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Carib News 5/6/16

Journalists throughout the world are trying to make sense of the American Presidential Election of 2016.  What we are witnessing on the part of the American electorate is something of a revolt against the established political system.  What is worth noting is that the post-World War 11 world order was constructed by American politicians and for most of the post-war period America was able to exercise hegemony over the economic and political world order.

In the post-World War 11 period the United States government was able to impose a policy of containment on the expanding ambition of the Soviet Empire.  As de-colonization shattered extant empires like Britain, France, Belgium, et al, the international social order became frayed and not that readily containable.

The international economic structure that is an outgrowth of the post-war Bretton-Woods agreement had put in place the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank as institutions to stabilize the international economic system.  The United Nations was created to bring stability to the international political system.  In the 70 plus years of the post-World War 11 period, the world has evolved and American hegemony has diminished. The international economic system now has new players like China, India, Brazil, Nigeria and Russia.  The economic system has become more integrated, more globalized and even though America remains a key player, its single-handed dominance has waned.

Similarly in regional conflicts like the Middle East, America has had to cope with regional rivals like Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.  The maintenance of regional social order has become exceedingly complex as the Sunni/Shia divide cuts across national boundaries and transnational religious warfare is not readily containable as we have witnessed in Syria and in Iraq.

The American electorate is bewildered by all this apparent disorder.  The neo-conservatives who dominated the George W. Bush administration, forgetting the lessons of Viet-Nam, were convinced that the use of overwhelming military force in Iraq would not only rid the region of Saddam Hussein but would result in establishing a modern democracy in the heart of the Middle East.

The intervention was costly in American lives and treasure and helped to inflame the Sunni/Shia religious civil war.  Massive military intervention in places like Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon does not produce the intended results but often there are dire unintended consequences.

Americans in sizeable numbers have lost faith in their established governmental institutions.  While a significant percentage of the American workforce has been displaced by globalization, there is the feeling that the American government has failed to protect their class interest.

Nowhere is that more apparent than in the Republican Party.  The pro-business model of small government, low taxes and limited regulations no longer excite the conservative rank and file.  They have revolted against the power elite and in the primaries, have scorned established Presidential candidates like Jeb Bush and have sought non-established adventurers like Donald Trump.

The Trump message defines the external world as the enemy.  Trade has been presumably detrimental to American workers.  Immigrants, particularly those from Mexico, represent a threat to the American social order and a wall must be built to save America from the alien threat.

Trump recently gave a foreign policy speech where the major thesis is that he would pursue a policy of America First.  When in the history of the United States hasn’t America pursued a policy of America First?  Trump’s appeal is the simplicity of his messaging that resonates with voters troubled by diversity and falling standards of living.

Sanders has had a similar appeal on the question of trade agreements.  He argues that all trade agreements have been detrimental to the American worker but he is vague in suggesting what is the alternative to trade in a highly globalized world.

The nature of capitalism is that the structure of the economy is constantly undergoing change.  The percentage of workers needed to feed the American people has diminished to unbelievable levels. The productivity gains in manufacturing is that there are less people needed to produce the same amount of goods as compared to yesteryear.

Economists who have studied NAFTA have shown that Canada, Mexico and the United States have benefited from the 1994 trade agreement.  Just examining balance of payments do not tell the entire story.  But that kind of complexity is not that easily explained to the American people, many of whom have been displaced by technological changes and have had to settle for jobs that pay less.  This technical orientation of the American economy is particularly rough on workers with just a high school diploma or less.  Their wages have fallen and they have seen the American dream slip from their grasp.  Nativistic panacea appeals seem to be the way to rectify their immiseration.

The fallout in established leadership is less severe in the Democratic Party.  Hillary Clinton, whether or not of her own volition, has been pulled to the left and has even become skeptical of trade agreements like the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement with eleven Asian nations aimed not only to expand trade with the United States but to limit the economic influence of China.  That bill is stalled in Congress until the Presidential election is settled.

It is clear that the American people in 2016 will be presented with a clear choice of Trump, as expected, will be the Republican Party Presidential nominee and Hillary Clinton, as expected, will be the Democratic Party Presidential nominee.  Elections are often decided on external events.  There is no question that Barack Obama benefited from the nigh financial collapse of the international banking systems before the 2008 election.  What happens to ISIS in Iraq and Syria could also have an impact on the Presidential race.  At present, the unemployment rate in the United States is at five percent.  If that figure was greater, Trump’s appeal in the Rust Belt could change the electoral map and make the Republican candidate more competitive.

As the world watches the contortions of the 2016 Presidential election, it is evident that this is a test of the viability of American democracy.  The election will determine the American people’s sense of decency.  Fortunately the diminution of the white electorate makes it more of an uphill climb for reactionary nativism to triumph.

Dr. Basil Wilson