Trumpism Can Restructure the United States’ Political System
Valdai Discussion, Club Conference Hall, Bolshaya Tatarskaya 42, Moscow, Russia
List of speakers

Donald Trump’s coming to power is an expression of the systemic crisis that hit the American bipartisan system. Trumpism is unstable and torn by contradictions, but its rapid disintegration is unlikely. These are the conclusions of the participants in the presentation of the Valdai Club report, titled "Global Rightist Revolt: Trumpism and its Foundations", which took place at the Valdai Club Conference Hall in Moscow on September 13.

Presenting the report, Oleg Barabanov, Programme Director of the Valdai Discussion Club and head of the team of authors, noted that the new research of the club continues the series of studies on the "global revolt", which is taking place right now. Trumpism is one of the manifestations of this revolt. As noted in the report, it became a reality because of the demand for a leader, who could consolidate protest sentiments and express the aspirations of many very important electoral groups of interests. At the same time, the secret of success of right-wing populism, personified by Trump, is not concentrated on the figure of a rebel who rejects the establishment. Those voters and groups of interests that brought Trump to the White House, formulate a broader request for transformation of the American political system.

Speaking about the reasons of Trump’s election, Boris Kagarlitsky, Director of the Institute of Globalization and Social Movements and one of the authors of the report, pointed to the exhaustion of the American neoliberal policies on two fronts. First, the policy of minority protection in the United States led to a paradox, when the socio-economic position of these very minorities has only worsened in recent years. This is due to the emergence of sub-elites inside the minorities that are supposed to be protected (for example, African Americans), and their merger with the traditional elites. Their status in the social hierarchy rises sharply, but this does not contribute to improving the position of the minority they represent and whose votes they "sell" to the white liberal elite. The result of discontent with the results of this policy was that Trump turned out to be the Republican presidential candidate with the largest number of minorities’ votes over the past twenty years.

Neoliberal policies have reached a dead end in the economic sphere, too. Trump's contradictory slogans about America's return to its former greatness emerged amid the elites' unwillingness to make a turning point in the transition from liberalism to protectionism. In fact, the slogan "Make America Great Again" is nostalgia for the idealized 1950s-1960s, when American society was the world’s most advanced and the whole world, including the USSR, tried to emulate it, Kagarlitsky said. According to the scholar, it is difficult to talk about any consistent program of action, because what Trump said during his election campaign is an amalgam of ideas from the extreme right to the extreme left. But it is important that he managed to reach out to the working class, which was the democrats’ backbone in the mid-20th century. In the neoliberal rhetoric, this segment of the population began to be identified with "white males", although in reality it is mostly female and, most likely, not white. Nevertheless, the elite, even after Trump's election, cannot admit that the real division of American society is based not on race or gender, but on class.

Having managed to express the moods of those classes whose position was not improved as a result of neoliberal policies, Trumpism has faced fierce resistance from the beneficiaries of the globalization of the 1990s. According to Dmitry Efremenko, another author of the report, these are the Washington establishment and minorities’ sub-elites, who are used to the fact that their voices can silence the voice of the majority. The fate of Trump's presidency is connected with the possibility of realization of the essential guidelines of the Trumpist program, he stressed. In his turn, Kagarlitsky noted that the liberal attack against Trump encounters resistance from the "lower classes", although his presidency has not yet brought them obvious benefits, but this situation cannot continue indefinitely.

How will the American political system respond to the emergence of Trumpism? According to Kagarlitsky, it is obvious, that there is a split within each of the parties. In the Republican Party, the expert does not yet see persons which could offer a convincing alternative to Trump’s program, but, perhaps, they will appear closer to the elections. At the same time, the most reasonable supporters of Bernie Sanders, a former Democratic candidate who proposed a consistent social democratic program, understand that they need to move away from neoliberal slogans and move closer to Trump's electoral base.

The complex internal political situation determines Trump’s foreign policy moves. Judging by the pre-election rhetoric of the would-be president, he would like to reduce US participation in world affairs, focusing on domestic problems, but he will not succeed, Kagarlitsky stressed. He did not achieve any of the ambitious goals proclaimed during the election campaign. A special humiliation for Trump was the blocking of the bill to repeal "Obamacare," Efremenko said. According to the expert, in order to overcome it, the president can take steps to exacerbate the situation on the global arena.

Summing up the discussion on the foreign policy dimension of Trumpism, Boris Kagarlitsky noted that the processes, which are taking place in the US domestic policy increase global political uncertainty and weaken the role of the US in the world as the real hegemon. But this does not lead to weakening of America's role in the world and does not mean transformation of the United States into an introverted country, which would probably be desirable for the incumbent US president and many of his supporters.