The Trump lesson


On 8 November, as the electoral map turned increasingly red and Donald Trump emerged as the newly-elected President of the United States, a CNN political commentator asked on air how he could continue to raise his children correctly.

“You tell your kids, ‘Don’t be a bully,’” said Van Jones in a now viral video. “You tell your kids, ‘Don’t be a bigot’. You tell your kids, ‘Do your homework and be prepared’. Then you have this outcome.”

He’s right, and his concern is probably shared by millions of parents across the world.

But this shameful election result is also a chance to teach children – and adults – the following political lessons: question authority; do not blindly trust people in power nor their supposed ‘merits’; remember that governments can be headed by demagogues who were elected through lies and bigotry instead of reason, facts and virtue.

In other words, never take any rights or freedoms for granted.

In the same way George W. Bush’s war crimes and disdain for human rights shaped the political consciousness of a generation, the presidency of Donald Trump will be an opportunity for those who oppose him to come together and engage in a new struggle.

We are already witnessing signs of it: anti-Trump protests are erupting in several cities across the United States; millions of people are rejecting Trump’s sexist and racist views on- and offline; media outlets are rethinking their coverage; calls for a more equal and tolerant society are gaining new ground.

Whilst it is essential to understand the failure of liberals to effectively counter the fear-mongering rhetoric of Donald Trump, it is vital to draw a clear distinction between his supporters – who largely voted for Trump to reject an establishment that failed them and because the Democratic party offered no real alternative – and the administration that will soon rule Washington.

In all fairness, some of Trump’s proposals on political reform are interesting and could strike a blow at the collusion between politics and the private sector, such as “a constitutional amendment to impose term limits on all members of Congress” or “a five-year ban on White House and Congressional officials becoming lobbyists after they leave government service.”

But these measures are overshadowed by many other ideas of Trump – repeated time and again during the campaign – on migration, ethnic minorities and Islam, which are akin in every way to that of the European far-right. And Europeans know from their history that you don’t compromise with the far-right. You fight it.

Across Europe, politicians like Trump are growing in popularity and feel emboldened by his election. It’s quite telling that amongst the first politicians to congratulate Trump on his election were Marine Le Pen of the Front National in France (who is running for president in the country’s elections next May) and anti-Islam Dutch politician Geert Wilders (who is also facing elections in March).

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Russian President Vladimir Putin and the American white nationalist and former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke similarly praised Trump’s victory.

In the days that followed the elections, much was said about the need for a “smooth transition” and about how Trump will surely soften his position once he’s in the Oval Office. This type of wishful thinking is dangerous. It emphasises a naive trust in government and conceals the plain hard truth: Donald Trump’s views are an assault on all social progress made in the last 50 years. They are an attack on tolerance and decency. And they must be challenged in every newsroom, every campus, every factory and office, every city hall and every street across America.

Even if Trump manages to implement half of what he promised, here’s what to expect from his presidency: Obamacare will be seriously amended or dismantled, Guantanamo will remain open and probably expanded, dissent will be increasingly criminalised through tougher law and order measures, millions of undocumented migrants will be expelled, inequality between the rich and the poor will continue to rise, corporations will go even more unchecked, militarisation will expand (Trump wants to “rebuild our depleted military”), societal issues will leap 30 years backwards with conservative Supreme Court nominations and any chance at saving the planet will be lost forever as Trump promises to “cancel billions in payments to U.N. climate change programs.”

Disenfranchised workers in abandoned industrial heartlands who backed Trump in this election should not expect any major improvement of their situation. Hundreds of economists unanimously called Trump a “dangerous, destructive choice for the country” and the billionaire mogul is no ally of the working-class. The fact that he managed to convince his supporters otherwise is truly mindboggling.

He inherited millions from his father, dodged millions more in taxes, bankrupted several businesses and has a history of anti-unionism. He is also a walking cliché of the ‘fame and fortune’ culture that presents capitalism as the epitome of the American dream.

Trump will be ruling unimpeded. Congress is predominantly held by like-minded Republicans who have repeatedly shown that they will support Trump no matter the depths of his depravity and the danger he poses for the Republic they have sworn to defend.

They stood by him when he mocked the disabled or when he called for a ban on Muslims entering the country; they remained silent when he called Mexicans “rapists” and advocated building a wall between the US and Mexico; they showed no emotion when he promoted the use of torture and they cowardly looked away when he bragged about grabbing women by “the pussy”. No hope can come from them.

Little can be expected from the current Democratic leadership as well. Hillary Clinton was never the right candidate. She embodied the establishment when people were crying out for something else. Someone who voted for the war in Iraq, cheated to defeat Bernie Sanders, defended the use of the death penalty, barely supported a minimum wage increase and told Wall Street it should self-regulate had no chance in winning over the destitute workers, the young, the minorities, the marginalised, the progressives and the undecided voters in the way Obama did.

The Democrats, overall, have largely failed to offer an alternative model of society based on social justice and equality. By continuously embracing neoliberalism and shoving this failed economic model down workers’ throats, they largely contributed to Trump’s victory. Their defeat is a chance to renew the party and, as Bernie Sanders puts it, “break loose from its corporate establishment ties and, once again, become a grassroots party of working people, the elderly and the poor.”

Although the next four years are going to hurt, all hope is not lost. Americans are never as strong as when they are cornered and when the odds seem overwhelmingly against progress. From the founding of the Republic to the abolition of slavery to the civil rights movement, US history is replete with examples.

In a way, the fact that Trump personifies so much of what is wrong with the United States makes him an easy target. Too often, when politicians believed to be progressive rule government, the guard goes down. This was also the case under Barack Obama, who faced less criticism from the left or the liberal press than a Republican would have for his drone strikes in the Middle East, his promotion of free trade agreements, his treatment of whistle-blowers or the surveillance programs of his administration.

Now is a good time to start paying really close attention. This is not a moment to be afraid of Trump or let his prejudiced ideas suddenly become acceptable just because he’s president.

The majority of Americans did not vote for him and they should never forget that. Nor should they doubt their capability to organise creatively in order to overcome differences rather than surrender to the attempts by the likes of Donald Trump to exploit fears and divide the nation further.

They have proved it before. They can prove it again. Let’s hope we all learn this lesson.