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America under Donald Trump

by Ingeborg Breuer and Ulrich Busch Wednesday, Mar. 01, 2017 at 2:36 PM

The "elite-mass split," the tear between the establishment and the masses, damages American democracy. As a damaged democracy, there is very low trust in the competence of the government. The official unemployment figure of 4.9% is regarded as a distortion of reality.


By Ingeborg Breuer

[This article published on 2/9/2017 is translated abridged from the German on the Internet,]

For decades, the US has been a divided country. Some academics already regard the US as a "damaged democracy" because trust in the competences of political institutions diminishes more and more. The interests of the rich in political decisions have more weight than the interests of those in the middle and lower classes.

With Donald Trump's election, the "forgotten men and women" of whom Trump spoke in his inaugural address are back with power and test the rebellion against a cosmopolitan modern age. Globalization – in its economic, political and multicultural form – is no longer without alternatives.

"Staging oneself as a man of the people is a good tradition. We know the presidential candidates and every man and every woman in Congress has up to two million dollars. Staging oneself as a very normal person is relatively hard but most do it anyway."

Staging oneself as an "every day Jack," an everyday American, has a tradition in the White House, explained Karsten Fitz, professor of American studies at the University of Passau in his lecture. Presidents' wives bake cookies. Children play under Kennedy's desk. There are always "home stories," for example about Michelle Obama's secrets of a "White House mom," people like you and me. Donald Trump is different. He shows he is rich, the gold in his Trump Tower, the precious marble and doors full of crystal. Even the belt-buckles in his private jet are gold-plated.

"Although Trump on one side wants to be the voice of the simple people, he stages himself and shows his wealth. He has never tried to be modest."

"Cause I don't need anybody's money… I am really rich."


His wealth makes him incorruptible, Trump says, since no one can buy him. The 45th president of the United States makes himself the voice of the people. His rich predecessor is also insulted as "Establishment." A little elite has profited from the government, Trump says and the people have borne the costs and received none of its wealth.

"For too long, a small group in our nation's capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the costs. Washington flourished but the people did not share in its wealth."

The American election ran differently than he and many of his colleagues expected, as Prof. Winand Gellner said in his introduction. Was this because they underrated the displeasure of Americans toward the ruling elites or because they expected what was politically desirable and not what should have been expected?

"I am certainly an outsider. I believed from the start the silent majority of whites in the country was greatly underrated and that the positions Trump represents are very popular with the with everyday Americans."

Bernhard Stahl, professor of International Politics at the University of Passau, is one of the few who predicted Trump's election victory:

"That had to do with the `Elite-Mass-Split' that we have in the US, the Establishment on one side and the great mass of the population, particularly of the white population, that distances itself more and more from this elite consensus."


The "elite-mass-split," the tear between the establishment and the masses, was the theme of the Passau conference. This tear is so great that it damages American democracy according to the latest studies, says Christian Lammert, professor of North American Domestic Policy at the Free University of Berlin.

"Different analyses show that deficits exist in areas of the US democratic system that lead to problematicizing the description of the US as a perfect democracy."

The London Institute "Economic Intelligence Unit" publishes annually a "Democracy Index." With 60 criteria, academics evaluate the state of democracy in 167 countries every year. In 2016, the US skidded from a "full democracy" to a so-called "flawed democracy," a damaged democracy, on the scale of the Institute. For that reason, there is very low trust in the competence of the government.

"That is one side of the study of the Economist, the extremely lower trust of the population in the solution capacity of political institutions. That is the deficient responsibility of the government to certain interests of low incomes and the middle class. They no longer hear what parts of society need. That is the problem."


The dwindling of trust in the government and in the elected representatives leads to a legitimation crisis of the political system, according to the Berlin political scientist. The interests of the rich are considered more in political decisions than those of the middle class or low-earners… Between 1979 and 2007, the income increase with the top one percent was 275% compared to only 18% for the bottom fifth in Germany. The average household income rose 62%.

"Massive inequalities that were intensified through the financial crisis are hidden behind the averages. The bailout actions of the state have worsened these inequalities."

Dr. Josef Braml from the German Foreign Policy Society:

"Many have very little of the cake; a few live very well from that. Social and ecological dislocations lie behind the beautiful appearances including drug consumption, high suicide rates and much more."

Many US citizens estimated the economic situation as much worse than the Obama administration and the statistics represented it. Two-thirds of the voters, according to surveys after the November election, consider the current economic situation miserable – and two-thirds of them voted for Trump. Josef Braml regards the official unemployment number of 4.9% as a distortion of reality.

"When older employees do not find any job and abandon their search, they fall out of the statistics. And when younger persons come from the university and cannot find a job, they sign up for another program. All these people are out of the statistics."


Josef Braml's 2016 book was titled "At the Expense of Freedom. The Selling Off of American Democracy and its Consequences for Europe." In his eyes, the well-being of citizens and the development of a future-friendly society are no longer central in Washington politics. The interests of associations and businesses, industrial giants and banks are in the foreground. From Braml's perspective, democracy in the US is increasingly replaced by a "post-democratic" clientele policy where lobbyists instrumentalize politics for their own purposes. The mass of the population is politically insignificant; their participation in the economy and politics is marginal.

"Trump has recognized the problems and in the best demagogic style named scapegoats for these problems, immigrants, the Chinese, rivals from abroad and soon the Germans."

There is also a cultural division alongside the socio-economic division of American society. Finally, the dismissed steel workers in the trailer park were not the only ones who elected Trump. 49% of the voters with incomes over 0,000 elected him. the three-time married real-estate mogul also gained 80% of the votes of orthodox evangelical Christians.

"In the heart of the land, we often find very fundamentalist populations that are worlds away from the lifestyle of the two coastal regions and the different life projects and conceptions. That is now manifest in the division and can hardly be bridged anymore."


The radical far-reaching socio-cultural change carried out in many western societies through the protest- and minorities-movements since the 1960s has triggered an estrangement and turning away from the political system. The "culture wars" have already been swelling for decades, a battle over the moral superiority of rural-conservative or urban-progressive lifestyles.

Since the middle of the 1960s, we have seen a movement in America that positioned itself against civil rights and against all the modernization narratives – where there was a basic skepticism toward a modern emancipated image of the human, the woman, and minorities. Here are the silent majority who earn money and there sit the students and the minorities who receive transferred money.

After Trump's election, Mark Lilla, professor of intellectual history at Columbia University in New York, sparked off a debate when he criticized the "identity politics" of democrats in the New York Times. In the last years, Lilla wrote, American left-liberalism has decayed into a kind of "moral panic" about questions of ethnic, gender and sexual identity. Left-liberals are increasingly fixated on questions of "diversity" and acknowledgment of group- and individual characteristics like age, culture, gender or sexual orientation. This has produced a generation of left-liberals which persist in narcissist blindness toward life realities outside their own group and feel no kind of obligation to adjust to compatriots who think and act differently than them."


Christian Lammert can understand Mark Lilla's criticism.

"…The true problems are passed by… The problems of acknowledgment and difference are exaggerated while economic-social questions are neglected…

Rural religious whites could feel as a threatened group when Latinos, blacks, gays or transsexuals and not citizens are made addresants of politics. They feel ignored in their identity. Now with the election of Trump, this "Average Joe," the average American, is heard again. Their opponent is that political correctness cultivated by the dominant political elites.

"Many whites. Particularly of the middle-class, feel threatened which has an economic component and a security component because many Americans automatically associate this threat with blacks, Hispanics or Arabs since they say they are typical drug dealers and use weapons. They are the ones from whom I must protect my children."


Bernhard Stahl sees the conflict between the claim of political correctness not to insult and discriminate against minorities and the legitimate need to articulate human fears and perceptions. There are facts that contradict political correctness. For example, the share of Afro-Americans in prison is higher than all other ethnic groups whatever the reasons. Does political correctness lead to an intellectual narrowness where positions to the right of the middle can hardly be articulated? In any case, Donald Trump ignored these discourse prohibitions. Many are obviously upset and estranged!

"In democracies and republics, we have a problem in connecting abnormal behavior to the complexion or ethnic origin of people. We start from the assumption people do good and evil equally with their talents. Something is wrong here since many of the values we accepted in the course of the Enlightenment are not accepted by wide parts of our population, at least not so simply."

"The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten mo longer. Everyone is listening to you now."

Everyone will immediately listen to the forgotten man and women of the US, Donald Trump promised in his inaugural address. In fact, people hear the voice of those testing rebellion against a modern age that understands itself as cosmopolitan. A battle of two narratives has broken out. On one side is the narrative, globalization is enriching and quasi without alternative – economically, politically and multi-culturally. The other side sees a danger in advancing globalization, a threat to their existence.

"We live in an intensely interwoven world that was also manifest with Brexit. Unraveling what exists there in trade agreements and production networks is not easy. Politics lives from alternatives. Saying different options exist is not wrong or upside down. I believe we are seeing a great exhaustion with `no alternatives.' People want alternatives to no alternatives. What that could look like is the next question."


The consensus that globalization to a certain extent is a natural law and thus unavoidable burst open, says Boris Vormann, professor of politics at the John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies at the Free University of Berlin. Trump governs as rightwing parties in Europe also desire with nationalism, economic protectionism, and more homogeneous, less ethnically mixed countries. One should not assume that everything at the end only turns out to be "a wicked dream" and ultimately will continue as in the past. The scenario of neo-nationalist authoritarian governments developing in many western countries is obvious. The question is whether the liberal forces will find a counter-design to the nationalist superpower politics of the American president. Christian Lammert:

"Can an alternative narrative to Trump be installed? This narrative must socially embed the globalization discourse and not only interpret globalization in an economically neoliberal deregulating way."

However "a narrative cannot be established as one screws in a light-bulb in a dark room," we read in a recent article of WELT. It has to stand the test and function so it can be a narrative giving meaning with which people identify. The question is whether Donald Trump can fulfill the promises of ascent given to America's forgotten men and women. Can he make America great again? Will the cosmopolitan ideas of the Enlightenment lose their radiating power at the end? Such questions are now alarming many who feel committed to western values. The majority of the political scientists at the Passau meeting were sure Trump's attempt will fail. The checks and balances of the American political system could anticipate a misuse of power. But didn't many of them think Trump would fail?

"Trump is the expression of this crisis and the defects in the American political system. But he will not manage to massively change these deficits or change the democratic system into an authoritarian system. The persevering powers of the American political system are strong enough."


The future will demonstrate this. A narrative is already changing today: that of transatlantic friendship. Regrettably, the former protective power US is increasingly understood as Europe's threat.

Josef Braml: "We could position a new narrative here to win elections with Europe. We must protect ourselves better from outward threats and from the threat from the East in a European way. Putin wants to dismantle Europe. Donald Trump, the leader of the former protective power, wants to tear Europe apart. Europe can only protect itself all together. Tusk also said, together we stand and individually we will fall.


By Ulrich Busch

{This article published on 2/21/2017 is translated from the German on the Internet,}

After the world halfway came to terms and resigned to the shocking experience of the election that the future US president is named Donald Trump, people turn to the consequences and lessons. This is especially true for economics since "Trumponomics" does more than puzzle economists on account of its contradictoriness and imbalances. Trumponomics inflicts considerable damage on the world economy from its anti-globalization.

The globalization of economic life has been a mega-trend of capitalist development and is inseparably connected with this economic system. Nevertheless, there are constant efforts to stop or turn it back and thwart the integration of particular national economies in the world market by striving for self-sufficiency, screening, nationalism and protectionism. Germany's war economy in the Second World War, the protectionism of the US during the worldwide economic crisis of the 1930s and the establishment of an independent economic area separated from the world market represent the last desperate attempts of this kind. When Donald Trump now declares the US economy wants to give new impulses by screening from the world market and protecting through tariffs, this is part of the hardly promising protectionist "tradition." This should be feared this time because neither the US nor the rest of the world will prosper.

Why is Trump attempting this? This is a "reaction" and not a freely chosen strategy. The US has proven more and more to be a loser on the "free market" in the economic competition with China, South Korea, Vietnam, the EU and other states despite political and military advantages. The passive balance of payments for decades and the growing indebtedness of the US abroad prove this. In addition, the US has neither organized the structural change engendered by the digital revolution nor countered the challenges of the time with corresponding investments in the infrastructure, the energy turn or educational policy. The consequences are disastrous and jointly responsible for the election outcome on November 8. Now we see the reactions. The announced course of economic policy means barricading behind protective duties, walls, fences and protectionist measures instead of facing the challenges, that is attempting to stop globalization and put the clock back. Whether the US will successfully arrive at a growth course this way should be doubted.

Economic growth is declining worldwide and "secular stagnation" is decried. Consequently, world trade is stagnating. A failure of past policy may or may not be hidden behind this development. This development may also be an expression of a global structural change, the inadequate inclusion of innovations and advances in productivity in statistics, false prices and other causes that are now vigorously discussed. Trying to make the "old industries" competitive again with the help of protectionist instruments is certainly the wrong way to come out of the misery. The US threatens to be increasingly bypassed economically and further uncoupled from the progress in the world.

Trump's announcements on canceling international agreements, not acknowledging agreements on protecting the atmosphere and not taking climate change seriously and the necessity of political-economic reactions with measures of structural change are alarming signs for a very unsafe policy endangering the world. Misperception follows false control which then leads to aberrations or market failures. The causal crisis phenomena are not remedied but escalate so the next turn of the spiral is on the horizon. This leads inevitably to catastrophe.

How can such a development be stopped? It certainly cannot be stopped by a political-industrial nationalism as represented by Donald Trump… To remain credible, the "leftist" anti-globalization movement must clearly delimit itself from "right-wing" globalization opponents and populists a la Trump. It must take its own stand and scrutinize its concepts and arguments since the fronts are shifting and the alliances have not changed substantially.

The main direction should be advocacy for world openness and globaliity in the economy. When people agree, fair rules, just conditions in trade and developmental programs for disadvantaged states, population groups and regions should be promoted. This does not mean opposition to globalization as such, only to the misuse of power politics and neoliberal organization. That should be learned on account of Donald Trump

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