Time for Americans to Learn a New Vocabulary

Americans always talk down to the world, or lecture is more like. They have what Gunter Grass would describe as "sleep walker’s cer-tainty" about the moral superiority of American leadership, left or right. Their institutions are the paragons of virtue, the fountain heads of universal values and their history a record of triumph of good over evil often, at all odds. In a way, most of these are probably true, and then some. Americans have for long had a lot going for them in almost all fields of human endeavor throughout their history. So, whatever the superlatives in the claims of its leaders, the US is argua-bly the greatest nation on earth and by far one that has had the most enduring influence on how humanity understands inter-state relations and the values and norms that govern it for generations to come.
America's role in the world has had its fair share of both benign and malign aspects, however. True, mainstream American historiography goes to great lengths to write out the tragic elements in the country's 240 years history; the US has nevertheless had a checkered past quite distinct from the all too rosy picture often painted by the proponents of American Exceptionalism. To those, America's unique status to-day is but a culmination of the journey to reach "the city upon the hill" begun four plus centuries back. If native Americans or African Americans have a different story to tell, it is simply because they have all along been at the receiving end of this victorious March in the quest for the American Dream. It's little wonder then that the oft re-peated mantra of the presidential contenders in this year's election was largely, if not exclusively, about which one of the cWhatever the explanations for her loss and however extreme some of Trump's views, it'd be unfair not to try and take stock of what all this means to Americans themselves.andidates is better placed to restore, as it were, the greatness of America. As it turned out, Donald Trump did have a much more appealing message to sway more voters in his favor than the candidate largely billed as the likely winner, Hilary Clinton. Whatever the explanations for her loss and however extreme some of Trump's views, it'd be unfair not to try and take stock of what all this means to Americans them-selves.
Hilary Clinton had insisted that America was still great and its best days ahead. Trump believed America's status in the world under suc-cessive leaders was no longer any to write home about and it needed a guy like him to rescue it from oblivion. Hilary Clinton's repertoire, he argued, was more of the same. November 8 seemed to have made it clear that sufficiently large number of Americans did indeed agree with him.

If pre-election rhetoric is any guide, Trump generally seems to sub-scribe to a somewhat extreme version of American exceptional-ism while, for good measure, he had also flaunted publicly, and been gloating over, a long list of cringe-inducing extremist views. He was able to pull off a stunning victory by, among other things, doing things that went a long way in deliberate-ly offending the conscience of the politi-cal establishment. He had done every-thing to normalize even the most outra-geous and politically incorrect remarks thus inoculating his campaign against scandal-mongering of the media that loved to demonize him and he so vehe-mently loved to demonize. Trump, if anything, perfected thriving from scandals into an art form. That he had known what he was do-ing all along has become all too clear now, much to the chagrin of the mainstream media.
Obviously, his project to restore his nation's greatness revolves main-ly around bringing America's long lost manufacturing jobs and rid-ding America of unwelcome immigrants as well as potential terrorist threats. To say that his take-no-prisoner approach to many of these issues was divisive is a gross understatement. If many in the estab-lishWe will have all the time in the world to see if [Trump] will eventually come to terms with the reality of having to distinguish between myths and facts once he assumes office come January.ment saw in his rhetoric and openly warned against the tell-tale signs of a demagogue, even downright fascist, in the making, he did-n't seem to have the stomach to dispel such fears. In fact, he seemed to bask in all such allegations and the unflattering appellations that came with them. After all, his coterie of advisors had every reason to believe that to those who had long suffered as a result of loss of jobs, promises coming with a tinge of right wing jingoism were by far bet-ter than Hilary's politically correct prognosis of the problems that to many those sounded like no promises at all.
Whether Trump will be able to make good on his campaign rhetoric is a totally different matter altogether. What his election means eco-nomically to those who did vote for him on the premise that he would bring manufacturing jobs from China and Mexico back to the Rust Belt remains to be seen. We will also see if the wall is going to be built, im-migrants to be deported in their mil-lions or if indeed Germany and Japan among others will be cajoled into pay-ing protection money for the presence of US marines often considered occupation forces by the natives. We will have all the time in the world to see if he will eventually come to terms with the reality of having to distinguish between myths and facts once he assumes office come January.
One thing we can say now with almost mathematical certainty is that reality bites and bringing back manufacturing jobs to the US, howev-er appealing it might sound in the heat of campaign euphoria, is easi-er said than done. To the extent that President Trump continues to believe even after January 20 that the Ford company executives are shipping Michigan's jobs to Mexico for lack of patriotism, he, and his supporters, will almost certainly be in for disappointment. What America faces today is not lack of slogans or patriotism but a deep-rooted structural challenge that cannot be reversed by tweaking a policy here, a policy there. This can only be addressed by transform-ing the over-financialized economy into a competitively productive one.
Whatever magic trick Trump and his policy wonks would have Americans believe the former had up their sleeves, this is not going to be a cakewalk, to put it rather lightly. While the US still has a com-petitive edge over the rest of the world in high-end manufacturing sectors, to hope that 19th century type protectionism will by some stroke of magic bring back Pennsylvania's steel jobs is a mere pipe dream. It doesn't require a genius to figure out that President Trump will have to come to terms with the ordinary notions of comparative and competitive advantage, and do so sooner than later.But the focus here is not whether manufacturing jobs are going to be brought back to the US or whether the wall is going to be built and if the Mexicans will prove to be stupid enough to foot the bill of this mega-structure northeast of the Rio Grande. It is not even about whether Trump's policies will lead to a trade war with China much less a re-configuration of the existing world order. While Trump's avowed stance against illegal immigrants will most certainly have ramifications for Africans as well, I am not trying to shed light on this aspect of his promise either.

The focus is rather on what Trump's victory holds in store for Africa in terms of both challenges and/or opportunities. In light of the fact that Africa hardly featured in any of his major foreign policy speech-es, it would understandably look presumptuous to try and extrapolate potential challenges and opportuni-ties that await the continent. If some of what I write here sounds like an exercise in wishful-thinking, it is simply because it mostly is. For the purpose of maintaining a level of sanity throughout my article, I have tried to refrain from dwelling on the most alarming and outra-geous aspects of his campaign rhetoric-surely too frightening to im-agine-which were legion.

The fact that Trump was largely written off by the media as having no chance of success in his campaign was also shared by many com-mentators in Africa accustomed as we are to imbibing in whatever the BBCs and the CNNs of the world have to tell us is right or wrong about everything. In fact, one of the most important lessons, if not good news, for Africa that came out of these "rather unex-Trump’s vision is largely driven by an enlightened self-interest, and certainly not the kind of messianic zeal that has informed most of his predecessors' mostly disastrous overseas adventures, most notably in the Middle East and Africa.

pected" result is that the whole world now knows what we in Africa have long known; that these media outlets and their pundits do not always get it right despite their unabashed claims to a complete mo-nopoly over the truth. Despite the frantic efforts to "manufacture the consent" of the American public, the predictions of the highly paid pundits proved just a flop. Africans know better than any how crises after crises were generated curtsey of what would amount to the western media's obsession with morbid excitement. But again, this is beside the point.

Trump's singular focus on what he believes it takes to restore Ameri-ca's greatness--namely, minding one's store before meddling in oth-ers' affairs--will, if wisely implemented, go a long way in putting un-der check the traditional stridency in American foreign policy deci-sions across the last several decades. Richard Haas, one of those on whose counsel candidate Trump is said to have depended during his campaign for foreign policy issues and one of the names being ru-mored to be in the list of potential nominees for Secretary of State, argues, and convincingly, that foreign policy begins at home. Domes-tic economic strength and vibrant and inclusive democratic exercise are what will ultimately enhance America's soft power among other parts of the world. An Administration with a singular focus on en-hancing America's national interest logically would be more inclined to constructively engage others on the basis of what advantages it stands to gain from its relations than bend their leaders' ears as to which path to follow and which one to abandon at their peril. How-ever inarticulate candidate Trump's rendition of this approach may have been, it seems to suggest that his vision is largely driven by an enlightened self interest, and certainly not the kind of messianic zeal that has informed most of his predecessors' mostly disastrous over-seas adventures, most notably in the Middle East and Africa. Africa will, doubtless, stand to benefit from such a recalibration of Ameri-ca's national security and foreign policy priorities.

 

If executed in a prudent manner, such a strategy will also further en-hance the quest for a stronger and more predictable rules-based in-ternational order. International order is achieved in either of two ways. One way world order could be achieved is as a function of power as when a hegemonic power either imposes its norms on oth-ers or when its influence is felt so widely that others feel it an impera-tive to subscribe to those values in order to gain access to whatever amenities conformity to such norms and values promises to offer. On the other hand world order could be a function of mutually agreed norms and rules such as are normally expected to bind mem-bers of the 'international community', as we often refer to the com-munity of nations that make up, for instance, the UN.

Order ideally is better maintained if these two are in perfect balance. As Kissinger aptly puts it, any system of order “bases itself on two components: a set of commonly accepted rules that define the limits of permissive action and a balance of power that enforces restraint where rules break down". These presupposes that all nations, big and small, conduct their policies vis a vis each other in a manner that lends itself to promoting mutual respect and interest. This is the only sane way sustainable peace among nations can be achieved and com-mon challenges effectively met. History is replete with evidences of opportunities for a balanced world order lost and calamitous conflicts unleashed merely because choices that put unneces-sarily higher premium on sanity are made by leaders who are better placed to bring their position and influence, while it last-ed, to bear on questions of whether to go for partnership or confrontation; for mu-tual respect or benefit; and, ultimately whether to choose world peace over inter-minable chaos-driven, as is often, by ideological or economic consid-erations notwithstanding. To his credit, President Obama was very mindful of the leadership role America could and should play in all these; although, in all fairness, unfortunately, he had too much on his plate. History will vindicate his strong belief in America's manifest destiny one day.

And one day soon; if a President Trump is genuinely interested in restoring America's greatness and chooses to make America more responsible to and more respectful of others as long as the pursuit of their respective national interests remains within the acceptable limits of the very norms-based world order America helped birth, whatever its inadequacies here and there. It is my hope that president Trump might, just might, see the wisdom in this. Candidate Trump's rhetoricThat Trump believes his country has no business planting its noses into the affairs of others, as long as there is no clear interest to be promoted, should come as something that could be source of cautious optimism.of exacting protection money from others clearly flies full in the face of such optimism, however cautious. It's not entirely inconceivable however that President Trump will soon come to grips with the un-varnished realities of the increasingly interdependent world. After all, Donald Trump is a businessman and the fact that it takes rules even to hold others to account for the services they owe you won't be lost on him. Africa being a young continent ready for business such as it is, would be more than ready to play its part responsibly and to enjoy benefits to be gained there from.

But more importantly, Trump's oft-declared revulsion to his prede-cessors' all too liberal forays into fanning conflicts where their nation least stands to benefit is what could mean a lot to the stability and continued growth of Africa. That he believes his country has no busi-ness planting its noses into the affairs of others, as long as there is no clear interest to be promoted, should come as something that could be source of cautious optimism.

Anyways, the mere hope that a Trump presidency represents a strict departure from America's all too liberal interference with others' af-fairs in the name of all kinds of lofty sounding ideals is a more than welcome news. For, more than any other region in the world, the continent had to endure a litany of decidedly disruptive interventions often at the behest of successive US Administrations. Generations of Africans including my fellow Ethiopians past and present grew up to respect and adore America for the tremendous educational opportu-nities and generous humanitarian aid it has always extended in times of their need. Even when cynics often sneered at Fulbright scholar-ships as a euphemism for dignified CIA recruitment programs, a great many Africans and Asians have long continued to benefit from the engineering and scientific knowledge these arrangements helped develop. The US has undeniably earned a large reservoir of goodwill even in areas where there is a propensity to blame every malaise that befalls them on American imperialism.

It's also a reality, however, that whatever reservoirs of goodwill the rest of the world has for the USA on account of many of its great values has largely been compromised as a result of the disastrous ad-ventures underwritten by messengers of doom masquerading as pro-ponents of democracy and human rights. For all the largesse of suc-cessive US Administrations as part of various aid packages, the role of some of these organizations in Africa's impoverishment is all too palpable. Apart from the disasters visited upon the continent as a re-sult of ill-advised economic and politi-cal experiments shoved down the throats of many an African state throughout the decades preceding the emergence once again of a multipolar world, neoliberalism has tragically led to the deindustrialization of African economies. The lack of finesse and acute dearth of functional geopolitical knowledge that many in the USA foreign policy circles often dis-played has led to huge US taxpayer monies being wasted to engineer extremely destabilizing coups and post-election violence that often left thousands dead in their aftermath.

The likes of the National Endowment for Democracy and Human Rights Watch have long left the trails of destruction and division in many helpless countries in Africa and Asia thanks in large measure to the championing and bankrolling of their interferences by successive US administrations. Ironically, all this is being done in the hope that it will help further enhance American strategic national interests; as Trump's remarks often indicate, this has caused more harm to Amer-ica's stature in the world arena than it actually served any meaningful strategic interest. To borrow Barbara Tuchman's phrase, this is yet another glaring example of a great power's 'march of folly', not a dis-tinct hallmark of the conduct of foreign policy by the greatest nation on earth.

While there is no guarantee that a President Trump would do any-thing to discipline, much less restrain, these organizations' shenani-gans in African politics, it would be a good thing if, at the very least, the new administration makes good on its promise to recognize that foreign policy, even in the US, begins at home. It's my humble wish as an African that his administration will also recognize, while it is at it, that other nations have interests, too, including, of course, African countries.

This should not, however, be by any means construed as lobbyingTrump presidency represents a strict departure from America's all too liberal interference with others' affairs in the name of all kinds of lofty sounding ideals is a more than welcome news.for carte blanche to those who consider it their business to run rough-shod over their people and to stifle dissent with impunity. That Afri-can institutions should be trusted with managing African affairs is what I believe, at the risk of sounding stupid, needs to be recognized by a President Trump.

A few concluding remarks. I believe my naïveté is taking the better of me in trying to dream up a scenario in President Trump's tenure that seems to clearly belie the extremely unnerving choices he has made as a candidate and the rather divisive rhetoric he has employed over the course of his campaign. Add to this the rather sobering real-ity that the personnel choices he has made so far have done little to dispel the fears of those who believe his presidency will end up spelling disaster both for the USA and the rest of the world. My un-solicited counsel to a president-elect who many consider to be imper-vious to advice would understandably ring hollow.

Nevertheless, it is my sincere hope that such a modest proposal as mine would add to the chorus of voices calling for an America that is, for a change, short on lecturing, and long on listening. Many sure would point to the president-elect's apparent lack of respect for oth-ers' opinions that was on garish display throughout the campaign as proof positive that I am casting my pearls before swine, as it were. It is no small comfort however that we are dealing with a successful businessman who has a knack for telling what works and what doesn't.

By the time America begins to make even mere baby steps in the ra-ther arduous task of trying to understand what others have to say about themselves - apart from the pro forma business of bilateral di-alogues-- it will have genuinely achieved its richly deserved status as a global power for the good of the world. I believe history has provid-ed Donald Trump with a historic opportunity to chart a new path in the conduct of American foreign policy, namely - to try and listen to the rest of the world. If his record as a businessman is any guide, he would do anything to surprise even the staunchest of his detractors by choosing to listen.

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