“MAYBE WE PUSHED TOO FAR,” mused Barack Obama following the election of Donald Trump, according to a recent New York Times article. “Sometimes I wonder whether I was ten or 20 years too early.”
Tempting though it might be to share this delusion, the truth is far more prosaic. If you raise expectations to the level that Obama did when running for the presidency, if you encourage all the hopes of progressive politics to be poured into your candidacy, then when you spectacularly fail to deliver, you leave your supporters disoriented, demoralised and demobilised.
“Keeping hope alive” was noticeably absent from the 2016 presidential election campaign - other narratives triumphed, with their misdirection and scapegoats.
Trump may be narcissistic, self-pitying and repellent, but power is attractive and there are many in the US who are happy to ignore the personality defects, because they like the programme. In fact, the vast majority of the Republican political establishment is queuing up to serve the president. Oil companies, who get to build the pipelines and drill offshore, love him, as does the military industrial complex, who benefit from the increase in military spending and the free hand to bomb in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. Trump’s contempt for most of humanity is expressed by his relentless aerial campaigns of mass destruction. Thousands have been killed in Raqqa, Syria, alone, with more missiles fired into the city than anywhere since the Vietnam war.
And for a president who lost the popular vote in 2016 by nearly three million votes, yet won the election thanks to the US’s 18th century electoral system, he’s making progress: the Democrat poll lead over the last year has all but melted away. This will only embolden him, both domestically and abroad. There is a very real danger of initiating military conflict with Iran and he is considering a “military option” in Venezuela.
It may not come to that if punitive sanctions take effect. Chancellor Merkel said European companies would stay in Iran, whereupon every major German corporation pulled out, tempted by the incentives the US was offering for compliance.
As for his falling out with the G7, Trump looks at the trade surpluses other countries have with the US and thinks he has little to lose. As Yanis Varoufakis, former Syriza finance minister argues, “He might as well blow up existing multilateral conventions and build from scratch a new global order resembling a wheel, with America its hub and all other powers its spokes - an arrangement of bilateral deals that ensures the US will always be the largest partner in each.”
No surprise then, that others who find Britain’s multilateral trade arrangements with the EU tiresome might find this attractive. Boris Johnson is the latest to join in the normalisation of Trump. “I am increasingly admiring of Donald Trump,” he said recently. “I have become more and more convinced that there is method in his madness.” Johnson reveals his true colours here, less in his support for Trump’s disruptive behaviour that always dominates the airwaves and sets the agenda, more for his approval of the authoritarianism that lies behind this.
Trump has more admirers elsewhere. He boasts of a “great relationship” with the Philippines’ brutal President Duterte, whose ‘war on drugs’ has seen thousands of citizens killed extrajudicially. Authoritarians in Latin America, Asia and Africa feel strengthened: if Trump can laugh at human rights, climate change and ethnic and religious minorities, why can’t they? Across Europe too, xenophobic nationalists who have gained power for the first time in decades feel licensed by Trump, whether it’s the Austrian government closing mosques and expelling imams, or the Italian leader of the far right League, now interior minister, promising to deport thousands of migrants. “Italy first,” he barks, echoing Trump.
So when we march against Trump, we are also marching against much more. This includes a Tory government that abuses the human rights of migrants, presides over a Britain where four million people now use food banks, gives millions of taxpayers’ money to failed privatisation ventures and would love the freedom to treat many of our citizens with the open contempt that Trump deploys for his.
But we should also beware of Trump’s liberal critics, many of whom simply want a return to stable American leadership, a renewal of the ‘special relationship’, a more consistent Cold War line against Russia and global free markets that allow richer countries to dominate poorer ones and depress wage rates at home. Mobilising globally against Trump is a hugely popular cause that can put millions on the streets: all the more vital that the voices of those most oppressed by this most oppressive president are heard, loud and clear.