Donald Trump – American Takfiri

The idea of anger as a necessary prelude to reform is enshrined in the American political discourse. Many point to the Civil Rights and Feminism as instances of justifiable anger leading to social reform. It can be said that Dr Martin Luther King indeed got angry at the injustices inflicted on Black Americans. But he also famously compared them to a “bounced” check, a promise not kept. He demanded that the promise be honored, but never hinted that those that signed it in bad faith be punished.

What we saw in four days at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland was something entirely different. The anger there was closer to political road rage. The injustice is simply a loss of honor, a sense of being dissed and ignored.  Many delegates and leaders believed that rudeness was required to address errors, and wholesale de-legitimization of opponents constituted a good political strategy. In the calls for imprisoning, or executing, Hillary Clinton we saw the rise of American Takfir, or of a re-emergence from a once rejected darkness. Political pundits insisted that this is an expression of economic malaise on the part of many Americans. Perhaps. But a closer and more obvious explanation is at hand. Speakers at the podium insisted that this is “the last election”, and unless Trump is elected, America will vanish. What did they mean? It is simple. We are at the end of two successful terms of an elegant, eloquent and thoughtful President. He also happens to be Black. If polls are correct, the next four years will see a restoration to a Midwest-born White …. Woman!. The country, their country, is changing, perhaps beyond anything the speakers recognize as true religion. The apostates must be rooted out. Red faced righteous anger is necessary and just. The irony is that Trump is adopting many of the thoughts and tactics of those he considers America’s enemies. A tale of lost status and desire for a return to ancestral ways to rebuild imagined greatness is rough medicine. From there there is the instability of political arguments becoming violent incitement, and worse terror for those who disagree or are as seen as accomplices to them.

From an observer who has studied such denouement up close. Let us not go there.

— Maged Atiya


Trump: Illiberal Democracy – American Edition

It is possible that Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States. He would then assume an office with enormous power. The American Presidency is a near dictatorship, constrained only by constitutional checks and balances.The legislative checks on a President Trump would be minimal. House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, has already voiced that Trump would a “partner” in achieving partisan plans. The leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, has just written a book in praise of naked partisanship and political opportunism. The judicial constraints on Trump are considerable, but he has shown strong disregard for the judiciary. This is to be expected from a litigious man wont to attack judges who disagree with him. We can not forget that President Jackson simply ignored the Supreme Court when it disagreed with his plans for ethnic cleansing of citizens who happened to be native Americans. The election of Donald Trump would represent a triumph of illiberal democracy. While many nodded in approval while such outcomes were recommended to Muslim-majority countries, it is doubtful they would like the native edition. What is not good for the Muslim is also not good for the Christian, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist or the unbeliever.

There is of course some hope that voters will reject Trump. But risks abound. Hillary Clinton is smart, tough and prone to political self-mutilation. Bernie Sanders remains the unreconstructed independent and the curmudgeon in the machine. Any number of events could sway the election. But even if voters reject Trump in November, the outcome will still be unsatisfactory. The country will live with the memory of an ugly campaign, and of the fact that one of its two major parties embraced a habitual liar, a ranting racist, and a self-enriching operator of failing businesses. This is considerable damage in a two party system. The Republican party is not a private club; it is a national institution with considerable responsibilities.

But all is not lost. There is still room to act. The GOP should pull its version of the Egyptian July 3 2013. It should break all its rules and democratic norms and annoint another man or woman as its candidate. It will be wrong. It will be an act that we can neither condone nor condemn. But it would be patriotic. It may not work in the long run, or it may.

Welcome to Third World politics America.

— Maged Atiya

July 3 in the GOP

Donald Trump has earned the GOP nomination. Many will attempt to deny it to him, and in so doing will violate the rules of the nomination process. These violations will be as difficult to condemn as they are to condone. Rules matter, and changing them midstream brings unforeseen and often dangerous consequences. I was asked if a country that flirts with authoritarian populism can ever go back to being “normal”, or will the political system always carry these scars. That there is no ready counter-example leaves one with chilling thoughts. But the question remains, should the rules be violated now to prevent future violations?

Trump is the best American practitioner of the “stab in the back” politics. Such thoughts rarely lead a people to a happy end. The leader promises to restore greatness after the country has been undone by those enemies, internal and external, who stabbed it in the back. The plans are vague, the crowds large and howling, and the Thomases are pointed and cast out. America, as a whole, has escaped such predicament by a dint of constant prosperity and the resulting optimism. “As a whole” of course to hide the fact that the South, once defeated and faced with its moral culpability, has sometimes created its own sub-genre, but almost never conveyed it to national leadership. Yes, Trump must be stopped. But the rules might stand in the way.

This is a moment of humility for America that preached democracy to a sometimes skeptical world. A student of authoritarian populism must view Trump with both admiration and trepidation. Such a student must have no anger toward his supporters; most are decent men and women who saw economic opportunity evaporate in their lifetime (even if many are prosperous), their cherished faiths and prejudices denigrated by the cosseted few, and their unquestioned patriotism sent men and women to grievous harm in places with names echoing with guttural sounds, and in the service of nothing more identifiable than vague illusions and unworthy “allies”.  The 2016 election is now their moment, less for their effort than for the fumbling of others.

The election started out badly. American Presidential elections are now staged as entertainment events, with voters as consumers of such matter. The producers of this entertainment, the political donors, were persuaded or arm-twisted early to stage a sequel to the 1992 election. On one side we had Jeb! Bush  a decent retiree who ambled back onto the field with all the enthusiasm of a man leaving the comforts of home to manage a rough-and-tumble chicken farm passed from father and brother. On the other side, the capable and exceptionally smart Hillary Clinton thrilled a selected few on a windy Island in the East River with the novelty of electing a female President and persuaded them that her known performances are worthy of further trust.  As elections began to resemble episodes of the World Wrestling Federation, the voters can be excused for opting for the original. America had a decent enough President in Barack Obama, a man who expressed its best hopes. But he had been flayed politically; by the cynicism of GOP leaders who smirked when he was called a “liar” to his face in the halls of Congress, and whose birth and earned American accomplishments were challenged against all facts. When hope produced no tangible progress for the ruled, nor reticence among the ruling class, it was time for change.

One can drag out an endless jeremiad against identity politics and the ills it brings on the land. Political leaders of all stripes have engaged in it as a cheap substitute for substance, which in the modern world amounts to economic security. When Madeleine Albright reserved a special place in hell for women who do not “help” other women, she practiced a Trump-like form of identity politics, but with less elan and venom. It escaped no one’s attention that Trump-lite is merely a less tasty version of the original. Trump’s destruction of language and logic in airport hangars mirrors a similar one in campus lecture halls. In America of 2016 any candidate without an identity narrative is deemed too boring for consideration; boredom being the cardinal sin of entertainment. And so we find that all imitators have been bested by the most skilled of infotainers.

And we are now back to the GOP moment of truth. Nominate Trump and respect the rules, or deny him the nomination for high minded reasons that lead to low actions. Conventions are meant to be sausage factories, but the Republican 2016 recipe may be alarmingly similar to Egyptian Kofta.

— Maged Atiya