It’s all about power: No one is stupid
The slogan, “It’s the Economy Stupid”, which morphed from James Carville’s phrase “The Economy, Stupid” coined in 1992, has become part of American political culture if not political thinking. Forbes Magazine in December 2017 asserts that “It is still the Economy Stupid”. I beg to differ. It’s all about Power. No one is being stupid.
The American Presidential Campaign of 2016 and the election of President Donald Trump was principally about power in the United States and not specific policies. It is Donald Trump’s intuitive grasp of this shift in primacy from the economy to power since 1992 that rewarded him with the Presidency of the United States on November 7, 2016. It is Trump’s unflinching adherence to this understanding that has made him virtually immune, so far, to the political consequences of blatant disregard for well-established norms of governance, unethical actions, bizarre behavior, back-tracking on some promised policies and unbelievable instances of incompetence.
The Economy is not Currently the Dominant Factor
Economies go through cycles that are only somewhat related to politics. President Barak Obama inherited a US economy in deep recession tottering on depression. During his presidency, and due to some of his policies, the US recovered from the recession and returned to growth. To say that the US economy was in poor shape in 2016 is largely political propaganda. The US economy was one of the healthiest in the world at that time. To say that the economy was the principal cause of the election of Donald Trump and Republican control of all three branches of government requires more than political punditry to be able to be sustained, considering where the US economy was in 2008 and the turn around that took place between 2008 and 2016. Normally, electorates reward economic recovery with incumbency.
Yes, there was an increased polarization in income within the US over the eight years, but this started long before Obama. Over the decade of the 1980s, wealth in the US doubled and poverty tripled making the economy six times more polarized in 1990 than it was in 1980. This process of polarization has continued unabated to the present time. Moreover, this economic polarization has created a billionaire class, some of whom have become active politically, including Donald Trump. That Trump promised to bring back good paying jobs, make health care even more affordable, reduce the fiscal deficit of the Federal government, maintain Medicare/Medicaid and Social Security benefits, drain the swamp for corruption in Washington and pay for his own campaign expenses could be said to have captured decisive votes from those who had fallen from the middle class because of continued economic polarization.
To put this in Caribbean terms, Trump promised to be the first President who would be a missionary from the billionaire class. That is, a member of the billionaire class not given principally to philanthropy, as in the case of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, but committed to exercise political power to the advantage of middle-class people and the disadvantaged of society.
However, nearly two years into his presidency, there can be no doubt that Donald Trump is not a missionary from the billionaire class devoted to change the lot of the middle class and poor Americans. Good paying jobs that have returned to the US are minimal; health care is more expensive; the fiscal deficit has skyrocketed; Medicare/Medicaid and Social Security benefits are even under greater threat; the swamp in Washington has been deepened because Trump has gone to the swamp for a lot of the personnel for his Administration; and it is the wealthy that have been the greatest beneficiaries of his policies.
Yet, support for Trump from his base, Republicans generally, and Republican legislators in Congress has remained solid. Some explanation other than the economy is needed to account for this continuing solid support.
The WASP Legacy of the British Empire
The position taken here is that it is a broad contest for power within American society that best explains the rise of Trump, the election of Trump and continued support for Trump. In other words, Donald Trump is a symptom and not a cause. Vilifying Trump for his bizarre behavior, constant Tweeting of contradictory statements, consistent defiance of truth and unrelenting attack on the press, law enforcement, and intelligence community are, in effect, distractions from the discussion of the cause of his ascent to the pinnacle of power in the United States. Further, what is happening in the United States is not limited to that great and important nation-state of contemporary times.
In this era of nation-states, in every nation, there is an ethnicity that claims or is attributed to be owners, originators or patent holders of that nation. Members of that ethnicity firmly believe that the nation belongs to them and are also opposed on this ground. Among those nations that have their genesis in the British Empire, Anglo-Saxon was the first label given to this ethnicity by those who opposed their power and influence.
The term Anglo-Saxon differentiated the English from the Anglo-Celtic, that is, the Scots, the Welsh, and the Irish. Their common bond was the English Language. However, it was the English aristocracy whose power, wealth and influence derived from war, land and royal heritage that made Anglo-Saxons ascendant. Also, these Anglo-Saxons were members of the Anglican Church, whose head was the British monarch: head of state and denomination. In colonies such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the USA as a former colony, this ethnicity was labeled White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP), as it exercised power subjugating peoples who were not from Europe and suppressing the Catholic Church. These were the parameters that defined the WASP-ethnicity. Note that the designation WASP applied on its continua from powerful to marginal, from wealthy to poor, that is, to all its members.
The Metamorphosis of WASP in the Commonwealth Caribbean
The metamorphosis of the WASP ethnicity in former British colonies is an extensive study only allowing a few cursory comments here. The Commonwealth Caribbean was the first place that the differentiation between Anglo-Saxons and Anglo-Celtics became meaningless as English, Scots, Welsh and Irish, and eventually, all other Europeans were incorporated as ‘White’ in the slave societies that ended in 1838.
The designation Protestant was next to become more inclusive as Anglicans were joined by Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Moravians, and Congregationalists in the mission of producing loyal British subjects. Hence for the second half of the 19th century, it was White Protestants that essentially constituted the dominant ethnicity.
By the end of the 19th century, the Roman Catholic Church joined the mission to produce loyal British subjects. The dichotomy between Protestant and Catholic became doctrinal and was no longer a differentiating factor in the calculus of power. White Christians, especially in Trinidad and Guyana, remained at the pinnacle of power, until the mid-20th century when colonialism began their demise.
As nation-states have formed since the 1960s, nationality has become the major divide between these former colonies. Within Commonwealth Caribbean nations, social class, as indicated by income, education, occupation, and area of residence have risen to the fore; although ethnicity, as judged by race and shade of skin-color, remains a correlate of social class. Hence, controversies among Commonwealth Caribbean nation-states are about nationality and within these states, about social class; although conversations still include references to the legacy of race, religion and the English Language.
The Metamorphosis of WASP in the United States
The metamorphosis of the WASP ethnicity in the United States took a different, and far more complex course compared to the Commonwealth Caribbean. Generally, it could be said that the American colonies that formed the United States broke from the aristocratic traditions of Britain. In the North-East, learning replaced land and royal heritage as the means of ascent to power. An aristocracy of learning was created in the North East beginning with the founding of the seven Ivy League universities for men and later with the Seven Sisters colleges for women.
The South East also broke from the aristocratic traditions of Britain. However, in the South East, the plantation became the source and symbol of aristocracy, and of the Southern gentleman. Initially, most of the plantations were owned by the WASP ethnic group.
The American revolution was critical to the fledgling nation emerging as being distinctly Protestant. The revolution fatally shattered the imperial connections of the Anglican church and caused its baptism into the Episcopal church. The defense of the young nation forged common bonds between Episcopalians, Calvinistic Puritans, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Congregationalists, Anabaptists, Quakers, Moravians, and Methodists. It also cemented Protestant solidarity in its historic dissent with the Roman Catholic Church as the young nation battled and cooperated with the British, French and Spanish to ensure its survival.
At the same time, WASPs of the North East and WASPs of the South East were competing and contending partners in the defense, building, and shaping of the Republic in the 19th century. The making of Americans of all who came to the US was a joint project undertaken by a partnership between WASPs of the North East and South East for nearly 150 years after the declaration of independence in 1776. This commenced with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803; continued through the massive immigration of different groups and concluded with the Supreme Court decision of 1896 which made separate-but-equal racial segregation legal.
To be more specific, during the 19th century, these two contending and even warring WASP partners were complicit in all major developments. This began with President Thomas Jefferson’s purchase of Louisiana which he intended to foster a virtuous Republic of yeoman farmers. Other developments were not as intentional and clinical. These included wars with Native Americans leading to their relocation to reservations; secession of Texas from Mexico and its admission to the Union as a slave state; immigration of large numbers of Irish fleeing famine; immigration of Germans seeking opportunities as yeoman farmers; western expansion and the doctrine of manifest destiny; war with Mexico which added the states of California, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Arizona to the Republic; the gold rush in California; land grab stimulated by the promise of up to 160 acres; the civil war which brought about the end of slavery; Yankee-led reconstruction following the civil war; and immigration of large numbers of Jews, Italians and Eastern Europeans starting in 1880. It is from this social cauldron that the notion of race emerged with its unique American definitions: Europeans became whites, Africans became blacks, Mexicans became Hispanics, the first Americans, originally labeled ‘Red Indians’ became Native Americans and Chinese and others from the Far East became Asians.
WASP was reconstituted as ‘White’ by its incorporation of all Europeans while retaining the assumptions of superiority that marked Anglo-Saxon heritage in the British Empire. At the same time, Anglo-Saxon was deconstructed, reduced and retained to mean Whites who spoke English as their mother-tongue. ‘Anglos’ assumed ascendance among peoples of European ancestry.
The Incorporation of Roman Catholics into the WASP Heritage of Dominance
The major dividing line between Whites became ‘religion’: Protestant versus Roman Catholic. Over the course of the second half of the 19th century, large numbers of Roman Catholics had migrated to the US from Ireland, Italy, parts of Germany, Poland and other Eastern European countries. White Protestants, who were native speakers of the English Language (WASPs) were axiomatic in their insistence that Roman Catholics could not be loyal Americans, nor could Roman Catholic education produce loyal American citizens, given their doctrinal allegiance to the Pope. It took the first half of the 20th century to falsify this theorem. World War II contributed significantly, as though the US Military, the blood of peoples from all continents and ancestries poured into a common river, in defense of the US and the West. The election of President John F. Kennedy is as good as any other indicator marking the inclusion of Roman Catholics into the WASP/White tradition of dominance. Roman Catholics were now formally and finally incorporated in White dominance, as was the case 70 years earlier in the Commonwealth Caribbean. Differences between Protestants and Roman Catholics became doctrinal and was no longer a differentiating factor in the calculus of power in the United States.
The Assertion of Equality and Equity in the Second Half of 20th Century USA
At mid-20th century, the recurring question of whether the United States belonged to any ethnicity or race or that any citizen was superior to any other, again came under challenge. In 1954, it was the case of Brown versus the Board of Education that returned this question to center stage. The Supreme Court reversed itself with respect to its prior interpretation of the Constitution. A surge of movements followed. The civil rights movement contested race. The women’s movement challenged gender. The student movement opposed the War in Vietnam. (It was mainly the blood of the young that was being shed.) These three movements combined to set an agenda for equality and equity for all for the rest of the 20th century. The Founding Fathers had enshrined diversity, equality, and equity in the Constitution, notwithstanding the contradictions of their own lives and times. They left their contradictions to succeeding generations of Americans to resolve. Diversity, equality, and equity embedded in the Constitution found a generation of Americans in the 1960s and 1970s resolved to reverse historic departures from these ideals and virtues.
Immigration has been a major driving force in the formation of the USA. Prior to 1950, most immigrants came from Europe. This pattern of immigration changed in the second half of the 20th century. Most immigrants were non-Europeans. The civil rights movement, the women’s rights movement and student movement concatenated with increasing numbers of non-Europeans immigrants, particularly from Mexico and Central America; to set up the potential for a new calculus of power to emerge in the 21st century.
Harbingers of the Demise of WASP in 21st Century America
The last President of the 20th century, Bill Clinton, was from the South East. He is White, English-speaking and Baptist, but he is not of the South East WASP plantation tradition. Bill Clinton fits better into the North East WASP aristocracy of learning tradition: Yale, Rhodes Scholar and Oxford. He is a Southern-born aristocrat of learning.
The first President of the 21st Century, George Walker Bush is of the classic North East WASP tradition: White, English-speaking, Episcopalian graduate of Yale. But this WASP of the North East went South, bought and lives on a ranch, (modern plantation), and speaks Spanish fluently. It is a moot point as to how much these admixtures of traditions contributed to the ascent of Bill Clinton and George Bush to the Presidency of the United States. Without a doubt, they are examples of reconfigurations of WASP ethnic elements without breaking the mold.
The first actualization of the potential of the emerging calculus of power took place in the election of Barak Obama as President in 2008. Although most African Americans were brought to the United States as slaves, in terms of the modern social and cultural construction of the United States, African Americans constitute the most quintessential ethnic group of Americans, after the WASP. An African American is first and foremost an American. The relations between African Americans and WASP are similar to the competing and even warring partnership between WASP of the North East and South East in the 19th century. Their loyalty to and pride in the country are the same. It is not surprising, therefore, that the first break from the WASP/White ethnicity mold has been by an African American.
President Barak Obama is a unique African-American. His African father was from Kenya and his white American mother was from Kansas. His African ancestry ensured him an experience of belonging to a disadvantaged minority while his life with his white mother and maternal grandparents provided knowledge of majority power and privilege. In addition to elite private school education, he matriculated into the aristocracy of learning of the North East through Columbia and Harvard Universities. Yet he is not a WASP African-American. Indeed, there are such. Rather, Barak Obama is the new template of the American Presidency of the 21st century. President Barak Obama marks the breaking of the WASP/White mold at the point at which ethnicity begins to be removed as a factor in the calculus of power in the United States. To use and extend phraseology made popular by him, the President of the United States will no longer be viewed through ethnic lenses of being White or Black or Brown or Red or Yellow but as President of Americans of all ethnicities. In a nutshell, it is not ethnicity that will be the principal criterion for the Presidency, but character, competence, composure, conduct, convictions, connections with diverse segments of American society and political perspicacity.
As an aside, Barak Obama modeled most of these virtues. He not only fit the template but systematically translated it into reality. Very little more could be desired of Obama’s acumen, no-drama conduct, adherence to the normative values of the Presidency, commitment to the rule of law, an eloquent articulation of American ideals, basic decency and exemplary family life. As the first to make this break from the ethnic mold of the past, he is the trailblazer of the non-ethnic President.
It is not surprising therefore that although the vast majority of African Americans embraced and celebrated President Obama, there were some within this embrace who were highly critical of this first President, who was African-American. The charge was that he did not do more for African- Americans. This opinion has been articulated by several well-respected leaders within the African-American community. Apparently, they expected Obama to be an African-American President first and foremost. But Barak Obama was an American President who happened to be Black. By the successful, competent and dignified conduct of his Presidency, Barak Obama debunked the myth of white supremacy and black inferiority. There is no better nor greater long-term benefit to African Americans, and people of African ancestry worldwide, than Obama’s conduct of the Presidency.
While President Obama received criticism from within the African American community he evoked outrage, abuse, and visceral rejection from those segments of the metamorphosed WASP/White ethnicity, who to different degrees, are resolved to perpetuate the ethnic American past. The reason is abundantly clear. It is one thing to have a token African American President but a totally different story for that first President to have conducted the office of the Presidency successfully and with such easy dignity. The difference between tokenism and success in the Presidency is huge. Success is the absolute negation of the mythical assumption of WASP/White supremacy at the highest level of power in the United States. The animus of those resolved to perpetuate the past, visible through their unrelenting efforts to try to make him fail, is heard in the hysterical decrying of his many achievements and is palpable in the malicious measures to reverse his policies even when they benefit all Americans and advance American power and prestige in the world.
President Donald Trump: A Throw-back to the Past
The transformation from one ethnicity claiming: the right to rule, the highest social status, and the cream of all economic benefits; will neither be linear, nor neat nor by default. It will not be based on logic, or reason, or empirical facts, or these combined. Power is never conceded. It is defeated. In democracies, defeat is by elections. The election of President Donald Trump represents the status quo fighting back. Continued transformation requires the challengers to persevere in the contest.
Donald Trump is White, English-speaking, Presbyterian, from the North East. He could hardly be considered as an aristocrat of learning. However, there can be no question that he has an excellent grasp of numbers, an uncanny understanding of ratings, a mastery of the use of social media, particularly Twitter, and is the consummate opportunist. Donald Trump had been eyeing the Presidency for a long time. The fightback of the status quo finally gave him the opportunity.
Trump understands his ethnic heritage and the affront that the Obama Presidency represents symbolically to segments of ‘White America’ resolved to maintain the status quo. He is correct in his assessment that these segments are not confined to the Mid-West and South but are spread across pockets of every State in the Union. Moreover, these segments are passionate about holding onto their presumed position in American society even against their economic interests. In addition, President Trump is clear-sighted of the fact that no racial or ethnic group in the United States is a monolith in its political sympathies and affiliation, including independents. However, Whites of voting age are currently about 67 percent of the electorate.
The Trump Bet
Donald Trump, former owner of casinos, in running the numbers across ethnicities, regions, generations and taking account of past election turn-out patterns, placed his bet. It is a threefold bet. First, voters who elected him in 2016 will determine the outcome of Republican Primaries. Second, the dominant influence in Republican Primaries will ensure him effective control and continued support from the Republican Party, the Congress and Senate. Third, the catastrophe that electoral defeat would have, individually and collectively, for the Republican Party, their Congressmen and Senators is of such magnitude as to maximize their efforts to mobilize those resolved to maintain the status quo and to employ all tactics and measures, ethical or unethical, to ensure victory in the Congressional elections of 2018 and the Presidential elections in 2020.
In other words, while the probability is high that the Obama Presidency portent that, during the 21st century, a fundamental change will occur when the demographic trends and the shift in moral conscience will reach the critical political mass; the time when this will happen is by no means certain. Put another way, only time will tell when the segments of metamorphosed WASP/White ethnicity holding firmly to the past will be consistently defeated at the polls by the emerging coalition of diverse ethnicities firmly committed to the vision enunciated in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Until then, those holding to advantage will do anything and everything to retain power, irrespective of the consequences for the country or the violation of its ideals.
In my view, impeaching President Trump will make him a victim and elevate him to the status of hero. The resulting outrage, energy and illegal and immoral actions by those hell-bent on retaining White ethnic advantage will increase considerably. Other the other hand, defeat at the polls is likely to induce some of this group to take responsibility, accept guilt and experience shame for the long-term damage they have brought upon the country by electing Trump. The outcome would be reducing the segments holding to the ethnic status quo to an ineffective political force.
What is being played out in the US, currently, is all about power, its ethnic history, and metamorphosis in the United States.