Fading Trump’s words are music to Moscow’s ears – but is it in vain?

Republican nominee Donald Trump speaks at 'Joni's Roast and Ride' in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., Aug. 27, 2016.

Republican nominee Donald Trump speaks at 'Joni's Roast and Ride' in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., Aug. 27, 2016.

Reuters
Is Donald Trump still relevant after his verbal blunders have alienated a plethora of social and ethnic groups and seriously damaged his standing in polls? And while Trump’s comments about relations with Russia appear to be manna from heaven for the Kremlin, is it worth Moscow counting on a possible “reset” if he miraculously wins the presidency?

The common wisdom of many U.S. media outlets now amounts to the verdict that Donald Trump is sinking in the race for the White House. He is lagging behind Hillary Clinton in the polls following a succession of high-profile blunders and the gap seems to be widening.

A recent change of tune in Trump’s campaign has seen a softening of rhetoric regarding Afro-Americans and Latinos, women and the gay community. The “revisionists” in his election campaign HQ gained the upper hand after polls indicated the reluctance of these parts of society to vote for a “bully” and an extravagant billionaire-turned-politician.

Trump’s message that Afro-American communities plagued by poverty and high crime rate have been hoodwinked into voting for the Democrats left black citizens unmoved.

Trump must have realized that had misjudged the effectiveness of his strategy to apply prejudicial and divisive methods, one which contraposed “us vs. them” and made certain social groups feel threatened by others.

The retreat from his original script, which was aimed predominantly at middle-class white Americans, was motivated by the urgent need to scrub off the label of a “racist” used at every opportune moment by his arch-opponent Hillary Clinton. So far, it doesn’t seem to be working.

A case in point is Trump’s lightning visit to Mexico, where he peddled the message of shared economic and security interests but spoiled it all by mentioning a border wall. His comments sparked outrage among those who remembered his promise to deport 11 million illegal immigrants, many of whom have crossed the Rio Grande from the south.

However, while many media analysts are already pronouncing Trump’s shot at the presidency as fatally wounded, the final outcome on Nov. 8 is not evident given the unpredictable character of the whole election campaign this time: Trump was nominated as a candidate by the Republicans despite strong forecasts to the contrary.

Kremlin puppet?

Trump bashers claim the political leadership in Moscow has a weak spot for the Republican enfant terrible, who keeps making conciliatory remarks toward Russia. Despite a lack of evidence that Moscow is taking sides in the U.S. election road show, the Clinton camp is building a strong narrative by linking Trump to Putin, and portraying him as a Kremlin puppet.

This supposed link cannot be supported either by referring to Trump’s construction projects in Russia – there is no such thing – nor by the eccentric billionaire’s close personal relationship with Putin, since the two have never met.

And yet there seems to be an invisible bond between Trump and the Russians, who are watching the mud-slinging contest with more emotional attachment than previous rounds of the U.S. election marathons back in 2008 and 2012. Why?

On the surface, the main reason is the unfamiliar and often shocking rhetoric from the Republicans and the Democrats, which has sunk to the level of personal insults and breached all lines of political correctness and journalistic decency.

At a deeper level, Russian pundits have detected the great divide within the political elites and corporate establishment that has suddenly appeared, which is placing America at a crossroad of its post -Cold War development as the sole global superpower. Trump is a symbol of rebellion.

Put the house back in order

Trump places emphasis on an introverted and self-serving domestic and foreign policy, with the key words being “jobs” and “winning the global competition,” as his speechwriters titled the major pronouncement on economic issues he made at the Detroit Economic Club back in early August.

Once known as the capital of car manufacturing in the U.S., Detroit is in painful decline. While the population of Detroit was more than 1.8 million in 1950, today it has fewer than 700,000 residents. Per capita income is roughly half the national average, while the poverty rate is double the national average. Less than half of Detroiters have a job, and the city has the highest violent crime rate among major U.S. metropolises.

Trump has used every statistic he could find to prove the point that previous U.S. administrations have failed in their economic policy. Basically, he claims to offer an alternative to ensure sustainable growth. Trump pledges to create new jobs and bring back those that were annihilated after the re-location of industrial plants to Mexico, China and other overseas destinations.

Trump attacks the North American Free Trade Agreement, blaming the deal, for instance, for slashing the number of auto workers in Michigan from 285,000 in the “good old days” to 160,000 today.

Opponents accuse Trump of acting as an “isolationist,” mostly on the foreign policy track. When Trump retorts: “Isolation is not an option, only great and well-crafted trade deals are,” it spells out his intention to make deals, which are the product of compromises.

It is unclear how would Trump achieve this ambitious goal. The repatriation of U.S. manufacturing potential and capital is a task of almost biblical proportions, and it would require not only a resolute but also a rational government policy, a sort of New Deal.

America the Doer vs. America the Banker

Trump wants to preside over the re-industrialization of the United States, providing jobs, income, and sustainable growth. This, according to him, could be achieved by business producing goods and services instead of thriving on the derivatives and similar financial instruments that largely contributed to the subprime mortgage crisis in 2008.

It is worth digesting one of the final passages in Trump’s Detroit speech: “We will build the next generation of roads, bridges, railways, tunnels, sea ports and airports that our country deserves. American cars will travel the roads, American planes will connect our cities, and American ships will patrol the seas. American steel will send new skyscrapers soaring. We will put new American metal into the spine of this nation.”

This message must resonate and bode well with blue-collar workers and the entrepreneurial community, i.e. with the America that creates wealth through labor and ingenuity, with America the Doer.

In his whole address to the Detroit Economic Club Trump did not mention even once the need to maintain fiscal and monetary rigorous standards, safeguard the stability of the U.S. dollar, and protect Wall Street and other stock and commodity exchanges.

Some Russian experts like Vasily Koltashov, the head of the Center of Economic Research at the Moscow-based Institute of Globalization and Social Movements, argue that Trump is being propelled to the front stage of politics by the American businesses that were pushed to the sidelines in the last quarter of a century by the banks and similar financial institutions who were making money out of money.

It is remarkable enough that Steve Bannon, the new chief executive of Donald Trump’s campaign, who worked at Goldman Sachs for quite some time, is a reputed criticof Wall Street. His explanation might resonate with many of his country fellows: “The American taxpayer was forced to cut mook deals to bail out guys who didn’t deserve it.”

Bannon wrote and directed Generation Zero, a 2010 documentary about the nation’s financial meltdown, and keeps attacking Obama’s administration for not filing more criminal charges against financial top executives and for “shielding Big Finance from anything like a severe accounting.”

All things considered, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that manufacturing and “creative” businesses are fighting back. Trump is their way to downsize the financial oligarchy, deprive it of levers to use the U.S. administration and, in particular, the Federal Reserve to its advantage, and eventually stage a return for America to a role as the global workshop and global manufacturer.

A Trump presidency: challenge and opportunity

When Trump proclaims “Americanism, not globalism, will be our new credo,” it almost automatically means the United States will no longer be interested in toppling anti-Western rulers in distant lands that most Americans cannot pinpoint on the map. It would mean that managerial skills would be recruited to tackle current economic and financial woes to put the house back in order.

As a reborn global workshop, the U.S. would be devoted to fair trade and cooperation. This is exactly how Russia would like to engage with the U.S.: trade and cooperation, on an equal footing, on mutually agreed and beneficial terms.

Yet this does not necessarily translate into an unconditional liking of the iconoclastic maverick labeled a “nutcase egomaniac” by one of his compatriots.

On a radio talk show, Leonid Polyakov, professor of political sciences at the Moscow-based Higher School of Economics, gave an unorthodox answer to the question of who was his preference in the battle royal for the Oval Office.

If he were an American citizen, Polyakov replied, he would vote for Trump because he seems to be genuinely committed to reinvigorating the national economy. But as a Russian citizen, Polyakov would wish Hillary Clinton to win the White House since it would mean more of the same policies with hardly any breakthroughs of the kind that could eventually make the U.S. strong again, as Trump promises, and thus preserve its world dominance.

In sum, the self-preservation instincts of the Russian political elite dictate a cautious approach to anything that represents a departure from the mainstream American establishment, and “The Donald” is undeniably one of them, irrespective of his election trail rhetoric.

However, for now we have to judge the two candidates by their words. In this respect, Trump's unabashed flirting with a possible new “reset” with Russia may sound like Tchaikovsky’s “Waltz of the Flowers” for Moscow but in fact the dominant mood in the Russian expert community is that of skepticism.

Special section: Troika Report>>>

Read more: From Putin and Berlusconi to Soviet nostalgia and Greater Eurasia>>>

The opinion of the writer may not necessarily reflect the position of RBTH or its staff.

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