10:58:16 am on
Thursday 30 May 2024

What Trump Teaches
RK Samuelson

Ignored, isolated and alone, again, naturally.

"Many forms of government have been tried,” said Sir Winston Churchill, in 1947, “and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends democracy is perfect or all wise. Indeed, [some say] democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried from time to time."

Democracy thus demands attention. Citizens must reflect on the good instances of democracy, learning what will forestall future errors. More important, citizens must scrutinise, recognise and dissect terrible instances of democracy to identify what makes it terrible and thus avoided in future.

Lessons of the Trump presidency.

What might we learn from the Trump presidency? What do his actions or inactions reveal? Mostly, it’s how citizens must be wary and keep a gimlet eye on the president, if democracy is to flourish in America.

After the First World War, US President Wilson, along with British Prime Minister Lloyd George, decided what Europe needed was Anglo-American style democracy. They dismembered empires and created new countries, such as Latvia and Ukraine. Wilson and Lloyd George then imposed Anglo-American style democracy on peoples that had never experienced it and weren’t sure they wanted it.

By the late 1930s,, almost all these countries rejected democracy in favour of more authoritarian rule. In Italy, Mussolini made the trains run on time, drained the Pontine Marshes and cleaned up the Sicilian Mafia. In Germany, Hitler overcame inflation and the depression and, by 1937, achieved full employment. Meanwhile, continental European countries, with democratic politics, were drowning in a sea of ineptness.

German propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, defended authoritarian rule claiming, “The people cannot govern themselves; the people do not want to govern themselves; all they want is a regime that works.” Sadly, his assessment is truer than not and most often than liked.

Now, we learn Goebbels may have had a point. History is repeating or so it seems. Is Trump the problem or just the most noticeable symptom of a government where self-serving politicians are stumbling around in a sea of ineptness, as Americans only want a government that works?

One of the inevitable problems with democratic politics is that hundreds of politicians must try to cobble together a voting majority from dozens of diverse and often antagonistic constituencies. They have to make different promises to different groups and then try to satisfy all of them. Speaking with tongues seldom works.

In such circumstances, honesty and integrity are more of a handicap than an asset. Deceit, deception and delusion might be the road to success in politics. For all the talk of honesty, people may not want to hear the truth.

Just consider the Trump when it comes to truth. Honesty seems to be one of his biggest problems; he lies, incessantly; the Washington Post reports the president lies, on average, 5.5 times a day. A much of what he says may be rude, crude and unpleasant, but it is too often true.

Trump claims there is a crisis on southern border of the USA. Moreover, he suggests, international drug cartels are using that border to smuggle drugs into the country. For this ostensible truth, liberals call him a racist.

Criticism of Trump abound.

Trump promises to get the USA out of endless wars and begins drawing down troops. For this, conservatives accuse him of abandoning allies and making America look weak in the eyes of the world. Yet, consider if we do need a presence in Eastern Europe and the Middle East trying to resolve conflicts extant for more than a thousand years. The Chinese are not sailing naval ships through the Gulf of Mexico, yet we use tax dollars to antagonise China by sending destroyers through the South China Sea.

A member of congress criticizes the President for conditions on the Mexican border. Trump tells him to go home and look at the garbage and rat infested neighbourhoods in his own district of Baltimore. Again, accusations of insensitive boob are lobed at Trump.

The fact is the federal government handed Baltimore eight million dollars to clean up these neighbourhoods. The money quickly disappeared, but the rats and garbage remained. Recall, of course, a member of congress struggles for resources, which, he hopes, local leaders use wisely.

American people want honesty in politics. This means learning to accept that truth is not, necessarily, what they want to hear. Truth is sometimes brutal and not welcome.

Sowing discoed is one way to achieve political success. The Italian poet Dante placed the sowers of discord in the ninth and final Bolgia of hell. There they are brutally torn apart and mutilated by demons, just as they split and mutilated aspects of religion, politics and kinship while they were alive.

In America, today, sowers of discord split us along racial lines; Black against White, Black and White against Asians. They split us on ethnicity, Anglos against Hispanics. They split us along lines of gender and identity, men against women and LGBT against straights. They split us on religion; gentile, Jew, Muslim and non-believer.

Unfortunately, this is now the way American politicians play the game of politics. The success of Trump may be due to that he plays it better than does anyone else. He is not alone.

Take Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, every one of them is playing the same game. It is as if they are all sitting around a table playing poker. You cannot get mad at any of them for walking away, with all the money, at the end of the night.

Many of us can remember a time when Americans and their politicians had more respect for those that disagreed over politics. America and the world have seen far worse times. From ancient Greece and Rome through the medieval time to today, historians report that politics has more to do with deceit and corruption than with integrity and honesty. If we want to climb out of the swamp of ineptness and enjoy some political success, there are some things we must do.

First, we must recognize that because of the internet and transportation the world has become a smaller place. There is no longer any room for 19th Century isolationism. The United States must realise it cannot be the big boss man on every continent, intervening in every dispute, giving orders to other nations and sanctioning those that ignore them. As Henry Kissinger said, “Diplomacy is the art of reconciling what is desirable with what is possible.”

Next, we should also follow additional advice from Dr Kissinger in domestic politics. There needs to be a return to civility and we must at least try to understand differences of opinion. We cannot have hard right Republicans denouncing moderate Republicans as Rinos; hard left Democrats threatening moderate Democrats with primary challenges. The French call this the dissolution of the centre.

Finally, we cannot allow the forces of discord to continue to keep encouraging us to define ourselves as members of antagonistic groups. This will degenerate into tribalism and, perhaps, already has done so. Eventually, it reaches a point where each tribe believes the other tribes are the enemy; tribalism runing amok is one of the greatest causes of violence in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and historically, in America as well.

Trump has no scruples.

Ultimately, what we can learn from the Trump presidency is the fact that he did not invent the game. He simply walked into the political arena, looked around, saw how the game was played and then figured out how to play it better than do his opponents because he has no scruples.

Robert King Samuelson, in his own words, "is a perspiring writer trying to raise his voice above the cackling insolence and fractured language of the bloggery."

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