Does a Ukrainian-Style Revolution Await Washington?
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because folks could soon be on the march.
By Alexander J. Motyl
Alexander Motyl is a professor of political science at Rutgers University–Newark and an expert on Ukraine.
Ukrainians have seen the likes of Donald Trump before, in ex-President Viktor Yanukovych. Both men ran against strong women — Hillary Rodham Clinton and Yulia Tymoshenko, respectively — and won by small margins. And both were wealthy outsiders with a flair for the flamboyant. But in 2014, after weeks of protests over his rejection of an EU association agreement, Yanukovych fled his post for exile in Russia.
So is Trump vulnerable to being ousted by popular rebellion? While a Ukrainian-style Maidan Revolution in Washington, D.C. seems unlikely, a return to the late 1960s, when students, women, protesters and minorities took to the streets across America, could easily be in the cards. Especially if Trump, like Yanukovych, refuses to become president of all the people, encourages corruption and remains committed to his extremist policies.
Scandals will abound, but the Trump administration … will dismiss them as the handiwork of the corrupt media and the political opposition.
Three possible outcomes await. By gleefully abandoning all semblance of civility in his campaign and consciously insulting his political adversaries among the elites and in the population, Trump crossed a line that will be next to impossible to uncross. At least half the country will likely remain sullen, angry and unwilling to accept Trump as their legitimate president. When leaders lose legitimacy, as Yanukovych did within a year of his 2010 election, their ability to serve successfully declines, and they have no choice but to increasingly resort to demagoguery, coercion and cronyism.
Two, by formulating policy within a closed circuit of superrich family members and old boys, I fear that Trump will, willy-nilly, encourage corruption within his administration and within Washington more generally, especially as Republican control of Congress will ensure that a blind eye will be turned toward malfeasance. Scandals will abound, but the Trump administration, like Yanukovych’s, will dismiss them as the handiwork of the corrupt media and the political opposition.
And, three, by flaunting his corruption and openly promoting a variety of extremist domestic and foreign policies, Trump will infuriate the alienated half of the population, thereby providing it with every incentive to express its outrage outside existing institutions. Some will march, some will demonstrate, some will riot. Since some portion of the outraged will include individuals with their own extremist agendas, an outbreak of terrorism, both homegrown and foreign-inspired, is quite possible. Trump’s extremist supporters will not remain passive as the opposition mobilizes, and the resultant clashes will serve as a pretext to arm the state and increase police protection, which, in turn, will only ratchet up the tensions within society.
Ukrainians managed to overthrow their Trump in 2014, mostly because Yanukovych’s supporters within the government proved to be fair-weather friends. Americans are less likely to be successful, as U.S. government elites and security forces are more likely to support a constitutionally elected president, no matter how illegitimate he may be.
Whatever the outcome, the United States could be set for a wild ride over the next four years. We’ll know just how serious Trump’s problems are if he recalls Paul Manafort, his and Yanukovych’s erstwhile political consultant, to the White House.
- Alexander J. Motyl, OZY Author Contact Alexander J. Motyl