“The old order changeth yielding place to new”, wrote Tennyson in his poem Idylls of the King. Donald Trump did not just change America’s political orthodoxy. He took a sledgehammer to it. He is the outsider who took on the Washington establishment and its elitism and taught a lesson that will be permanently etched in [...]


Everybody Trumped – even coconuts didn’t save Clinton


“The old order changeth yielding place to new”, wrote Tennyson in his poem Idylls of the King. Donald Trump did not just change America’s political orthodoxy. He took a sledgehammer to it. He is the outsider who took on the Washington establishment and its elitism and taught a lesson that will be permanently etched in American history and instilled in the American psyche.

US President elect Donald Trump. Reuters

Trump took on the pundits, pollsters and media and upended the whole lot. Whether his victory will be just a blip on America’s political screen or would represent a more significant marker of directional change it is too early to say. But let it be said that if 9/11 shook America and led to an aggressive foreign policy that included heightened war in Afghanistan and the illegal invasion of Iraq, 11/9 could well lead to the recalibration, if not dismantling, of traditional American commitments from continental Europe to the Pacific.

That is if one is to go by what Donald Trump said during his election campaign, or what he rightly called the “movement” because America has not seen anything like it. The problem of course is that Trump is a volatile personality and can change – as he has done – his views and pledges thus projecting an image of inconsistency. That is why it is difficult to read the man. Those who followed this long campaign from the time he announced his candidacy would note that he has often jumped track and said something different from what he had said on the subject before.

That is what has made him so unpredictable. Add to that his complete lack of experience in politics or public office and one finds a novice vying for the highest office. This is why his critics – and perhaps some in his own Republican Party- call him dangerous for the US and for the world.

Obviously Hillary Clinton has been a time-tested political figure with wide experience in high office whereas her opponent lacked all that. That is perhaps one reason why the pundits and pollsters got it wrong just as they did the mood of the British people who voted at the referendum that was to decide whether Britain stays or leaves the European Union.

These are two recent occasions which found the analysts and media wanting and has further diminished their reliability in the eyes of the public. Some have condescendingly dismissed Donald Trump as an oaf, a person who has not grasped the intricacies of modern-day diplomacy and geopolitical realities. His views on NATO as being obsolete and an instrument that should be changed with its members countries taking on more of the financial burden of the military alliance, has come in for particular criticism.

But many commentators, particularly outside the US, forget that Trump’s views on NATO are nothing new. He expressed similar views back in his ghost-written book “The America we deserve.” To those who think that Trump is an intellectual lightweight and lacks understanding of the way the world is shaping up, it is well to remember that more than a year before the disastrous 9/11 attack on New York, Trump had in the same book said a terror attack on a major American city was inevitable.

“I really am convinced we’re in danger of the sort of terrorist attacks that will make the bombing of the Trade Center look like kids playing with firecrackers,” Trump wrote in his June 2000 book. “No sensible analyst rejects this possibility, and plenty of them, like me, are not wondering if but when it will happen.” In fact he went so far as to point his finger at Osama bin Laden.

“One day we’re told that a shadowy figure with no fixed address named Osama bin Laden is public enemy number one, and US jet fighters lay waste to his camp in Afghanistan,” Trump wrote. “He escapes back under some rock, and a few news cycles later it’s on to a new enemy and new crisis.”

Trump devoted a section of the book to keeping America safe from terrorism, arguing it was the biggest threat to national security.
“Whatever their motives — fanaticism, revenge — suffice it to say that plenty of people would stand in line for a crack at a suicide mission within America,” he wrote. “In fact the number of potential attackers grows every day. Our various military adventures — some of which are justified, some not — create new legions of people who would like to avenge the deaths of family members or fellow citizens.”
Donald Trump might be no Henry Kissinger but one cannot say that he lacks prescience. Even when he wrote that book more than one and a half decades ago he saw the dangers to America of terrorism.

Today, if he wants a restructuring of NATO into a more modern and relevant organization it is not only because the geopolitical map of Europe has changed and the raison d’etre that gave birth to this military alliance is no longer valid, but also because America and the world as he sees it is confronted by new enemies.

It would be true to say that no other US election has been watched with such intense interest, apprehension and even fear by the world outside. Naturally the outcome is of greater significance to major powers and those nations the US is in contention with as the focus of geopolitical rivalry shifts.

To small countries such as Sri Lanka which has been trying to mend its relations with Washington sometimes with a demeaning obsequiousness as we have seen in the last 20 months, the seismic political change in the battle for the White House has come as a rude convulsion after the comfortable kowtowing by an important constituent of the yahapalanaya government.

If that government’s foreign minister more than any other single person was the flag bearer of this day to day pro-American policy backed no doubt by former President Chandrika Kumaratunga with her connections to the Clinton Foundation which she joined in 2005, there were others in Sri Lanka touting for Hillary Clinton for different reasons.

Just the other day I read in the media that two councillors Sivajilingam and Ananthi Sasitharan of the Northern Provincial Council had dashed 1,008 coconuts at a Hindu Temple in prayers for a Hillary Clinton victory. It was apparently organized by a group called Tamils for Clinton which first surfaced in the US and is said to have donated funds for the then Clinton campaign to become the Democratic Party candidate at the 2008 presidential bid.

It is said that Raj Rajaratnam now serving a jail term for insider dealing was the founder or one of them of Tamils for Clinton that was trying to persuade the US to take the LTTE off the US terrorist list.

If I remember correctly Hillary Clinton denied any knowledge of donations from the Tamil organization and did eventually send the money back. There have of course been several questions asked about the Clinton Foundation and the receipt of donations from authoritarian regimes in the Middle East while dear Hillary has been pressing many levers to damn some countries for their human rights records, Sri Lanka included, ignoring the deplorable history of human rights violations by prosperous Gulf donors to the Clinton Foundation.

I do not know why they broke-if they indeed did – 1008 coconuts. Perhaps there is a magic in the number though on this occasion it obviously did not work. Given the price of a coconut today neither Hillary Clinton nor the Sri Lankan consumer seemed to have benefitted from this exercise.

There are lessons for Sri Lankan politicians from the US election. One clearly is that a substantial segment of the American population is fed up of politicians, those who have made politics a profession and have enabled or have been deeply involved in allowing the government to be captured and used by what Francis Fukuyama called “well-organized interest groups.”

We see this happening almost every day in Sri Lanka as politicians and corporate interests work in a symbiotic relationship that aggrandizes both at the expense of the vast groups of people. Just as the American people rejected the political elites that have captured government power and neglected the people, in the UK and continental Europe there is a rising tide of anti-establishment politics.

Sri Lanka has not been able to tap into such a reservoir because of the control the party system has over nominations and who should contest what. But below this surface of seeming orderliness there is growing resentment at how politicians fatten themselves with the government encouraging this extravagance by providing the opportunities to do so.

If this resentment at the accumulation of largesse did surface at last year’s elections that resentment and anger will turn against the present incumbents for failed promises and exploitation of the political system for personal and crony benefit. When would Sri Lanka smash-up a system skewed for the benefit of the political class where victors and vanquished often work together for mutual benefit and the head of state pleads that investigations are blocked or sabotaged by interested parties.

Surely the people have a right to know who is responsible for this obstruction just as Trump reminding the American people that they have a right to know about the hypocrisy of their own governments.

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