Monday, October 31, 2016

The American nightmare

Dear USA,

Snap out of it.

Putting up Donald Trump as a primary candidate was funny. I must admit, I thought he'd burn out long ago. In particular, I couldn't see how the religious wing of the GOP could ever support such a transparently debauched man, one who - unlike, say, George W Bush before him - does not even pay lip service to repentance and redemption, his own or anyone else's. (Note, I'm not accusing GWB of lip service - I think he was quite sincere, for whatever that's worth. But Trump doesn't even pretend to be anything but a satyr.)

But that joke stopped being funny roundabout the time of the Republican convention.

This man has vowed to repeal the 16th amendment, to turn the US army into a mercenary corps, to sharply raise the national debt (including, he makes no attempt to conceal, taking as much money as he can stuff into his pockets for himself), to start a trade war that looks set to make people nostalgic for the Great Depression, to introduce a religious test for would-be immigrants (and even tourists, for that matter), and to look the other way while Russia rebuilds the Soviet empire - thus, incidentally, throwing away Ronald Reagan's greatest achievement.

People make excuses for all this. They say things like "the media is out to get him" - ignoring the fact that everything they know about Trump comes from "media", the only choice being between "media controlled more or less directly by Trump" (which says nice things about him), and "media that isn't" (which, for the most part, doesn't) - yet a large number of Americans have somehow persuaded themselves that the former are more trustworthy than the latter. Or they say "he always takes an extreme position to open negotiations, so he can make concessions" - which, apart from sounding like something that could have been said of Hitler, also implies that you know the man's lying but you give him a pass, because of course what he really means is whatever you happen to want him to mean. He's projected himself as, effectively, a blank canvas onto which people paint their own ideas, and delude themselves that he shares them.

I'm sorry the Democrats couldn't find anyone better than Hillary to run against Trump. Yes, she's uninspiring. Unlike her husband, she's never been a good orator. She's too old, too unprincipled, and has too many skeletons in her closet. Yet on all three counts, she's still somewhere between "much" and "infinitely" better than Trump.

But if you want to know why the Democrats couldn't find anyone better, look in a mirror. Hillary's route to power, unlike Donald's, has been one that's open to any middle-class American. If you want to make that kind of change, 30 years down the line - start now.

I know there's a popular idea that the country is run by and for powerful, corrupt elites. But that's bullshit. It's very popular bullshit, because it gives everyone in America an alibi for why their life hasn't worked out the way they wanted - but still purest, weapons-grade bullshit, peddled by people like Trump and his friend Mr Putin, because both of them have put a lot of effort into disempowering ordinary, middle-class Americans.

And if you were even thinking of voting for Trump, be ashamed. The man is the opposite of everything that made America worthwhile:

that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement [...] [A] dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.

If Trump has his way, then "the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position" will become the only thing that matters.

What's horrifying to me is that it looks like almost 50% of the country - including, if the polls are to be believed, a clear majority of the men - are in favour of this programme.

I don't know if America can ever recover from this fiasco. If Hillary could (contrary to the polls) score a landslide victory on the scale of Reagan in 1980, that would go a long way to repairing the damage. But if the election is close, or if (God forbid) Trump wins - that will mark a step in US decline comparable to the reign of the Emperor Commodus.