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American Revolution: Is it anything like the Arab Spring?

NEW YORK, UNITED STATES: People follow results of the 2016 Presidential Elections at Time Square Center in New York, United States on November 9, 2016. [Volkan Furuncu/Anadolu Agency]
People follow results of the 2016 Presidential Elections at Time Square Center in New York, United States on November 9, 2016. [Volkan Furuncu/Anadolu Agency]

It is common in the Arab world to say that the Arab Spring is a Western, American conspiracy to give power to political Islam in the region. It seems that the infection of the same “Spring” has now also reached Britain by getting it out of the European Union, and now the US with the election of an unconventional president who is far from the political tradition of the ruling establishment there. So did Washington conspire against itself as well? There is no doubt that the latest American elections, both presidential and parliamentary, were exceptional and unprecedented in the history of America. This has many reasons including the fact that they were not ordinary elections to choose one candidate or the other based on party identity, as is the norm. On the contrary, this was a revolution against the party establishment, particularly against the Republican and Democratic parties. Because these two parties together represent the largest two political forces in the ruling establishment, it becomes clear that these elections, since day one, were no less than a social revolution against the ruling establishment. This requires a redefinition of the word “revolution” as it is not always a violent act to impose structural change in the society and the country. It can be a peaceful political act if frameworks, institutions and constitutional procedure allow it to be so, provide it with protection and are available. This is exactly what happened in the United States throughout the year, especially in the last two weeks. The revolutionary dimension appears in three points. The first is social class, in the sense that the working class, whose members usually have less than a college education, is the one that imposed the change and rebellion against the ruling establishment in terms of selecting candidates in the elections. This was clear in the first stage, or the primary elections of a candidate to represent the Republican Party, where Trump managed to defeat 16 candidates, all of them representing what is perceived as the inherited traditions of the party’s organisation. Everyone expected that Trump would be out during the primaries due to his racism, the superficial nature of his speech, his vulgar vocabulary and his hostility which he did not hesitate to use publicly to frighten his opponents. But he easily managed to remove his rivals through the votes he got, then he dominated the General Conference of the Republican Party which had no other choice but to approve of his selection as the party’s candidate in the presidential elections. This happened despite the opposition of most of the party leaders, and even the boycott of many of them of the conference. A similar thing happened in the Democratic Party, but not exactly the same. Bernie Sanders, the socialist candidate, was able to impose himself in the primaries as a strong competitor to Hillary Clinton for the party’s nomination. Again, this was achieved through the votes of mainly the working class. But Sander’s success, unlike Trump’s, did not get to the point of representing the party. The idea of socialism has miserably failed in American society throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, and it seems like it’s trying again, but will it succeed? Not necessarily. More importantly was that the success of socialist Sanders to get millions of votes has made him and his leftist movement a major political force within the Democratic Party, and imposed for the party’s program to be the most left-wing in its history. Perhaps it is becoming clear that the success of right-wing Trump and left-wing Sanders clearly indicates that the US establishment is facing a political revolution that it has never seen before.

The question in US circles right now is, will this revolution force the Democratic Party (the party of minorities, middle and working class) after its loss to move towards the left, versus the Republican Party’s (the party of large financial institutions) move towards the right after its success at the hands of Trump? Now we come to the political factor, or the second point which stems from the fact that right-wing Trump won with the votes of the working class and not left-wing Sanders. The reason for this is clear. The Democratic Party chose Hillary Clinton and not Sanders to represent it in the presidential race against Trump. Since Clinton is a traditional symbol of the ruling establishment, while Trump represents a rebellion against this establishment, the latter won the race. This is a great irony since Trump does not in any way represent the working class.

As a businessman, he represents the big capital class. This is a paradox that reflects the depth of the popular rebellion against the traditional ruling establishment, and that this rebellion seems as if it wants change at any cost. This was clear when Trump won in states such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, which usually vote for the Democratic Party. It is also clear in his winning of the electoral vote, and not the majority of the popular vote which actually went to Clinton, because the number of states in which he won is more than those won by Clinton. The electoral college system gives each state a number of representatives which is equivalent to their representatives in the Senate and House of Representatives. Thus, the votes of the representatives of the state go to the candidate who wins in it even if by a small difference. In other words, American voters do not really vote for the candidate directly, but they vote for the representatives of the electoral college, who then decides who the president will be. The result of the US elections will most likely impose a clash between the social and political sides, which is a collision of aspirations of the working and middle class within the political limits of the new president.

Initial features of the collision began immediately after Trump’s victory with his retreat from a number of promises which he repeated during the elections campaign, such as building a wall on the Mexican border to curb immigration, cancelling health care programmes instituted by current President Barack Obama, and the deportation of Muslim immigrants. Those who led Trump to the White House will soon realise that he has used their frustration from the economic reality to achieve his political goals at their expense. The question is, will America get to the point where the classes have managed to express their depression but have failed to achieve their goals? And will everyone find themselves before a dead end between rebelling classes and a political system that does not easily respond to their aspirations? Karl Marx’s prophecy of the capitalist system inevitably reaching a point at which contradictions of the regime explode internally may not really be fulfilled. It is because this regime has a lot of flexibility, mechanisms and institutions that provide it with ways out to help it avoid explosion. No matter what, we are looking at an America that is different from what it was like after World War II; an America that is at a turning point towards the right-wing but hasn’t completely settled there yet. The American Revolution is similar to the Arab Spring in one thing which is that, so far, it has no ideological or political leadership. But it is different from it as it is a revolution of one class, and that it is taking place in a political framework that has the ability to conduct dialogue and negotiations. The Arab Spring led directly to implosion in many instances because the issue of governance in the region is a matter of zero (meaning zero institutionalised governance), which is a dilemma the Middle East has not been able to overcome for more than 1,400 years. However, the modern American Revolution has begun to express itself through the mechanism of elections and institutions that are ingrained. It seems to have failed so far, but its failure is not inevitable or eternal. It might be leaning towards the populist right, but this is not going to be its only trend. It will be competing with other trends, and it is unclear which will come out on top. On the other side, in the Arab world, look at the bloody scenes launched by the regime in Syria; you will see differences with the US that lead to bewilderment. Then look at Egypt, where the people were fed up with the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, yet also found themselves fed up with the Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi regime that was built on its ruins. And in all these examples, there are no alternatives, ways out or alternative dialogues.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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