Donald J. Trump is now President-Elect of the United States. This is unfortunate; whether President-Elect Hillary Clinton would be more or less unfortunate is another discussion, and now an irrelevant one, but instead of seething with hatred imagining that shady criminal riding into the White House on the back of the centre-right juggernaut that is America’s modern Democratic Party, I want you to think instead of who you’ve actually put in the Oval Office. Do you even know? I’m not sure, and I have a surprising number of accusations I would like to defend him against — which should help ram home the ones that persist.
Far from being the candid elderly businessman everyone seems to paint him as, I’ve found Donald Trump to be a virtual enigma. How much of what you think about him can you trace back something he actually said or did? How much is hearsay and rumour? Are you looking at it with a foregone conclusion in mind?
Let’s take his stance on LGBT rights as an example. It should be pretty clear: the media insists he’s a homophobe, and look! It’s Mike Pence, the raving theocrat who wants gay people to have conversion therapy! And yet. Trump campaigned very, very hard for minority votes, despite having the media against him. He said he would do everything in his power to protect them from the “violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology”, evoking massive cheers that caused him to follow up, “As a Republican, it is so nice to hear you cheering for what I just said”. Was he just lying? He’s on record saying Caitlin Jenner should be able to use whatever bathroom she likes. Nor should it be forgotten that it wasn’t so long ago he was a Democrat — and friendly with the Clintons, come to think of it. Indeed, the only outright bigoted thing I know he’s said is that he opposed and continues to oppose gay marriage — a bit like both Obama and Hillary not so long ago — and, while I don’t excuse any of them, I can’t see even a Republican-dominated House managing to repeal it. The stereotype that Republicans are a bunch of drivelling evangelicals itching to crucify atheists, castrate parents out of wedlock and put minorities to work in the mines is old and tired, and we all know it. That kind of attitude is prevalent among the leadership, which we’ll come on to, but not the majority.
The tapes? What do they actually prove? That he’s a selfish rich jock who likes to brag and talk shit? Who didn’t already know that? No. Not all men are like that, and his behaviour isn’t acceptable for someone about to take such high office, and it shows how much of a self-centred megalomaniac he is. But isn’t it a bit extreme to conclude he despises women and views them as second-class citizens? Imagine hearing the same words from a male in your own family. A slap? I hope so. Does he hate women? No. I don’t know how he could, for the amount he parades his wife and daughter around for some extra PR. One thing Mr. Trump absolutely has to be commended for (and even Mrs. Clinton admitted this) is his devoted family. I think the unending support of his well-behaved, charismatic children is a very strong indicator that he isn’t a tyrannical madman; bad dads don’t get that far.
I didn’t want to write a gushing defence and I promise there’ll be plenty of condemnation to come, but it actually seems to me that the Donald has not only pushed the Republican Party leftwards, but also injected its upper echelons with some of the liberalism he’s so often said to be devoid of. To start with, Trump almost certainly believes in protectionism. Listening to his speeches, he talks about little else, and as a businessman I’m sure economics is something he holds very close to his heart, and may even be his motivation for running. He wants to take America out of NAFTA; he wants to make sure TPP doesn’t happen; he wants to aggressively renegotiate all of the country’s trade deals, using almost Keynesian, Roosevelt-esque investment and public work schemes to bring jobs back and secure the country against economic “rape”; with a couple of exceptions, countries he wants to deepen ties with, he wants America to withdraw from the world stage considerably and focus on domestic policy. He’s certainly not a sincere man, but of all things why would he lie about any of that? Protectionism, it’s true, was once a Republican position, long ago, but the Party today is the party of free trade, and they certainly never advocated large-scale public spending. Like it or not — like them or not — these are or have become inherently left-wing positions. Also, look at the runner-up in the primary: Ted Cruz. Imagine if the Democratic Party nominated Trump and the Republicans nominated Cruz, the man who is something close to a breathing stereotype. What would you be saying then? It’s true that Trump has been the most popular candidate with evangelicals for a long time, but he’s also among the less conservative hopefuls that were running. I’m not actually convinced he is a conservative, although he’s lied so much I don’t suppose we’ll know for a few years at least. The one thing that’s certain, though, is that he’s a heterodox candidate, and it doesn’t bode well to believe everything you hear on CNN — or Infowars.
Because he is a heterodox candidate, and if I really believed this rosy picture I’ve painted in the last few paragraphs I wouldn’t be so pessimistic right now. You can’t just ignore the good or the bad; there are certainly elephants in the room, not least among which is the way he’s played up tensions and purposefully deepened the divides in America to get to the top. He may not have started the Birther Movement, but he certainly exploited it; he deftly played on the fears of many Americans in the Rustbelt of immigration, of Islam, of the establishment and of foreign corporations and governments, exaggerating very real problems to drum up disproportional hysteria, all the while maintaining the cover that he never explicitly said anything racist or nativist; as little as he personally got his hands dirty he certainly turned an inexcusable blind eye when his supporters beat and intimidated people, ripping religious clothing from students and graffitiing walls, and he diverted attention away by making a big deal out of Team Clinton consciously organising the same kind of behaviour by dispatching disruptors to start fights at his rallies. And his long list of terrifying and monstrous statements is almost physically sickening:
- He said he would hunt down the families of ISIS members.
- He said he would charge tribute from NATO members, or at least instruct them to pull a weight of some kind.
- He said he would impose a 45% tariff on China.
- He said he would build that ridiculous wall.
- He said climate change was “a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese”.
- He said he would gleefully destroy Obama’s entire legacy.
By “Obama’s legacy” there can be little doubt he means two things: climate change legislation, and Obamacare. I don’t really like the Affordable Care Act, and I can’t decide if it’s slightly better than nothing or slightly worse than nothing. By axing the Public Option to get it passed (a state insurance program), what Obama essentially did was create a mandate to buy private insurance; the Public Option was I think the only way healthcare could be feasibly reformed in a country like the United States, at least for the time being, and by castrating his bill he brought in something at best negligible, and at worst very bad. I wouldn’t mind if Trump really did replace it with “something much better”, but I know he won’t, and I know he won’t because he hasn’t said what it is.
Climate change legislation is another matter entirely. Obama has generally been a feeble, overly conciliatory president. If you compare speeches when he was running compared to after he won, he just looks cold, defeated; idealists don’t get to survive very long in office anyway, but he the special pain of being foiled by a Republican House at every turn. Climate change was the one exception. In the last eight years he has managed not only to legislate on it effectively, but also raise public awareness and increase support for the cause. With Trump totally disregarding all of that and vowing to break pretty much every environmental regulation in the country, the future does not look good. John Gibbons, of An Taisce, and Irish environmental charity, said that the life expectancy of anyone under the age of 30 will be significantly reduced if Mr Trump abides by even a small portion of his promises, so says the Times. He has signalled his intention to roll back the Clean Power Plan and withdraw from the Paris Agreement, and has already installed Myron Ebell at the head of his EPA transition team, a fervent denier and a so-called “climate criminal”.
So there’s good and there’s bad, I guess. You want to know what I think? I think Mr. Trump has no plan. He never had a plan. He’s the only president ever with no prior government or military experience, going straight from Trump Tower to the White House, and he just took it day-to-day, preaching about all of the “beautiful” things he would do, without thinking too hard about having to do them. He didn’t draw up a manifesto or brainstorm ideas with friends and experts. He just saw some things very clearly wrong with the country, came up with some quick, speedy solutions, and decided to run for office and have a go at fixing them. Our rulers, it must be remembered, are very rarely morons or geniuses or divine or evil, but are fallible and human, like any of us. I think he’s just a big, blonde Silvio Berlusconi.