By Ramzy Baroud
I fear that many of us are hating US President Donald Trump for the wrong reasons. Multitudes are being swayed by mainstream media-inspired demonization of him, based on selective assumptions and half-truths. US mainstream media, which rarely deviates from supporting the American government’s conduct, however reckless, is presenting him as an aberration of otherwise egalitarian, sensible, peace-loving US policies at home and abroad.
Trump may be described with all the demeaning terminology that one’s livid imagination can muster. But if you chant in the street “I’m with her,” in reference to defeated Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, it means you are entirely missing the point.
To reminisce about the days of Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama, his oratory skills, clean diplomacy and model, “relatable” family, means you have bought into the mass deception, intellectual demagoguery and stifling group-think that pushed us to these extremes in the first place. Within this context, missing the point can be dangerous, even deadly.
It is interesting how Yemeni lives suddenly matter, referring to the US military’s botched raid late last month on an alleged Al-Qaeda stronghold in Yemen, killing mostly civilians. A beautiful 8-year-old girl, Nawar Al-Awlaki, was killed in the operation, planned under the Obama administration but approved by Trump. Many chose to ignore that her 16-year-old brother, also a US citizens, was killed by the US military under Obama a few years earlier.
Yemen has been a target in America’s so-called “war on terror” for many years. Many civilians have been killed, their deaths only questioned by human rights groups, seldom by mainstream media. Yemen is one of seven Muslim-majority countries whose citizens were subject to being barred from entering the US. The emotional mass response by hundreds of thousands of protesters rejecting such an abhorrent decision is heartening but also puzzling.
The US military, under Obama, shied away from leading major wars, but instead instigated numerous smaller conflicts. “The whole concept of war has changed under Obama,” the LA Times quoted a Middle East expert as saying. Obama “got the country out of ‘war,’ at least as we used to see it,” said Jon Alterman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “We’re now wrapped up in all these different conflicts, at a low level and with no end in sight.”
The Obama administration dropped 26,171 bombs in 2016 alone. Countries that were bombed included Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Somalia, five of the seven countries whose citizens were denied entry by Trump. The harm that Obama did to some of the poorest war-torn countries in the world far exceeds what Trump has done so far.
Iraq and Libya were not always poor. Their oil, natural gas and other strategic resources made them targets for US wars, under four administrations prior to Trump’s infamous arrival. Libya was the richest country in Africa, and relatively stable until Clinton — secretary of state during Obama’s first term in office — decided otherwise.
In 2011 she craved war. A New York Times report, citing 50 top US officials, left no doubt that Clinton was the catalyst in the decision to go to war. Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, furious about her support for a “broader mission” in Libya, told Obama and Clinton the US army was already engaged in enough wars. “Can I finish the two wars I’m already in before you guys go looking for a third one?” Gates reportedly asked.
Now we are being led to believe that the war enthusiasts of the past are peacemakers, because Trump’s antics are simply too much to bear. The hypocrisy of it all should be obvious, but some insist on ignoring it.
Party tribalism and gender politics aside, Trump is a mere extension and natural progression of previous US administrations’ agendas that launched avoidable, unjust wars, embedded fear, and fanned the flames of Islamophobia, hate for immigrants, etc. There is hardly a single bad deed that Trump has carried out, or intends to carry out, that does not have roots in a policy championed by previous administrations.
His intention to build a wall along the US-Mexico border is the brainchild of former President Bill Clinton, who got a standing ovation from Democrats when he proposed the wall and a crackdown on illegal immigrants in his 1995 State of the Union address.
Muslims have been an easy target for at least 20 years. They were mainly the target of the Secret Evidence law in 1996, and “suspected” Muslims were either jailed indefinitely or deported without their lawyers being informed of their charges. It was then called the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, later expanded to give immigration authorities the right to deport even green-card-holding permanent residents.
Few protested the undemocratic, no-due-process law, and the media barely covered it, as most of those held were Palestinian activists, intellectuals and university professors. The 1996 act morphed into the Patriot Act following the Sept. 11 attacks. The new act undermined the US constitution, giving the government unprecedented domestic authority to arrest and detain people, and spy on whoever it wished, with no legal consequences.
The Obama administration had no qualms using and abusing such undemocratic, unconstitutional powers. But where were the millions protesting “fascism,” as they are doing now? Was Obama simply too elegant and articulate to be called fascist, even though he engendered the same domestic policy outlook as Trump?
Trump is extremely wealthy, but if one examines the US wealth inequality gap under Obama, one perceives some uncomfortable truths. While the rich got richer under Obama, “inequality in America (grew) even at the top,” reports Inequality.org. The gap between the rich and super-rich continued to expand, barely phased out by the Great Recession of 2008.
In 2014, a Mother Jones headline summed up the tragic story of unfair distribution of wealth in the US: “The Richest 0.1 Percent is About to Control More Wealth than the Bottom 90 Percent.” Trump is but one profiteer from an economy driven by real-estate gamblers and financial chancers. Today’s political conflict in the US is not a clash over values, but a war between elites par excellence. It is also a war of brands.
Obama spent eight years reversing George W. Bush’s bad brand, but without reversing any of his disreputable deeds. On the contrary, Obama redefined and expanded war, advanced the nuclear arms race and destabilized more countries. Trump is also a brand, an unpromising one. The product — whether military aggression, racism, Islamophobia, anti-immigration policies, economic inequality, etc. — remains unchanged. That is the uncomfortable truth.