Monday, February 20, 2017

Trumpism: The Message

Donald J Trump promised he was going to be a 'different' President, none of us quite imagined 'how different?' Born into privilege, and not having held public office and his lack of finesse were givens that were known and not a revelation. Trump is not an avid student of constitutional law, like Obama, or holds a legacy of political inheritance, like Bush, or carries the charisma of a Kennedy, or the vision of Regan, but we all hope, somewhere within him is a philosophy of governance waiting to express itself. Thirty days into the Presidency the Trump administration has just not kicked out of campaign mode, and in more ways than one has shown weaknesses in its administration that wrestle logic.

Yes there is no denying that Trump spoke for the disfranchised workers, mostly white working class, and he spoke to them, during the election, with a political incorrectness that they liked and identified with. To them the ills of their economic and social plight lay with the Chinese and the Mexicans, and their insecurities came from the threat of Islamic terrorism. Trump, a candidate for the highest office, was speaking things they spoke in bars, he was not the smooth talking intellectual who has spoken to them for decades before. The fact his message was rhetoric, lacking in substance and policy, did not matter, the man was going to clean the 'swamp' in Washington and in some miraculous way change their destiny in their little hometown was all that mattered.

I am reminded of a very brilliant politician from my home country, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who in 1970's stepped up and promised everyone, yes everyone, in Pakistan 'roti, capra and makkan, i.e. 'bread, clothes and a house'. He swept to power in the first general election after years of military dictatorship, even though he did not command the majority in then East Pakistan, he worked to ensure he was in power and not the majority party from the East. Bhutto was a brilliant man, but a man who knew that his promise of bread, clothes and a house were false but it did not matter, he was in power. In sense Trump reminds me of that election promise, minus the intellectual power of a Bhutto.

Sadly the message that Trumpism is bringing to the forefront is that wrestling with the values of the constitution, dismantling the edifice of the separation of powers, judging the judiciary are all fine. Yes Presidents have lied before, yes Presidents have not delivered all their promises but never have they attacked the values of what we, from the outside, see as one of America's greatest virtues, the ability to hold people in public office fully accountable. It was these institutional values that brought Nixon and Bill Clinton to face their failures, not only as Presidents but as people in office expected to hold high standards of personal and moral conduct. While it would be unfair to characterize Donald Trump as a dictator in the making, most certainly there are deeply troubling signs of his definition of his own power, without recognizing its limits, that ought to bother the saner voices amongst us.

Having spent hours listening to his election speeches and those since he took office, one cannot see even an iota of an effort for the man to become Presidential! One can excuse his style of oratory, one can excuse his hyperbolic gestures, one can even find some of his utterances, (ala Sweden's terror attack last week, which never happened) as amusing, but then Mr. Trump where are the words that carry not a nation only but the world with you. Everything is not a 'deal' and even when you talk of a new deal between the Israeli's and Palestinians, you tell us what two decades ago was proposed by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and endorsed by the Arab League.

This is where the message from President Trump gets all muddled up. Clearly he has no sense of history and certainly not a man who has read much of history or anything at all. His intake of intellectual stimulus supposedly comes from watching cable TV, and his prowess over words is limited to the 140 character or so that Twitter allows! I do not expect President Trump to be an authority on Plato and Socrates, or even America's own political history, but somewhere in those disjointed words I would expect some words of encouragement that we have a President leading the free world with some vision, some political insight that is more than on offer in a run down bar in the middle of nowhere in America.

If the first 30 days have not seen the man change, we can forgive him that, but then four years is a long time to endure this sort of political leadership. His confrontational style has called the press the 'enemy' the judges 'incompetent' and ensured that America's neighbors do not feel they want to be on the same continent. It is only a matter of time, and not too far down this rocky road, when he will clash with the Republican party itself, it is almost as predictable as the sun rising tomorrow. President Trump only you can change the course of this plane, only you can give it stability and direction that instills confidence and to do that you have to take three days off, sit alone and ponder on the simple question of how do you want to lead the nation and the world, and while doing that shut down your Twitter account.

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