Does Trump Embody who we are?
On parsing the root causes of self-inflicted political distress
Could Trump be the most honest representation of America to date?
Offensive though he comes across to many, the CEO of America Inc. is hardly a shocking sight in a country where profiteering is its own form of culture and greed is a virtue.
In the US, everything is commodified and has a price tag; many are the people who can’t stop bragging about how much they make and have, as if their humanness accrued with every extra dollar.
It’s no wonder the initial mannered outrage that used to greet every new air bubble Trump released on twitter was eventually replaced with detachment and resignation. For the longest time, no one batted an eyelid anymore and normalization set in.
However, some folks are belatedly starting to take notice and they feel triggered by their notifications because Trump is being a racist and harassing congresswomen on social media. And yet, America’s commander-in-chief is simply being himself, same as he’s always been.
We can’t even say we weren’t warned.
A preview for his presidency, his was the most daring campaign the world had ever seen. And so singular it was met with ridicule and collective disbelief as the US media failed to take Trump seriously and identify him as a threat.
And yet, the finished product does exactly what it said on the tin, much to the detriment of an unraveling democracy.
He told us who he was from the get go; we chose not to believe him.
Many of us are having a hard time reconciling America’s political predicament with who we thought we were.
However, the shouty bully off the TV we looked upon as little more than a buffoon with zero street cred and even less charisma didn’t teleport to the highest office in the land by magic.
We the people enabled him. Many are those who fell hook, line, and sinker for his spurious claims. Even if his ascendancy remains incomprehensible to anyone whose ears, eyes, and heart work, his babble clearly makes sense to some. Constant circumlocution that defies the rules of grammar and contains more noise than signal isn’t even a hindrance.
Because we’re all listening and watching him regardless, aghast and mesmerized in equal measures. Trump has got us exactly where he wants us, hanging on to his every word, a glowing, pouting orange deity in a power tie we all carry in our pockets.
He’s the tetchy tamagotchi we conjure up with the tickle of a touch screen as apprehension gnaws at our insides.
Daily American life has become the greatest show on earth.
It is a show in which every human in the land has unwittingly ended up with a bit part.
Every day, we watch ourselves losing the plot on screens and in print as we scramble furiously for news of judicial salvation. Now that the shared mythology of American exceptionalism has self-destructed, the Constitution is the only tangible common ground we’ve got left.
And yet, we act surprised that capitalism combined with individualism turned out to be potentially lethal to democracy.
Gingerly, we look to history for clues on how to deal with a new reality most of us are unfamiliar with and thus ill-equipped to handle. And we look to marginalized humans and assorted minority groups for guidance, still ignorant that this new reality has been theirs for a lifetime, often even many generations.
Online, we deploy hashtags, emojis, memes, and myopic pseudo think pieces fanning the flames of outrage for clicks and bucks. On the streets, we deploy placards, knitted hats, bold t-shirts, tote bags, and assorted apparel. It is imperative we be visibly identifiable as custodians of decency in a world turned ugly and gone awry. It is imperative we register our resistance in any way possible.
It is also imperative we milk America’s political predicament for as much profit as we can.
As marketers found out two years ago, the word resistance has miraculous wallet-loosening effects.
But resistance to what, exactly?
America is like a cat who’s just discovered it’s got a tail and started chasing it, unaware that the tail is part of her rather than a removable appendage.
Trump didn’t materialize out of thin air overnight, he’s been a long time coming but his arrival still startled us.
We weren’t quite prepared for an all-in-one package embodying the very worst of America in a multimedia-ready product.
Trump is very much a creature of our times, a dab hand at manipulating public opinion via social media despite his diminutive digits. Bing, bing, bing goes the ratings machine as he continues to boost circulation, pulling the fourth estate back into the black.
Trump is the pure product of a “culture” that has long placed a premium on profit and celebrity at the detriment of everything else. He is living and breathing proof that you can say and do whatever you want when you’re rich and famous in America.
And you can even recoup your investment when you get to the top. There’s always going to be someone willing to pony up for access so they can boast about rubbing shoulders with power at the golf club.
All those thrills are available for purchase directly from the man who closed the biggest deal of his life on Nov 8, 2016.
The mere mention of the presidential patronym still causes instant revulsion in many Americans.
It is a daily reminder that the all-pervading sense of doom infecting our lives isn’t going away any time soon and may even endure. It is doom anyone with a spine feels duty-bound to stave off and resist but how, and for how long?
The work of dissent is exhausting, prone to making middle fingers seize up in erect position, and it frequently feels inadequate. But giving in to laissez-faire could be a death warrant for someone who isn’t you yet but could be you next.
Day after day, we resolve not to let our voices fall silent. Alas, most of us are either too young or have led too sheltered a life to have any blueprint for resistance. We’re feeling our way forward through the fog of confusion whichever way we can as we grieve for all we’ve already lost.
Gone is our worldwide reputation as a beacon of freedom and new beginnings; gone is the respect and admiration of our friends and allies.
Gone is the greatest illusion of all: American exceptionalism.
The orange alarm clock sounded a rude awakening from the American dream.
We’re no more special than any other nation on earth, no more immune to the threat of autocracy than a Central Asian country. We’re no more tolerant in places than Apartheid-era South Africa, no less arrogant than a French president refusing to dump bombs on Irak in the name of oil.
And we’re certainly no cleverer than our former island colons who voted to sever ties with their biggest trade partners in a fit of bigotry and have been politically adrift ever since, wondering how to deal with Brexit.
But we still fancy ourselves as clued up, we still strut around acting all offended and hurt that Trump happened because he puts into question everything we held true about ourselves as a country.
We don’t know who we are anymore.
But the grim truth is that it took a political upheaval of seismic magnitude for us to start translating American ideals into action. Trump forced us to take notice of those who aren’t like us and remember where we come from.
Nevertheless, we won’t to acknowledge America has long provided the perfect ecosystem for Trump and his ilk to thrive.
For example, we’re still beholden to an archaic electoral system. But because it had never knowingly malfunctioned, we didn’t know we could vote overwhelmingly for one person and end up with the also-ran.
What if the coronation of Trump was America’s comeuppance?
Could it have been the culmination of years spent pandering to profit and celebrity and calling it “culture”?
When you glorify entertainment over education and mass consumption over curiosity, Trump is what you get.
When the bling bling technicolor lives of anyone on a screen are what you aspire to and regard whatever product they endorse as a magic status upgrade, Trump is what you get.
When you mistake your TV for a mirror or spot the possibility of a state-sanctioned way to line your pockets for four years, Trump is what you get.
When you don’t realize democracy should never be used as a collateral and elections aren’t a business transaction, Trump is what you get.
The year is 2019 and America yet has to become self-aware; we keep failing the national test of character that is the Trump presidency. Instead of living up to who we thought we were and still can be, we become more and more entrenched in our differences in the name of profit.
2020 could well kill America and it is within our power to protect it if only we can finally find it in ourselves to come together for the common good.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.