President Trump? Why I’m Convinced
President Trump? Why I’m Convinced
Yes, it is true Trump has been digging holes everywhere to bury himself in recently. Just look at the latest furor over his taped boasts about groping women and using his fame for sex. But the polls show he is still not gone. Yes, the debate showed him up to be the slimy snake oil salesman he is but public sentiment can change quickly. I still think it is more than likely Donald Trump (I repeat, Donald Trump) will be the so-called leader of the free-world. And it is scary.
The film director Michael Moore explained something on Bill Maher’s show a few weeks back that has stuck with me: “It’s going to be the Brexit Strategy. The middle of England (he probably means the North) is Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania. And Mitt Romney lost by 64 electoral votes, the total electoral votes of those four states in the rust belt, sixty-four.” The comparison between Trump and Brexit had occurred to me before, yet Moore crystallised it. Fast forward to the apocalyptic hell show that was the Republican Convention in Cleveland and Trump’s speech: “My opponent asks her supporters to recite a three-word loyalty pledge. It reads: ‘I’m With Her’. I choose to recite a different pledge. My pledge reads: ‘I’M WITH YOU – THE AMERICAN PEOPLE’. I am your voice… I’m with you, I will fight for you, and I will win for you.”
This was when I was sure of it. It all clicked into place. I was astonished. Here he is, Donald Trump, the megalomaniac, the race-baiter, the bully, the narcissist, the swindler. This man managed to make himself sound like the voice of the people whilst simultaneously managing to make Clinton look like an egocentric establishment figure. I could suddenly see how this would appeal to those losers of globalisation in Michigan and all over the Midwest. Those with the same grievances as Brexit voters; those lives that have been swatted aside by neoliberal capitalism.
This heartfelt plea to the disenfranchised was at the end of a speech that made the US out to be the most dangerous and scary place on earth. Not as a result of lax gun laws of course but as a result of immigration and Islam and various other liberal evils. It was a masterclass in psychological manipulation. Throughout his campaign, Trump has played upon the two strongest human emotions: fear and anger. This will mobilise many blue-collar voters whilst the Democrats’ pro-establishment candidate may well make progressives stay at home.
It’s a perfect storm that may yet throw up the most deranged US president in history.
How did this happen?
Inequality, inequality, inequality. It’s the reason why The New York Times journalists cannot fathom the Bernie Sanders movement. It is also the reason no one in the media can understand why a non-racist, non-fanatic might support Trump. But there are plenty of ordinary voters who do support him. The disconnect between the privileged and the American working class is growing. The wealthy are cordoned off in a secluded bubble of luxury high above the ordinary masses. The idea of a shared social experience has been lost. Of course, the Sanders movements have their anger focused on the perpetrators of these social ills. However, this movement is comprised of many more students and educated professionals than the Trump surge contains.
The uneducated, who have had their factories closed down and shifted to Mexico and China are less focused in their anger. In the state of Ohio, there were 70,000 new foreclosures filed in 2012 alone. We didn’t have anything like the foreclosure epidemic in the UK. But the 2008 crash was a more severe disaster for the US (despite recovering better than the UK) than for us. Wall Street’s tentacles are closer to the Midwest and thus able to wreak more substantive damage. Therefore the pain is more and the divide wider. This chasm makes the elite look down with bemusement and contempt and the dispossessed look up in anger and impotence.
The rage of Trump supporters is legitimate but the solution is wrong (sound familiar?). American intellectuals should not be so surprised at the Trump phenomenon. In a way, it is the logical endpoint of the American Capitalist system. If you tell the population again and again that the rich are the ones who work the hardest and who we should all strive to be, then who better to be US president than a billionaire?
A news media that puts profit before public well-being, and therefore values sensationalism and scandal, is inviting the presidency to become a sort of reality TV show. Who better than a billionaire celebrity, who provides grade A entertainment? Is there really that big of a leap from Reagan or Bush to Trump? Of course, it helps that the Republican Party has paved the way for Trump. The GOP did this by turning itself into essentially the commercial arm for religious extremism and crazed radio talk show hosts.
Social context can also explain the current situation. In 1968, a conservative backlash to the popular movements of the era meant that Richard Nixon was able to win the presidency. The more I think about it, the more parallels with the ’60s become uncanny. We have a new wave of anti-racist, feminist and anti-capitalist movements permeating the collective consciousness. But we also have the backlash – the alt-right, the anti-feminists, the new hipster libertarians (conservatism is the new counter-culture, they’ll have you believe). There seems to be violence bombarding our news screens. Violence (like Trump) sells, and in these times of fear, people tend to huddle around those promising a return to the past. Trump obviously is seeing the parallels, too. Fear works, and the Republicans do fear-mongering better than most.
However, the Trump phenomenon needs help from the other side. If there is one thing we have seen from recent political events, it is the fact that people are angry with the establishment. And the possible icing on the Trump cake is the Democrats choosing as their candidate the physical embodiment of the concept of the establishment. Hillary Clinton is the Wall Street candidate, she is the war candidate, she is a politician. All of this means she is one of the most unpopular figureheads the Democrats have ever selected. Yet, the assorted Democratic elites have no need to radically change the society that is breeding this resentment. Again, these people just don’t know what it is like.
Saying this, all the conventional political wisdom still points towards a Trump defeat. But as we have seen recently, the pundits seem to be getting it wrong. No one saw the Scottish Referendum cliff-hanger coming, Greece’s Syriza or Brexit. The current landscape of political grievances, mass inequality, corporate media and terrorist attacks could actually provide fertile ground for a populist strongman.
Of course, Trump could still bomb spectacularly again – although this latest release of his 2005 off-the-cuff sexist comments seem to be the most damaging yet – and be defeated by the biggest margin ever. But surely The Wall was supposed to be the end? Surely banning all Muslims was the end? Miss Universe? Where is this tipping point? I can’t see it. And even if Trump loses, the anger and discontent he represents aren’t going to disappear anytime soon. Next time around, a more slick and savvy proto-fascist, misogynist, racist bully could emerge. Look out America.
By Stephen Durkan,
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