While at times it seems that we are living a political farce, President Donald Trump’s administration is not an exaggerated theatrical mockery of politics. It is the overt and violent manifestation and expansion of American imperialism. What is happening south of the U.S.-Mexico border — the approaching caravan of migrants — is a direct consequence of this historical legacy.
Though the midterm elections are often written off as inconsequential, the outcomes of this election say much more about the future of the country than before.
American imperialism can be succinctly defined as policies enacted to expand American dominion — whether political, economic or cultural — beyond its geographic boundaries. Throughout its history, American imperialism has come about through economic engagement both by way of private means, government treaties, military interventions or regime changes. While this is talked about as a historical issue, the consequences of imperialism are present today.
Central and Latin America are not strangers to these political interventions. The 1960s represented an era of social hope where major civil wars and communist revolutions exploded in the Southern Hemisphere.
As a result, the 1980s, under Ronald Reagan’s neoliberal agenda with Henry Kissinger’s geopolitical games from the preceding decades, marked an era of conservative backlash. In an attempt to contain communist expansion, the United States, through its seemingly unlimited resources, pushed its interests through puppet governments and military-backed dissidents. This created a growing political divide in Central America. Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras would all be directly affected. Today, the legacy of these interventions are most clearly seen in the privatization of state enterprises, changes in labor rights laws, neoliberal trade reforms and the overall liberalization of “democracy.”
The imposed political transformations have left in their wake the displacement and destruction of entire communities. American intervention has left these countries unable to reconcile the political divide and they are crumbling under a neoliberal banner.
The approaching migrant caravan is the loud rumbling of this past. Thousands of migrants are embarking on a dangerous journey to escape the consequences of American imperialism. They are fighting poverty and violence. As they travel, they face the dangers of human trafficking, dehydration, starvation and death — all for an uncertain future.
As Trump send troops south — militarizing the border — he further proves his ignorance of the country’s historical legacy. He uses military power to make a political statement — a statement that lacks reflection. His comments highlight a collective unconscious that has failed to problematize the question of America in the world. His actions, using the military for political gain, as well as his comments, reveal the dark and racist underbelly of America. He is bolstering an angry white constituency that is blind to reality.
However, Trump has made one crucial mistake: People have the ability to see through his actions and recognize the bigotry behind his words. In these turbulent times, the ability to think and reflect is our greatest strength.
So as people lined up at the polls, their vote was no longer just about healthcare, reproductive rights, or tax laws. Their vote now represents a shout that we will not tolerate the ignorance and blatant violence against people who represent the very consequence of American intervention. As Americans, we have an obligation to understand and question the prevailing history of our interventions as they affect the world at large. Only by engaging in these conversations can we make sure that politicians don’t use generalizations to justify their means. Yesterday it was at the polls — tomorrow it will be at the dinner table, making sure this history is not forgotten. This is the only way to live up to the image and promise of America as a land of hope.