As the shutters come down on 2017, there is no escaping the fact that it was the year of Donald Trump.
His achievements since his inauguration in January were considerable if morally reprehensible. He has only managed one major legislative success — on completely false pretences — but he has rewritten the rules of politics, certainly stateside. He has plumbed new depths of deception for an elected leader.
Until his arrival politicians avoided bare-faced lies on the basis it would impact on their credibility. Trump has made a political virtue of lying. He has, to some extent, negated the role of the media as the fourth estate of government. This he has achieved through his force of personality and grasp of mass communication.
His election has been tainted by evidence which suggests, to put it at its most benign, that elements of his campaign team tic-tacked with Russian figures who were anxious that Trump defeat Hillary Clinton. In different circumstances, with different protagonists, such contacts would be decried far and wide as treason.
To this extent, Donald Trump has managed to create an alternative reality for a huge swathe of the American people. That’s some achievement for one individual in the first year he has ever spent in elected office.
The frightening thing is that despite his year of living recklessly, he can still draw support from a huge reservoir of voters. There is little sign of buyer-regret among most of those who voted for him to ‘Make America Great’ again. Take three constituent parts of the base which despite all that has emerged in the last 12 months, still hold him in the highest regard.
The religious right is dominated by evangelicals. Writing in the New York Times a fortnight ago, evangelical commentator, Amy Sullivan, put it like this: “To hear the Christian right tell it, President Trump should be a candidate for sainthood — that is, if evangelicals believed in saints.”
She quoted Franklin Graham, the son of evangelist Billy Graham: “Never in my lifetime have we had a Potus (President of the United States) to take such a strong outspoken stand for the Christian faith like Donald Trump.”
She also quoted a well-known Dallas pastor, Robert Jeffress: “God intervened in our election and put Donald Trump in the Oval Office for a great purpose.”
These observations would be understandable except for the little detail that Trump has not an iota of religion. The only divine being whom he worships is himself. Unlike all recent presidents, he does not attend Church on any basis other than for show. If he were not Donald Trump he would be regarded in that constituency as a class of heathen.
Instead, the religious right sees somebody who will give them whatever they want because they are central to his prefabricated power base. And that’s good enough for them.
White working-class votes flocked to Trump. They saw in him somebody who was promising to turn back the clock to a time when they had security and the knowledge that their children had every chance of scaling the socio-economic heights beyond their reach.
Yet Trump’s only legislative success since taking office — the tax bill passed the week before Christmas — is designed to benefit the wealthiest, such as Trump himself, at the expense of the working class. The Washington-based Tax Policy Centre has crunched the numbers which show that when the tax plan has played out by 2027, those on lowest incomes will be paying more tax while the top 1% of earners will benefit by $40,000 and nearly all the top 0.1% will benefit to the tune of $200,000. The man who has portrayed himself as a champion of the working class is taking their money to give to the rich. However, he talks the talk, and for many, that’s enough to be going on with.
Then there are those who see Trump as ‘authentic’. To this constituency, he was the candidate who called it as he saw it. For some, this meant he wasn’t afraid to play the race card, but there were many who just thought that he was a breath of fresh air.
The website Politifact, which has won a Pulitzer prize for its work, has enumerated 58 occasions in which Trump issued false facts since assuming office.
These involve everything from claiming that the attendance at his inauguration was the largest ever to declaring recently that black home ownership is at the highest it has ever been in history. It has actually fallen every year since 2004.
Among these are casual lies and shocking lies, but what they have in common is that no other politician who even attempt to get away with them. When lies, errors and mistakes are pointed out, Trump never acknowledges that he is wrong. He knows that his supporters will just believe it as he calls it because he drips authenticity.
A large swathe of the American people refuses to accept that the man they voted for is the most unsuitable person ever to occupy the White House.
Two questions arise out of Trump’s success in creating this scenario. The first is how desperate are a huge slice of the American people that they are willing to invest their hopes and dreams in such a narcissistic fraud? Trump’s rise reflects on the rag order in which now resides the American Dream. The great promise that hard work and sacrifice would ensure that the next generation got to live a little is gone. Liberal democracy, as interpreted by the American constitution and political structures is no longer delivering. The system is broken.
Such a milieu was made for Trump to muscle in on, retailing fears, exploiting cultural and racial differences, purporting to feel the anger and disenchantment of the disaffected. And so it has turned out.
The other question is whether all of this is an aberration? Will the American electorate finally see Trump for what he is and acknowledge his election was a mistake, notwithstanding the problems that do exist? Will he either be impeached or leave in ignominy at the end of a term of office?
Liberal democracy is under serious threat as never before. Trump is the most startling manifestation of the siege. There are others such as Brexit, and the rise of strongmen retailing totalitarian solutions in Eastern Europe. If those who believe in liberal democracy as a force for good don’t get their act together then far from being an aberration, Trump may be a harbinger of a new and dangerous form of politics.
Let’s hope that 2018 will be a real wake-up call. And on that cheery note, a Happy New Year to one and all.