Trump is a symptom, not the cause 19/01/17

Niaz Alam, Dhaka Tribune op-ed 19 January 2017

If it is still true that when Wall Street sneezes, the whole world catches a cold, one shudders to wonder what type of symptoms it may pick up from the inauguration of President Trump.

Xenophobia, protectionism, and attacks on liberal values are undoubtedly on the rise globally, but it would be a mistake to blame their spread on a man so new to politics and running for public office as Donald Trump.

Just six years ago in 2011, while President Obama was vanquishing all foes before him, the new president and first lady were merely much mocked celebrities soaking up the most vicious personal insults comedians could throw at them in shows like “The Roast of Donald Trump.’’

No viewer then could have seriously imagined that this infamously vain, notoriously mercurial personality could ever reach the top of the political pole.

Yet contrary to most predictions, he managed it in record time.

And even worse from the point of view of Democratic Party politicians, it appears for the rest of this year, almost nothing Donald Trump does or can do, short of declaring war on China, is going to surprise voters or make him look worse than we already believe.

Bluster, bigotry, belligerence, and bad taste, Donald Trump lays claim to them all.

But instead of being undermined by such attributes, Donald Trump revels in them and while repelling millions of people, has managed to attract and secure more votes in the places where they mattered the most.

Who knows, he might end up being hailed as more of a genius than a demagogue. But don’t hold your breath. Expectations are low for a reason

Not only that, but by relentlessly attacking the media and behaving in a way that sets expectations beneath rock bottom, Donald Trump has now virtually inoculated himself from mere bad press and scandal.

Throw in the honeymoon period and deference new US presidents tend to attract, and the only way his ratings can go in his first year is up. With Putin clamouring for a special relationship (Russia’s military and intelligence assets don’t make up for its declining demography and falling oil revenues) and Brexiteers knocking on his door every week, there will be no shortage of photo opportunities where the Donald can showcase his fabled brand of deal-making.

Even if these are only for ego and show, they can still be used to make him look better than expected.

And therein lies the rub.

The biggest mistake Democrats can make now is to focus their fire on the president directly.

Inconvenient as it may be, the unpalatable truth is that for a party that has beaten the Republicans in the popular vote in all but one of the seven presidential elections since 1992, the Democrats have even less to show for it in Congress than they did during Ronald Reagan’s heyday.

The picture is bleaker still across the bulk of state governorships and legislatures.

Somehow, the Republican Party, despite being split at the top during the race to the White House, with many of its more moderately inclined senior figures coming out against Trump, is still better organised and ruthless enough to get its vote out around the country.

The very Republican ideologues and vested interests who did so much to impede Obama’s policies and trampled on the Constitution to prevent him nominating a Supreme Court Justice are already the biggest beneficiaries of Hillary Clinton’s lost crusade.

If President Trump’s ego gets bored with pomp, ceremony, and constitutional niceties, or age, and BMI make him resign, it is VP Mike Pence and the rump, and yet still majority Republicans in Congress who will run the show. Lobbies for church, gun, prejudice, and war will rejoice stronger still.

The Democrats’ best option may be to focus on individual mid-term races and nationally wait for the Donald to make enough errors for some of the blame to rub off on his Republican enablers.

Of course, in a country as rich and blessed with natural resources as the US, there is always a possibility that whatever economic policies and/or disasters Trump’s policies bring, he will create enough of a feel-good factor among his fan base to win again in 2020.

Should he manage to do so, and if he delivers on some of his more Bernie-esque pledges to reform campaign finance and drain the swamp, who knows, he might end up being hailed as more of a genius than a demagogue.

But don’t hold your breath. Expectations are low for a reason.

It took decades for money to obliterate common sense in election campaigns and spending.

It took many election cycles for lobbyists and donors to make the entry costs for national politics so high that the concept of politicians not serving vested interests or powerful lobbies or not being plutocrats themselves has become more and more quaint.

It took many presidential terms for Congress to become ever more comfortable with rising income inequalities.

And it took over a century of post-Civil War divisions for the party lines of anti-African American racism to evolve their present day borders. Making it all the easier for the candidate who appeals to such sentiments to nurture a backlash against the first non-white US President.

When the answer to a problem is someone as unlikely as Donald Trump, you know there is a lot more fixing needed than he is ever likely to accomplish.

How did it come to this when Obama left the economy stronger than he found it?

About the only thing Presidents Obama and Trump have in common, apart from one immigrant parent, is that years before either ran for president, they each wrote a best-seller.

Dreams from my Father is cosmopolitan, eloquent, insightful, and moving. Its pages resonate with thoughtful commentaries about identity, post-colonialism, emigration, and race. Its unknown author became a law professor.

The Art of the Deal, meanwhile, is easy to read on a plane. It is quasi-entertaining in a boastful sort of way, but far from the only read of its type.

Its famed multi-millionaire author went bankrupt. Twice. Including somehow losing money on a casino.

Both were elected president at their first attempt.

Only in America.