How did America get Trumped?
Regular readers of this column will know that I’m partial to movie references. This time around I find myself recalling a scene toward the end of ‘Saving Private Ryan’ where the lead character observes in bemused fashion: “Events have surely taken a turn for the surreal”.
I imagine that something very similar was said across most of the planet on hearing the news that the world’s wealthiest democracy had elected Donald J. Trump as its 45th president.
A week later, and having read a chunk of analysis pieces as to how the impossible happened, I come away with the impression that the best rationale available among all the political punditry is that it had something to do with the alignment of the planets.
The bottom line is that a maverick who became Republican candidate despite the best efforts of his adopted party somehow turned a brand of implausible hogwash into something eminently saleable.
I have an annoying associate who has been warning that Trump was a potential winner ever since the nomination. He reckoned that a simple message delivered in irreverent language would be enough to appeal to the uncomplicated average white US male who takes a bath wearing his Dodgers cap.
At this point I should clarify that my associate is Canadian by birth and therefore a tad biased. Furthermore, I can’t entirely accept his generalisations.
I saw enough middle-class, middle-income, college-educated electors stating beforehand why they thought Trump was more in touch with what’s left of the American Dream than the dynastic option on offer from the Clinton camp.
Even so, that’s not the full picture. A good number voted with their wallets in mind, but no-one can deny that there was also a deeply unsettling darker side to the Republican candidate.
In his victory speech and since, Trump uses conciliatory terms about “binding the wounds of division”. The fact that his own campaign consciously fostered much of that division is patently not forgotten by protestors in several US cities.
All that talk beforehand about “taking back the country” has people rattled - especially since it’s still not clear who the country is going to be taken back from.
As Obama found during his eight years in office, the ability of the White House to implement meaningful social and economic change is limited.
So the irony is that having wrested the top job from the grasp of the Washington elite, Trump is now obliged to buddy up to them, and especially in the Republican-run Congress.
Post-election analysis has it that it was Hilary Clinton’s election to lose; and she did. The deeply personalised nature of presidential politics meant that Democrats expended more energy being outraged by Trump rather than confronting him where it mattered.
There is talk about Michelle Obama being the 2020 Democrat candidate. This suggests to me that the message about voter disillusionment with pre-packaged candidates still isn't getting through.
But let’s be honest. These days, true wisdom in politics comes from knowing that you don’t know squat.
Living with a Disunited States
It’s understandable that global reaction to the arrival of President-elect Trump has ranged from indifferent to downright hostile.
Less foreseeable was how the initial wide-eyed panic on financial markets quickly subsided. Analysts even began calculating the yield from promised tax cuts and scrapping most of Obamacare.
Trump’s announcement this week that he will deport or jail up to three million illegal migrants with criminal records signals his intent to near neighbours.
His voter base doesn’t care too much about political correctness nor do they want to save the planet. Big business however is not so ready to restore employment levels in the coal and steel industries. That could be a problem.
NATO membership remains tricky but Republicans in Congress are already rehearsing the fact that it’s they who call the shots on that one.
For the moment, the world seems no more than uneasy that the US has chosen a punchline for president. Give it time.
Baloney politics at work
Someone wrote to me insisting that Trump’s election represented an ‘anti-establishment zeitgeist phenomenon’. I haven’t responded, mostly because I have no idea what it means.
The note added how there are striking similarities between Trump and Hitler. I’m not qualified to make the comparison but I’ve always believed that it’s the circumstances of the day that produce certain types of leader, and not the other way around.
What’s more, it’s when democracy is at its most worthless in the eyes of the electorate that demagogues begin to sound attractive and even halfway believable.
Hitler wasn’t so personally forceful that he single-handedly managed to frustrate a desire for freedom and moderation amongst 80 million Germans.
What the Nazis successfully exploited was the principle of the ‘big lie’ blame-game underpinned by ambiguous promises of national greatness and restored honour.
It’s all baloney – and yet I’m betting the prospect of President Le Pen just got a lot closer.