Donald Trump: The Ugly American, By Kennedy Emetulu
Don’t make a casino of America! Don’t hand over this great nation to this man that the former CIA Chief, General Michael Hayden described appropriately as Vladimir Putin’s “useful fool”. Trump is in this for two reasons and two reasons only. He’s in it for power and his bank balance. He’s thinking of sharing up the world into spheres of influence with Putin while laughing all the way to the bank at America’s expense. Don’t be his fool.
I am not an American, I wouldn’t be voting on November 8; but, as a citizen of a world that has looked up to America since the end of the Second World War, I do have a stake in what happens to America and American democracy. Like me, billions around the world do.
Sure, American democracy can be confusing, even infuriating. Indeed, watching the campaign and listening to each side tackle the other can give you the impression that it’s a race to elect one of the world’s most odious characters as leader of the most powerful nation on earth. But, that is par the course and it’s nothing disqualifying. This is because while the process of leadership succession is part of democracy, it is its everyday practice that essentially and mostly defines it and that is where America excels above all other democracies. That is why lots of people all over the world look up to America, the veritable shining city on a hill, the home of the free. It is the inherent wisdom in democracy that when a government depends that much on the people’s judgment, good or bad, it is more likely to uplift humanity than degrade it.
Oh, let’s be clear, America is no Eldorado. It is not even the best place to live on earth and in some respects, it can be the most dangerous. For instance, there are people living elsewhere around the world who cannot appreciate Americans’ fascination with guns and its political leaders’ seeming helplessness or unwillingness to deal with the root causes of the epidemic of gun violence. America prides itself as the land of the free, but it might not look that way when we watch black people being repeatedly gunned down by the police or when we see the institutional obstacles deliberately constructed to stop people from achieving fairer economic and social advancement. But that is because, like all democracies, America has its own historical underbelly and a lot of its contents will always peep out as old skeletons in every new cupboard.
Democracy never covers up these chinks, it shines light on them, so that the institutions of government and social intervention can be used to correct them as society progresses. That has been the story of America from an aggressive settler society, through slavery, the civil rights movement till today. From George Washington to Barack Obama, its presidents have always been men who strive through policies and personal examples to help create a more perfect union with varying degrees of success. As an article of faith and even with the lack of cultural consensus on several issues, America throughout its history as an independent and democratic nation is always challenging itself to be better. That is the example the world sees and appreciates. Until now.
Today, America the Beautiful is threatened by one man. That man is Donald Trump whose inordinate ambition to be president of the United States has roused the darker side of America that its people and past and present leaderships have collectively worked to consign to history. In an interview with Charlie Rose of the CBS in September, Bono, the Irish musician and social activist spoke for a lot of people around the world when he said: “America is like the best idea the world ever came up with, but Donald Trump is potentially the worst idea that ever happened to America. Potentially. He could destroy it, because of what we are saying, because America is not just a country. Ireland is a nice country; Great Britain is a great country, all the rest it. It’s not an idea. America is an idea and that idea is bound up in justice and equality for all”.
In another forum some years ago, the same Bono had observed that the American Truth is self-evident in the rest of humanity. I was born and named after an American president who was dead almost a year before I arrived. My dad, who never had a college education said he named me after a man whose dream would rule the world long after he was gone. He would quote President John F. Kennedy all day, telling me how the man prophesied about man on the moon, how he wisely averted a world war and how he sacrificed his life to free black people, like Abraham Lincoln before him.
Of course, my dad’s simplification of complex history was not misinformation; it was the American Truth as he interpreted it in his corner of the world, far in the jungle of Nigeria where he worked for a timber company. I grew up on that diet and so did many in my generation all over the world. Though education and exposure made some of us more discerning, to the extent that our own national consciousness developed on the back of informed criticisms of America’s foreign policy, yet we see her role in the world as mostly that of a uniquely benevolent power.
Even though she rose in the days of imperialism, America’s ethos and founding principles abhor colonisation. It gave the world an active belief in democratic governance, free enterprise, individual freedom and racial integration, while sorting out its own internal social turmoils. America rebuilt war-ravaged Europe through the Marshall Plan, championed the establishment of the United Nations, defended the rights of small nations against bigger powers and signaled the decolonisation of much of the world under British and French rule when it pressured both countries to back off the invasion of the Suez Canal in 1956. America stopped the march of Communism against the free world, managed the Cold War effectively without another world war, initiated the talks that eventually led to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, opened up its borders to foreigners to chase the American Dream, championed education, science and technology and for over a hundred years, it has been a leader in entertainment and pop culture. America breathes freedom into the arteries of other nations, sometimes to its own detriment, sacrificing the lives of its young who happily go around the world planting American idealism, because that’s what America does.
So, how do you reconcile the idea of America with a man that believes in waterboarding and worse? How do you square it up with a man who believes in killing the children and relatives of people he has declared to be terrorists, a man who believes that it’s okay to barefacedly steal the natural resources of other nations in the 21st century? Where is the American in a man that proposes an ideological screening test for people of a certain religious faith different from his own when they choose to come to America? How do you deal with a presidential candidate who recommends dipping bullets in pig’s blood to execute Muslims? Are you okay voting for a man who lambastes the American military, claims he knows more than the generals and who unashamedly collected a Purple Heart from a supporter without knowing what it is or its worth or value? He gleefully declared that he “always wanted to get a Purple Heart” and that being gifted it was “much easier” than serving in combat. This is a man who had five deferments to avoid serving in the Vietnam War, which he said was “unpopular”.
Would you vote for a man who encourages a foreign power to launch cyberwarfare against persons and institutions in his own country? Does a man who disrespects NATO and his nation’s allies and who has threatened to rip up longstanding treaties deserve to be president of America? Would you vote for a guy who says he’ll use nuclear bomb on ISIS if they strike American targets and who would not “want to take anything off the table” when it comes to whether or not he would use nuclear weapons in Europe? Would you vote for a fellow who thinks the problem of North Korea and the Middle East can be solved by encouraging nuclear proliferation in Asia and the Middle East? Would you make a president of a man who when asked if he has a priority with regard to the Nuclear Triad, and after being given several clues by the questioner Hugh Hewitt, still had no idea what it was only to respond thus: “I think — I think, for me, nuclear is just the power, the devastation is very important to me”? Would you give the nuclear codes to a man that ignorant, a man who thinks America must use nuclear weapons because that is the reason they are making them? Would you vote for a man who says he wants to be “unpredictable” when it comes to the use of nuclear weapons even as you know that his temperament is suspect? Would you give the nuclear codes to a man who says he wants to “bomb the sh*t” out of people? How great is the idea of sending to the White House a man whose vindictiveness is legendary, who never forgets nor forgives any slight and one who’d fight with everything against even the smallest people?
Would you give the White House to a fellow who calls on citizens to assassinate a political opponent if he loses and who threatens to go to war with journalists when he’s president? Would you give the presidency to a man who disrespects every American governmental institution and the office and the person of the President of the United States of America? Would you vote a man who gleefully diminishes the United States in front of the world and who claims every other nation, big and small, has been cheating the United States because those that make deals on her behalf as leaders are dumb, weak, ineffective and stupid? Would you vote a guy who proclaims himself as the only person that can right all the wrongs in America? Would you cast your vote for a guy who thinks calling ISIS an “Islamic terrorist organisation” helps in fighting terrorism, a man who thinks the fight against terrorism is a religious war? How does voting for the most effective recruiting sergeant for ISIS help in defeating it? Would you vote a man who’s called American soldiers and their allies presently involved in the military operation to take Mosul from ISIS “a group of losers”? Would you take seriously a man who says his great idea about how to defeat ISIS would itself be defeated if he gives Americans an idea of it? Would you vote for a man whose leadership role models are Vladimir Putin and the troubled kid from North Korea?
Are you going to elect a man who has no regard for women, who thinks it’s dangerous empowering them and who only sees them as sexual objects to be grabbed and kissed and demeaned as he wishes? Are you going to help elect a man who believes a woman should be punished for making decisions about her body and her health? Would you elect a man who has no idea of the Constitution of the United States beyond his own interpretation of the Second Amendment? Would you elect someone who wants to return to the old ways with Cuba? Are you okay with someone who preaches violence and who is working up his supporters to go violent if he loses this election?
Indeed, Trump has been described as a uniquely unqualified candidate to be president, but this is not only because of his lack of political experience or his scandalous lack of knowledge about public policy and his unwillingness to learn or listen to good advice. Donald Trump is uniquely unqualified mostly because of the threat he poses to the United States Constitution and its democracy and invariably because of the threat he poses to the world we live in today. While the media story is that Donald Trump has tapped into popular anger against the political establishment, he is certainly not the champion of the ordinary American nor is he the best messenger. He does not represent what the civilised world knows about the American character, which is why, despite the intense efforts of pro-populist hacks to paint him as some revolutionary figure leading a real movement for change in America, he is to most people a huge embarrassment. Decent Americans and less partisan members of the Republican Party know that he is an aberration.
Frankly, to move from Barack Obama to Donald Trump would be a shock to the civilised world. An America that is a client state of Russia would certainly get Ronald Reagan and the Founding Fathers turning in their graves. The Barack Obama presidency is a testament to America’s capacity for self-correction and every discerning American knows that process is still ongoing. Though the economic crisis immediately preceding his election in 2008 is credited with ensuring his election, he was already well on his way principally because of his vision of how he wanted America to be seen in the post-Bush era. Obama’s vision of the world, which Hillary Clinton as his Secretary of State helped him implement during his first term is one where America’s military power is not flaunted and used oppressively against others. His idea of American leadership is one based on soft power, anchored strongly on the trust and goodwill of others who appreciate that though the days of imperialism are over, the world still needs leadership in times of trouble from certain countries, foremost amongst them, the United States. Obama’s worldwide campaign before and after the 2008 election was one framed by him as a projection of America’s ability to listen to the concerns of others, to be part of a team, rather than act unilateralist when international norms are not threatened. Its immediate aim was to reassure communities all over the world where the egregious exercise of American power had seen deep distrust develop (even amongst people who ordinarily would support her) that America is a responsible member of the international community committed to following international law.
Obama quickly brought America in from the cold and repositioned her as a trusted leader of the international community. He won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples”. He is not a peacenik and has never ruled out the use of military force. But, in the exceptional case it is used, it must be to achieve a humanitarian aim, with support from allies and in line with international law. He encourages allies to show initiative, rather than wait for America to set the tone or mission. With a war-weary populace not willing to pump more money into more foreign military ventures, yet keen for America to continue playing its leadership role in the world in pursuit and defence of American interests, Obama’s style was appropriately described as “leading from behind”. But he never had the political support he needed at home as the Republicans, who from day one declared their intention to see him fail as president, negatively redefined leading from behind to mean an abdication of leadership, while declaring his worldwide tour “the begging tour”, even though he was welcomed wherever he went rapturously as he gave great hope to the world after the mess that the jingoistic delusions of George W Bush, Dick Cheney and their neocons had created with the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.
The negative partisanship at home saw the Republicans conjure up the Tea Party to stir up a nativist revolt against constitutional governance in the name of wanting their country back. They then sought to delegitimise Obama by starting the birther movement that questioned his Americanness and place of birth. From that point on, the dream of a post-racial America that Obama’s election was supposed to usher in became stillborn. And Donald Trump was at the centre of it all.
With regard to international affairs, President Obama’s opponents on the right, as represented by Donald Trump, Pat Buchanan, Rep. Mike Rogers and a whole lot of others suddenly became a tribe of American neo-Russians, falling over themselves to declare Putin the overwhelming winner in what they considered a statesmanship face-off with Obama over Syria. For a whole lot of people on the right, Putin had won for them the foreign policy debate they couldn’t win in the 2012 election. Putin himself began to think and act as though he’d just won the Cold War, not minding that the Soviets surrendered decades ago. He was soon using American newspapers to address Americans and their political leaders about Syria, paternalistically warning against military action, preaching human rights, playing leader of the free world, hugging the Pope and claiming he was on a mission from God to save the Christians in Syria.
In fact, to cement his Christian credibility with the American right, his mouthpieces were reminding us that when Putin first met George W. Bush, the first thing he showed him was the aluminium cross he wears. Obama, of course, is the anti-Christ. Though he had made a threat of military action against Bashar al-Assad over his chemical attack on the Syrian civilian population, he never went to Congress. It was a feint. Obama knew he had no chance in the Republican-controlled Congress, he knew the nation was war-weary, but he wanted to ensure two things – one, that al-Assad is dispossessed of his chemical weapons and two, that Russia comes in to begin to bear some responsibility and cost over Syria, as up till that point, its only contribution had been limited to its role via the United Nations, while it secretly armed al-Assad. Obama knew that a threat of military strike against Putin’s client regime in Syria will get him on board, especially as the G20 Summit was a few days away in his hometown of St Petersburg. Obama achieved his two aims and was content for Putin to take the applause from the American right.
But it was the anti-Obama activism that later gave Trump the oomph to put himself forward during the Republican primaries and it was the same anti-Obama message now recalibrated as a general anti-establishment, anti-Washington message that he took to that section of the Republican Party that saw him nominated as the party flag-bearer after they had seized the party by the jugular and turned themselves into its mainstream. Rather than the party of Lincoln following on the report of its 2013 postmortem that accurately pinpointed its problem as its lack of diversity, Donald Trump threw all that out the window running a racist, misogynistic, farcical campaign that harks back to a mythical America controlled by white males with a creepy slogan – “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN”.
From the very beginning, Trump knew it would be difficult to get away with his cynical campaign without scrutiny from the press. To avoid such a scrutiny, Trump, a master manipulator, decided to belligerently shape the media environment to his taste. He knew the value of his candidacy as a non-traditional politician and a reality TV personality already known to the American public. He knew everyone would be keen to see how much of a success he’d make of politics, even with all the doubts. He decided early what his message would be – a concoction of some right-wing, pie-in-the-sky ideas marinated in nativist platitudes masquerading as conservative policies. He then unashamedly frames these with aggressive lies that play mainly to the blue-collar, white, working class constituency without college education. Trump understands that amongst them are the emotionally fragile, loud and uninformed types who’d pound the pavements, happily planting his lies with soldierly and missionary zeal. These are to be his stormtroopers and they are the cynosures of all eyes at his rallies. Of course, Trump did not create the backbone of the support he has now when he came into politics, activists of the Hard Right conservative movement did over the years mainly through their media. All Trump is doing is legitimising it and riding on it as some Trojan horse against traditional mainstream politics and politicking.
He decided early that he has two core institutional enemies – the political establishment and the media. His enmity with the political establishment is real, not because he’s different from traditional politicians in character, but because most politicians in the political system would be weary of a moneybag who hasn’t paid his dues at any elective level just jumping in to claim the ticket of a major political party. However, as I implied earlier, his enmity with the media is deliberately contrived to avoid public scrutiny as much as possible considering the type of message he has and the way he wants to sell it.
To that extent, Trump’s use of nativist populism and lies to fashion the foundational principles of his campaign is primarily aimed at baiting the press. He knows that once he puts out an incredible amount of lies, the press would find it quite difficult to effectively call him out on all or most of them and whenever they do, he himself would effectively use any challenge against him as a victim’s cudgel in a pushback against them, having already created the enmity between his campaign and them. Thus, when Trump puts journalists in pens in his rallies and throws insults at them and encourages his supporters to do the same, when he accuses them of being in the bag with big business and the Clinton campaign, he is not only trying to group them with the political establishment he rails against, the establishment that he and his supporters are supposedly rebelling against, he is also trying to create an atmosphere – one of fear.
The use of fear as a messaging or campaigning tool by Trump is as Machiavellian as it is divisive. Trump understands that fear works like a treat with conservatism in a moment of insecurity and uncertainty, so his multiple-tined messages paint a very dark picture of America – the economy is bad and all American institutions charged with the economy are conspiring with the Obama administration not to tell us the truth of how bad it really is; the military is being scandalously weakened and America’s national security is severely compromised; the immigrants are flocking in through America’s open borders and they are coming to rape, drug and kill Americans; political correctness is killing America; “places like Afghanistan are safer than our inner cities”, Islam hates America and ISIS is coming and so on and so forth. His message requires that people first lose confidence in America in order to see the Armageddon he sees. That’s what he expects when he says America is weak, America does not win anymore or America is in a “death spiral”
Of course, you’ll need a level of anger to buy into his message, but his hope is that you’ll channel that anger into supporting him, Donald Trump, the man who has not been part of the mess America is supposedly in today, the man who will make America great again (whatever that means). With his anti-establishment message already sidelining traditional politicians, fear riles his base and makes them do negatively unconventional things that he pledges to defend as a way of further creating that dichotomy between his supporters and the supporters of the supposed failed politicians of the establishment. Fear brings out the worst in people and that’s precisely how Trump likes it.
With this strategy, Trump has succeeded in silencing the scandalised political establishment within the Republican Party, while still dependent on the party machinery to fight the general election on his own terms. While to non-Republicans the phenomenon of a significant section of the party establishment and its flag-bearer marching to different beats might seem funny and unhelpful towards a general election, Trump is happy to keep that facade going until the election, because he understands the general sentiments against Washington and establishment politicians nationally. Even while being one of the vilest politicians and insiders around, he manages to create the false impression that he is an outsider coming to shake up Washington principally because he’s never been in public service. Rather than call him out on some of his claims, a huge section of the press is entranced and immobilised by the brazenness and audacity of some of his utterances and actions, which invariably led to accusations of false balance earlier in the campaign. But the larger section of the press has since wised up to his antics, which has seen him getting increasingly more frustrated in the closing days of the campaign.
The fear is not that in a free and fair election, Donald Trump might win. Polls after polls have confirmed and reconfirmed that overwhelming majority of Americans of voting age repudiate him. The danger lies in complacency or voter apathy. Mr. Trump has built an army of discontented citizens, indoctrinated to believe that the system is rigged against them – citizens so much out of touch with changing America, but who are fiercely committed, by hook or by crook, to seeing Mr. Trump in the White House. It’s quite clear that if Democrats do not turn out their base in full, Mr. Trump can steal a victory, even if he does not win the popular vote, because of the lies-fuelled enthusiasm of his base. This is where we are.
That is why it is incumbent upon all true American patriots to understand the dangerous nuisance that is Mr. Trump and ensure he does not get what he wants through the ballot box. November 8 must be seen as America versus Donald Trump. He must not only be beaten at the polls; he must be beaten decisively and his allies running for Congressional seats must also be beaten comprehensively so as to send a clear message that America will not tolerate their lazy, dangerous and nation-destroying politics. They must be told that they cannot be allowed to be clogs in the wheel of progress anymore, whether in the White House or at Capitol Hill.
Trump might promise to tear up the NAFTA, return American jobs from overseas and make America great again (even when he cannot seem to explain how he will do these), but anyone who votes on the strength of these promises without a consideration of Mr. Trump’s character and his real actions wouldn’t be doing themselves or America any good. All you need to do is look closely at his record. Would you vote for a guy in the belief that he will make the economy work for you when as far back as the halcyon days of 1995, he was declaring a loss of almost a billion dollars and has refused to pay basic income tax for decades because he thinks he’s smart? He lives a gilded existence with his family but is weighed down by hundreds of millions of dollars in debts to American and foreign banks and assorted creditors, while leaving a trail of several failed ventures with thousands in tears and with over 3,500 cases in federal and state courts during the past three decades. Don’t make a casino of America! Don’t hand over this great nation to this man that the former CIA Chief, General Michael Hayden described appropriately as Vladimir Putin’s “useful fool”. Trump is in this for two reasons and two reasons only. He’s in it for power and his bank balance. He’s thinking of sharing up the world into spheres of influence with Putin while laughing all the way to the bank at America’s expense. Don’t be his fool. Vote wisely.
Kennedy Emetulu can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org.