Trump and the rise of the ‘Ugly American’
As the United States confronts the spectre of another bruising Presidential election this year, the emerging contenders have initiated acrimonious primary contests for the tickets of the two major parties. On the Republican side, the emergence of Donald Trump, real estate tycoon and TV reality show host, has surprised the “grand old party’s (GOP’s)” establishment with the vehemence and durability of his supporters and the extent of his popularity. On the Democratic side what was touted as a free, and almost uncontested, run at the nomination by Hilary Clinton, former first lady and Barack Obama’s lately embattled Secretary of State, has been interrupted by a robust challenge from a relatively unknown fringe radical Senator Bernie Sanders.
It is now becoming clear that while the front-runners in both parties have stitched together notable public support for their ideological assumptions and personal political ambitions what they represent most of all is a reflection of public reaction to the consequences of the Obama Presidency. As a result, the Trump phenomenon has actually become the most sensational element in the entire exercise.
The major objective of the more rational contenders on all sides of the political spectrum appears to be to put a halt to the overwhelming juggernaut that his campaign has become. As a result the Democratic front-runner and her challenger have wound up fighting to convince their party members not so much that they deserve their party’s ticket because of their record in office as because they believe they can beat Donald Trump, even though he has not yet been chosen as the Republican candidate.
That the Trump presence has become so all-pervasive in the American political arena can be traced to the deep political disenchantment that evolved as a fundamental element of Republican reaction to Barack Obama’s policies over the eight years of America’s first black Presidency. Hurt by the rejection of the so-called “conservatism” that the overwhelming election successes of Barack Obama symbolised, the GOP has generated a storm of public opprobrium for his major efforts at reform in such areas as immigration policy, and healthcare, and key foreign policy initiatives, especially those in the volatile Middle East, and on Cuba. The same conservative consensus that rejected the idea of extending America’s direct military intervention in the Middle East and Afghanistan, under George Bush has been transformed into a movement that now accuses Obama of not being warlike enough in those conflicts especially in Syria and Iraq.
Donald Trump now portrays himself as the champion of greater military intervention and stigmatises Barack Obama as being weak and hesitant because he has focused on paring down direct American military intervention in territorial conflicts around the globe. In addition to this Obama has initiated a style of engagement with the global community based on persuasion and negotiation instead of on demand and instruction. This has annoyed a substantial proportion of the American populace who had grown accustomed to bullying the rest of the world.
Trump has keyed into this sentiment of nostalgic anger with highly effective rhetorical prowess and has proven to be a very adept promoter of his self-image as a strong defender of the faith of American ascendancy and superiority around the world. It is this conceit that has served as the foundation for his success as an aspirant so far, but it is the same conceit that exposes him as being hardly more than a salesman of the cosmetic assumptions of the worst elements of American jingoism. Trump has spent the majority of his time as a campaigner pandering to the worst sentiments of his followers. He has encouraged separatism and isolationism in their attitudes towards the rest of the world and has even shamelessly promoted religious bigotry and barely concealed racism in his utterances.
He has shown himself to be an unrepentant male chauvinist in his responses to hard questions from female reporters and his take on Hilary Clinton’s aspirations reveal him as a brutally unfair adversary who does not mind using falsehoods to smear his opponent. When he chose to slander the global Muslim community, in an effort to portray himself as being more prepared than anyone else to confront international terrorism, he did not mind that his rhetoric bore clear echoes of fascism. It would only take a short leap of imagination for his proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the USA to be converted into a call to isolate all Muslims already living there in concentration camps. Trump is a provocateur rather than a mediator and appears to enjoy creating controversies. One wonders what kind of President he would be given his penchant for provoking crises.
An interesting source of information about Donald Trump’s attitudes towards public office is to be found in the book entitled The Trumps by Gwenda Blair. This study of the family starts off with the story of Donald’s grandfather Friedrich’s arrival in New York City as a German immigrant towards the end of the 19th century. However, without the emergence of Donald as a legendary real estate tycoon in the late 20th century the story might not have been told for while his grandfather and his father made a success of their own businesses it was his adventurous triumphs and sometimes near disasters that caught public attention and turned the family name into a global brand.
In this work it is show`n quite clearly that Donald Trump is adept at twisting public regulations to serve his personal interests even when such conduct might be considered barely legal. His operations as a casino owner on the Atlantic City boardwalk exhibited this in no mean order and many observers still wonder how he avoided being seriously sanctioned and even convicted, at least of criminal negligence, over these operations. He has had almost as many failed business initiatives as he has had successes, but he has also been recognised as a true “comeback kid” as he has picked himself up and returned to the top over and over again.
This attribute has helped to give his campaign for the Presidency the exciting cachet of a mission of destiny and he is playing the role of messiah to the hilt. This is not surprising since of the many roles that he has played in life so far he seemed to enjoy his manifestation as a popular TV reality show host more than any other. Trump is nothing if not a boastful self-promoter, and it will be unfortunate if such a character actually gains power in these challenging times in a powerful nation like the USA.
The so-called “Evangelical Conservatives”, who are little more than religious fanatics masquerading as guardians of the nation’s moral code, have virtually adopted Trump as their candidate although he is well known to have been at best an irregular churchgoer. He has captured such support by playing to the gallery of popular disenchantment without any remorse for the fundamental dishonesty that this represents. Donald Trump has successfully unleashed the ugliest side of American political sentiment in order to build a following that could spell victory for him in a contest corrupted by the confusion of the times. He is depending on the widespread economic and political confusion, which is actually a legacy of pre-Obama mismanagement by the Republicans led by George Bush, and the dysfunctional terrorist insurgencies generated by it to create a climate of fear in which he can rise to power.
On this sad but very real structure of political dishonesty Donald Trump’s hope for victory is based. If he is successful America’s leadership might aggravate, rather than relieve, the problems that the world is facing today.
•Barrett, a veteran journalist, wrote via firstname.lastname@example.org