The Legitimacy Crisis of the U.S. Elite and the Rise of Donald Trump


Insight Turkey Volume 19 No. 3, 2017 

The rise of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States is symptomatic of a deep crisis of American identity and the power and hegemony of the ruling class, particularly of its market-led globalism. American globalism’s corporate core-dynamic has produced gross inequalities of income and wealth that have colonized its political culture and institutions. This has produced a diversionary but deeply-rooted, carefully-nurtured domestic politics characterized by class-based ‘pluto- populist’ white nationalism. Internationally, there are challenges from re-emerging powers from the global south, like China and India, demanding a renegotiation of power in the U.S.-led order, and with (rhetorical) nationalist-historical narratives of humiliation during western colonial rule. Conversely, those re-emerging powers, and their elites, have grown influential within the U.S.-led globalist order and therefore sit atop unequal and unstable societies, as they rapidly industrialize and urbanize. Finally, the United States and Europe face refugee/migration crises partly spawned by U.S.-led military interventions in the Middle East resulting in blowback terrorism and ISIS insurgency. America’s population appears to have less appetite for external interventions and global hegemony and are polarized on the fundamental question of what America stands for.

The American elite’s legitimacy crisis is multisided and deep, at home and abroad. The Trump presidency is unlikely to resolve it due to its divisive, nationalistic, “America First” character, despite the Administration’s reversal of headline attacks on the U.S.-led international order. The Democratic Party opposition, with the corporate media, intelligence/ military services, and elite think tanks, by its side, appears to be continuing its ‘centrist’ status quo political strategy as the best way to defeat Trump in 2020. It is still tied to Wall Street donors, and a series of investigations around alleged collusion between the Trump election campaign and the Russian state to defeat Hillary Clinton in November 2016.

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