A guest post by Hagar Kotef and Merav Amir. Hagar Kotef is a Senior Lecturer of Political Theory and Comparative Political Thought at the Department of Politics and International Relations, SOAS, The University of London. She is the author of Movement and the Ordering of Freedom (Duke University Press, 2015). Dr Merav Amir is a Lecturer (Assistant Professor) of Human Geography at the School of Natural and Built Environment, Queen’s University Belfast. Her recent publication is titled “Revisiting Politicide: State Annihilation in Israel/Palestine”, and is due to be published in Territory, Politics, Governance.
In trying to understand the horror that unfolds post Trump election, two main threads seem to dominate left discourse and blogosphere. The first rightly focuses on the horror itself, on the unprecedented coup-d′état unfolding before our eyes, on the attacks on the constitution, on fascism or other forms of totalitarianism or authoritarianism, and on brute institutionalized racism of a regime that does not even seek to pretend it adheres to the rule of law and good governance.
All this is true, and yet this narration often fails to account for three main facts. (i) Such brutal constitutional changes and violent re-demarcations of the contours of the polity are hardly unheard-of, both historically, and at this very political moment in many places across the globe. Portraying this horror as unprecedented and unique, indeed as an unbelievable horror, is a form of American exceptionalism that plays into the normalization of violence in regions that are not considered part of the ‘West’. (ii) Many of these violent regime-changes across the globe have been occurring with at least the passive, if not the very active, involvement of consecutive US administrations. Finally, (iii) such modes of foreign “interventions” (we might want to call them wars or imperialism—“neo” or just that, “imperialism”) are often what allowed the Western metropoles of the American empire to remain largely peaceful and relatively prosperous. That is, it is by externalizing its violence that the US could be “exceptional” in the meaning suggested in (i). We should therefore be careful in reproducing a pattern in which “the real crime”, as Arendt put it in regard to a previous age of totalitarianism, was when totalitarian violence moved out of Africa (at first to Asia and then to Europe) “since here [unlike in the case of “African savages who had frightened Europeans literally out of their wit”] everyone ought to have known what they were doing.”
Donald Trump has a thing for rebuking America’s democratic allies and their leaders—his latest target being Australia’s prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull. The UK appears to be an exception to this trend. In his first interview with the British press as president-elect, Trump explained that the UK has a “special place” in his half-Scottish heart and pledged to support a post-Brexit UK-US trade deal. Reportedly a big fan of Winston Churchill—and of Boris Johnson’s Churchill Factor—he also asked the UK government to loan him a Churchill bust that his Republican predecessor George W. Bush kept in the Oval Office.
A guest post by Seán Molloy, Reader in International Relations, University of Kent
Now that the contours of post-Brexit UK foreign policy are clearer following the Prime Minister’s ‘Global Britain’ speech, the time has come to ask the most critical question: is the project feasible? The central thrust of Theresa May’s pitch is that freed from ‘inflexible’ Brussels mordant grip the UK will soar to new heights. ‘Global Britain,’ May confidently asserts, will be a trading dynamo.
Nobody who lived through the referendum campaign could agree with the Prime Minister that the vote on June 23 was a declaration of Britain’s determination to build a “truly global” Britain. Insofar as the depiction of Britain as an economic titan destined for global greatness once free of the EU featured in the referendum it was a distant also-ran compared to immigration, the fabled £350m per week to be lavished on the NHS, and the restoration of British sovereignty. These objectives were all domestic in nature and not consistent with the Prime Minister’s characterisation of Brexit as the expression of a confident, thrusting nation about the take the commercial world by storm. The electorate voted with its eyes open, but its gaze was primarily fixed upon the perceived domestic consequences of EU membership and other grievances related to the operation of globalisation rather than an insistence upon seizing external opportunities.
If what was genuinely at stake in the referendum eluded the Prime Minister, the full scale of its effects also seem to be absent from her articulation of the policies her government is poised to enact.
In our final post centring on the US presidential inauguration, Ulises Ali Mejias reflects on the phenomenon of ‘fake news’ and the role of social media. Ulises is associate professor at the State University of New York at Oswego. He is the author of Off the Network: Disrupting the Digital World (2013, University of Minnesota Press). With Nick Couldry, he is currently writing a book on data as a capitalist social relation.
The previous two inauguration pieces can be found here and here.
While we didn’t exactly predict the rise of ‘fake news’, in 2013 a Russian colleague and I completed an academic article on the disinformation tactics used during the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Like many others, we started to recognize the ways in which citizens generate, consume and distribute false information by interacting with old and new media, contributing to a social order where lies acquire increasing authority. While we focused on the Russia-Ukraine case, we felt it was important to point out that these tactics might serve as a template for future scenarios, including in Western democracies.
The article will not see the light of day until this year, four years after it was finished. Interestingly, part of the reason it has taken so long to get it published is that some reviewers felt our argument should omit references to Western democracies. The sentiment seemed to be that this kind of stuff could not happen here.
That was, of course, before the 2016 US presidential elections.
Andrew Priest is senior lecturer in Modern US History at the University of Essex. He is co-editor, with Andrew Johnstone, of US Presidential Elections and Foreign Policy: Candidates, Campaigns, and Global Politics from FDR to Bill Clinton (University of Kentucky, forthcoming 2017), and he is currently writing a new book on US foreign policy and notions of empire in the post-Civil War period. Here, the day before Donald Trump is inaugurated as the 45th US president, Andrew sets him in the context of American populism through the centuries and offers some thoughts on Trump’s foreign policy in the making.
Edit: This is the first in a three-part series of posts around the presidential inauguration. The other two can be found here and here.
As hard as it is to believe, only on Friday will Donald Trump finally become president of the United States. During the ultra-marathon that is the modern presidential election, which has given way to a transition period that has felt almost as long, Trump has given us many hints but few details of what his presidency will actually bring. While strident in his views about America’s place in the world, he shows little interest in the details of foreign policy and disdain for diplomatic niceties. This will have important implications for Trump’s role as architect of American foreign policy for the next four years.
American populists L-R: Andrew Jackson, Donald J. Trump, Thomas Jefferson, Ross Perot, and Huey “The Kingfish” Long.
A few weeks ago, when I checked Twitter and saw that Fidel Castro had died, the news felt strangely distant. True, Fidel was a giant of the twentieth century rather than the twenty-first, but I think that feeling of observing the news of his death from afar had more to do with the fact that we (Cubans and Cuba-watchers, journalists, scholars, beret-wearing backpackers) have already been living with the spectre of his death for so long. And, as he has faced death so many times through the years, the mere fact of his death – now material, tangible – seems hardly enough to stop him from living on.