By Lankamithra –
In 2008, amidst a deep economic crisis, when ‘Conservative trickledown’ economic policies of the Bush Administration failed, when the real estate market had become entwined with subprime loans, when Goldman Sachs had to be bailed out whose former CEO was the Secretary of Commerce in the Bush Administration, the American people chose to do the unthinkable. They chose a Black President. Electing a Black President was not even in the wildest dreams among the majority of Americans. But a brilliantly planned and exquisitely executed election campaign delivered the Presidency to Barak Obama in 2008. And they chose to reelect him in 2012.
Those white folks who dreaded to see a Black family in the White House, those who would never have dreamt of a day when two little Black kids playing on the White House lawn with their dog, those who envied to behold a Black woman as a First Lady of the nation did that unthinkable. Within a matter of eight short years, it seemed as if the United States of America had swayed towards a grand liberal profile.
The election of Donald Trump in 2016 proved otherwise. America has never failed to represent itself as the ‘shining city on the hill’. Election of Donald Trump reversed the sublime belief embedded in the ‘shining city on the hill’. Trump, in his Presidential Election campaign appealed to the mean base of the Republican Party which is the ‘refugee camp’ for the mean and foolhardy. For them, the American Dream is nothing but a product of individual freedom and total destruction of regulations that governments every now and then introduce and enforce. This cocoon of conservatism is very hard to break into. Although the outer layer may seem brittle and delicate, what resides inside the cocoon is extremely solid and steadfast in its stance. Lack of education of the lower-middle class residents of this layer of society in America, if white in skin-color and social upbringing, tend towards economic populism as a policy on economics and extreme adherence to anti-liberal social standards.
Most of middle-America is rural and conservative. Its core is riveted to yesteryear’s thinking of anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-LGBT and anti- immigrants. However, that anti-gay/LGBT fire is no more flaming. The America of the twenty first century, at least a great majority of this great military power, is distancing itself from that archaic thinking of being parochial about sexual preference of man or woman. To that extent, she has advanced in her outlook of life and society.
But the appeal of populism of a nationalistic genre in the execution of governmental policies, anti-immigrant policy of a ‘wall’ along the Mexico – US border, acceleration of the rate of gainful employment for employable men and women in the country accompanied with a brash, simplistic and downright dishonest and deceitful lying made him a contender to be reckoned with each passing day of the campaign. Donald Trump fit into that mold of a campaigner and he won the American elections. The euphoria that pervaded the country is still lasting at least among his diehard base supporters. Trump, during the campaign, managed to garnish the beauty and ugliness of election lingo that dominated a diverse and polarized electorate. The ‘liberal air’ that the previous administration of Obama generated lost its aura. It was replaced by vitriolic and hateful political branding that was ever to be unleashed on the American political surface. While the Democratic candidate Hilary Clinton was struggling to tiptoe in a delicate dance to explain away the validity or invalidity of a nasty email exposé, Trump branded her as ‘crooked Hillary’.
Once Trump became President, his superficial populism had gained a solid foothold among his diehard defendants. This state of affairs contributed to a serious breakdown in relationships between the White House and the media which Trump calls fake and dishonest.
Trump’s dishonesty and fraudulent claims that have been taken as new reality in Washington DC are a grave new dynamic playing on the minds of the Republican-led Congress, both the House of Representatives and the Senate. But the tragic reality is, Trump as well as the Congress, does not seem to have any hold on the business they need to carry on with for the engagement of the vast American voting public. On the one hand, the Republican Congress is deeply entangled in an ideological mesh, while Trump does not show any loyalty of that sort. Although he tries to depict himself as a realist and a ‘master negotiator’, his accomplishments in the first six months are a meager few. In fact his only major accomplishment is the appointment of Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.
Ironically, Sri Lanka’s R Premadasa’s is the only politician who could be compared with Donald Trump. Both are wildly popular ‘populists’. Making election promises, which at the time they are uttered on the political stage, look tremendously unrealistic and dishonest but have a magical effect on the ‘have-nots’ of any society, capitalist or socialist. Both Premadasa and Trump have exceedingly inflated egos. They surround themselves only with ‘yes-men’. They value the praise and homage paid unto them by their respective groups of loyal cohorts. The difference between them is as stark as the similarities. Premadasa did not limit his words to high-blown slogans. He delivered. His sense of empathy was unmatched and his pursuit of results sometimes tended to disregard all protocol and established principles of diplomacy and hierarchical demands. Intrinsically, Premadasa was a self-made man who climbed the ‘greasy pole’ in politics the hard and conventional way- he earned it. Premadasa was a brilliant Sinhala mob orator. His demagoguery extended far beyond the mere sloganeering threshold. And his relationship with the media and its men and women were better than excellent. He in fact went out of his way not to make enemies of the ‘Press’.
Donald Trump does not have any of those qualities. His commitment to a subject of a Bill of Congress or foreign policy issue seems superficial and vague. He does not seem to have any knowledge or intellectual obligation of the issues at hand. Of course, the two systems are widely different and the checks and balances that are inherent in the governing premise of the United States are either totally absent or very faintly extant in our governing foundation. Yet Donald Trump’s manifest failure to-date is his inability to arrange the passage of any worthy Bill through a Congress which is controlled by his own Republican Party. That indeed is a great setback. When Trump starts defining his successes in terms of wins and losses, it is quite difficult for the average Congressman or woman to relate to it. It takes the seriousness away from the subject and the burdensome responsibility placed on the members of Congress. When Presidential policies and principles are communicated through tweets in the social media and they are depicted as open and candid Presidential statements, the callousness with which he treats grave matters of national importance is exposed. And that does not represent a serious mind. The following tweet Donald Trump placed in the social media is an example of his superficiality:
‘North Korea has just launched another missile. Does this guy have anything better to do with his life? Hard to believe that South Korea….’
In the context of subtle genre of communications among global leaders, this is a reflection of a grossly warped political mind, a mind that is unhesitant to disparage any leader, local or international, with no sense of decency. The great irony in all these tweets and verbal vilifications is the greater sustenance of them by the Republican-controlled Congress and Trump’s base. The candidate Trump has shown that he has not elevated himself to the level of a statesman that all American Presidents are usually held to. The level at which the American media is criticizing their President is unusually high. Yet they too seem to be caught up in the tweet-web Trump has created. The new paradigm is defined in terms of wins and losses, not only in elections, but also in the execution of governmental enactments of Bills and ‘Executive Orders’. This would have been inconceivable five years ago. Barak Obama was held to a totally different standard. The man who disputed Obama’s right to hold office by questioning his, Obama’s, very birth now has assumed the same office and transformed that office into a juggernaut of distasteful tweet barrages and dishonest statements. It is not only President Trump himself, his surrogates, his Press Secretaries and even some Congressmen do not hesitate to indulge in the same disposition. The four special elections held after Trump came to office, Kentucky, Montana, South Carolina and Georgia, all deep-Republican states, returned Republican congressmen and women.
America that sent the first African-American to the White House seems to be punishing herself for an imaginary sin they committed eight years ago. How far America would go with a President as divisive and uncouth as Donald Trump is yet to be seen. Political power with its entire pervasive enormity is bearing on Trump and America. Yet the institutions that America is beholden to and she is held together, will eventually triumph. Nixon, the other Republican President who abused power said thus of unsuitable men holding power: “a world of little men using large powers incompetently from a combination of suspicion and panic.” Donald Trump fits right into that narrow passage of men who use large powers incompetently with a combine of suspicion and panic.
The writer is available at firstname.lastname@example.org