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In celebrating the liberation from Donald Trump’s misrule, we must not forget that Trump’s presidency embodied the raw politics of US [Caucasian] supremacy. He often spoke like a segregationist Southern governor of the 1960s, and, after losing the 2020 election, like a secessionist senator on the eve of the Civil War. To sustain the victory over Trump’s destructive politics, we must overcome the racism that brought him to power. That urgent challenge faces not only the United States, but many multi-ethnic societies around the world.

Trump sold a segment of American society—[Caucasian], older, less educated, Southern and Western, suburban and rural, evangelical Christian—on the idea that they could reclaim America’s racist past. That group of voters, some 20-25% of American adults, became Trump’s ardent base in the 2016 election. That base was large enough for Trump to capture the Republican Party and then to squeak to victory in the US electoral college, despite losing the popular vote by three million.

Other quirks of American politics enabled Trump’s 2016 win. If a high proportion of Americans voted, as in countries where registration is automatic and voting is encouraged or even mandatory, Trump would not have come close to victory in 2016. But impediments to voting that burden African-Americans, the poor, and the young are a long-standing part of American politics, their purpose being to maintain the political and economic supremacy of wealthy [Caucasians]. In short, their purpose is to enable the election of the likes of Trump.

Trump’s vulgar politics demonstrated the persistence of his racist appeal to older [Caucasian] evangelicals, and to some younger voters as well, such as those who stormed the US Capitol on 6 January and threatened to lynch Vice-President Mike Pence for not blocking the certification of Joe Biden’s victory. Too few pundits emphasized the continuity of Trump’s racist nostalgia with the similar politics of Ronald Reagan, who used the nearly identical slogan—“Let’s Make America Great Again"—for the very same purpose.

Yet, racist politics is not only an American problem, though America has been exceptionally affected by it since originating as a slave-holding society. Trump’s political style finds counterparts in other multi-ethnic countries where racism similarly shapes the structures of power.

Consider Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, another politician. Netanyahu has held on to power by denigrating Israeli Arabs and denying the most basic justice to the Palestinian people. American [Caucasian] evangelicals have held a deep kinship with the Israeli right, and Trump and Netanyahu have shared the same exclusionary politics.

Or consider Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, widely known as the “Trump of the Tropics." Here, too, the connection with Trump is more than just style and temperament. US [Caucasian] evangelical groups saw in Bolsonaro one of their own and worked assiduously to help him win. Bolsonaro now governs by attacking Afro-Brazilian culture and Brazil’s indigenous populations.

Or consider Trump’s close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Some claim that Putin has kompromat (compromising material) on Trump. Others see shared financial interests. But another part of the story is obvious political affinity. A major ingredient of Putin’s success has been to remind ethnic Russians that they are the true leaders of Russia’s multi-ethnic society. Putin’s political embrace of Russian Orthodoxy mirrors Trump’s political embrace of evangelicalism.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been another fulsome admirer of Trump, and the two lavished praise on each other during Trump’s visit to India in 2020. Modi’s political base includes far-right Hindu nationalists. The Modi government’s [moves on] Muslim-majority Kashmir in 2019 generated little international concern, but offers an example of repression for domestic political gain. Alas, ethnic chauvinism can be found in almost every multi-ethnic society.

It is no accident that Trump actually praised China’s repression of the mainly Muslim Uighur population in Xinjiang province. Likewise, Myanmar’s violent expulsion of the Muslim Rohingya population elicited mainly silence from the Trump administration.

If there is one constant in racist politics around the world, it is this near-universal persecution of indigenous populations. Around the world, indigenous peoples have been robbed of their lands, forced into servitude, brutally killed, and pushed into poverty by late-arriving settlers. Yet this dispossession was never enough for the conquerors. In addition to the infliction of harm, and even genocide, the conquerors also blamed the indigenous peoples for their woes, maligning them as lazy, untrustworthy, and dangerous as their lands were being stolen.

Yet, there is also good news. Trump’s defeat, and the overwhelming US public opprobrium that met the Capitol insurrectionists, holds the lesson that we can move beyond our worst instincts, fears and biases. [Caucasian] racists in America are losing their grip on power, and they know it. The times really are a’ changing. The American people voted Trump out of power. The day before the insurrection, Georgia’s voters elected an African-American and a Jew as US senators—both firsts for the state that came at the expense of two pro-Trump incumbents.

Trump’s departure is therefore an opportunity for a new beginning, not only in the deeply wounded US society, but in multi-ethnic divided societies everywhere. There is no excuse anywhere to govern by racial hatred and ethnic chauvinism. In the post-Trump era, governments everywhere should expel hatemongers.

The world should also look back in history to help us move forward. In 1948, in the shadow of the atrocities of World War II, all member states of the new United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This magnificent declaration is based on the principle of universal human dignity, “without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status."

The Universal Declaration must be our lodestar. Its 75th anniversary in 2023 is approaching, and we have the means to say ‘no’ to haters, demagogues and dividers. Trump left the US in shambles, with 400,000 dead from covid-19, asking his followers to dispense with face masks. Now that we have instead dispensed with Trump, we can get on with the task of ending the pandemic and healing our deeply divided societies. ©2021/Project Syndicate

Jeffrey D. Sachs is director of Columbia University’s Center for Sustainable Development and the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

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