It is sometimes hard to locate the genesis of a catastrophe. Most examples of societal breakdown are preceded by a long period of decay, before a moment of truth sets a country on an irreversible downward plummet.
The French Revolution came about after years of costly wars, leading to a government near bankruptcy requiring higher taxes during a time of severe famine, in turn caused by several years of failed harvests. Like America, disparity in wealth stratified French society, and led to intense resentment from the starving masses. This eventually boiled into bloody revolution. A vast gap between rich and poor rips a society apart.
When Hitler rose to power in Germany, he took advantage of a broken nation with weak democratic institutions, and was able to quickly crush all opposition. However, Hitler’s rise was made specifically through a populist appeal to make his country great again, after years of reparations (for the First World War) crippled Germany’s economy and collapsed its currency. Most people in Germany in the 1930s weren’t bad human beings, but they were desperate, and hungry, desperate people are powerfully motivated. That motivation can be harnessed, for good or evil.
The seeds of Donald Trump’s 2016 election victory were first sown during the presidency of Ronald Reagan, and his second term in office in particular. Reagan’s neoliberal policies (of low taxation, high defense budgets, and the removal of regulation and trade barriers) were continued by George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton (in one way or another), but it was the events of September 11, 2001 that allowed new President George W. Bush to accelerate the rush to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. Perversely, the financial crash only added more impetus to this national fleecing.
The astonishing collapse of America’s huge middle class took place in this post-9/11 world. In 2000, just 33 percent of Americans identified as working class. By 2015 that number was 48 percent, or half of the country. Nearly fifty million people (out of around 320 million) live below the poverty line in the richest country on earth. The economy has barely recovered from the financial crash. Social mobility is at its lowest level ever.
It used to be said that poor Americans just considered themselves temporarily embarrassed millionaires. That perception has changed. The poor know they are staying poor. No one believes the bullshit anymore.
Franklin Roosevelt said in his 1944 State of the Union speech that “people who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.” Huge sections of America’s society are hungry and out of a job right now, while Apple (by itself) sits on cash reserves that have come close to a quarter of a trillion dollars. This is the stuff of which dictatorships are made.
Perhaps another quote from the past will help. The Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote in 1941 that “we may have democracy in this country or we may have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” Great wealth is now concentrated in the hands of a few. America’s democracy is dying.
Neoliberal or supply-side economic policies—enacted by politicians who were acutely aware what the consequences would be—were the direct cause of millions falling into poverty, lower living standards, and a more precarious life for the majority of Americans. A tiny handful of rich people and corporations saw their wealth balloon in a way unimaginable before the Gipper took control of America in 1980. It was these policies, and their social consequence, that were finally rejected in 2016 by an outpouring of populist anger, first with Britain’s vote to exit the EU, then shockingly with the election of Donald J. Trump.
Donald Trump’s campaign for the Presidency is the political story of our generation. Trump staged an astonishing assault on every level of America’s electoral process, vanquishing foes at every turn and staging a hostile takeover of the Republican Party. During the primaries he easily out-gunned low-energy Jeb Bush, scorned “Little” Marco Rubio and ripped flesh from Lyin’ Ted Cruz, suggesting that Cruz’s father had somehow been involved in the Kennedy assassination and tweeting unflattering photos of Heidi Cruz alongside his own attractive wife.
Whether through political genius or just capturing a moment in time with his bluster (almost certainly the latter), Trump ripped up the rulebook and took America’s media hostage with an unrelenting barrage of antics and outrage. Back in 2004, Howard Dean lost his primary bid for the Democratic nomination because he shouted the word “yeah” too loudly at the end of a speech. In 2016, Trump suggested that Fox journalist Megyn Kelly had asked him tough questions because she was menstruating and his numbers barely wobbled.
A gaffe used to be political strychnine. American politicians parsed their words carefully to avoid putting one demographic or another offside. This sometimes left them looking bland. Trump did the opposite. Instead of trying to quell outrage at the things he said, Trump doubled down. When his statements were exposed as lies (often laughable, ludicrous lies), Trump insisted that what he had said was indeed true. His ability to defuse one bomb by exploding another nearby took advantage of a press and public who run on twenty-four-hour news cycles. This political “stick and move” was a new tactic, allowing Trump to say anything with complete impunity. Truth and decency lay slain.
Trump insulted a Gold Star family (who had lost their son in battle), and said that he too had made similar sacrifices through his hard work in the business arena. He said that Muslims should carry identity cards, and when asked how that would differ from Nazi Germany’s treatment of the Jews, answered, “You tell me.” Trump discussed the size of his penis in a Presidential debate and was caught on tape boasting about sexually assaulting women. Nothing seemed to touch him.
The word unprecedented was used so often it seemed to lose its currency. Trump called for America’s archenemy, Russia, to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails while she had been secretary of state. He successfully convinced his followers that Clinton was not just a political opponent but a career criminal, perhaps even an existential threat to the nation, and insisted that if he won he would have her imprisoned. Donald Trump was the most radical presidential candidate in American history.
As the election neared, we learned a new phrase for what was happening. We had entered the era of post-truth politics, in which political debate is framed entirely in terms of emotion, rather than fact. This hysteria allowed Trump to tell lies that a six-year-old might regard as a bit much.
Trump said that Hillary Clinton had been fighting ISIS her “entire adult life”, and claimed that if Clinton was elected she would let 650 million immigrants into the country in the first week, tripling America’s population. In a week.
How would you feel about me if, over dinner, I told you that my new car went six thousand miles per hour, and when you said don’t be ridiculous I angrily continued to claim I was right, and then told you another obvious lie in order to obscure the previous one? Deranged might be a word you would use. Trump’s eighteen months in the presidential race spotlight were an endless stream of the utterly absurd. And still they voted for him.
The fact-checking website Politifact found that 71 percent of Trump’s statements were either mostly false, false, or “pants on fire,” a rate higher than any other politician they had ever covered (Clinton’s number was 26 percent). America’s public had either lost the ability to discern truth from lies, or lost the will to care.
Undermining the very mechanics of American democracy, Trump refused to say that he would accept the result of the election if he lost. This wasn’t just irresponsible, it was a dangerous threat. Yet, despite this litany of deceit and outrage, a month out from the election Hillary Clinton maintained a small (but consistent) lead. Trump had insulted women, minorities, the LGBT community, the disabled—pretty much everyone except for white men. It would take an extraordinary combination of events for him to have a chance of winning.
Then that extraordinary combination took place.
The 2016 election has to be viewed in context. This was not one election gone awry, but the culmination of two generations of electoral sabotage, almost exclusively conducted by Republicans.
The Republican party viewed the 1960s civil rights era (that empowered and enfranchised black and minority communities) as a threat to their ability to gain and retain political power. Most black people in America were poor, and poor people vote to the left of the spectrum. Almost simultaneously to the passing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Republicans set about trying to stop minorities from being able to exercise that right.
In every election, and in 2016 in particular, Republicans know that the fewer the number of voters, the higher their chances of victory, so every trick in the book is used to suppress voter turnout. Gerrymandering, widely used by Republican officials, refers to altering county boundaries to favor one party. Voter identification laws have been shown to almost exclusively intimidate and target black communities, and have been pursued with vigor. Even the holding of an election on a working day (a Tuesday) helps suppress the vote, as poorer voters struggle to get away from their jobs and face long lines to cast their ballot. Voting stations have been cut in poor neighborhoods. Lines to vote in rich (Republican voting) areas are much shorter than those in minority communities.
America’s huge prison population and vengeful justice system disenfranchise nearly six million felons, who are not allowed to vote. Again, these are mostly the poor and people of color. 13 percent of adult black men cannot vote due to a felony on their record. 88 percent of black voters chose Hillary Clinton in 2016. It’s not hard to see that, from a Republican perspective, mass incarceration is a huge electoral assist.
Money has dramatically increased its influence, especially since the Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court in 2010 that allowed unlimited corporate funds to be spent. In 2000, the total cost of the federal election was $3 billion—by 2016 that figure had more than doubled to nearly $7 billion. In the 2012 election, the candidate with the most money won 95 percent of the time. Although Trump spent less than Clinton in 2016, his appointment of Goldman Sachs bankers immediately after his victory clearly indicated where his loyalties lay. Money has completed its capture of America.
And this is before we take into account the scurrilous litany of dirty tricks that are a regular feature of US Federal elections. This has been the case since the dawn of the Republic, but the pervasive nature of the internet and social media incrementally increased the reach of false information and its influence on voters in 2016.
Online flyers were circulated that read “Save Time Avoid the Line” and advocated voting by text, which is not possible. Automated calls told voters that their ballots wouldn’t count. Both instances targeted Democratic voters.
Online, there was an unprecedented tsunami of illegitimate content masquerading as fact: false news. Around three-quarters of online Americans use Facebook. Sixty-two percent of US adults get news from social media (and there are estimated to be eighty-three million fake Facebook profiles). This is a profound change from the days when great newspapers and television broadcasters were overwhelmingly the primary provider of Americans information on current affairs. Although these organizations were owned and controlled by corporations and prone to unquestioningly accepting false government narratives, they also employed real journalists who checked their sources and took measures to try to verify that a story was true. In the Facebook era, there is no such requirement.
Fake news content spiked dramatically as election day neared. Suddenly social media pages were filled with reports that Hillary Clinton had terminal cancer (she doesn’t), that the Pope had endorsed Donald Trump (he didn’t), or that those investigating Clinton kept being murdered (they weren’t). Clinton, Facebook reports told us, was a pedophile enabler for child-rapist Bill Clinton. The FBI had a criminal investigation into the case. Democrats were paying protesters $3,000 to go to Trump rallies. Tens of thousands of fraudulent ballots for Clinton had been found in a warehouse. She had just weeks to live. The list seemed endless.
Whatever the source of these stories, they overwhelmingly favored Donald Trump, and although it’s impossible to gauge their effect on the result of the election, those propagating the falsehoods clearly did so with an intent. The sheer volume of falsity makes it impossible to believe that it all came from a few sick individuals.
This deluge of fake news tied in with the post-truth atmosphere, in which the Republican candidate lied nearly three-quarters of the time. How were Americans supposed to know truth from fiction in such a climate?
Despite this, despite all this, twelve days out from the election Clinton led Trump by an average of nearly 6 percent in the polls. A six-point win would be a crushing. Pollster Nate Silver gave Clinton an 81 percent chance of winning. It still seemed that only a lightning bolt could get Trump across the line.
Then it happened. On October 28, just eleven days from the election, FBI director James Comey announced that he was reviewing additional emails relating to Clinton’s use of a personal server. The absurd and irrelevant issue of a minor computing infraction had still managed to dog Clinton’s campaign, and was blown completely out of proportion by Trump and social media. It was a non-story. Comey poured fuel on a fire that had all-but gone out. It was an extraordinary decision.
Jim Comey is no fool—he would have been acutely aware that any announcement from the head of the FBI that contained the words Clinton, emails, and investigation, made less than two weeks from an election, would be laden with political ramifications. And he was right. A Politico poll taken just after the announcement indicated that fully one-third of Americans said that the revelation made them much less likely to vote for Clinton. Seven of that 33 percent (who said the Comey letter had an effect on them) were Democrats—nearly ten million voters, proportionately—more than enough to cost Hillary Clinton the Presidency.
In the nine days from Comey’s initial announcement to his second letter (two days before the election, in which he said that nothing substantial had been found), Clinton’s lead dropped to 2.9 percent, a three point swing in just over a week.
Trump’s surrogate Rudy Giuliani intimated that the Trump campaign had known of Comey’s surprise in advance. Whether that is true or not, Comey’s intervention is one of the most egregious political interferences in an election by a federal intelligence body in American history. Without doubt, it was one of the key factors that handed the country to Donald Trump. A faction within the FBI took a conscious decision to try to affect the outcome of the most consequential election in modern history. The timing of the announcement and retraction left no time for voters to regain their sanity. By itself, this is a bigger scandal than Watergate. Treason might be an appropriate word.
It gets much, much worse.
Russia got involved. Despite evidence that both DNC and RNC servers were hacked, WikiLeaks provided a steady stream of embarrassment to the Democratic party only. Trump openly called for Russia to hack the emails of Hillary Clinton during the campaign (a treasonous call by itself). It appears Russia took up this invitation. However, having openly called for Russia to hack the emails of his opponent while she was one of the top officials in the United States government (actions that would interfere in the election), Trump refused to believe his own intelligence services when they said they had evidence that Russia had indeed interfered in the election. These two positions simply don’t go together.
At the time of writing, the CIA have indicated that Russia hacked American political party emails, leaked information designed to damage Clinton only, and were involved in false news production for social media. They may well have hacked voting machines themselves on election day.
Clinton led in nearly ever poll going into the election. Polls had never been this consistently wrong before. Is that not prima facie evidence suggesting that, rather than all the pollsters having been wrong, something else was at play? Princeton professor Andrew Appel showed that Sequoia’s voting machines could be hacked in just minutes, despite not being connected to the internet. Europe has broadly banned electronic voting for just this reason. Hacking the machines would have been easy, and increments of alteration could be so small that they did not appear obvious. Hacking could change the overall result from one candidate to another.
Dozens of factors lined themselves up against a win by Hillary Clinton. And so it came to pass. Clinton lost the election because she lost the Rust Belt states of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. From over 135 million votes cast, Trump’s collective margin in these three states represented just 0.056 percent of those who voted. Voter turnout was the lowest in twenty years, but despite all the gerrymandering, disenfranchising, money, voter suppression, lies, fake news, and FBI and Russian interference, Clinton still gained a popular vote margin of around 2.8 million. It was the electoral college that gave Trump the Presidency.
America’s arcane electoral college process has meant that the last two Republican presidents have taken office after getting fewer votes than their opponent. In fact, despite the huge obstacles to free and fair elections, Republicans have lost the popular vote in six of the last seven elections. If the individual who gained more votes in each election was made president (as should be the case), the list of Presidents since 1992 would read Clinton, Clinton, Gore, Bush, Obama, Obama and Clinton. The world would be a very different place.
There have been seven hundred congressional proposals to change or get rid of the electoral college system in the last two hundred years, more than any other issue. It never happens. Those in power have no incentive to change the system that placed them there.
A month before the election, Washington newspaper The Hill reported that only three in ten Americans believed that the nation’s process for electing a new president is functional. This lack of faith in the system is likely to have worsened.
The party of Abraham Lincoln was now led by a buffoonish man-child, with a terrible comb over, dyed hair, and an orange face. Despite the racism, misogyny, lies, thin-skin, and the pussy-grabbing, Donald John Trump was president of the United States.
America has had its share of presidential characters. Kennedy’s sexual profligacy would have ended his presidency had he lived. Calvin Coolidge used to take a nap each day and change into his pajamas in order to do so. Nixon was such an astonishing crook that journalists covering his election campaign openly debated whether he was actually a human being. But there has never been a president like Donald Trump, unprecedented in his inexperience and mendacity, a lifelong crook who boasts of sexually assaulting women, with a personality disorder rarely seen outside the halls of a psychiatric institution.
Listen to the way he talks. When Trump met the board of the Washington Post in March 2016, this is what he said when questioned about the use of nuclear weapons against ISIS:
“I don’t want to use, I don’t want to start the process of nuclear. Remember the one thing that everybody has said, I’m a counterpuncher. Rubio hit me. Bush hit me. When I said low energy, he’s a low energy individual, he hit me first, I spent, by the way he spent $18 million worth of negative ads on me. That’s putting . . . I’ll tell you one thing, this is a very good-looking group of people here.”
The man is unwell. He’s babbling. Trump talks of “nuclear”, and “the cyber.” His sentences constantly miss words: “I’m automatically attracted to beautiful, I just start kissing them.” Beautiful what? Donkeys? When you write down what Trump says on a piece of paper, it’s clear that he very rarely forms a sentence that includes a noun, an adjective, and a verb. Trump has some form of mental agitation that can’t focus long enough to form a clear sentence. Yet Trump says he has “the best words.”
Trump is a fairground barker, a snake-oil salesman, an old-fashioned crook. He successfully convinced poor and poorly educated white Americans that their country was in an existential crisis, and that only he, a billionaire, had their concerns at heart. His business practices suggest the opposite. Trump has consistently cheated his suppliers, choosing not to pay when the work is done in the safe knowledge that he has deep pockets and the best lawyers. His ties are made in China, as is much of the steel he uses to build his gaudy, tasteless towers. His wealth is vastly over-stated. He’s almost definitely not a billionaire. His university was a sham, his charity a fraudulent front. Trump has been bankrupt six times. He somehow lost a billion dollars owning a casino. As Trump has railed against the loss of American jobs, he has sourced his business overseas, sent small American companies broke, and gamed the system to avoid contributing any federal income tax for nearly twenty years.
Trump is a lifelong racist. His real estate lessors were found to discriminate against African Americans, telling black applicants that his buildings were full when they were not. When exposed, Trump’s business practices did not change. Trump says he likes his accountants Jewish, and thinks that Mexicans are rapists.
Trump has been accused by a number of women of sexual assault. The famous Billy Bush tape confirmed his belief that you can just “grab them by the pussy.” Trump has spent his entire life rating women purely on their physical appearance and bragging about his sexual exploits, even going so far as to phone newspapers and claim to be a man named John Barron, a Trump employee, in order to list the sheer number of women that his boss was screwing. That bragging on the bus? That wasn’t locker-room talk, it was Trump saying exactly who he is. Trump held cocaine-fuelled parties at his suites, where old rich men were introduced to impressionable young models, some of whom were underage, solely to use power and influence in order to pressure the young women to have sex. Trump has used his position to attack women, subjugate them to his will, and ensure that the victims never get a chance to seek justice for what happened to them.
Forty-two percent of female voters opted for Trump over Hillary Clinton. Statistics suggest that a horrifying one in five American women have been sexually assaulted in their lifetime. This means that some American women had been the victims of sexual assault, saw Trump’s antics, recognized him as the same kind of monster that had hurt them, and still voted for him.
We’ve had fools like Truman and Bush Jr. in the White House before. We’ve had crooks like Nixon, but there has never been a president like Trump, a genuine and complete fraud, whose lifelong association with the darkest side of New York construction, including criminals, Mafiosi, and thugs, has been criminally under-reported.
We all mold truth to fit our own reality somewhat. Truth can be subjective, but I’m not sure that Donald Trump actually knows what the truth is. His life has been so filled with hubris and bluster that he appears no longer able to recognize the difference between truth and lies. Without the money and the power, Trump would be pitiable—a brash, vain, thin-skinned man who appears to have all the worst characteristics of male human beings rolled into one.
America now has a president who considers “winning” his birthright, is happy to break any rule in order to do so, and will take losing as a personal affront. Trump believes that if he loses, it must be because he has been cheated. A democratic leader faces constant opposition to every effort he makes. Trump is not able to deal with this. Democracy doesn’t fit his character at all.
Donald Trump doesn’t even want to be president. He has no interest in policy or democratic politicking. He just wants to be called President Trump. America’s Constitution and institutions of democracy are just inconvenient obstacles. Given the chance, he will swiftly do away with them. Trump wants to be emperor.
President Trump commands a nation with the greatest surveillance powers in history, the largest citizen database in history, and the largest military budget in history. His nation has the largest economy in history, but holds the biggest sovereign debt in history. America has the largest number of foreign military bases in the world, and through the use of drones, missiles, and aircraft, the greatest ability to project power abroad in history.
Because of 9/11, Trump inherited the greatest war and executive powers commanded by an American president in history. Because of 9/11, most of these powers are exercised under a historically unprecedented shroud of state secrecy.
It’s not that powers like these are prone to being abused. History shows us that this kind of power is inevitably, always abused by those who rule. And America is now ruled by the trickiest, greasiest political crook in its history, a man who at one moment says the election of 2016 was rigged, then an instant later insists that the result must be respected. Reality is flexible. Truth depends solely on how it benefits Trump. It is very difficult for a man so removed from reality to be removed from power.
Some opine that an unstable character like Donald Trump will be constrained from enacting his most extreme ideas by the strength of America’s noble institutions of government. The events of 9/11 defy that notion. The attacks (and the anthrax mailing that followed) demonstrate that in the event of a crisis, America’s democratic institutions fail spectacularly. This has been the case throughout America’s history, and is true for every democracy on earth. Institutions are just constructs made by fallible human beings. American exceptionalism is a myth. Slavery, segregation, mass surveillance, internment and CIA torture (to name but five) were all enacted legally in the United States. September 11 provides the clearest example of how, when placed under unique stresses and during moments of fear, normally sane democratic institutions cannot stop a ruler who is determined enough to do what he wants.
Trump is a textbook fascist. He fits like a glove. Evil and genius are words that don’t need to go together. Trump’s personal incompetence presents more of a threat than would a man with talent. George W. Bush demonstrated how an incompetent bumbling fool can, through the people who surround him, still reduce a country to ruins in a few short years.
With so many generals, Trump has put together the most militarized administration in modern history. His cabinet is filled with corporate and Goldman Sachs alumni, their combined personal wealth exceeding one third of US households combined. Trump hasn’t drained the swamp—this is the swamp.
Trump has hijacked the party to which he attached himself and taken the very notion of Republicanism to the brink of destruction. He has laid bare the idea that Republicans have any form of moral compass. Senior party figures built their careers promoting viewpoints they claimed as conservative moral positions, but although they reluctantly condemned Trump’s racism during the election cycle, in the end they all still voted for him.
Failure to disavow racism is to participate in it, and to continue to support a man whose policies you profess to abhor means you have sold your soul. These people are exposed. They stand for nothing. Republican leaders now know that if they abandon Trump they will be rejected by their own party, and if they stay they are tacitly endorsing his vile statements. This is a classic fascist power-grab.
Trump even convinced evangelical voters that a serially unfaithful, thrice married, sexually-assaulting crook shared their values. If you don’t think sexism was a major factor in the election, try to imagine the reaction if Hillary Clinton been married three times and had children with three different men. Religious voters are used as useful idiots.
Democracies on a slide into dictatorship experience a tsunami of fear, as one group after another find themselves marginalized, disenfranchised, vilified, and then targeted. This normally starts with the weak, the poor or “others,” people with the wrong religion, sexuality, or skin color. Those higher up the social ladder allow this to happen, believing themselves immune.
America’s eleven million undocumented immigrants came under unprecedented attack during the Obama administration. Obama deported over two million of them, more than all presidents in the twentieth century combined. Donald Trump has pledged to accelerate this process, starting with the two to three million “criminals” he has somehow identified. A deportation force of up to ninety thousand people is proposed. Homes will be raided in the dead of night, women and children taken against their will, families torn apart. People who have lived in America their whole life will hide in the basement and fear going outside. Those arrested will need to be imprisoned before their deportation, perhaps in camps. There is talk of trains being used to transport people. This may have some historical resonance for you.
When Trump said, “I am the law and order candidate,” it was a message specifically aimed at white people. Trump failed to disavow an endorsement from David Duke or to distance himself when the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacists celebrated his victory. As the Republican nominee, Trump offered to pay the legal fees of anyone who beat up Black Lives Matter (BLM) demonstrators protesting at his rallies. Trump’s response to the BLM movement was to suggest that it is the police who need more protection, but young black men are nine times more likely to be killed by police than other Americans. The entire legal and judicial system of the United States specifically targets and punishes the African American community. Black people in America have every reason to be afraid of this new law and order president.
Perhaps no group has so much to fear as America’s three million Muslims. Trump has made it very clear that he holds the entire Muslim community accountable for every individual within it. With entire nations deemed so dangerous that no citizen can even visit the United States for a holiday, the stigma faced by those even suspected of being Muslim will be enormous. So-called Islamic extremism (which almost always is nothing of the sort) commands a vastly disproportionate focus in America’s public life. Remarkably spared Islamic terrorism since that terrible September day, America remains on edge, one fright away from panic. In the event of another terrorist attack within America, the atmosphere is now so hysterical that the president can easily be imagined declaring a temporary period of martial law and a suspension of civil liberties. There would be nothing anyone could do to rein in such an exercise of executive power.
Trump appears to have no moral objection to the return of torture. As a candidate, he said he would bring back waterboarding and a “hell of a lot worse.” Given how unlikely it is that President Trump will close Guantanamo, it is fair to now consider whether those who remain there will be imprisoned, without trial, until they die. Perhaps that is the only way America’s gulag will finally reach closure.
Under Obama, America saw an unprecedented explosion in right-wing anti-government groups, almost exclusively made up of white men. These groups have clearly been emboldened by the arrival of Donald Trump, and are more dangerous than jihadists (as of 2016, right-wing terrorists had killed more Americans since 9/11 than Islamic extremists). Of course, these groups of men are never called terrorists, simply because their skin is white. For people of color, this is just one more reason to be afraid.
Journalism in the Trump era is once again a dangerous profession. Vilification of the media was a routine part of Trump presidential rallies. On occasions, the abuse aimed at the press gallery was so visceral that they were provided security guards in order to leave in safety. Reporters at rallies were required to take escorts to the bathroom when they left the pen in which they were confined. Trump called the press disgusting and corrupt, despite benefiting from billions of dollars of free coverage during his headline grabbing campaign.
Trump takes criticism personally, and makes a point of going after individuals who he feels have slighted him. Naturally, female reporters have been more ferociously targeted. NBC reporter Katy Tur was singled out three times for personal abuse at Trump’s rallies, for an apparent snub a year and a half previously. Trump has called for journalists (who he feels have been unfair to him) to be fired. Fox journalist Megyn Kelly described her treatment by Trump as a relentless campaign. Kelly received death threats from Trump supporters, and was forced to employ armed security guards, even on a family vacation to Disneyland. She stated that she believed the harassment was being directly incited by Trump’s senior aide, Dan Scavino.
Muting and intimidating the media is a classic symptom of a fascist leader. Individual reporters are intimidated, and often beaten or killed. Vladimir Putin has presided over precisely this sort of behavior—journalists in Russia know that their life is at risk if they dare upset the leader, and behave accordingly. Many have been killed, most notoriously Anna Politkovskaya in 2006. Much of Putin’s power is derived from Russia’s pliant media.
Large media organizations can also be targeted. President Trump wants to strengthen America’s libel laws so he can go after newspapers. With the power of the state behind him, this is likely to be effective. America’s independent media collapsed in the fearful years that followed 9/11—Trump will use times of national insecurity to crush the media. Without a functioning press, there will be little to stop Trump from doing whatever he wants. People won’t be told when he is breaking the law. History tells us of the incredible dangers that arise when this happens.
Women should be afraid. Trump hates women. He thinks they are only for decoration, self-aggrandizement and sex. Flat-chested women can never be a ten, and the ones who cross him are pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting. Trump said that if his daughter was harassed at work she should “find another career.”
Trump has clearly indicated that a priority will be overturning Roe vs. Wade. American women may soon need to leave the country to get an abortion. If Mike Pence has anything to do with it that will include in the instance or rape, incest, or risk to the mother’s life. Back-alley abortions may again become a part of America’s underbelly. Trump has said that women seeking abortions should be punished. This will be just one of a number of measures that will make Trump’s presidency a disaster for women’s rights.
Again and again, Trump has shown a willingness to denigrate one group, class or race in order to fit the mood of the day. Although he governs for billionaires, it is the white working class who form his electoral base. They have pinned their hopes on him.
For many white working class families, society has fallen apart. Suicide and addiction rates have rocketed since the turn of the century, and increased further since the financial crisis. Life expectancy in many poor white communities has decreased. This never happens in functioning societies. Across America, and in the Rust Belt in particular, the social contract (that a person willing to work can find a decent paying job, that provides enough money to support life’s requirements) has collapsed.
Social catastrophe affects young and old. Six times as many retirees in the US live in poverty as those in France. Oxycontin and painkillers have become the lead drugs abused in America, outstripping illegal narcotics. In Montana there are eighty-two prescriptions for painkillers for every one hundred people. Heroin use has never been wider, helped in great part by there never having been so much heroin available, in turn because America couldn’t win a war against Afghanistan, one of the poorest nations on earth.
There’s plenty of money around, it just never makes it to the pockets of the poor any more. With America’s vast GDP the country could (for example) be at the vanguard of solar panel technology and manufacture, as it was with railroads and the automobile. Instead America has chosen to spend trillions on pointless wars, and on bailing out the richest institutions in the world when their business model collapsed.
Faced with desperation, poor white Americans grasped at anything that looked like change, and chose the only brand on offer: Trump. The collective rage of these people when they find that Donald Trump is going to do nothing for them is perhaps the thing we should fear the most. It remains to be seen if this anger is directed internally, or channeled toward some foreign body.
Trump’s cabinet picks give no indication of a newfound passion for social justice and reform. Trump’s team consists of a secretary for Housing and Urban Development (Ben Carson) who has described fair housing agreements as “communist,” a secretary for the Department of Education (Betsy DeVos) who presided over plummeting standards in Michigan, and a climate change denier to head the EPA. Rick Perry (Energy) is just one of a number of individuals who head government departments they have explicitly said they would like to destroy.
Mike Pompeo, hired by Trump to head the CIA, has said that despite existing domestic surveillance powers being the most pervasive in human history, he feels that the US needs “a fundamental upgrade to America’s surveillance capabilities.”
It’s a zoo. Comedian John Cleese suggested that Trump looked like he was assembling the crew for a pirate ship.
Those outside America are right to tremble. The most frightening aspect of Trump’s Presidency is his finger on the nuclear trigger. Notwithstanding his inexperience and manifest personality problems, Trump has also often appeared blasé to the awesome power of nuclear weapons (which he describes as “the nuclear”). He said he would be comfortable with the idea of South Korea and the Saudis getting nuclear weapons, and said of America’s arsenal, “if we have them why can’t we use them?”
Three further potential catastrophes present a clear and present danger to world stability and peace during Trump’s Presidency. Climate change, financial disaster, and war.
In early 2016, 750 experts gathered at the World Economic Forum rated climate catastrophe as the biggest threat to the world’s economy. The survey had been done for eleven years, but 2016 was the first time that the Earth’s climate had been rated number one by economists (rather than scientists). Those surveyed noted the risk of inter-connections, or the onslaught of further disasters caused by an initial shock, such as mass migration caused by rising sea levels.
This is not a view shared by America’s president. Donald Trump famously said that climate change is in fact a hoax, made up by the Chinese to gain competitive advantage. He has called global warming bullshit, and said that in fact the earth is freezing, with “record low” temperatures. This idiotic and childlike view is refuted by overwhelming evidence. Every year is now the hottest ever recorded. The year 2015 was the first since records began that CO2 in the atmosphere stayed above four hundred parts per million all year (normally the Northern hemisphere summer growth reduces the figure somewhat). We haven’t seen CO2 levels like this in the Earth’s atmosphere for eight hundred thousand years, back when humans didn’t exist and the oceans were thirty meters higher than they are today. Florida is perilously exposed to limited rises in ocean levels, yet they voted for Trump, like turkeys approaching Thanksgiving.
At the precise moment when dramatic measures could still stop climate change becoming an uncontrollable disaster, Trump wants to remove regulations on drilling and CO2 emissions. Trump’s presidency threatens the ongoing viability of mankind on planet earth. We’re genuinely battling for survival now that he’s in the Oval Office. Climate change is happening much faster than nearly all scientists predicted. It will blight or end our children’s lives. Donald Trump incrementally increases this risk to us all.
We could easily fix the world’s emissions problems with political courage and vision. Waging a war against climate change would kick-start the American economy. Solar power more than covers our transportation, domestic and business needs—panels are cheaper, more plentiful, and more efficient than ever before. Breakthroughs in large battery storage technology and pricing are made regularly. But, instead, at this critical juncture we are choosing to do the opposite, digging up and setting on fire ever more of the world’s underground carbon deposits at the precise moment that the earth’s climate is showing signs of critical breakdown. It’s a quite extraordinary situation.
The fact is that until corporate money is removed from America’s political process, or until a truly cataclysmic event transforms our world, America’s political leaders are always going to respond to any issue by referring to what is best for their paymasters, and corporations are simply unable to see far enough ahead to address issues like climate change. The demands of capitalism make it impossible for them to change course, even in spite of the gathering storm. If the corporations win, humanity is doomed to disaster. At some point we are going to have to make a choice between capitalism and the survival of humanity.
I fear that Trump’s election means the battle against catastrophic climate change is lost. Before Trump leaves office, there will be periods when there is no sea ice in the Arctic circle. The oceans will quickly begin to rise. Some countries will cease to exist. Hundreds of millions will be displaced, causing global chaos. We’re fiddling while Rome burns. Around the world, armed men fight to defend or take back some small plot of soil from their neighbors, ignoring the relentless numerical doom of four hundred parts-per-million of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, a number that creeps higher each year. Their priorities are desperately misguided. They should put down their guns and plant seeds instead, but seem unable to see the tidal wave on the horizon.
George Orwell described the genesis of his book "Animal Farm" as having been sparked by a moment in which “I saw a little boy, perhaps ten years old, driving a huge cart-horse along a narrow path, whipping it whenever it tried to turn. It struck me that if only such animals became aware of their strength we should have no power over them, and that men exploit animals in much the same way as the rich exploit the proletariat.”
In America, the richest 1 percent own 42 percent of the wealth, while the poorest 80 percent hold just 7 percent. Income disparity is just as bad—the richest 0.1 percent earns more than the poorest 120 million people combined. Such staggering inequality is symptomatic of a society in trouble.
History shows again and again that people will only take exploitation for so long before they take to the streets. Angry populations do have the means of bringing their country under control. Revolutionary France pitted seemingly powerless peasants against the nobility, yet it was the noblemen (and women) whose heads were separated from their bodies, and France didn’t stop until nearly all of them were dead.
Around sixty individuals now collectively hold more wealth than the bottom 50 percent of humanity. They have around $1 trillion more in wealth than they did in 2010. For them, this decade-long downturn has been a vintage harvest. This extraordinary wealth disparity doesn’t appear to shock anyone anymore, but it’s unprecedented in human history. Rich individuals and corporations have stashed a planet-altering $20–$30 trillion offshore, as plain of a “fuck you” to the world’s poor as it’s possible to give. Multinationals steal money from your children’s mouths by taking their profits offshore and paying no tax. Every time you are told there is not enough money to pay for civic services or unemployment benefits, remember that there is around $30 trillion stashed offshore. Hundreds of thousands of people die each year for want of that capital. Offshoring funds is mass murder by asymmetric means.
The stock market boom that followed Donald Trump’s election may have seemed like good news, but 80 percent of stocks in America are held by the richest 10 percent of the people. The rich immediately got richer after they elected a billionaire. What do you think is most likely to happen now: this process continuing, or Donald Trump defying seventy years of doing nothing but enriching his own interests and discovering a passion for the poor?
As presidential candidate, Trump railed against Hillary Clinton and global banking elites, but within weeks of the election he appointed a who’s who of Goldman Sachs alumni. It’s very clear where his priorities lie.
Trump wants to dismantle the Dodd-Frank financial regulation Act of 2010, itself a flimsy attempt to rein in Wall Street excesses. A cascade of regulation will be removed and income taxes slashed. It’s going to be a financial free-for-all, and the rich are going to get much, much richer. A lack of regulation and asset bubbles are precisely the conditions that led to the 2007/08 crash. A new and much bigger crash is as inevitable as the rising sun, and when it comes there will be no government that can save us. The implosion of Western banking, and of capitalism, will be nearly impossible to avoid. War will be the outcome.
For all of George W. Bush’s faults, even after 9/11 he never explicitly demonized minority groups in the US. In fact, Bush pointedly visited a mosque just six days after the attacks. But this time it’s different. Trump’s candidacy demonstrated that being anti-Muslim and racist can be a political asset, not a liability. The direction to ostracize the Other, whether they are Muslim, gay, or anybody not white and male, is coming direct from the president. This has emboldened those harboring feelings of hatred or intolerance, who genuinely believe that this man is their president and shares their views. These sentiments will be easy to harness when it comes time to demonize a foreign entity.
War will hand Trump unlimited political power and the attending profits for those within the military industrial complex for whom death means money. If you doubt this, take a look at the stock price of defense logistics behemoths such as Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin. All shot up dramatically on the day after the election. Investors aren’t fools. Trump means war, and war means profits.
Despite the terrible debts that America faces, Republicans will tell you that the US military budget needs to increase. It doesn’t. They will tell you that the navy fleet needs to be enlarged, to counter the rise of China. It doesn’t. In fact, the US fleet is larger than the next thirteen navies combined (eleven of whom are allies). China’s aircraft carrier is a refurbished old craft bought from Ukraine in 1998. It was originally built to be a floating casino.
It will be claimed that missile defense and weapons in space will keep America safe, when the opposite is true. There is no feasible way to defend America against an attack from thousands of Russian missiles and decoys, coming in at fifteen thousand miles per hour (an attack that is never coming), but a new American missile defense strategy will, with 100 percent certainty, cause Russia to build their own anti-missile defenses, with trillions spent by both sides, crippling their economies and causing impoverished citizens to live in a world that is much less safe.
Trump’s team will eventually say that military action in Iran is vital in order to make Americans safe. It isn’t. We must call them out for this mendacious, insane lie. National security can no longer be invoked when justifying military intervention in countries (almost always) in the Middle East. America must end its reflexive urge to intervene in other countries domestic affairs.
America has been at war for around 93 percent of its history. The events of September 11, 2001 seem to draw a line in the sand, after which America will never again be at peace. Financial collapse might cause war. War might cause financial collapse. Climate catastrophe will cause both. But America’s government and military machine demand wars to feed their vast budget. Trump will get his war. It remains to be seen if he (and those around him) are able to contain it.
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Martin Niemoller’s famous poem was written to illustrate the cognitive dissonance that German intellectuals displayed as their country descended into Nazism. People living under authoritarian regimes often claim that nothing has changed, and even deny that repressive laws are being enacted right in front of them. They give away much of their power freely, in advance. People see what the regime is likely to want and start doing it, for fear of losing their fast-vanishing freedom, and out of conformity. Americans are already prepared for this, it seems. A survey done in 2014 found that a staggering one in six Americans felt that military rule (of their own country) would be a good or very good thing.
Politicians and leaders from the far right of the spectrum almost never voluntarily give up the emergency powers they claim for themselves in times of (real or imaginary) national crisis, and the Republican Party appears to genuinely believe that the US is in a permanent state of existential danger. Now Republicans have all three levers of government. A loss in 2016 might have fractured and destroyed the party. Instead they hold unparalleled power. Democrats may never again gain political control in the United States.
Vladimir Putin is regularly elected with crushing majorities, but no one would call twenty-first-century Russia a functioning democracy. Putin has gamed the system to retain control for eighteen years (and running). It seems that only illness or retirement will end his rule. A question that should always be applied to powerful leaders is this—how easy is it going to be to democratically remove this person from the national stage? Trump has already shown his disdain for the mechanics of America’s democracy and for its results (before and after he won). It is abundantly clear that he doesn’t think much of elections.
I find it impossible to see how the effects of this presidency cannot end in disaster, the end of American democracy, and an existential threat to the medium and perhaps even short-term viability of mankind on planet earth.
Democrats, progressives and anyone interested in freedom and democracy must wage an unprecedented campaign of intransigence, disobedience, and opposition to every single measure Trump and his group put forward. When Obama was in office, Republicans acted this way. When Bush was president, Democrats tried to play by the rules. We can’t afford to play fair in this environment. The rules must be abandoned to save us all.
Impeachment proceedings should start now. Democrats must oppose every word that comes from his mouth. That’s what Trump said he would do if Hillary Clinton had won. Noam Chomsky said that there’s no point in speaking truth to power, since power already knows the truth. Freedom from tyranny and inequality is not going to be offered from above; it has to be taken by those below. Citizens should get involved, agitate, march, organize, protest, and donate to causes that support liberty and freedom.
The power of technology now hands whistleblowers the opportunity to bring down governments. Edward Snowden said, “I have been to the darkest corners of government, and what they fear is light.” Trump will have more than enough skeletons in his cupboard to have him removed from office, if we can just get it done before the institutions of democracy are closed down.
Civil disobedience is a powerful tool. If you don’t think you can make a difference, read the story of Gandhi. If enough people simply refuse to do the things they’re supposed to, the entire system can be shut down. It needs to be, because very soon it is going to be too late. It is not acceptable to sit back anymore.
As I’ve stated previously, America is poised to emerge as the most overtly fascist political nation since Nazi Germany, the difference being that America is vastly more powerful than Germany ever was. Broken societies either practice social revolution or elect demagogues. Strong, violent men promising to make their nation great again can seem alluring to those harboring anger about the state their country is in. The results in Germany are well known, the comparison to today’s America sadly no longer imprecise. Those who draw parallels with 1936 are missing a trick. It is immensely more dangerous now than then.
In 2017, Americans aged sixteen and under will have lived their entire life in the new normal of an endless War on Terror and under emergency provisions that are destroying the Constitution of the United States. They won’t know any different. In two more years they can begin to vote. A generation of post-9/11 kids is coming.
Behind all of this is 9/11. Without 9/11 there would be no Trump. The exposure of the falsity of that event has the power to move mountains. Ask questions. Demand answers.
As for me, I still can’t believe this has happened. The seventy years of post-World War Two peace that we’ve enjoyed is unraveling before our eyes. I’ve lost hope; hope that we can still find a way out of this. Faith that we have the ability to save ourselves.