Please send help immediately, These tyrants keep talking about hope,
If you don’t hear from me in four years,
When was America ever great?
These lines were penned specially for India Legal by a young, black streetside poet, Lynn Gentry, who composes verses on demand within minutes on an old Remington typewriter as he remains seated behind a plastic desk on the corner of 7th Avenue and 3rd Street in Brooklyn’s fashionable Park Slope. He did this for a $2-donation after I requested him to address a poem to India on the US Presidential election.
The last word, “great”, is loaded with meaning. It alludes to Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s main election slogan which is now emblazoned across all billboards and campaign posters: “Let’s make America Great Again.” What does this mean? Is America some pitiful, helpless giant?
Hardly. The US is projecting its geopolitical strength across the globe. The economy, as Goldman Sachs chief Lloyd Blankfein says, “is steady but tepid, and growing”. For the first time since the Lehman Brothers crisis which almost dragged the world’s most powerful nation and economy into a depression, consumer spending is rising and the job market has picked up with 10 million new jobs having been created under President Barack Obama’s watch.
Usually, anti-establishment candidates, either for real or posing, as does Trump, have a field day when unemployment is high and banks and markets are sinking and hopelessness casts its shadow across the great American prairie or the nation’s bustling cities. But there is nothing like that in the air. Yet, millions of Americans are feeling un-great and underdog-ish. Blankfein, talking recently to Fareed Zakaria, put it brilliantly: “The psychological sentiment is worse than the economy.”
Trump’s supporters may not be in sufficient numbers to see him through. But they have been empowered and they will still be around following their Pied Piper of Grievance Politics.
So this time, it’s not the economy, stupid! It’s fear. Insecurity. Revanchism. “Great” in Trump’s Lexicon stands for “white”. And male. America is by no means non-white! In fact, the white, non-Hispanic population makes up close to 63 percent of the total of 325 million. Hispanics and Latinos comprise 17 percent (and rising), and blacks about 13 percent, Asians a little over five percent.
I have covered, when I lived and worked in the US as a journalist for more than 20 years, election campaigns and the Presidential regimes of Nixon, Carter, Bush Sr. and several others. Issues were well-defined. There was the usual heat and dust. But at the end, there was a sameness to them. This is the first time I do not get that sense of déjà vu.
I will not bore you with statistics about this race, or recall the three debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. You can get them on CNN, YouTube or Google them. Suffice it to say that when you read this piece, a few days before the November results, Hillary is ahead in all the polls, and that traditional “Red” (Republican) states like Utah, Virginia, Ohio, North Carolina, Colorado—also known as “swing states”—are turning “Blue” (Democrat), changing the country’s electoral map and giving Hillary a comfortable lead way over the 270-mark needed to clinch the Presidential race. This may well give the Democrats the necessary five-seat win needed to control the Senate. (34 seats are simultaneously up for grabs in November).
It would be even more disastrous if Republicans lost their majority in the House as well because many traditional white Republican voters and party leaders—especially the young and college-educated—are deserting Trump. A commentator of the popular Saturday Night Live show quipped: “This would be the first time Trump ever evicted white people from a building.”
The reference was to Trump’s racist record of preventing non-white Americans from renting apartments in his development complexes in New York.
As noteworthy as a Hillary victory would be, what I find significant is that the psychology of the American people seems also to have changed and that this change—a retrograde social harbinger of social upheaval to come—may outlast the result of this election. That is why The New Yorker described Trump as the most “dangerous jester let loose on the American political stage”. The New York Times said Trump has probably perpetrated “lasting damage to the country, and politicians from both parties should recoil from him and his cynical example”.
The Washington Post cried out: “Never has a Presidential candidate challenged the legitimacy of the entire electoral enterprise in which he was engaged. It is a dangerous man who lacks respect for American institutions and American democracy. On this central issue Trump has chosen to prove Clinton right.”
Donald Trump has vowed to pass 25 Executive Orders (which do not need immediate Congressional sanction)—and mark these words—to “erase the Obama administration”
In Washington D.C., I was recently in conversation with the celebrated American author and Kennedy family biographer Laurence Leamer who has just finished a rapidly selling satire on Trump called The President’s Butler. He wondered whether the media’s editorializing so blatantly about Trump could backfire and produce a sympathy wave for him. “Why not just let people see him for himself and let him self-destruct?” Larry asked.
Jack Mitchell, a former Senate staff director, who was part of this conversation, said that Trump’s candidacy had “shamed America’s image on the world stage”.
I think both raise excellent points. But my view is that the American press, for the most part, while not doing Trump any favors, is certainly doing America a favor for boldly standing up and proclaiming that what Trump stands for is retrogressive and demeaning and militates against the very idea of a progressive America.
Trump represents what Dr Deepak Chopra calls the “dark forces” of America which always bubble under the surface but are kept in check by the power of light. This is indeed a Manichaean view of American politics but it holds good for this election.
Jorge Ramis, the Spanish head of Univision TV, who was forcibly evicted from a Trump press conference in a blatant show of anti-Hispanic racism, calls this race a “plebiscite on Trump”. It is once again America’s McCarthy moment. Senator Joseph McCarthy was an inquisitorial witch-hunter with a cult following, who virtually created a reign of terror between 1950 and 1954 condemning thousands of Americans as Communists and “spies” and ruining them.
This tyrant who threatened American democracy like no other was brought down, ultimately, not by the electoral process but by brave voices, among them Edward R. Murrow of CBS News, in the American Press. Nixon would never have been exposed had not it been for The Washington Post.
Ultimately, Trump is a cult leader rather than a politician. That is why he ran his campaign, not with the help of the Republican establishment, which helped create him and now is trying to back away from their Frankenstein, but with his hardcore supporters.
Who are these hardcore supporters? They are mostly white, “middle Americans” who feel that the Washington elites and bankers have rigged the system against them to profit from minority vote banks, conspiratorial bankers (read Jews), immigrants (mostly Latinos and Mexicans) who are robbing them of their jobs, international trade treaties which have destroyed American manufacturing and appeasement of Muslims.
The rallying cry: “Make America Great (read “White) Again” is aimed especially at Obama. Trump’s cult supporters, unmoved by all his vile talk and pornographic behavior with women, believe that it was an establishment conspiracy, of which they are the victims, to elect America’s first black President eight years ago. They have never reconciled to Obama’s black Presidency, and politically, though their voices were heard through the ultra-right Tea Party movement, Sarah Palin was not a leader who could galvanize them.
Trump has finally empowered this group as a force in national politics outside the fold of the two parties. He has carefully cultivated the twin evils of bigotry and misogyny and elevated them to the political stage at a national level. The subliminal message is, first they gave you a “nigger” as President, and now they’re trying to thrust the first woman. Don’t let them give you a double whammy! (After all, women are nothing more than objects powerful men have a right to “grab by the p***y and kiss forcibly.)
This is not speculation. Wiping out the legacy of the first Black Presidency (of which Hillary is an integral part) is actually a campaign pledge. Trump has vowed to pass 25 Executive Orders (which do not need immediate Congressional sanction)—and mark these words—to “erase the Obama administration”. (Read: wiping out the legacy of the first non-white President whom he accused of not having been born in the US and faked his birth certificate, until he was proven wrong).
What does “wiping out” this legacy mean? Among other things, withdrawing from the Paris Climate Change agreement (Trump says global warming is a hoax); suspend the Syrian refugee program; withdraw from NATO and allow Japan to arm itself with nukes; support Putin’s moves in Syria; play footsie with North Korea; break the peace deal with Iran; set up a new deportation force to harass non-white Americans; build a wall all along the Mexican border; appoint three new Supreme Court judges who think like him so he can dismantle Obama’s progressive legislation such as universal healthcare and tax and labor reforms, reverse previous rulings on abortion rights for women and gun control and beat all legal challenges in the Supreme Court.
The spectre of an unrepentant serial groper as President (who has now threatened to sue all the nine women who have publicly described sexual assaults at his hands) may have turned the tide of young, enlightened people and his own party’s true conservatives against him, but they have had zilch impact on his cult followers (many of whom are members of the rabidly white Ku Klux Klan), some of whom profess on TV that if Hillary becomes President “we’ll take out that b**** physically.”
This is only a natural corollary to what their national hero has been saying. His is the first Presidential campaign in history to proclaim from the national stage that if he wins, he will imprison his rival, and if he loses, he will not accept the verdict. In this context, he has appealed to his followers to man all the polling booths, especially in minority voting areas.
Analysts see this as a calibrated tactic with undercurrents of violence. His motive is to scare minority voters away from the booths on polling day because of a fear of violence, hoping that a lower turnout may go in his favor.
Trump’s appeal has been through his crafting a cleverly disguised persona—that of a slumdog billionaire; a poor country boy who made the American dream come true for himself through hard work. And now the same American rags-to-riches possibility is being withheld from other white Americans who have become the victims of an Establishment conspiracy hatched by blacks, Jews, liberal Democrats, uppity women, gays and international bankers.
The truth is that Trump was born in the lap of luxury in wealthy Long Island, a suburb of New York, where his father was a real estate magnate who gave Trump $14 million to start his own business. Trump’s modus operandi was to borrow money from bankers and partners, erect towers bearing his name (like a franchise) and never pay back the borrowed money. He would either declare bankruptcy or take his creditors to court and spend millions of dollars in lengthy litigation. A recent survey showed Trump is currently embroiled in some 3,500 lawsuits going back to over a decade. And after having admitted to being an income tax dodger (“that’s smart”, he said during a recent debate), he has also become the first Presidential candidate to refuse to divulge his tax returns.
The fear among foreign diplomats is that Trump is completely unpredictable, that as Chief Executive he may easily run amok as he has shown in his campaign. What he says about the India-Pakistan equation today, he may change at the drop of a hat tomorrow. American diplomats are worried that he is making a fool of himself internationally and that America is losing its moral authority. Hillary’s charges that her internal campaign strategy emails were leaked to Trump via Wikileaks through Russian cyberhacks has for the first time in history raised the frightening possibility of a “foreign hand” trying to manipulate American domestic politics through a gullible Presidential candidate.
There is little doubt that these factors—crooked business practices, misogyny, xenophobia, bigotry, disrespect for the constitution, contempt for his own party leaders—may cause a seismic shift away from the Republican Party. The very idea of American nationhood is based on the inflow and accommodation of immigrants and refugees, civil rights, the supremacy of the constitution and equal rights to opportunity. Without these precepts, American foreign policy would be totally bankrupt and devoid of moral credibility.
But Trump would have his supporters believe that these are the very principles which have dragged America down and destroyed their dreams. They believe him and will continue to do so after the elections. They may not be in sufficient numbers to see him through. But they have been empowered and they will still be around following their Pied Piper of Grievance Politics.
Lead Illustration: UdayShankar