Monday 10 December 2018

'Obama is Muslim and Clinton eats children'

The need to delegitimise Trump's electoral opponents has taken US voters into weird territory

Illustration by Tom Halliday
Illustration by Tom Halliday
Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan

After what happened last Friday, it's tempting to conclude that it doesn't matter who wins the election on Tuesday, to become the President of what Americans insist is the Greatest Country in the World.

Whichever way the election goes - to Crooked Hillary or Mad Donald - America is in the kind of trouble that in some parts of the world is resolved only by bloody civil war.

And there's no country as well equipped for a quick bout of blood-letting than the good old USA.

What happened on Friday?

Marina Abramovic, that's what happened. And no, she hasn't claimed that Trump sexually assaulted her.

The level of madness has risen to such heights that some must fondly remember those innocent days when the worst to be said was that one of the candidates was in the habit of grabbing women by the crotch.

The Abramovic incident reveals a level of craziness, ignorance and suggestibility that leaves the country open to a lurch into national insanity.

Thirty-six years ago, I spent a couple of months covering the primaries that saw Ronald Reagan elected. It was a classic conservative versus liberal contest - Reagan versus Ted Kennedy. Neither wing of those politics would recognise the America of Donald Trump and his army of distracted fans.

Donald Trump didn't happen over the past year, he and his army are a product of economic instability and an eight-year drift to racist and nationalist extremes.

Culturally, America is an astonishing country. In music alone it has created jazz, the blues, country and rock; from Gershwin, Berlin and Porter, via Sondheim, Dylan and Springsteen, it has dominated world culture. Then there's literature, movies and television.

These, oddly enough, are not the things many Americans celebrate. Their chests swell at the sight of a flag, they take pride in their gun cabinets and their military prowess (the fact that it's been some time since they were on the winning side in any war does not enlighten them, it deepens the anger).

The dominant split in US society is not class but race. White males, until recently, accepted it as natural that they were some sort of elite. They work longer hours, for smaller pay, than people in most other countries. They tolerate a public health system even shabbier than ours and they venerate billionaires.

The remnants of white supremacy - within living memory enforced by law - assured them the country was still theirs. These days, a cop can't even shoot dead a black kid without someone making a fuss.

Interest groups pushed back against white privilege and racism; simultaneously, the financial meltdown undermined economic stability.

White male privilege today consists of little more than pride. And in 2008, a loose coalition of those previously excluded by white male privilege - black, Latino, gay and women - elected Obama, and the rage began.

For eight years, the Republicans obstructed every move Obama made - not a loyal opposition but an internal enemy. In the words of feminist Gloria Steinem, "If they had cancer and he had the cure they wouldn't accept it".

The loose coalition held in 2012, returning Obama.

Throughout those eight years the Republicans encouraged their base's belief that Obama was not a legitimate president. They fed a belief that they simply couldn't have lost to the black man. They concluded he wasn't a legitimate president, he didn't deserve the loyalty of citizens because he was a secret Muslim, he lied about being born in the US and he therefore stole the election. Trump was foremost in encouraging that.

Even today, only about 40pc of Republicans believe Obama was born in the US.

In 2016, the polls suggested the loose coalition that elected Obama would elect Hillary Clinton. The response of the right was not to argue politically; it was to attempt to delegitimise her, as they sought to delegitimise Obama.

They didn't really lose to the black dude, and if they lost to the woman - an unthinkable prospect - they wouldn't really lose, either, because she too wasn't legitimate. Because she was a crook, a criminal.

And on Friday they discovered she was worse than that.

In 2012, David Souter, retired US Supreme Court judge, gave an interview in which he foresaw the rise in the US of an authoritarian Strong Leader type.

Souter spoke of a "pervasive civic ignorance" in his country. This wasn't an "Americans are thick" argument. He maintained that over a period of 40 years cuts in education and a failure to develop a basic understanding of how government works had left a majority of Americans adrift.

And easy to manipulate.

It was not invasion or an internal military coup that made him worry about the future of the republic, he said. "What I worry about is... when the problems get bad enough, as they might do for example with another serious terrorist attack, as they might do with another financial meltdown, some one person will come forward and say 'Give me total power and I will solve this problem'. That is how the Roman republic fell."

He believed the "pervasive civic ignorance" would leave many unable to resist the promises of an authoritarian.

Four years before a battered, angry, vengeful Republican Party nominated Trump, David Souter said: "And the day will come when somebody will come forward and we and the government will in effect say... do what you have to do. That is the way democracy dies."

Donald Trump speaks in slogans: Build that wall; Lock her up; Make America Great Again - all related to regaining supremacy. He doesn't have Brownshirts to terrorise dissenters; but he has his Redcaps, an armed body of loyalists who could be organised in hours.

Trump has refused to say he'll accept the result of the election. When Mitt Romney lost to Obama in 2012 Trump called for a "march on Washington", to prevent Obama's second inauguration. If Trump loses on Tuesday he may do worse.

To delegitimise Clinton the right had to stretch to demonstrably baseless claims about her use of a private server for emails, her failure to stop a terrorist attack on Americans in Benghazi and various other silly charges. These claims have, in the minds of Trump's army, taken on the status of undiluted truth - they are considered rock solid facts.

Clinton is a bog-standard centre-right politician, akin to her husband, or Obama. But Trump's claims that "Crooked Hillary" is not a legitimate candidate are taken as gospel by his army.

On Friday, WikiLeaks published an email from Marina Abramovic, "performance artist", to a brother of John Podesta, a Clinton aide. Would John like to attend the "Spirit Cooking" dinner?

The New York Times once referred to Abramovic as being at "Bono level pretentiousness". She uses bodily fluids in some of her work. Sample of her prose: "Mix fresh breast milk with fresh sperm milk, drink on earthquake nights". And: "In time of doubt keep a small meteorite stone in your mouth".

Even Bono might find it difficult to put a tune to that.

From one line in one email the spacers concluded that Hillary Clinton is engaged in a Satanic cult involving child sex abuse that includes snacking on children. She is a cannibal - this too is fact.

The hysteria flared on Friday, the ludicrous and the lurid feeding into the existing claims of illegitimacy.

She eats children.

If Trump wins on Tuesday - and it is a possibility, though Clinton has the edge - his reign will be as authoritarian as he can make it.

Should he lose, and in their view another illegitimate president prepares to take office, the army of wingnuts and spacers, those feeling hard done by because the privilege they once assumed has been rolled back, will not go quietly into that dreary night.

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