Trump inauguration dispels myth of US liberalism

2017-01-18 10:03

Let’s face it: The myth of American liberalism evaporates with the inauguration of President Donald Trump on Friday.

While the US voted in its first African American president eight years ago and enthusiastically chanted “Yes we can”, the country switched to a Republican from the fringe of the party – the chant might as well be “No we can’t”.

Unlike the liberalism articulated from Barack Obama, Trump has elected to dig his policy in the hole of ignorance, xenophobia and trickle-down economics.

During his campaign, Trump stigmatised Mexican immigrants, toyed with the idea of criminalising abortion, questioned the validity of climate science and proposed tax cuts for the wealthy (so-called job creators).

But as Obama said in his farewell address in Chicago, the American economy is in a better position than when he took over on the brink of a depression.

Cult of personality

Republican presidential candidate, businessman Donald Trump talks during a campaign stop in Keene, N.H. (Steven Senne, AP)

The fact that Trump was elected had less to do with policy and far more to do with the cult of personality as Candidate Trump essentially bullied other Republican candidates to win the nomination.

He tapped into a deep resentment of “establishment” thinking, while talking up his own abilities as a successful business executive.

This politicking resonates with poorly educated people – the code used is working class – but it’s not as simplistic as that. It’s similar to the view that some people in your Facebook friend list might have: They celebrate the fact that they don’t care about news or politics. The celebration of ignorance has become popular as people increasingly rely on superstition, accelerated by internet speed communication which creates a fertile ground for rumour and speculation.

Evidence is not a requirement.

Trump himself mused – without submitting evidence – that US voting was subject to fraudulent processes, but those concerns seemed to vanish when he won.

Skewed voting system

Most of Trump’s support came from Middle America – mostly rural and socially conservative states such as Texas, Florida and Alabama.

And the voting system designed to favour geography over population has helped Trump win the election, despite losing the popular vote – like Bush before him. Let’s take a cursory look at the US Electoral Voting system: Republican-leaning Texas has 38 Electoral College votes, and a population of roughly 25 million. Compare that to Democrat-leaning California with 55 Electoral College votes and a population of about 37 million. That means that California requires about 670 000 citizens for one Electoral College vote, compared to Texas which requires about 657 000. The numbers are lower for Florida, and North and South Dakota – all Republican-voting states.

But it’s also about the toxic political environment that preys on fears: Fears that “others” will take everything from jobs to girlfriends.

These irrational fears brought out the vote for Trump, but not fears about the crumbling US infrastructure, climate change or fragile economy.

Also, Trump has still not submitted tax returns, breaking a tradition that goes back to Harry Truman and even his vice president Mike Pence released his returns from 2015 going back to 2006.

Indeed, Trumps’ Republicanism is vastly different from Republican presidents like Dwight Eisenhower.

Despite being a fiscal conservative, Eisenhower expanded social security and increased the minimum wage for Americans.

In the Trump era, House Speaker Paul Ryan and others want to gut social programmes, but are happy to lower taxes for the wealthy. Trump has also said he would increase spending on the US military – already with a budget of around $640bn according to the Brookings Institute. US spending on its military is already more than the next eight nations’ spending combined, but spending on the military is re-enforced because of a fearful climate. Going back to Eisenhower, he was the president who warned in his farewell address: “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

While most may be familiar with his famous quote, few remember that he warned against a passive population that would give up liberty and the democratic process.

As Trump gets his hands on the nuclear codes, it is best to hope that he shows more restraint than he does with his Twitter rages and responds adequately to the words of Joe Biden: “Just grow up.”

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