Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Trouble With Trump

An American friend asked me the other day what I thought of Donald Trump. My first response could have been just to text back and say "He's a fucking idiot". The rise of Trump, and of the right wing in politics across across the West though seems to demand some more careful and nuanced thinking.

My first thought about Trump is that, I sincerely hope, such a character could not exist within British politics. Some of Nigel Farage's more boorish comments do come a close second. The quite appalling sexual comments Trump has made as part of his seemingly inbuilt misogynism would surely have made him a target for all strands of the media and public opinion here would not countenance such an uncouth and vulgar figure for Prime Minister.

What worries me more about Trump and his supporters is that he is tapping into a strand of isolationism and fear which exists in America. There has always been a core of people who believe that big government is against them, that it is responsible for making the US a worse place, that it is responsible for everything from job losses and high levels of taxation to the killing of Kennedy and 9/11. Trump is currently feeding on the worse sorts of conspiracy theories with his constant rhetoric about voting fraud.

This tweet is entirely typical of Trump's narrative, if he loses it won't be because people didn't want him and voted for the other candidate, it will be because the polls were rigged and the media is against him. The real danger here is that people will believe what he says, if people come to believe that voting in one of the world's largest democracies is somehow manipulated then they will become disenfranchised, disillusioned with the political process. Disempowerment and feelings of powerlessness lead to stagnation in politics and the endless continuation of the status quo as people stop voting because they think their vote does not matter, and it helps to make possible the very real danger that people will to extremism and violence.

Trump has also followed a line of racial division, blaming many of America's problems on Latino, specifically Mexican immigrants. This divide and conquer strategy is one we can see across the West at this time and whether the engendered hatred may be an accidental result of policies, in the case of UKIP and Farge perhaps, or is part and parcel of the policies themselves, as with the right wing ideologies of Greece's Golden Dawn and French National Front leader Marine le Pen, it is a dangerous and ugly development. This thought process is typical of the right wing, to simplify what are incredibly complex and interconnected arguments around immigration, employment, taxation and benefits into one ideology simple enough to understand they blame immigrants. It's easy to pin many of your problems on people within your society who look or act differently, Dylann Roof certainly thought so when he walked into a Charlestown church and opened fire on the congregation.

I'm not drawing a straight line between certain political figures and terrorism, and yet, when the landscape of political and social debate changes and open criticism of one group is allowed simply on the basis of that group seeming different from the majority then it legitimises open hatred and poisons rational debate. Groups proscribed against in this way are always among the weakest in society, the Mexicans and Muslims whom Trump rails against are sometimes illegal immigrants, sometimes not, many of them live towards the margins, doing low paid or temporary work. These people often don't have any political voice of their own, it's hard for them to be heard in the large scale media, they may already feel marginalised in society and these feelings will be compounded by people at the very top of the political spectrum railing against them. Want to breed more extremism ? Make people feel threatened, make them economically unstable, divide society against them.

Trump's behaviour towards Clinton and other politicians is deplorable. At his best he is rude and condescending, at his worst he is given to flights of fancy where he treats facts as a malleable substance and presents lies, rumour and possibilities as cast iron truths. He says things in every public debate which would be unconscionable in European circles.

I think the overwhelming feeling from Europe is that Trump is terrible choice propelled forward by huge money and the very worst kind of personal ambition. The speeches he has given about Russia and about the future structure of NATO run counter to everything that NATO has stood for, and against, since its inception, Trump seems to think that NATO can be used as an extension of US military might to which other nations will pay into and not have control over. Madness.

There is a groundswell of support for Trump over here, and if you want to see it expressed most clearly just delve into the web pages and forums of the right wing hate groups, they adore Trump, they think he's speaking the truth on immigration, they hate people who are different from them.

Respected political commentator Jeremy Paxman summed up the European position to Trump this week when he said on the Today programme "I am a European, I cannot imagine anyone voting for Trump in their right mind".

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