Sunday 8 December 2019

Martina Devlin: The desperate have turned to a fake messiah

Anti-Trump protests have been held across the US, such as this one in Baltimore. Photo: Amy Davis/AP
Anti-Trump protests have been held across the US, such as this one in Baltimore. Photo: Amy Davis/AP
Martina Devlin

Martina Devlin

Have we all got those hyperbolic reactions out of our systems by now? "America, how could you" and "this is a redneck win"? I hope so, because democracy threw up Donald Trump and democracy has an obligation to accept him as Potus, warts and all. Better still, let's try to learn from his win.

Already, the US election result teaches other leaders that it is a mistake to dismiss a desperate populace, especially by calling them "deplorables" as Hillary Clinton unwisely expressed it.

Don't ignore the disillusioned masses struggling in a land of plenty. Don't presume the multitude is content to be governed by a disconnected elite. Don't allow resentment to fester, nor income inequality to widen.

Recognising people's fears - legitimising them - is how Mr Trump rode to power.

A cocktail of discontent gifted him the White House. It is simplistic to reduce his win to a protest vote from racists or misogynists. He beat Mrs Clinton partly because of the electorate's sense of being left behind by the establishment. And partly because she was the wrong person to challenge the way he bayed to the mob.

Plus, he made election pledges about jobs which people latched onto, promising investment for steel and coal workers, farmers, people involved in manufacturing, those in the non-union low wage bracket. He cannot, of course, make good on his promises. But an army of voters who were - misguidedly - being taken for granted had nothing to lose by gambling on him.

There are other reasons why America's less advantaged latched onto Mr Trump. Among them is their recognition that corporate interests rule the US. Yet here was a candidate not beholden to those corporates, or so they believed.

Running in presidential elections is ruinously expensive, and candidates accept large donations from corporations. But Mr Trump did something extraordinary: he won the Republican nomination without the corporates.

He has many drawbacks, not least narcissism, an addiction to ad hominem attacks and an unwillingness to engage with the fine print. But voters believed that if push came to shove, he might - just might - consider the interests of Joe Soap above those of corporate America.

His voters are not just angry at being excluded from the American dream, they are fearful. Islamic terrorism scares them, as does illegal immigration, refugees, gun control and the escalating cost of healthcare.

Their politicians have disappointed them and they have turned to a fake messiah - he even adopts a preacher's pose, hand upraised.

Mr Trump is not the first president to be unworthy of office and will not be the last. Previous incumbents have shown contempt for women and other races, and failed to tell the truth to the American people.

But this president-elect verbalises what others kept behind closed doors - and in so doing he subverts the standard of public discourse. Decency, courtesy, truth, fairness - all were squandered during the campaign.

In short, Mr Trump has normalised uncivilised behaviour. Apparently, it is now socially acceptable to be a bigot, homophobe, sexist, protectionist, isolationist, climate change denier and supporter of dictators.

And what has licensed him? The public's loss of faith in the political system - raw emotion surged up, a great bellow of bitterness. Other world leaders take note.

As for the Democrats, they cosied up to Wall Street and never grasped that people had enough of being treated with disdain, regarded as expendable.

As for Mrs Clinton, she was viewed as belonging to a political system content for the gap to yawn ever broader between working people and privileged groups. Her campaign did not lack for funds or celebrity endorsements, and she had talented people on her team. Simply, she was the wrong candidate to run against him. All the same, we learned something useful from this election: celebrity support makes no difference.

The US has now voted for isolationism. Its incoming president can no longer lay claim to be leader of the Free World. The Free World has little interest in being led by him, even if American voters have professed themselves willing.

So, what kind of person is headed for the Oval Office? Clearly, his gift lies in his finely-honed marketing instincts - it will be fascinating to watch how he markets this presidency.

Trump has a tendency to play fast and loose with the truth (the media orchestrated those protests against his presidency is the latest canard), and he struggles to maintain a coherent train of thought. His default position is to bluff. Indeed, he makes a virtue of it, claiming scepticism about experts and insisting that research and reflection are unimportant for decision-making - what matters is his gut.

Trump on foreign policy: Don't bother me with details, just get the bad guys.

Trump on Obamacare: Don't bother me with details, just scrap it.

Trump on taxes: Don't bother me with details, just slash 'em.

With one party controlling both houses of Congress and the presidency and the Supreme Court leaning Republican-wards, this man will have power such as President Barack Obama could only dream about.

We must hope he will surround himself with talent; and that Republicans in Congress will block or tweak some of his crazier ideas.

Even if he wants to, he cannot deliver on many of his guarantees. His 'let's make America great again' slogan is really 'let's make America white again' and appeals to white supremacist ideology. America may or may not be great again but it will never be white again.

He promises jobs for steel and coal workers, but those industries are long dead in the US.

He says he will build bridges and railways, meanwhile cutting taxes. Not likely.

The Trump shift he outlines includes cutting corporation tax by 20pc to 15pc, abandoning free trade agreements, and imposing tariffs of 45pc on Chinese goods.

The latter could result in a trade war, with a levy on US goods, in turn. It could also have unintended consequences with some American companies relocating outside the US. As for that corporation tax plan, it represents a challenge to Ireland's industrial policy, but also means less tax income in the US which will affect his spending plans.

Will Mr Trump follow through? Will he be able to push 'Trumpenomics' through Congress? Time will tell.

Finally, what a dazed international community witnessed this week was, fundamentally, a vote against the inequalities of capitalism. But another inequality remains outstanding. Forty-five presidents and all of them male. Still no woman in the White House.

It will happen, however. Mrs Clinton's legacy is to show it's possible - she did, after all, win the popular vote.

The keys to the Oval Office are within grasp. Perhaps that female president of the future is watching Mr Trump, learning from his campaign, and planning her strategy right now.

Irish Independent

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