| 7.8°C Dublin

Leave Donald Trump alone, he is brash - but he's trying a new way


Disruptive: US President Donald Trump is trying to rectify absurdities Photo: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

Disruptive: US President Donald Trump is trying to rectify absurdities Photo: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik


Disruptive: US President Donald Trump is trying to rectify absurdities Photo: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

I watched the three debates between the two contenders for the American presidency. They were addressing two audiences and any attempt to come to clashes or conflict foundered over the abyss between them. Only connect, one wanted to say, only connect.

On the night before the vote, I said to friends I thought Donald Trump would win. There was a thoughtful response to this, but no support. It seemed highly improbable.

I stayed up for the count and watched as parts of the media collapsed in confusion. The voice of America had backed the wrong side. It had assumed Hillary Clinton would win and that Trump would bow out. The reverse happened.

It is true, of course, that Clinton won the election but lost the presidency. This was because she didn't canvass in three "marginal constituencies" which she narrowly lost. Trump, who won 30 out of the 50 states, campaigned hard in those three states in the final days. An Irish media view, in its wisdom, called it an act of desperation. It would seem not. It was the professionalism of Trump's campaign, rather than Russian involvement, that secured him the presidency.

The American media, with honourable exceptions, lost the plot. Its reputation for professional reporting, as happened with the media throughout the world, including Ireland, became a witch-hunt for all that was wrong in Trump and much that was not his fault.

As a journalist with over half a century of political reporting behind me, I was embarrassed by the performance of many of my colleagues at home and abroad. There was significant and sustained bias in favour of Clinton, a mediocre politician. No bias in favour of an unknown political figure like Trump. The newspaper industry mainly likes Democrats. Hillary had held high office, largely doing nothing admirable, for eight years. Trump was an outsider.

That was not the problem. Bias, unfairness, gross error, foolishness in comment and judgment, all are part of the newspaper industry. It was particularly so over these candidates. It took the place of intelligence and, when most needed, of investigation.

One of the candidates was smooth and confident, expecting victory and saying very little to deserve that. The other, vulgar, aggressive, rude, not altogether coherent, Donald Trump, who appeared to be a born loser, widely judged as such.

The problem went deeper than that, however. The US media did not do its job, which was to find out where Trump got his support, and analyse and measure it as an element that might give him victory. This was a shameful omission.

Trump had no claim to, nor expectation of, a fair place. But he had every reason to expect the media to discover where his power lay and what this might do to his chances. The media thought otherwise, however. They did not want to do anything that would improve his chances. They were not professional.

When all was over, Trump legitimately, and rightly, disparaged the media. He did so in strong terms. He was correct in not explaining his harsh judgments. It was the American media that disgraced itself, not Trump.

His victory showed he could get no better out of them than the steady flow of antagonism and dismissal. This is still repeating itself today. Explaining his justification for this would simply have worsened the situation.

His victory also showed that the vaunted power of the media is exaggerated. The media was the great loser in the election, even more so than Clinton. That is no bad thing for democracy, and I say that as a journalist.

Trump's second problem, a much bigger one, was how to deal with so-called "globalisation". This involved the doctrine itself, together with the facile and foolish implementation of it as a vehicle for US foreign policy, including unnecessary foreign wars worldwide. Deliberately, since 1945, there has been a system of international rule, followed by one president after another, frequently in a bloody way.

Its worst element, in recent times, has been "regime change". This involves the usurping of the sovereignty of states that do not meet with US approval. The worst recent examples have been Libya and Iraq. Both involved the murder of heads of state, Muammar Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein. Iraq also included allegations of "weapons of mass destruction". Unfounded, thought up by Bush and Blair in a disgraceful conspiracy, and designed to justify an illegal invasion, it led instead, and fatefully, to terror across Europe and to the growth of Isil.

Globalisation goes back to Yalta, in 1945, when the old and dying Roosevelt tried to seduce that wily and appalling old fox, Stalin, into participating in the Western world's fairly inept attempts to bring order under a "United Nations" charter. America became less loyal to this approach, dismissing it when it did not suit. The process has been uneven, at times indifferent.

Military "globalisation" followed in Korea and Vietnam (both unsuccessful, and with terrible loss of American lives and US prestige (particularly in Vietnam). A worldwide series of poor assessments and poor performances followed, in some cases involving murders and assassinations, warfare, blockade, trade sanctions, and the growing floods of refugees (of an entirely new character) leaving their uninhabitable countries, not for a "better life" in Europe or America, but more frantically, for survival.

Globalisation in the economic sense began at Bretton Woods in 1944. Anyone wishing to learn about that fascinating conference should read The Battle of Bretton Woods by Benn Steil. One of the many insights to be gained from that fine book concerns the battle between the UK and the US for trade supremacy in the post-war world. Indeed, anyone reading the book might ask themselves: "Why did the UK not fight against the US in World War II?"

Increasingly clearly, Trump revealed an alternative vision. He considers the process of casting the old Soviet Union, now Russia, as the main target for eventual militant aggression, a foolish mistake. He probably believes (though keeping it to himself) that Putin, like many Western leaders, has less aggression and more intelligence than the United States. Introducing such thoughts into open debate was always going to be next to impossible for Trump.

The US and world media are part of the global elite that rightly felt threatened by Trump's candidature. This meant, in fundamental terms, Trump challenging US mismanagement of a so-called "world order". It also meant challenging another aspect of globalisation: the increasing level of immigration to the US.

Many Americans saw "refugees" as "immigrants". The US and global elites, including the US and international media, perceived a Trump presidency as acceptance of the poor judgments of Trump's predecessors in The White House, including poor media judgment.

Privately, Trump was toying with serious reassessment here as well. Traditional, but outdated voices were evidently determined to prevent this. Happily they failed, at least for the present. Not surprisingly, he has left the teasing out of this substantial new agenda, perhaps to writers like myself, however few they may be. We will have to do what we can in a hostile, biased and unprofessional media environment.

It is hardly surprising that the American media would take exception to this disrobing of their "globalisation testament" as mistaken, dangerous and illusory. In its place, and for all the rubbish produced to demonise Putin, Trump was in favour of a new order where America, China, India and Russia would work out a new way of doing things, with the United Kingdom exercising its special role in world affairs, Germany being made to work within the fresh concepts.

Many of the things Trump has done, since coming to office, relate back to the very questionable international behaviour of previous presidents, secretaries of state, military leaders, believers, with others, in the more extreme and lethal products of "globalisation".

Trump, on account of his eccentric way of doing things, is seen in the same light by many, which is a testament to the power of the US "secret state", which includes the manipulation of opinion with the help, unwittingly or otherwise, of much of the developed world's media.

For myself, I see him as having recognised the indifferent and, at times, bloody record of previous presidents. Trump genuinely wants a new deal but is vulgar and clumsy in its pursuit.

The evil that Trump is seeking to confront goes back more than two centuries. Long before World War II made the US a global superpower, there was the Monroe Doctrine. James Monroe (1758-1831), fifth president of the United States, was sensitive about continued French, Spanish, British and even Russian interests on America's western and eastern seaboards.

The Monroe Doctrine was the basis for the United States protecting itself from European intrusion into South America (where Spain had colonies), while at the same time indicating a transatlantic truce elsewhere in the world. Monroe set out his doctrine in Congress in 1823.

To some extent these "hands-off" attitudes affected the timing and extent of the entry of the United States into World War I, under Woodrow Wilson. Later, in World War II, a subsequent entry, under Roosevelt, was provoked by Japan's attack on Pearl Harbour. The conflagration culminated in the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, seen by many as among the greatest crimes in history.

An awful culmination of these crimes lay ahead, with the accumulation of more enemies, in 9/11. In recent years, we have seen a deterioration in US management of the world order, more spent on arms, less on creating jobs.

Trump sees this and so did his supporters. He cannot enunciate it easily because of what it infers about the performances of previous presidents, and he may have to genuflect, hopefully temporarily, in the direction of the militarists to build a coalition to tackle other problems. He can, however, see the absurdity of globalisation reaching a point where it no longer protects the American people nor guarantees the wealth that the United States needs in order to continue acting as a superpower.

Trump was democratically elected. If he is permitted to get on with the job he will prove a better president than Hillary Clinton ever could have been. He is challenging a world order that has run its course, leaving substantial misery in its wake.

Trump may not be likeable but he is trying to rectify absurdities in his unusual way of doing things.

He is clumsy, typically overbearing, like many in power.

The absurdities he is trying to rectify include the constant stream of new-style refugees mentioned previously, who are essentially, but presently - and only presently - a product of America's recent and ill-judged interference in the Middle East.

There is no law that says the US president must be likeable. In a needlessly inchoate fashion, Trump has expressed this.

People who know my mind like teasing me about Trump. I do not mind that. The truth of the issues is what matters, and our discussion of them. I also get angry about abortion, which Trump also wishes to challenge, but which is, not surprisingly, supported by those who support the US world order, an order steeped in blood.

Sunday Independent