When Samuel Huntington, the late Harvard Political Scientist wrote his provocative work, A Clash of Civilization, he was referring to the world of western civilization clashing with Islamic civilization but over the inaugural weekend, it is clear that what we are witnessing in America is a clash of civilization about the future of America.
On Friday, January 20, 2017, Donald J. Trump took the oath from the Chief Justice Roberts and became the 45th President of the United States. From his pedestrian inaugural address, President Trump laid out his vision of America which did not deviate from his campaign rhetoric. In his speech, Trump’s clarion call was that in his administration in every aspect of policy, it would be America First.
In the second decade of the twenty-first century, Trump’s analysis is that the rest of the world has been preying on America and robbing America of its wealth. Trump, a billionaire developer, argues that the world from Trump Towers on Fifth Avenue, New York, reflected not an affluent society marred by income inequality but one that was tarnished by tombstone areas of the country where factories had closed in abundance and inner cities were plagued by crime, gangs and drugs. Some journalists have referred to Mr. Trump’s speech as the carnage address.
Obviously, the world from Trump Towers or Mar-a-Lago looks differently from the rust belt in Michigan and in the Presidential election of 2016 Mr. Trump was able to convince 62 million voters that his dire vision of America is more real than the alternative reality.
Although having spent his entire life building luxury apartments, opulent golf courses and exclusive hotels, Mr. Trump demonstrates a shallow grasp of economics. In the inaugural address, he makes the case that protectionism in an age of international trade will return “prosperity” to America. And already he is poised to hold meetings with the Prime Minister of Canada and the President of Mexico to renegotiate the NAFTA trade agreement that went into effect in 1994 during the Clinton administration.
But the manufacturing base of America has been affected not just by free trade but also by automation and the introduction of robots in production. For example, the American automobile industry is producing more cars than ever but using less workers. Enhanced productivity is essential to entrepreneurs being able to compete on the world market. The issue is that even with increased productivity, the share of the profits being earned by workers has been shrinking. The owners of production have been coveting the increased spoils. Capitalists outsource goods to maximize profits and Trump hopes to use the bully pulpit of the White House to turn that around. He is also not cognizant as to the extent that agricultural exports will be hurt by a policy of protectionism.
The ultra-nationalist vision of America that Trump is articulating is congruent with the fascist winds swirling on the European continent. Trump’s recent criticism of Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, reflects his distaste for the European Union and for NATO.
The leader of the National Front Party in France, Marine Le Pen, and the leader of the Dutch Freedom Party, Geert Wilders, reflect similar anti-global, anti-European Union sentiments and are hostile to immigration in any form. These elements favor the dismantling of the post World War 11 economic and political order.
Although Britain chose last year to make its exit from the European Union, Theresa May, the Prime Minister of Britain and the Conservative Party that she leads, are strong advocates for free trade and are strong supporters of the NATO alliance. In a recent speech at the Davos World Forum in Switzerland, Theresa May made it clear that Britain remained a strong advocate for free trade and was eager to have access to the markets of the European Union.
Trump is not someone who will grow during his tenure in the White House. He is cocksure about his prescription for apocalyptically fixing the ills of contemporary American civilization. For Trump, ignorance is bliss and that is why the day after his inauguration, the world awakened and took to the streets to resist this warped sense of American society.
The Women’s March constituted a grassroots uprising to Mr. Trump’s vision of America. Trump stated in his inaugural address that he had created a movement the likes of which had never been seen. If he looked out from the White House the first day of his presidency, he would be aware that his non-movement had ignited a mass movement not just in Washington, D.C. but in every major city in America and in other cities all over the world.
People are alarmed not just at Trump’s economics but his abandonment of American leadership on the critical issue of climate change. In Davos, Switzerland, it is the Chinese and Indian delegations now in the vanguard of dealing with climate change.
The Trump administration has nominated to be heads of federal agencies that have dramatically opposed interests to the work of those agencies. Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama who is slated to be the Attorney General has no commitment to civil rights, to voting rights or to civil liberties. Betsy De Vos, the nominee for the Secretary of Education, wants to siphon off public education funds and to weaken public education for a voucher system. The nominee for the Environment Protection Agency has spent his entire career as the Attorney General of Oklahoma suing the EPA and opposed to federal initiatives vis-a-vis clean air and clean water. Trump has been contradictory on the right of Americans to health care. He is opposed to the Affordable Care Act yet does not have a workable alternative to the ACA.
The Women’s March represents a grassroots uprising against Trumpism. Trump’s vision of America is a hodgepodge of traditional Republican conservatism and Altright populism. The Women’s March marks the clash of civilization inside America and the grassroots mobilization will be tested at the local and state levels and at the 2018 national election when members of the House of Representatives will be re-elected and one-third of the Senate. In the interim, the mass mobilization must achieve intellectual clarity and re-affirm American values.