So it actually happened. The moment that many thought wouldn’t possibly, couldn’t possibly happen actually came to pass. Trump took the oath of office and is officially the president of the United States of America. Trump, the man who wrestled with Vince McMahon at Wrestlemania 23, who became a tv celebrity through The Apprentice, who has been bankrupted multiple times, who sees no problem in making grossly offensive remarks about women, who has no issue with lying through his teeth about the most verifiable of facts and who has zero history of public service at any level, is now America’s commander in chief.
How did it come to pass? You could blame a variety of factors but you would need to start by looking at the American people and its society in general. In 2017 America remains sadly a deeply divided country along the lines of race, gender and socio-economics. There persists a deep division between African Americans and White America and specifically between young black males and law enforcement. As we saw across the world yesterday at the Women’s march and highlighted so powerfully by Ashley Judd in her speech, the genders remain very much divided. Women still feel oppression in a world where men still call the shots. Nowhere is this more evident than in pay inequality or the simple fact that while viagra is not subject to tax that women’s sanitary products are. Even in Ireland I’m appalled to say that feminine hygiene products which are essential are subject to tax, it is utterly ludicrous.
Economically America is still recovering from the recession of recent years which blighted the world but as is the case in Europe there are sections of society who have benefited less than others from the green shoots of recovery. The rich are getting richer and the poorer by comparison poorer. You then have the liberal left completely at odds with the conservative right. The latter it seems have grown tired of the ceding of their power to the former and have said enough is enough. The right wing conservatives have gone beyond their traditional republican values and adopted trenchant views regarding foreign nationals, be they illegal immigrants or those in China who have supposedly stolen American jobs by producing goods that were once made in America.
Within an hour of yesterday’s swearing in ceremony any mention of global warming or reference to LGBTQ were erased from the official Whitehouse website. So after years of striving for equality, recognition and for their voices to be heard members of the LGTBQ community might have the right to marry members of the same sex but the very act of removing any reference to this sector of society from the Whitehouse website suggests regression and potentially more division. Global warming is undeniable at this point. Only yesterday scientists warned of the imminent detachment of the largest ice shelf ever from the polar ice cap. Yet, Trump has peopled his cabinet with captains of industry which will attempt to ‘Make America Great Again’, like Rex Tillerson former CEO of ExxonMobil.
America stands on the precipice right now. Never before has there been such uncertainty about its future and by extension our shared global future. I really wish America wasn’t high on the agenda but it commands an unrivalled position on the global stage economically, financially and culturally that we can’t ignore it even if we want to. The early signs are not a good portent of what is to come. The 2 year presidential campaign highlighted the sheer dichotomy at every level in American society. It also highlighted the very flawed nature of the political / electoral system that gives such weighted importance to individual states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida. The long campaign showed up the flaws in mainstream media and its coverage of the candidates and their policies. Social media took on a more significant role too and by doing so it lent credence to the notion that platforms like twitter and facebook simply add to the reactionary hysteria and rob us of any reasoned mature debate.
Ironically no one used social media to their advantage more than one of the candidates themselves. Trump eschewed the conventional methods of campaign advertising in favour of using the immediacy of twitter to spread his message and whip up a media storm. In the process he garnered millions of hours of free advertising courtesy of the mainstream media’s coverage of his, at times, incendiary tweets. Trumps supporters foamed at the mouth in excitement. Here for the first time was a man who said what exactly they thought but were too afraid to express it during the Obama years. Trump’s opponents also foamed at the mouth, but in dismay, not just due to the litany of wildly inaccurate versions of the truth streaming from his consciousness and but also due to his inherent desire to ostracise women, minorities and the physically disabled.
Since winning the election in November Trump has persisted in vilifying those who would oppose him, namely the mainstream media. Even yesterday his official spokesman was incandescent that the media should focus on the paucity of numbers at the inauguration, at the expense of Trump’s reputation. Sean Spicer launched a petulant attack on the press in his maiden address, listing blatant fabrications in an attempt to change the narrative and indirectly embellish his paymaster’s ego. The venom with which the Whitehouse spokesman attacked the truth yesterday was comical-ALiesque.
The greatest fear for me is that in all of this we see a ramping up of those divisions that brought America to this point in the first place. Yes Republicans and Democrats are guilty of being so engrossed in party political squabbling that they both were blinded by the American people and by Trump. America has inadvertently become Dr Victor Frankenstein and Trump the monster. At this point in time America needs grounded, mature and inclusive leadership, not an egotistical sociopath who has more in common with Putin than he does with may of his fellow Americans. It is also important to say at this point that Obama is not entirely blameless in Trump’s metamorphosis from celebrity clown to political demagogue. Obama, while an inspirational candidate was an ineffectual leader. Personally I think he was far too much of an academic and too professorial to resonate with the electorate after the euphoria and the significance of his initial ascension to power. I found him to be far too ponderous in his words and actions and this possibly stemmed from his youth and relative inexperience in the world of politics. Yes he was opposed at many turns by the republicans but I feel they played on his inexperience and indecision that perhaps a stronger more charismatic and worldly wise leader may not have enabled.
Trump’s election has started a conversation, of that there is no doubt. The portents are ominous. This is the age of the bully, the thug and the liar, when millions of Americans vote for a bankrupted billionaire whose face they recognise off the tv and who hates just as much as they do.