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Racism, Shitholes and Re-election

SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Jun 23 2020 (IPS) - Over the course of his presidency, US President Donald Trump’s racism has become more evident with more leaks of his private remarks, which he has been generally quick to deny, qualify and explain away.

Despite his thinly disguised contempt for women, ‘non-white’ ethnic minorities, and most foreigners, unsurprisingly, he is respectful of power and privilege, especially when they may help him. Trump’s version of ‘kiss up, kick down’.

Anis Chowdhury

“Least racist person in the world”
Unsurprisingly, Trump has claimed he is the least racist person in the world. Unsurprisingly too, his record suggests otherwise. Trump has frequently created controversies with racially charged comments and actions, and was even sued for racial discrimination by the US Justice Department in the 1970s.

Trump won the 2016 presidential election with an ethno-populist agenda featuring racist elements. He has infamously promised a wall on the US-Mexico border to stop Mexicans, whom he deemed “criminals” and “rapists”, and imposed bans on Muslims entering the US.

Since entering the Oval Office, Trump continued to insist that he is the world’s least racist person, but frequently loses self-restraint, e.g., repeatedly stereotyping non-white reporters and pandering to white supremacists, even cracking jokes in bad taste. Trump has even tweeted that several non-white Members of Congress should go back to the “totally broken and crime infested places” they came from.

Adding insult to injury
Two years ago, Trump referred to Haiti, El Salvador and some other African countries as ‘shitholes’, sparking unprecedented international outrage. The UN human rights spokesperson described the comments as “shocking and shameful”, and simply “racist”, not that Trump cared.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

To be sure, underdevelopment is not the original condition of Africa before European colonialism, but rather, the historical outcome of various forces, most importantly Western imperialism from about half a millennium ago.

From around 1445 to 1870, Africa was the major source of slaves, especially for the New World, both in North and South America. Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands, Britain, France and others in the New World and Europe all benefited, albeit differently over time.

The processes and their effects were undoubtedly uneven, creating wealth for exploiters, often from abroad, while many of the exploited were enslaved, dispossessed and otherwise immiserised.

Thus, contrary to the claims of Niall Ferguson, the most prominent contemporary apologist of British imperialism, that colonialism laid the foundations for post-colonial progress, Africa was ruined, irreversibly maiming its development prospects.

A half-century or so after gaining independence between 1957 and 1975, or 1994, if apartheid South Africa is also included, ‘neo-colonial’ policy conditionalities and advice from donors and the Bretton Woods institutions have privileged foreign investment and export markets.

One major casualty of such policy advice was public investment. African countries were told not to invest in food agriculture and to dismantle supportive arrangements. Thus, with trade liberalization, food security suffered as Africa deindustrialized.

The sagas of Trump’s other shithole countries are not very dissimilar. Former US President Bill Clinton, who headed the United Nations’ effort to rebuild Haiti after the devastating earthquake of 2010, expressed regret for having forced Haiti to open its economy to food imports, effectively destroying domestic rice production, while benefiting American farmers.

‘Shitholes’ in Trump’s world view
Trump’s candid ‘shitholes’ comments presumably reflect his world view, in this case, of poor countries unlikely to provide much benefit and advantage to him or his view of American interests.

Even his ambiguous and ambivalent remarks about police and ‘vigilante’ brutality and killings of African-American and other ‘coloured’ minorities, or his dismissive treatment of ‘minority’ and inquisitive journalists should surprise no one.

Trump’s approval hit an all time high early in the year after securing the US-China trade deal. But having badly managed the Covid-19 pandemic, his poll ratings have declined precipitously since.

Despite lavishly praising China’s constructive cooperative attitude and handling of the virus outbreak in January, within months, he was encouraging to politically driven allegations of a Chinese conspiracy behind the outbreak. To add insult to injury, some African countries (e.g., Ghana, Senegal and Ethiopia) seem to have managed the pandemic better than he has.

Using anti-racist protests for re-election
Meanwhile, worldwide anti-racist demonstrations have revived earlier transnational protests against statues of persons identified with imperialism, slavery and the US Confederacy. The latest round of outrage following Floyd’s videoed murder by policemen is already being used by the Trump camp.

White supremacist and other extremist groups have joined some planned peaceful protests, initiating violence and inciting others to loot. The Lancaster, Pennsylvania police chief has confirmed, with “definite evidence”, suspicions that non-violent anti-racism protests have been infiltrated by such agent provocateurs.

US political observers note how the ‘long, hot summer’ of 1968, including the riots at the Democratic Party convention in Chicago hosted by then Mayor Richard Daley, helped Richard Nixon win the 1968 election. Invoking more racial themes, Trump is already recasting himself as the ‘law and order’ President.

The emperor has no clothes
More recently, the Trump administration has sought to suppress his former National Security Adviser John Bolton’s embarrassing new book, The Room Where It Happened, providing considerable evidence of Trump’s ignorance, incompetence, impulsiveness and pursuit of self-interest; even Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reportedly observed “He is full of shit”.

Bolton reports that POTUS asked China to help his re-election prospects by buying more US agricultural exports, which they did. The book’s pre-publication release, widespread dissemination and publicity may nudge Trump to enhance his re-election chances by depicting himself more credibly as a China hawk by becoming even more belligerent in his rhetoric and policy actions.

Trump is likely to paint presidential challenger Joe Biden as too weak and accommodative of China. Democrats may then try to outdo him, or at least not be left too far behind in terms of anti-China rhetoric, by promising to further militarize President Obama and Hillary Clinton’s ‘pivot to Asia’ to ‘contain’ China.

Bolton may help Trump, again
But Trump may also turn Bolton on his head, depicting him as a ‘trigger-happy’, belligerent bully who wanted POTUS to be more aggressive, tying up the US in ‘wars without end’ on many fronts on flimsy pretexts. Most people who know Bolton would testify to this effect, ironically allowing Trump to present himself as a peaceful president carrying a big stick, but refusing to go to war unnecessarily.

The alternative is worse. Just over four months from the early November polls, and anxious about his re-election chances, an increasingly desperate Trump is likely to become more reckless to secure a second mandate.

Trump may even provoke what he intends as a ‘limited’ conflict with China, probably in the South China Sea. Regardless of the original motive, once begun, such conflicts can easily spin out of control, threatening the world and world peace.

George W Bush used fictional ‘weapons of mass destruction’ to start a war with Iraq, famously supported by Tony Blair, at tremendous human and economic cost. Margaret Thatcher also secured re-election by going to war over the Falkland Islands or Malvinas. Trump will be in good company if he resorts to this option.


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the road less stupid summary