Donald Trump's election as President of the United States has caused almost as much grief and consternation as Nelson Mandela’s death did -- more, perhaps, because death is inevitable and Trump's election was, even to his supporters, unexplainable, "a miracle." The day after he won the election, demonstrations bloomed spontaneously in 30 U.S. cities. Ten thousand demonstrators marched in New York, chanting, "We. Reject. The President-Elect." To all but the estimated one-third of the U.S. population that voted for him, Trump’s elevation seems a catastrophe. "It’s like when your dad dies," said comedian Trevor Noah.
To millions of women in the global "pantsuit nation," Hillary Clinton’s loss was just like a death, the death of their dream of equality for American women. Even her fiercest opponents agreed that Secretary Clinton was the best qualified person ever to run for President. As Secretary of State, she helped solve some of the world's toughest problems. At the Democratic Convention, Hillary sported her faith and her decency on her sleeve, like every other speaker there. Wearing Suffragist white, she wore pledged to build a renewable economy, put a few limits on guns, and protect women and children. She reminded the nation that, "We are stronger -- together!" Seeing Hillary Clinton's policies rejected was like watching someone take an axe to everything motherhood stands for.
Moreover, the election itself marked the end of a rare Camelot era: President Barack and Michelle Obama’s eight years of modelling cultural awareness and family togetherness. Not only are they the first African-American First Family, they are the hippest, coolest, smartest, First Couple ever to come along. They published family photos and dropped into daytime shows. They preached health as the good life: Exercise, healthy food, faith and church attendance, and lots of music and dancing.
For the record, President Obama also rescued the Western economy after George W. Bush crashed it in 2008. He negotiated hard with the banks and actually recovered all the money Bush gave them. He bailed out millions of jobs in the auto industry. He brought U.S. troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan and sent a hit squad out after Osama bin Laden. He remained good natured when faced with constant Congressional obstruction, and managed to accumulate an enviable list of achievements through regulations, appropriations, Executive Orders, and other workarounds. He provided the Hispanic DREAM (Act) of youth access to citizenship, and pardoned more (non-violent) prisoners than all the presidents before him, put together.
"A strong majority of Democrats would cancel the 2016 presidential election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump if it meant President Obama could serve another term, a new poll found," The Hill reported last summer. Google shows 3.75 million hits on the question of Obama serving a third term.
In contrast, for decades Donald Trump has had a national reputation as a huckster and a public buffoon, often featured on the front page of supermarket gossip sheets for extra-marital sex scandals. The National Enquirer, where his friend David Pecker is CEO of the parent corporation, has actively promoted his candidacy and actively denigrated his opponents. Some of Trump's wilder claims come right out of National Enquirer pages. A Reality TV star, he’s been thrusting himself into the spotlight whenever he could, sharing every domestic drama and political fantasy. So far he's enjoyed a Teflon immunity to being judged by normal standards of decency.
In this year’s Republican convention, Trump proudly introduced his family -- five children by three different women. Can you imagine what would have happened if a person of colour had offered their convention five children by three different spouses? They'd have been thrown out, at best -- with people thowing stones at them, at worst.
America's new First Lady, Melania Trump, presented a convention speech that included plagiarized passages, lifted from none other than Michelle Obama's speeches. While most political spouses are self-effacing, Melania seemed practically robotic, a Stepford wife. The Republican crowd cheered.
Although Trump is nominally a university graduate (of Wharton Business School in Philadelphia), he usually speaks in words of one and two syllables, repeating and speaking louder for emphasis. In fact, if you squint at the screen and just listen to how his words erupt, he kind of resembles Tony Soprano.
As befits somebody who enjoys casino life, Trump has to work hard to avoid coming across as a thug in an expensive suit. But he doesn't always succeed. "Once a thug, always a thug," scoffed an April Salon article when Trump tried to appear presidential. Therein may lie his appeal to middle Americans, many of whom aspire to own Harley Davidson motorcycles and secretly admire outlaw bikers.
Speaking of casinos, Trump spends a lot of time, um, overstating his business success. Estimates of how much he inherited from his father Fred vary from $1 million to $200 million. Hillary says he inherited $14 million from his father in 1999. Trump says he is worth "many, many billions," although again, others dispute that figure. He hasn’t released his tax returns, though, and in 2011, two New Jersey courts threw out his defamation suit against a journalist who said he was worth much less.
“In a ruling issued on Wednesday, the appeals court affirms that Trump hasn't demonstrated that author Timothy O’Brien committed 'actual malice,' by citing three unnamed sources who estimated the net worth of the Apprentice star to be between $150 million and $250 million," wrote Eriq Gardiner in the Hollywood Reporter. But Trump’s lawyer produced no financial evidence to support Trump's claim that he is much richer and, in fact, "Trump admitted that his sense of financial worth depends on his feelings day-to-day."
Trump is famous mainly for putting his name on other people's things -- buildings, hotels, steaks, "educational" programs -- and persuading them to pay him for the privilege. He used to own Trump Plaza in Atlantic City but it closed in 2014. Its Atlantic City neighbour, Trump Plaza, owned by Carl Icahn, closed in October 2016. In fact, most of Trump's businesses have failed and six have filed for bankruptcy, if only for tactical reasons. More than 4,000 construction contractors have filed lawsuits against him for reneging on contracts.
All of which helps explain why "multibillionaire" Donald Trump had problems finding big sponsors for his campaign, which he seemed to stumble into. Filmmaker Michael Moore wrote that Trump announced his candidacy mainly as a publicity stunt for his reality TV show, The Apprentice. Unfortunately, his opening off-the-cuff remarks about Mexican immigration got him fired instead. As Trump bumbled around during the primaries and refused to stick to the script, even the infamous Koch brothers declined to fund him, preferring to send their money to "downballot" candidates. (They've also backed off funding the Tea Party.) Trump supporters claim he raised millions in small donations by crowdfunding, but of course those numbers aren't available to the public. Fortune Magazine did report that by the end of October, Trump had donated only $56 million to his own campaign, not the $100 million he frequently claimed.
Therefore, Trump seems to have drifted to other resources. First, he drifted to the NRA and private prison corporations, but that didn't last very long. Then reports appeared about financial and political links between Russia and his campaign manager, Paul Manafort. These were disturbing, because the U.S. has very strict campaign-financing laws that prohibit candidates from accepting small or large donations from foreigners -- much less interfering in US elections with funding or media manipulation.
"There is basically conclusive evidence that Russia is interfering in the US election,"Zack Beauchamp writes in Vox, "and that this interference has been designed to damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign. There is strong evidence linking Trump’s foreign policy advisers to Russia, and Trump’s stated policy ideas are extremely favorable to Russian interests."
What's at stake? The US has led the world in imposing sanctions on Russia for its aggression towards the Ukraine. Coincidentally or not, Russian President Vladimir Putin has already announced he looks forward to undoing those sanctions with President Trump.
After public complaints that accepting Russian money looked like treason, Trump looked for other support. He began to waffle about his connections to infamous Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, whom he'd had no trouble denouncing a decade before. Finally, after the disastrous second debate, he replaced his campaign manager Paul Manafort's Moscow connections with media savvy Steve Bannon's white supremacist connections. As the second publisher of the Breitbart News website (after founder Andrew Breitbart died), Bannon steered the news service hard right.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Centre, "Since its founding in 2007, Breitbart News Network has grown to become one of the most popular news outlets on the right. Over the past year however, the outlet has undergone a noticeable shift toward embracing ideas on the extremist fringe of the conservative right. Racist ideas. Anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant ideas –– all key tenets making up an emerging racist ideology known as the 'Alt-Right.'
"The Alt-Right is a loose set of far-right ideologies at the core of which is a belief that 'white identity' is under attack through policies prioritizing multiculturalism, political correctness and social justice and must be preserved, usually through white-identified online communities and physical ethno-states..."
Now, Godwin's Law says that as soon as someone introduces the word "Nazi," the discussion ends. If only that were so in this case. Unfortunately, Donald Trump clearly has the enthusiastic if unwanted support of American Nazis and White Supremacists. [No links provided.]
Here two ugly narratives come together into one stream. Republicans have relied on the "Southern Strategy" since 1968, when Richard Nixon devised it in response to Lyndon B. Johnson’s Civil Rights Act. In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan adviser Lee Atwater polished the turd to make the technique slightly more subtle. The 1988 Willie Horton ad that defeated Mike Dukakis is one famous example of how Republicans simply linked a candidate with a person of colour (the face on the poster and ad) as a kind of smear. In the 2016 campaign, a similar ad appeared linking Democratic Vice-President candidate Tim Kaine with criminals -- actually people he defended as a lawyer, often pro bono.
Donald Trump launched his own venture into politics in 2011 with very personal attacks on Barack Obama's eligibility to serve -- a loud and persistent claim that the first African-American U.S. President was really born in Kenya, and therefore was not eligible to serve his first term, much less run for a second. Right-wingers had muttered questions since President Obama was first elected in 2008. Starting in 2011, for five years Trump charged that the President was not a real American born on U.S. soil, flogging that outrageous claim even after the President produced his long form birth certificate. In 2016, Trump finally acknowledged that the President was born in Hawaii, and then claimed that Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign had started the rumour.
"Donald Trump has won the presidency," writes Jenée Jones in Vox, "despite an unprecedented level of unfitness and in defiance of nearly every prediction and poll. And he’s done this not despite but because he expressed unfiltered disdain toward racial and religious minorities in the country. The message his victory sent to nonwhites, Muslim Americans, immigrants, and their families is clear: Never underestimate the power of racism and bigotry..."
Racism, opportunism, business failures -- perhaps Trump’s most disgusting failing is the way he treats and talks about women. While Republicans have conducted a vigorous War on Women since George W. Bush’s days, Trump's appalling casual misogyny apparently includes casual assault. "He likes to hang around beauty pageants," Hillary Clinton said, conveying his sleaze factor. "You can grab them by the pussy," Trump tutored a younger man in a hot mic video seen by millions. When Anderson Cooper asked if he'd ever really done what he bragged about -- forced himself on women -- he denied it. Fourteen women came forward to testify that he had done it to them.
What the U.S. has elected, in short, is a seriously compromised candidate, who is shocked to discover that most of the world finds his self-indulgences distasteful at best. "By the end of this campaign season," according to Newsweek, "of the 100 American newspapers with the largest circulations, Clinton scored 57 endorsements...Trump got just two major endorsements — half the amount that Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson received."
More newspapers endorsed Clinton, including papers that had never endorsed a presidential candidate, or not in a long time, or never endorsed a Democrat. Newspapers abroad did the same, including The Globe and Mail and the Guardian, which both begged Americans, "Don’t vote for Trump." The Economist ran crossed fingers on its cover, with Hillary’s face drawn on the forefinger as "America’s best bet." Google gives 136 million hits for "Don't vote for Trump."
How could such a candidate have won? Should we read this election as yet another Republican White Man's Revenge? On the surface, it seems that Trump did manage to pull the Republican (that is, white) vote across the South and into the new Republican strongholds of Michigan and Wisconsin. Still, Pew reports a 12 point gender difference each way. "Women supported Clinton over Trump by 54% to 42%," says the report, while more men than women voted for Trump, by 53% to 41%.
Women, Hispanics and African-Americans turned out for Clinton in numbers close to what President Obama pulled. TV news showed line-ups around the block in city after city. Yet, millions of Democratic voters seem to be missing. Maybe disgruntled Bernie Sanders fans stayed home, despite his call for unity. Or maybe they voted for "third parties," such as Jill Stein's Green Party or Gary Johnson's Libertarians, as some 5,000,000 voters did.
Life with President Trump will bring Americans an acute case of whiplash. Although his policies are ambiguous, some of his directions seem clear. He proposed $23 trillion in tax cuts. This would mean cutting essential social services to benefit companies like his that buy from overseas suppliers instead of creating jobs. The Republicans are likely to agree to that. Among his socially harmful pledges, Trump aims to dismantle the Obamacare health plan and to re-boot the fossil fuel industry, including coal. Nothing in Congress seems to stand in his way.
Some of Trump's promises will come back to bite him. He promised to bring back Rust Belt jobs, but all the factories are overseas and many of the industries (like Kodak film) are obsolete. He pledged to deport millions of U.S. Muslims and Mexicans, and build a wall between the US and Mexico. Perhaps he’s counting on his ties with private prison operators for those operations.
If you're revolted by the idea of the government rounding up people according to their race or religion, join the terrified crowd. Bill Maher used the F word the Friday before the vote: Fascist. A charismatic leader (to the Trump rally crowds anyway) meets a repressive political party. Brace yourselves, folks. There’s a storm coming, a storm of measures aimed at maintaining control over women and people of colour.
When the patriarchy re-asserts itself, the white supremacists aren't far behind. Two days after Trump's win, Daily KOS blogs are already lighting up with incident reports from people of colour who have been threatened, bumped in line, and ordered around by white people re-asserting their authority.
Republicans generally run on a promise to "shrink government." They bring in demolition crews, starting by appointing department heads who hate the departments they run. Think of how George Bush appointed his crony Michael Brown as head of the Federal Emergency Measures Agency (FEMA) -- and how in 2005 FEMA totally failed the city of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. President Obama spent 10 years rebuilding FEMA and when Baton Rouge flooded in 2015, FEMA was there, federal funding flowed quickly, and people in distress received help right away. Trump will probably follow Bush's pattern.
President Donald J. Trump? The mind reels. The gorge rises. In vain, many political observers have searched for a saving grace. They point out that the U.S. three-point system of checks and balances, along with government’s constructive inertia, is designed to restrict even the most bumptious Executive. That's scant consolation when Trump’s party looks likely to control both the House and the Senate -- and to appoint at least one Justice to the Supreme Court. Roe v. Wade (women’s right to abortion and reproductive control) is at risk, along with LGBTQ rights, which are apparently VP Mike Pence's pet peeve.
Washington’s less formal system of bureaucratic control may or may not tame Trump into some semblance of a gentleman. He started staying on script after Steve Bannon became his campaign manager. Maybe he could even learn to be diplomatic, with the right handlers. There's talk he might hire Steve Bannon as his Chief of Staff. [Note: Trump named Bannon White House Chief Strategist.] The problem is, of course, Bannon promotes extreme views on his "news" website, including "a belief that 'white identity' is under attack through policies prioritizing multiculturalism, political correctness and social justice and must be preserved, usually through white-identified online communities and physical ethno-states..."
One last try: after John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Lyndon B. Johnson became President and faithfully carried out Kennedy's civil rights plan, even though he was a Southerner and he knew that the Civil Rights Act would hand the South to the Republicans for at least two generations. Johnson had never expected to be President. He never acquired the manners or social circles that Kennedy had. He won elections and rose to his position in Congress largely through dirty fighting. Yet he and Lady Bird became respected for their personal decency when they served. The joke at the time was that, if Johnson had known that some day he would be President, he'd have been a nicer person when he was younger.
Maybe the majesty of the office will change Donald Trump. Maybe he'll surprise everyone again and prove to be a better person than anyone expected. Meanwhile, his first court date is coming up on November 28, as defendant in a class action suit charging that his privately owned Trump University is a fraud. After that -- in the wings is an on-again off-again civil suit involving charges of a child sex procurement ring, the details of which should make Bill Clinton's impeachment look as innocent as Mary Had a Little Lamb. If civil and criminal claims don’t lead to Trump's impeachment, the next four years should be very interesting. Let’s hope the country, and the world, survive them.
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