The world has been increasingly puzzled by the United States for the past six months. The rise of President Donald Trump in the Republican Party and his electoral victory surprised many around the world. Since then, most of the commentators and observers of American politics who have failed to understand the dynamics fueling the rise of Trump went back to basics and started reading more deeply into the politics and sociology of the United States. It was obvious there were aspects many experts had missed or underestimated about this country, such as the increasing lack of trust in “Washington,” and the cultural and economic fault lines. While trying to understand the dynamics of U.S. politics, the inauguration of President Trump and his policies brought a new wave of controversy that has become hard to follow for people around the world. In fact, while outsiders question the American people’s decision, the world started to question the U.S.’s role internationally, as well. Globally, doubts started to brew in regard to what the “new” Americans wanted to do in the world. Nowadays, these two very complicated, but interrelated, questions have been on the agenda of American political observers. In some aspects, the trend has extended the horizon of the experts toward America. Trump’s election definitely brought a different segment of American society to light. Instead of focusing on the policy preferences and composition of the political elites of the east coast, now increasing attention is being paid to American society as a whole. Thus, while scholars head back to the basics about literature on populism, books like “Hillbilly Elegy” by James David Vance have become hot topics and discussed by those who want a better understanding of the dynamics of U.S. politics and society. As a result, people have become curious about ordinary American lives, while trying to understand if this hard shift is related to temporary grievances or a more permanent trend in voting behavior.
In the meantime, with the emergence of protests after the election, there was now another dimension of American politics that needed to be understood and analyzed. The underlying dynamics of these protests and their durability have raised many questions. Observers have since tried to understand what Madonna’s controversial speech signaling the “waking up” of the people means, or what Katy Perry’s single with lyrics calling youth to “dance for distortion” while signaling that “time is ticking for the empire” indicate for the American society and politics. All of these complicated grievances, demands and protests indicate the beginning of an “interesting” time for American society. However, this is not the only puzzling dimension of the United States nowadays.
In its capacity and position as a superpower, the world is also trying to understand what the U.S. is expecting for the future in terms of its role internationally. The ambivalence and uncertainty of the country globally is generating nervousness and concern among the U.S. allies. This was a rising phenomenon during the Obama administration and resulted in mistrust of U.S. foreign policy goals and objectives. In the immediate aftermath of the financial meltdown in 2008, many analysts had predicted that other superpowers of international system would try to establish their own plans for the future. During the last decade, most of the discussion on the U.S.’s decline focused on the rise of a second group of countries that would create a multipolar global system that would lead to the generation of alternative development models. Most of those countries that were expected to play such a role do not claim that role anymore leaving only China’s ambition, which has been reflected in projects like “One Belt One Road” and in its effort to generate a “Chinese Dream.” Thus, what makes the current situation more complicated is the decreasing number of potential “poles” in the international system. This makes the U.S.’s role more important than ever. President Trump’s visit to the Middle East and NATO in the midst of all of these questions and concerns about its role in the international system will be remembered as one of the most important presidential visits in history. His messages during his visit to Saudi Arabia and Israel signaled a possible return to closer relations with U.S. allies in the region. But the people in the region are holding back their enthusiasm to see if any actions will actually complete the rhetoric at this point. Similar concerns about U.S.’s role in the protection of Europe through NATO will be debated following the NATO summit that is taking place now. And probably very soon, U.S.’s partners and allies in Asia will ask for clarification about its commitments and policies in their region, as well.
Thus, the next few years may be a period of transformation for American politics and society. While the world watches, predictions about the domestic transformation’s impact on U.S. foreign policy and on the international system as a whole are being made. Will the U.S. prefer to stay isolated in its bubble or will it stick its neck out and act on the troubles plaguing other parts of the world? This may be the most debated question of them all.
[Daily Sabah, May 27, 2017]