I would congratulate you on the election, but it should’ve never been this close and should inspire nothing but immense sobriety. The world has to thank Black voters, particularly Black Womxn, for ousting an individual capable of ending organized human society as we know it if he secured another four years. Had Black people not participated in this election, Trump would’ve won by a landslide. Your victory is paper thin. For the global South, i.e., the vast majority of the world’s population, your job is to not only undo Trump’s legacy, but also Obama’s.
You see, Joe, the administration you served was a cruel joke; masterfully branded as progressive, while inflicting terror on the world.
I remember sitting in a newsroom in Singapore, after spending four years in George W. Bush’s America, when Obama was inaugurated. The newsroom was international in coverage and staff. From Caracas to Cairo to Chiang Mai, there was no doubt that Obama, with his Kenyan heritage and Indonesian upbringing, was not only the U.S.’s president, but our president in the global South, too. Obama’s upbringing was not dissimilar from my own. He reminded me of me. He skillfully managed this masquerade, fooling everyone. It’s no wonder his campaign won Advertising Age’s Marketer of the Year for 2008.
The cruelty came soon after. He destroyed Libya—condemning a society with once the highest human development indicators in Africa into a giant slave market. Under both his, and your watch Joe, very silent coups took place in Latin America, deposing extremely popular leaders like Ecuador’s Rafael Correa and Paraguay’s Fernando Lugo. These were done in a way that kept Obama’s image intact, i.e. under the radar. They were also a betrayal of a pledge Obama made to Hugo Chavez that the era of Washington’s meddling in Latin America was over. Obama also dispatched the might of America’s military to the Pacific to surveil China’s growing power, willfully ignoring the festering ill will from Okinawa to the Philippines of U.S. boots on their soil.
Need I even mention, the drone strikes on Yemeni weddings and the countless killings of children in places where western news cameras don’t go?
The World As It Is
If you’ve been schooled in the Plato to NATO version of history that placed western systems and supposed achievements as the final form for all of humanity to aspire to, you’re inheriting a world you simply do not have the faculties to understand. The world has moved east and is reordering itself to the contours that came before Western Europe set about remaking all of us in its image.
Joe, I’m sure your economic advisors have shown you the latest IMF forecasts. In the next couple of years, 95 percent of global wealth will be created in Asia and the rest of the global South. China will account for almost half, while Asian and African economies closely tied to its recovery will swoop up 44 percent. Only single digit scraps will be left for the U.S. and its western allies. The EU, while still the largest single market, will soon be usurped by the 800 million-strong market of Southeast Asia.
There is no reversing this because it is a return to an order that has been around for most of human history. Western domination is but a blip, an anomaly, a flash in the pan belligerently eager to outlive its day. So your job, Joe and Kamala, is not to restore American preeminence. Short of bombing everyone to oblivion, there is no possible way this can happen. Even that might prove troublesome because both Russia and China have advanced missile systems that can be deployed at a moment’s notice.
Which industrialist, Joe, is going to bring jobs back to the U.S. when, thanks to the global logic of capitalism, they move from country to country in search of people to exploit?
Your task then, Joe and Kamala, is to manage U.S. decline, gracefully and with dignity. Your job is to be honest with 300+ million Americans that they are no longer the most fortunate, powerful, or wealthiest citizens on earth. Far from it. Your job is to make room for newly ascendant powers, and to avoid seeing them as challengers to the U.S.’s relatively short-lived 75-year-old crown. See us as potential partners, not a threat to your fleeting hegemony. This is how you truly rejoin the community of nations.
Joe, you’ve said that you want to form a coalition of democracies to confront autocracies. This is extremely outdated thinking that has no place in 2020. You must abandon the role of moral arbiter. There are more systems competing with the western liberal model today than ever before and they are delivering health, wealth, security, and prosperity for their citizens. The U.S. was nowhere near a democracy when it was developing, Joe. In truth it has never been a democracy for all.
Each country, especially young countries whose borders were drawn in Europe’s capitals, have the right to craft their own path to affluence and pluralism based on their unique set of circumstances and trajectory. Constantly demanding, without reflection, critique, or empathy for colonized histories, that they must accept, as American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, “the highly contingent achievements of [western civilization]” as the only viable model is absurd. For it has a worldwide track record of deepening violence rather than raising the quality of life.
If you want to confront autocratic thinking, you may want to start right at home, where 71 million of your fellow citizens voted for an individual who demonstrated a naked bombast for autocracy without reprieve for four straight years. He gave them a taste and they loved what they saw.
The Cold War with the Soviet Union was felt most acutely by billions in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. So will any decision to pursue a cold, shadow, or hybrid war with China. Joe, Kamala, understand that China’s behavior will depend entirely on American behavior. You must respect what works for others.
An Asian Future
It is imperative that you do not treat China as a threat. It is imperative you read the books written by Asian statesmen who illuminate what drives Chinese ambitions and thinking. It is imperative that you learn that people want goods like high-speed train networks, new airports, fiber optic internet infrastructure—not lectures in democracy and free markets, which, when combined, have yielded dysfunction and violence for much of Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
Look at India, Joe, your most subservient ally in Asia. India practices what you preach in every regard and all it really has to show for it is toxic air, dystopian living, and a 102 out of 117 ranking on the Global Hunger Index. You and the U.S. will look like little more than a washed up drunk at a bar screaming profanities about past glory if you do not change course. Few in the world care what the U.S. or other western powers think anymore. Our goal is to build healthy and wealthy societies through whatever benevolent political and economic system it takes, with partners of our choosing free of limitations set by a country that can’t house, feed, or heal its own people.
China leads the U.S. in many aspects, Joe. Today, it publishes more scientific journals, files more patents, and in terms of purchasing power, China is by far the world’s largest economy. By 2030, East Asia as a whole will account for two-thirds of the global middle class. What will a world where Asians, not Americans, control global consumption look like?
When I grew up in Southeast Asia, the shops mostly featured white American or European models. Today, because most spending comes from inside the region, those models are now all from East Asia. This is a small but growing sign of self-pride and confidence; a world no longer interested in having white westerners dictate terms and standards of any kind.
You also no longer dominate culturally. These days, Korean pop, Turkish soap operas, Nigerian music, and Indian Bollywood seduce audiences far beyond their borders. The violence, white supremacy, and propaganda of Hollywood has fewer takers. The era of American dominance, in the hearts and minds of billions, is over.
This is the world you’re about to enter.
So, instead of spending billions to subvert supposed rivals or preaching that they must follow the western liberal model, or passing bloated budgets on military equipment to encircle or combat aspirational societies the world over, allocate that money to massive public works projects that can transform the U.S. into a green, sustainable economy.
You and your military are the world’s biggest carbon emitters. And climate change is not something to worry about in the future, it is already here. I’ve seen it myself, Joe. Take a trip to Djibouti, where your military has a strategic drone base, or elsewhere in the Horn of Africa. Water sources have dried up. Vegetation is gone. Food insecurity looms for millions. Re-joining the Paris agreement is not enough. While you talk, we in the global South are already living in a sinking world of dead soil, one which demands American consumption habits change for good.
You should also not be under any illusions that the U.S. can simply restart relations with the global South and expect us to openly welcome you back as a partner. You have never treated us on equal terms. The least you could offer is stability. But your system, and your demented media landscape, have proven far too volatile for any country to take seriously. Nobody has the time to have agreements and relationships ripped up, revamped, and revived every four years. China eclipsed the U.S. as the world’s largest trading nation in 2013. For better or worse, many favor their arrangement with Beijing because it offers predictability, something which American democracy, especially the way it’s run, simply cannot.
The U.S. regularly denies visas to African students, scholars, businessmen, intellectuals, and valuable members of our global community. You denied a visa to every single African citizen attending the African Global Economic and Development Summit in California in 2017. African countries have more partners to choose from than ever before, partners like Turkey, Russia, China, Brazil, and India who do not display such brazen contempt. At 77, it may be hard to change your worldview, Joe, but this is how the world sees the U.S: a clenched fist, not a warm embrace. You winning the presidency will not change that.
Africa’s an interesting place for the U.S. to reform itself. Your Africa policy has almost entirely been a reaction to Chinese influence, through the only way the U.S. knows how: building vast military bases that serve little purpose, pollute, and encroach the sovereignty of others. Joe, by 2050, more than half of the world’s population growth will take place in Africa. It is the youngest continent. The median age in Niger, for example, is only 14. One in six people today are Africans.
U.S. presidents rarely visit anywhere in Africa and as Samantha Power’s hit and run of a Cameroonian child showed, you seem to place the least value on African life. But if you want to make any inroads of any value into a continent that, along with Asia, will be the center of global exchange, you may want to offer something besides reaper drones.
But what can you offer? Can you build schools, hospitals, or state-of-the-art bridges? Your own schools are crumbling. You have more than 50,000 bridges on the verge of collapse. Your hospitals are an international scandal. When a family member contracted COVID, I was thankful they were treated at a hospital in Mumbai, for free, not New York.
What I’m trying to say, Joe and Kamala, is any fantasy of continued superpowerdom must be eviscerated in the deepest recesses of your imagination. Become a regular country. Regular countries are fantastic. They dish out world class universal healthcare, free public education, tend to have lower rates of violent crime, and have higher life expectancy than the U.S., often with a fraction of your GDP, and are generally great places to live and raise a family.
Dying empires do not explode, Joe, they implode.
Kamala, you flaunted your mixed heritage throughout your campaign. You are the daughter of two immensely proud societies – Jamaica and India – that raise strong women. My grandmother’s name was Kamala—Kamala Sohonie. She was the first woman in India to receive a PhD in the natural sciences. This was under the British Empire, when Indians, let alone Indian women, were all but barred from scholarly endeavors. She was also a proud feminist.
Kamala, do not use your glorious identity as a branding tool. I’m no fool but we do hope you can be the global South’s ambassador that we thought Obama would be. You know how different life can be with Black and Brown skin. You know how different life can be as a Black and Brown Womxn. You carry in your veins hundreds of years of world history that washed South Asian tides onto Caribbean shores. But you were also a “top cop” who put away a lot of Black and Brown people. Own that history and do better. Get America’s knee off the neck of the global South. Let Syria breathe. Let Iran breathe. Let Cuba breathe. Let Yemen breathe. Let Venezuela and Bolivia breathe.
There is a war on Womxn worldwide: from Poland, where almost all abortions have been banned, to France, where a Womxn is killed every three days because of domestic violence, to Egypt, where Womxn are locked up for dancing on social media, to Mexico, where femicide is horrifically interwoven into daily life. Instead of bombing weddings and detaining Womxn at the border, there is no more urgent time for a Womxn to take the reins of the most powerful vice presidency. These are the fights my grandmother would’ve fought. You are her namesake. You are both firsts. Now, which Kamala will you be?
Both of you have a depressingly strong relationship with the Israeli state and Benjamin Netanyahu—a close friend of Donald Trump. The state which hides behind the mantra that it’s the “only democracy in the Middle East” has had the same war criminal in power for 11 years. And even in an election in which Netanyahu lost, he is somehow still in charge.
Pay attention to the changing attitudes of young Jewish people in the U.S. Many want nothing to do with Israeli apartheid and its ongoing crimes against the Palestinians. Joe, you once excoriated Reagan’s secretary of state for his support of South Africa’s apartheid regime, which you called “repugnant” more than once during the testimony. You surely must know that Nelson Mandela’s grandson called Israel “the worst apartheid regime.” If you want to salvage the smoldering remains of the U.S.’s moral clout, if it ever had any, moral consistency is the only way.
Demographics are changing. Not just worldwide, not just in Palestine, but right in the U.S. By 2040, people who identify as white or of European descent, will be a minority. Already students identifying as white are a minority in U.S. public schools. And white identifying students were also the minority of the incoming freshman class at Harvard in 2017.
Ask yourself: are you planning on adjusting the U.S.’s sails to carefully ferry an unstable society into a more accepting future, or will you continue thinking that platitudes can plug the holes in a sinking ship?
The Next Trump
In all likelihood, Joe, you will ignore every word of this letter. Your foreign policy will be dictated by weapons manufacturers, bankers, and oil barons. You will remain a capitalist country in the truest sense of the word because the interests of capital will control decision-making, not the interests of public and global good. I see your transition team is predictably stacked with executives from Amazon, Uber, AirBnB, and JPMorgan, amongst others. You will air tired re-runs about democracy and free markets while the rest of the world changes the channel and continues to forge ahead.
But if you choose to ignore all these approaches and opt for the same fool hardy approach that has no place in a rapidly changing world, where no single country can monopolize military, economic, or cultural power, you will pave the way for a younger, smarter, more astute, and more deadly heir to Trump, who will condemn the U.S. and the planet to a fate worse than any pandemic.
A proud son of the global South
Vik SohonieEditorial Board Member
Vik Sohonie is a Grammy-nominated producer and founder of Ostinato Records, a label dedicated to sounds from the global South. Born in India, Vik was raised in Southeast Asia and the US and spent extended periods of time in Europe and Africa. He is based in Bangkok and New York.