“We owe China US$1.3 trillion. We owe Japan more than that. So they come in, they take our jobs, they take our money, and then they loan us back the money, and we pay them in interest, and then the dollar goes up so their deal’s even better. How stupid are our leaders? How stupid are these politicians to allow this to happen? How stupid are they?”
– US President Donald J Trump
What I really find vexing about the Trump election victory is that these days every political hack always suggest pulling a Trump and securing victory even though they have no idea what Donald Trump did to secure his position as the current Potus (president of the United States).
Truth be told I doubt even Trump knows what he did. When a Malaysian politician like Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi says that Umno should emulate Trump, what he really means is the perception that Trump was despised by the voting public of the United States but yet he somehow managed an election victory.
This perception problem is misleading. The mainstream media with the collusion of DNC (Democratic National Committee) supporters mocked Trump even though this really did not represent the reality on the ground. To make the claim that Trump was “unpopular” based solely on the dubious readings of the mainstream American media is the kind of faulty logic that cost the DNC the presidency.
While reminding the opposition on not counting on the Trump vote, I wrote: “The Trump vote was a vote against the establishment. However, pundits forget that Trump destroyed the Republican establishment in the GOP (Grand Old Party) primaries before taking his message to the national stage. He did this by slaying sacred cows and projecting himself as the only one who could save America from the Washington elites who cared little for the white working class that was neglected in the national discourse.”
The Umno deputy prime minister would be wise to remember that core Trump supporters were anti-establishment and this included anything to do with the mainstream media, middle-ground politics and foreign policies, and they were major participants in the culture war.
Umno, of course, is the Malay establishment. Umno controls the mainstream media and nearly every facet of the Malay community either through commerce or through religion. Umno is the very definition of the establishment.
It is no point ratcheting up the cyberwar because unlike Trump, who more or less managed his own presence in the online world and had a willing cadre of people who thought they were disenfranchised from mainstream American politics, Umno which has domination over the mainstream media has to rely on hired guns to settle their online disputes. In other words, this is not about political fervour but mercenary tendencies. Not good if you want to start a movement like what Trump did.
Right now, we have an Umno president who many people, regardless of political affiliation, think he is the most corrupt sitting Umno president in history. Here is an Umno prime minister who is siding with Umno’s sworn enemy because his political career, not to mention the existence of Umno, is in question.
This political milieu is exactly the kind of “swamp” that Trump supporters want him to drain and which was why he struck a chord with some voters who would not normally vote for such an outlier candidate.
And Umno has reason to be proud, they have “outtrumped the Donald” by being the first to propagate “alternative truths”. While the Trump administration is only just starting with this useful bit of fascist nation building, Umno can be secure in the knowledge that they have done this for years. So really, do not worry so much about emulating Trump. It would seem that Trump is emulating Umno in this instance.
Trump rightly termed his ascendency as a “movement” and this movement’s sole aim, no matter the disparate some would argue dissonant interests involved, was to sweep away the establishment, and for some install a new order and to others restore an order that was supplanted by various hegemonic interests at the expense of the American people.
Now whether this belief is factual or not is beside the point. What is important is the reality that a certain section of the demographic wanted to cast an anti-establishment vote.
So there is no point for unpopular establishment types having wet dreams about pulling a Trump and attempting to find commonality with a corrupt, bigoted plutocrat’s electoral win. What Trump did is galvanise a movement which if the GOP did not fall into line, they would have been swept away.
Having said that, I do think we could see a “Trump vote” happen in Malaysia and this should really worry Umno. While some pundits may have a problem with contradicting what they have previously written, I have no such problems. When the facts change, so do my opinions.
In the same piece where I argued that the opposition will not get the Trump vote, I wrote: “The problem here is that the opposition and Umno are the establishment. There is nothing that separates the two besides the numerous corruption scandals that plague Umno. In addition, as recent by-elections have proven even this does not seem to bother people who still vote in Umno.”
While this may be true, the reality is that the most cunning political operative this country has ever known currently leads the opposition. That’s right – former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad. What exactly has Mahathir got to do with possibility of securing the Trump vote?
Like Trump, Dr M is an insider
Umno should pay attention. While Trump likes to portray himself as the outsider, this is total horse manure. The reality is that he always been an insider who just happens to have no problem wrecking the very establishment that nurtured him. People see him as having a firm hand in dealing with a corrupt bureaucracy, mitigating the damage done by foreigners and improving their lives simply because he appears rich and successful.
In many ways, Mahathir presents the same aura to the voting base that Umno desperately caters to. While the numerous corruption scandals have yet to strike a chord with them, the wily former prime minister has turned the corruption scandal into something that they can understand. That is, that foreigners are buying up their land and will most probably steal their resources and make them irrelevant in their own country.
Trump played the same tune to his base and even managed to gain support from people who did not actually buy into his bigoted nationalistic narratives. While Umno desperately attempts to paint these deals with China and Singapore as something that is good for this country, the former prime minister implies that the country and Malay society will be radically altered to fit the whims of a tyrant that who has no problem “selling” Tanah Melayu.
Just as many people underestimated the power of Trump’s racial narratives, the same could be said for those who have a problem – I am including myself here, too – with the former prime minister’s China-baiting polemics.
Trump used every bigoted trick in the book, from demonising Muslims to scaremongering about a “Mexican” menace to warning about the yellow peril all because of a weak entrenched political establishment. The de facto opposition leader is doing the same thing now – pointing out compromised trade deals made by a weak potentate and the threat of “foreign” migration.
As with Trump, he camouflages these with legitimate economic and social anxieties. And like Trump, he has a diverse coalition of ideologically disparate power groups working with him to destroy the establishment.
What Zahid should be mindful of is that in these uncertain economic times, Mahathir looks more like someone who can take control of the situation than the current Umno poohbah and his coterie who are mired in all sorts of scandals. This is what Trump promised his supporters and what got him votes from the most unlikely of demographics.
It is pointless calling the de facto opposition leader ‘U-turn Mahathir’, because like Trump who had made so many contradictory statements, reversal of positions and outright denials, the reality is that Mahathir supporters either overlook these contradictions or sublimate any impulse to acknowledge them because the anti-establishment – read that as anti-Umno – sentiment, trumps everything else.
Umno should be worried because if the former prime minister manages a Trump-style victory, Mahathir could even make a U-turn all the way back to Putrajaya.