After a seemingly endless year and a half, the US election season is currently approaching its anti-climactic stretch run. The major US candidates, Trump and Clinton, are vastly disliked as both display either character flaws or histories which turn off a significant majority of the citizenry. Whoever wins will have a terrible time governing a population which has dramatically lost its global swagger, as domestic economic troubles now begin to enter their seventeenth straight year. Given these facts, however, it is in reference to America’s world role that agreement between a majority of voters has begun to crystalize.
The US foreign policy establishment and their corporate and financial backers appear more prone to back Mrs. Clinton than the more mercurial Donald J. Trump. In fact, even within the Republican Party, the consensus among foreign policy specialists is considerably against the candidacy of Mr. Trump. His views on trade are anathema to the global interests of both the big banks and the myriad of US multinationals. It is these organizations which pay the bloated salaries of nearly all the Washington and New York-based think tank intellectuals (Republican and Democratic alike) who rotate in and out of government service depending on the outcome of US elections.
However, it is the thousands of corporate executives and other extremely wealthy individuals who contribute massively to any US campaign. These same people have traditionally financed both the Republican and Democratic parties. But this year they have decidedly swung away from the “populism” of Mr. Trump. This year’s GOP nominee has espoused a kind of neo-isolationism defined as “America First”. Such a policy also implies tariffs, capital controls and other barriers to cheap labor abroad. But the corporate interest does not lie with such impediments to free-trade and financial “off-shoring”. And the corporate interest is certainly not with the American working-class voters most affected by the job losses incurred through globalization.
On the contrary, the interests of the elite are cheap labor and expanding markets abroad. This cannot be accomplished through a policy of neo-isolationism. So instead of Trump, the elite have embraced (what they perceive to be) the last hope of the liberal economic and interventionist order, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
But for Clinton to be successful, she must balance her obvious corporate support from a barrage of attacks by a host of working-class and young, declassed opponents. These attacks could come from within the isolationist populism of the right-wing, but also from within her own party. Mrs. Clinton leads a coalition of Blacks, Hispanics and working-class Whites, whose interest does not coincide with globalization. She is also dependent on millions of young, college-educated-aspiring voters who have seen their job prospects dwindle with the demise of small business and the outsourcing and computerization of the old corporate middle-class model. A college education today just isn’t what it used to be.
Over the course of the last 16 years, the US economy has stagnated. During this same time period, the US national debt has risen to an astonishing nineteen-and-a-half trillion dollars. This colossal sum is equal to about $163,000 per taxpayer. For many Americans, the wars of the Middle East are directly responsible for the mushrooming of the national debt. The vast majority of voters blame a good deal of America’s economic decline to its role as the “world’s policeman”, particularly in the Middle East. In fact, both Clinton and Trump appear opposed to any direct US ground intervention within this precarious region. Neither candidate has an answer for Syria. And by proxy, neither candidate has an answer to Iranian expansion within the Levant or its encroachment into Palestinian and potentially Jordanian politics.
Both US candidates are solidly pro-Israel, but within a region as unsettled as the Middle East, the US public is certainly not looking for any further adventures. If Trump wins (still a long shot) a newly defined foreign policy to go along with his populist inclination toward neo-isolationism has yet to be articulated. On the other hand, Mrs. Clinton’s foreign policy preferences of neo-con, liberal interventionism will be circumscribed by both the large “peace camp” within her own party and the absence of a coherent economic plan that will not balloon the national debt and then depress the stock and bond markets. Both candidates face the prospect of an impending US recession caused by a world economy dependent on Chinese profligacy and continual US consumption. The world is awash in a sea of debt, and China and the US lead the way. These economic and political realities do not bode well for the Clinton neo-con agenda.
Can America be depended upon to offer a synthesis between neo-isolationism and global leadership? What are the prospects for Europe and the Middle East without a healthy US economy to buoy the geopolitics of both regions? The US cannot continue to be the world’s policeman while its citizenry languish in economic stagnation. But unilateral global reach (and the deficits it creates) is probably responsible for the economic stagnation in the first place. Are we now witnessing the end of the seventy-year US-led capitalist global empire?
Is it any wonder that the US electorate feels the need for other political alternatives to Trump or Clinton? According to nearly everyone I come in contact with, both on the left and on the right, no one seems satisfied with either candidate. Obviously, the people know better than the politicians that America’s problems are decades in the making. Simplistic solutions are now mocked by both sides of the political spectrum. Only a new vision of the US economy and a strategy for cooperative world peace will suffice to alter the disarray felt strongly across the American political and social landscape. So far, neither party has articulated such a vision. Until they do, American domestic and foreign policy will remain in disarray.