THESE are not normal times and the current events in the U.S. offer depressing insights about the limits of American democracy and civil society. One of the quirks of American electoral politics is the fact that the world – more often than not – gets the opportunity to countenance the morbid delusions and lumpen worldview of some eccentric presidential candidates.
But 2016 particularly will go down as the year in history when American politics, with its daily bacchanals of lies and narcissism, became a branch of the entertainment industry (Trump now offers comedians an abundance of material to make Americans laugh again), just as a transformative and patriotic African-American president left an indelible mark on the nation’s highest office.
\Needless to say, it was the beginning of a political era that will forever live in infamy. Alas, a period of political upheaval which exposed the moral vacuity of the Republican Party; when civil society came under assault from political forces and established truth metastasized into lurid political fantasy.
Over the last two years, we have witnessed the new exploitative Trumpian politics – in all its bravado, tyrannical tendencies and tendentious reading of history – where two things are said at the same time, neither of them true. Even before his election to the presidency, Donald Trump was known as a ruthless operator with a loose screw in his logic on just about every thing – and who often went for the jugular of his opponents.
Under President Trump (whose approval ratings are subterranean) the depravity of the GOP has become indisputable and its leaders have now been unmasked as empty windbags. The political paranoia – once thought to have been contained within the bounds of the GOP establishment – has now reached the commanding heights of the American political system. Politically, America has now acquired most of the attributes of a developing country – more or less assuming a form of voodoo politics bereft of any substance and based on “alternative facts” and unfounded theories – marking a new nadir in the nation’s tempestuous and frenetic political culture. And all this is happening at the high-water mark of global leadership uncertainty in the realms of economics and international relations.
The novelist Joan Didion in her essay “Notes Toward a Dreampolitik” dispenses great insights about the true nature of Orwellian populists like Donald Trump who paint dystopian pictures of the state of their countries. Didion describes such rabble rousers as “secret frontiersmen who walk around right in the ganglia of the fantastic electronic pulsing and continue to receive information only through the most tenuous chains of rumor, hearsay and haphazard trickledown.” They are “nominally literate,” yet “they participate in the national anxieties only through a glass darkly.”
Shlomo Ben-Ami, author and former Israeli foreign minister raises legitimate concerns about Trump’s brand of exploitative populism and the media. According to Ben-Ami, “Critical thought is increasingly dismissed as an elitist endeavor, while unaccountable social media, “fake news,” and “alternative facts” dominate public discussion. In an environment of ignorance, populist politicians make willing prey of those who feel ignored.”
We have (kind of) gotten used to seeing American presidents rise to the occasion and reunite the country after a raucous election campaign – and chart a new course for global politics and foreign-policy engagement. Yet, Trump has done little to unfurrow the brows of his fault-finders; in fact he has continued relentlessly to chase conspiratorial windmills and peddle false narratives. True to form, the new president has done precious little to reach beyond his base of mostly defiant white voters, with his overbearing, Twitter-fueled approach – rewriting the Presidential etiquette book and rocking the nation’s politics in the process.
That the White House is now under siege (over probes into Russian contacts with the Trump campaign) is a fault that falls squarely on the shoulders of President Trump – who often feverishly tweets himself into a corner. Every time it appears like America’s commander-in- chief is about to turn a new page, he stoops to the lowest denominator of political drama. Like a scorpion, he is a slave to his nature.
For all intents and purposes, Mr. Trump’s espousal of protectionism and nativism are ideas that should have died long ago in the face of facts, but just keep shambling along. Most of the simplistic and economically illiterate policies he subscribes to are an affront to conventional wisdom – and often run from the unethical to the unworkable. Still he continues to delight crowds with his outlandish conspiracy theories and farcical allegations which, in the minds of many, exist only as the product of unchecked imagination. Undaunted by public criticism (and ridicule) President Trump has now used some of these beliefs to shape policy and manipulate the public.
Yet, the whole point of Donald Trump’s perfidy is provocation. The first lucid moment in his madness as President came on January 27 when he signed an executive order banning citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. for a period of 90 days.
Even more unsettling is the fact that Mr. Trump doesn’t appear to have the faintest idea of what he wants to do in the Middle East. Ominously, in a joint press conference with Benjamin Netanyahu, he shrugged his shoulders in response to a question on Middle East peace and in effect told the Israeli prime minister: One state, two states, do whatever you like!
Even as President Trump has evinced little interest in the E.U. and international institutions, he continues to ingratiate himself with Russia’s despotic President Vladimir Putin, against the counsel of seasoned State Department officials. Beyond all this, he has accused U.S. intelligence services of leaking information to the press corps that he claims has become “the enemy of the people”, while at the same refusing most of his daily briefings from the professionals at the State Department and in the military and intelligence services.
His untenable claim that trade, not automation, is responsible for the decline of manufacturing jobs; and that environmental regulations, not natural gas, has fueled the demise of the U.S. coal industry, elicits derision.
Now we’re hearing that the Trump administration wants to impose a border adjustment tax (BAT) to lock jobs behind the wall that he wants to build on the border with Mexico. Conceivably, economists are hardly able to conceal their glee over this absurdity. Further, the president’s tax-cutting plans for the super-rich while privatizing Medicare and education, is a betrayal to the millions of white working-class Americans who voted him into office.
But just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, the political drama took another turn for the surreal. In his usual iconoclastic approach, the tweeter-in-chief accused former U.S. President Barack Obama of having Trump Towers “wires tapped” before the election. Until now Mr. Trump has not produced a scintilla of evidence to support his risible claim. Much to the exasperation of political pundits and the media, he just keeps repeating claims about Obamacare, crime and the economy long after they’ve been debunked.
Since Barack Obama left office, the new leader of the free world has made his home on the manic fringes of U.S. political discourse. Donald Trump’s improbable victory truly did turn politics on its head. It remains to be seen how the U.S. navigates herself out of this cliff-hanging, political cul-de-sac. But didn’t Thomas Jefferson forewarn that “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants?” I wonder what the third president of the U.S. truly meant by that.
For comments, write to ClementSoulage@hotmail.de – Clement Wulf-Soulage is a Management Economist, Published Author and Former University Lecturer.