We call Scotland a “small” country. But it is diverse: a Borders farmer; a Buchan fisherman, a Bara crofter, a Glesca bauchle differ ;ile chalk and cheese, even as they are are Scots. No wonder, then, that the USA—at some 65 times our size—displays even wider diversity. And leading this amazing fusion of cultures and races for exactly one year has been Donald J. Trump.
Retirement last year let me spend four months of it in the country where I lived for 16 years. I found it no longer the country of the 80s and 90s I once knew. The many changes are not all due to the Trump presidency. Changes can be traced to Vietnam, the ending of the Cold War and the 2008 recession But the last year has seen change accelerate and Trump has been the catalyst for most.
During the 20th century, America was the rich leader of the rich Western world. In that period, a tenet of faith among Americans was, not only did they lead that world but they did so from the best, most democratic Government man could devise. Given a continent to exploit, millions of eager immigrants to exploit it and very few external threats to their system (barring nuclear annihilation) their economy roared, their people prospered and their system appeared ideal.
But it relied on a unique American ability to hammer diverse peoples into one nation sharing common culture and cause. The fact that two political parties were given and arm-lock on politics and both were right wing bothered few. Like the noblesse oblige that once drove Victorian Tory and Liberal parties in Britain, congressmen, senators and evn presidents found common ground on which all could prosper.
After World War 2, America bestrode he world economy like a Titan. It produced everything for its own huge internal market. But the rise of Asia as an economic force changed that. It started with Korean steel, then Japanese cars and electronics, then Australian coal, Taiwanese computers etc. But these were small countries. Nnow, in the 21st century, another Titan has come of age: China. It even threatens the USA as the world’s biggest economy.
Starting with oil shocks in the 1970s, America has been losing jobs and relative wealth. As creative and innovative people they have countered with inventive alternative: semiconductors, the Internet, mobile phones, social media. But this new wealth did not spread coast to coast, before, Smaller numbers of people got much richer; bigger numbers got poorer. For a while, the American dream survived. Because of the money required to be elected, politicians fell ever more into the former while your average “Joel Sixpack” blue-collar worker fell into the latter.
When he was elected in 2008, Barack Obama might have found an antidote to this. But the recession spurred the (more conservative) Republican party opposed his every move, preparing the ground for a Republican president to restoore economic nirvana. Had they selected one of their perfect-hair be-suited mannequins own, another Reagan or Bush might have resulted. But dark-horse Trump blind-sided, first the Republican establishment to get selected, then the Democrat establishment, who thought minority and women’s votes would torpedo a xenophobic, misogynistic braggart.
Neither party—and most media commentators—pickrd up that heartland America had fallen out of love with the once revered system, once foubt of “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”. Unlike the mealy mouthed mannequins, Trump boasted and blagged his way into their hearts, using language no Senator would use. He was the right man with the right message at the right moment. The fact that he never intended to win, having entered only as another ego trips may be regarded by history with some irony.
After a year, his core support is holding steady at 30%. That he has achieved little from his manifesto That he has upset a wide spectrum of groups, is ignored. That political pundits claim he tweets like a spoilted 8-year-old is ignored. But all get media coverage—on which he thrives. His immigrant ban is tied up in courts—but it gets media coverage. His cabinet is packed with unqualified sycophants—but it gets media coverage.
And here we come to the perfect storm of sound bite over substance. While many civic groups beside the Democrats wail and gnash teeth at his behaviour, his shattering of shibboleths remains popular. This is, in large part, due to American media entering the debate with both feet. While Auntie Beeb may still strive for objectivity, in the land of the free that barely exists. The once pure System has been bypassed. There is no national print media; the myriad local papers make Citizen Kane look objective. Television is worse. Fox News is indistinguishable from Tump’s own Press Office, while ABC and NBC networks follow his every move, driven by ratings, not principle. PBS, trying to balance this out, leans too much the anti-Trump way. Worst of all is Radio, the hundreds of stations are fragmented over six time zones. Most play music; the many evangelical stations are all pro-Trump; a few purport to be news stations but varying from mildly supportive to rabid “shock jocks” who use freedom of speech to court libel actions on a daily basis.
As a result, around 90% of all Americans are exposed to media supportive of Trump and his policies, however scatterbrained. On the anniversary on his inauguration, he attended are pro-life rally with his vice president Mike Pence; this was reported favourably. Whether his sole achievement— a tax break favouring corporations and the rich—will revive the economy and bring jobs home remains to be seen. Foreign Affairs get short shrift. Upsetting the North Koreans with insults or pulling out of the Paris climate accord or recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital rate little coverage. So far, such dangerously disjointed foreign policy has not started any wars. But this does not auger well for any future eyeball-to-eyeball.
If the economy does move into high near, if his daily pratfalls do not hinder America standkng tall again, he might even secure a second term, especially if the Democrats (the only choice the American system offers voters) continue to suck teeth while doing the headless chicken. Chance would be a fine thing. More likely is some international mishap drags America into recession and thenrest of the world with it. But the worst legacy may be unbridgeable divide in American Society that confounds all that two centuries of cultural integration had achieved.
Then an old witticism may prove to be true: that America is the only Great Nation to have gone from barbarism to decadence without any intervening civilisation.