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Commentary: Inward-looking U.S. can’t return to its former self

By Hiroyuki Kotake, Nikkei Washington bureau chief

 

November 8 marks the first anniversary of the U.S. presidential election in which Americans chose a leader. The turmoil in the Trump administration is increasing, but that does not mean expectations for revolution have faded. The inward-looking attitude of the general public, who have allowed the rise of populism, is deep-rooted and the U.S. seems to lack strength to return to its former self.

 

Beattyville, Kentucky, is regarded as one of the poorest predominantly white towns in the U.S. I met Randel Amburgey [sp?], a 69-year-old Republican and former pastor, in the mountainous rural town where the coal and oil industries have declined and the median annual household income is less than 20,000 dollars.

 

He said, “I don’t trust politicians in Washington. They are constrained by special interests and can’t change anything. They all should be fired. But businessman Trump is different. He’s trying hard to live up to his campaign pledges.”

 

In Lee County, where Beattyville is located, 81% of eligible voters voted for Trump. The county is the epitome of ordinary people who caused a sensation for an unprecedented heretic, from the white people puzzled by wavering conservative values and the country’s changing ethnic profile and financially strapped low- and mid-income earners to the subordinate class enraged by arrogant elites.

 

Chuck Cordell [sp?], a 59-year-old local newspaper reporter, says, “I still support Trump, who listens to our long-ignored voices and is trying to change the existing system. What we want is a real revolution.” His remark is testament to the fact that the wave of public opinion that shook the U.S. is still alive.

 

The Trump administration is obviously  gridlocked. It can tear up theTrans-Pacific Partnership agreement and the Paris Agreement, an international framework for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. But it can’t reduce taxes or increase infrastructure investment. It is also roiled by internecine battles and scandals, failing to make concrete achievements.

 

“There is a loss of optimism,” said the prominent American journalist Fareed Zakaria. He deplores the fact that the free and diverse U.S. has declined and is unable to harbor hope for the future. It is only natural that the support rate for Trump, who disrespects the international order and fuels the disruption of the international community, continues to be at the low level of 30%.

 

But his support rate among Republicans still remains at about 80%. In the U.S., the richest 1% of the population control 40% of the country’s wealth, the oligarchy who account for less than 0.01% of the nation’s adult population control the presidential elections and the U.S. Congress elections with 2.3 billion dollars in donations, and the ratio of the White population will dip below 50% over the next 30 years. The high support rate indicates that Trump’s core support base, which is dissatisfied with and worried about such “realities of the nation,” has not turned away from him.

 

“We are calling for a great reawakening of nation.” Trump declared that he will stick to his America First policy and prompt a first change in the American mentality since the War of Independence. There certainly exist inward-looking people who believe his promises.

 

There is even an atmosphere of expecting a second and a third heretic in the U.S. In choosing Republican candidates for the special election for an Alabama Senate seat slated in December, radial and hardline conservative Roy Moore, a former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, defeated interim senator Luther Strange, a moderate backed by Trump and others.

 

On a global level, too, far-right and populist political parties are gaining strength in Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic. The spread of the Trump phenomenon seems hard to stop.

 

Former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama once feared for the future of democracy, with each saying, “We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism” and “We are rejecting a politics of division. It’s the 21st Century, not the 19th Century.” Will the “awakening” of the U.S. and the world escalate?

 

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