muslim affairs.
He has spoken in community centres, universities, colleges and numerous appearances on various programmes on TV channels including the BBC, ITV, BBC Arabic, BBC Radio 4, Al Jazeera, Press TV, Islam Channel and IQRA TV.
In 2009, he co-founded the public discussion forum: The Muslim Debate Initiative, a forum that promotes open dialogue and critical debate between thinkers, academics, politicians and public speakers of all backgrounds.