The joke was supposed to be over by now. Oh, look, we said. It’s another plutocrat running on the Republican platform, promising that all those tax cuts for the rich will kick in any day now, and promising to overturn every scrap of progress made in the name of liberalism. But he’s a fool. He’s been bragging about foreign business entanglements for 30 years. He’s been sued thousands of times. He doesn’t stand a chance.
Well, we know how that turned out. What felt in the beginning like a practical joke or social experiment is now a full-blown disaster not merely for America, but for democracy in general. It’s absurd, and it’s confusing — as much for us as it must be for our friends watching from across the pond.
America has a history of relapse. We don’t learn from our mistakes as quickly as we used to. Our pattern is taking one leap forward and two steps back, but reality is beginning to sink in with even the staunchest Trump supporters. There now appear to be three kinds of Trumpists left.
The first kind is the folks who never knew anything about politics to begin with and who vote with their guts instead of their heads. They stopped listening to Trump after he promised to ‘drain the swamp’ and put ‘the people’ back in control of their own destinies. And because they stopped listening, they also didn’t notice when, mere moments after the inauguration, this administration began attempting to dismantle the Federal government.
Remember: Trump didn’t promise to end democracy in the West — he vowed to make it more accountable. These people voted for him because they heard him say things no other ‘professional’ politician had ever said and because he gave lip service to problems that have gone unsolved for generations. If they still consider themselves fans of Trump, it’s because they may not have the luxury of scrutinising his every move.
For the record, this is the type of voter the American Democratic Party has unforgivably been neglecting for a long while. If the politically clueless voted for Trump, it’s because the Democrats have a communication problem — not merely because Trump has learned to speak Populist.
The second type of Trump supporter you’ll find in the wild is, well, let’s be honest — they’re Hillary Clinton’s ‘deplorables’. Was it cruel of her to lump the first kind of Trump supporter (the merely mistaken) in with the second kind (the actively awful)? Yes — but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t partially right.
Any number of polls have confirmed that Trump’s supporters believe some truly heinous things. He didn’t accidentally call these people out of the woodwork — he specifically targeted them and their grievances deliberately, and either didn’t care about not having a plan or assumed he could make it up as he went. Either way, what he delivered was false hope.
But now, there’s a third type of Trump fan emerging. It’s one which our brothers and sisters in the UK know only too well right now: the heartbroken, the embarrassed and the regretful. Before Trump clinched the election, the global cause of democracy had already been dealt a savage blow by Britain’s EU referendum. The less said here about that quagmire the better, but it didn’t take long for Brexit regret to kick in after folks got wise to the fact that virtually the entire case for Brexit was built on a mountain of shameless lies.
Trump made similar grand and sweeping promises as a candidate — promises we never should have taken seriously, given the man’s long history of looking out exclusively for himself and the power brokers he surrounds himself with. If only a slightly larger bloc of American voters was inquisitive and interested in the truth, Candidate Trump would merely be an unsavory lingering aftertaste from the 2016 election.
But too many of us aren’t any of those things. And so here we are.
Now, as we’ve watched Trump fill up the swamp he helped drain, choose appointee after appointee to helm government offices they hate and want to destroy, turn a blind eye toward the looming catastrophe of climate change and stump for a disgusting ‘health’ ‘care’ ‘plan’ that would leave a trail of dead and bankrupt Americans after promising coverage ‘for everybody’, even some of the most hard-headed Trump supporters are having second thoughts.
I wish it had happened sooner. I wish the media had done their due diligence and called Trump out for what he truly was instead of airing his poisonous speeches, treating him like a harmless cartoon character and giving him billions of dollars in free advertising.
Like it or not, we all made this monster — and to our friends across the pond, I’m truly sorry for that. I’m hurting, I’m embarrassed and I’m angry that reasonableness has flown the coop for a while. Americans have been failing at politics for a very long time, and Trump is merely the latest symptom.
In fact Trump himself now appears to be just as lost as the folks who got him elected, and seems just as susceptible to misinformation and propaganda. He is a walking, talking indictment of nearly everything that’s wrong with America.
Even us liberals who shouted the sky was falling are guilty to a certain degree — guilty of not taking the threat seriously and, in some cases, guilty of placing protest votes for impossible third-party candidates instead of taking our medicine and voting for a woman who, even if she could never have been a perfect president, would almost certainly not have delivered us to this threshold of calamity.
Friends, we’re sorry we’ve unleashed this brute on the world. With any luck, this is as dark as things will need to get for a while — because the silver lining of this is that people are waking up in a big way. Folks my age want to see a Social Security check sometime in our lifetimes, and we want a government that will help restore dignity to the people in the world who need our help the most.
We’ll get there. But first, we need to weather the storm and learn some important lessons from our own recent history, including what real resistance actually looks like in a nation that’s never had to deal with a true authoritarian before. One way or another, we’ll make it up to you.
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Following major defeats, the left on both sides of the Atlantic must urgently get stuck into community organising, movement building and political education, argues Joe Guinan
To fully grasp the rise of the new authoritarians, we must engage with psychoanalysis as well as economics, writes Richard Seymour
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