-Donald Trump’s Biggest Lie: His Promise to Unify America
Democrats can barely keep up with the anger of their own grassroots supporters
Has there ever been a growlier president than Donald Trump? He is the new scary clown, lacing slander and bile with quips about the athleticism of his own brain. He laps up the love while brandishing a rhetorical buzz-saw at his enemies. That’s the media, mostly, but also America’s trading partners. Even its purported allies. He is still hitting out at Hillary, for heaven’s sake.
In his speech to CPAC, the annual confab of establishment Republican conservatives, he left a trail of corpses, Paris among them. He told the story of a friend who once loved the place but stopped going a few years ago. “Paris isn’t Paris any more,” the person apparently told him. Translate: the people in Paris have given up berets, its streets are no longer strewn with onions.
Germany and Sweden were in receipt of insults too, but in fact it’s the whole world that should be affronted if not downright scared. His nationalism was given fresh flight. “There is no such thing as a global anthem, a global currency, or a global flag,” he boomed. “We are Americans and the future belongs to us… American is coming back, and it’s roaring and you can hear it.”
We can hear him, anyway. You have to rejoice that America still has a system of civilian government. Though notice he now has three generals to join him in the Situation Room when the world goes awry: HR McMaster, as his new (and second) National Security Adviser; plus Defence Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of Homeland Security John F Kelly.
Mix his pugilism with his fascination for weapons and see what we get. “We don’t win any more,” he told the crowd, smiles of naked adoration pasted on their faces in a hotel ballroom just south of Washington.
“When was the last time we won? Do we win a war? Do we win anything? … We’re gonna win big, folks”. Did he have any particular war in mind?
His jibes at the press revealed fresh undertones of authoritarianism. Reporters, he averred, should no longer be able to quote unnamed sources in their stories. And then he had this warning for the media, us striving to shed light on the spasms of his White House: “It doesn’t represent the people, it never will represent the people and we’re going to do something about it.” What is he proposing here, if not some kind of gagging?
His worst joke may be the one about unifying the country. He said that during his inauguration, if you can remember a thing about it. (It seems like a year ago, doesn’t it?) “We’re going to unify our country,” he said at a concert on the eve of his swearing-in.
It’s tragic because he could do that, if he wanted to. He won for a reason. His victory was legitimate, nurtured by a real wave of public disenchantment with the dysfunctions of an elitist government. His job after his election was not to crow about the size of his victory – erroneously, mostly – and not to fight old battles. It was, surely, to ease the nerves of those who didn’t vote for him and explain why the change he represented would be a positive and cleansing thing.
Many of Trump’s speeches do contain elements of surprising moderation. A slight hush fell on CPAC when he emphasised that while he means to gut regulations in America, he wants to preserve those he that thinks are sensible, for instance, for the environment and workplace safety.
But Trump is not your ordinary human. He is a ginger cat who needs to be stroked but also can’t wait to get into the alley and fight. And as he does so, he invites more polarisation, not less. Far from settling down to a different vision of government that may have plenty to recommend it, America instead is caught in a moment of deep political tumult. The more Trump says and the more he does, the more he manages to make those who didn’t vote for him fume and rage.
The resistance army is growing daily. It began with the Women’s March in Washington after inauguration day and burst forth again this week at town hall meetings held by Republicans in their home districts. The fury hit them like a hurricane. This weekend, 100 rallies will be held across the land to protest the Republicans’ pledge, repeated again by Trump at CPAC, to gut Obamacare (never mind they still have no plan to replace it).
The Democrats, meanwhile, can barely keep up with what’s happening. There is this massive surge of energy and anger from the progressive left and the party must find a way somehow to bottle it. The grassroots are demanding that the Democrats in Washington do whatever it takes to thwart Trump, including set an impeachment process in motion. But how much can they do, really? The Democrats are in the minority and can start little on their own.
Doing what some had argued for just a few weeks ago – seeking out areas of possible common ground with Trump, like infrastructure investment, and peeling off a few moderate Republicans to join them – doesn’t appear to be an option any more. It will be oppose, oppose, oppose. That, after all, is what the Republicans on the Hill did to Barack Obama for eight years.
This is the weekend when the much-depleted Democratic Party must get up and dust itself off. It will happen first at a meeting of Democrat governors in Washington – and there are only 17 of them left – and, more critically, at the annual meeting of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in Atlanta, where votes will be cast for a new chairperson.
The front-runner in Atlanta is Thomas Perez, the former Obama Labour Secretary. He may be imperilled by the current commotions, however. While he has a fine record of progressivism, he will be seen by some among the 448 DNC voters as belonging to the party’s own establishment and wrong for this moment. The mood calls instead for his closest rival Keith Ellison, the first Muslim to be elected to Congress, or Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana.
Whoever takes the DNC tiller, the future seems already set, not by them but by the tomcat occupying the Oval Office, whose appetite for adulation is eclipsed only by his need to scrap.