For over a year now, I’ve been seeing numerous variations of the same message on Facebook and other social apps. I am directed to some new piece of media where a celebrity / writer / well meaning type says or does something which definitively ‘takes down’ Donald Trump, or ‘slays’ or ‘skewers’ or somehow sexually humiliates Donald Trump; you get the picture.
The red witch from Game of Thrones must be secretly hanging out in the guy’s entourage, because despite having endured more death blows than Rocky Balboa, Trump is very much still in the land of the standing, and is closer than anyone would have dreamed to parking his butt on the most powerful chair in the world, not to mention acquiring his own stockpile of nuclear weapons.
Unless of course there are serial Trumps: an identical series of bizarre hairstyles wheeled out after each new ritual media slaying. I don’t want to be racist, or for that matter speciesist, but you’ve got to wonder about that orange skin. It may not be as mad as it sounds. The only other alternative would be to realize that polite (or downright nasty) social media slayings simply don’t work on the likes of the Donald.
One might have thought Trump’s own response to the Orlando murders would have done the trick, a sort of self-inflicted stake through the heart perhaps. The response was mean-spirited, crass and tasteless. The initial tweet alone would probably have been enough to end the career of any establishment politician. But it was exactly what you might expect from a creature spawned out of the ooze of Reality TV, and therein lies a clue to the invulnerability of the Donald, and why media and business power elites might actually – in another of those poisonous ironies of which history seems so fond – have written the blueprint for their own destruction.
Not that Trump is some sort of messiah. Don’t get me wrong. You’d want to be a certified cretin to believe that, and it seems that many of us actually are. The idea that an inherited billionaire frat boy has become the lightning rod for the voiceless, the custodian of the sacred wrath of millions, is almost too stupid even for Reality TV, but that’s life right now. Forget irony, even history’s given up on that (it’s just too damn highbrow), let’s just do downright silly instead.
What is most shocking perhaps, most difficult to get your head around and call a concept, is how political elites on both sides of the Atlantic are behaving as though Trumpism is something which has erupted out of nowhere, something that just poured into politics from another dimension. Then again, maybe even this isn’t terribly surprising. In order to keep existing, political elites have to act as though the last fifteen years didn’t happen, or as if the rest of us were somewhere else when they did.
If Hillary Clinton hadn’t lost the Democratic nomination for US President to Barack Obama in 2008, then the most powerful office in the entire world would have been rotated between just two families for 24 years, i.e. an entire generation. What better metaphor could there have been for the way upward mobility has vanished from the West? And there were plenty of muttered suggestions at the time (not muttered very loudly of course) that Obama was actually the preferred choice of the power elite, the more acceptable to the cannibalistic plutocrats of Wall Street and so on.
When Obama was running for re-election in 2012, the Republican candidate for Vice-President, Paul Ryan, had this fantastic soundbyte about how the kids who voted for Obama in 2008 were still sitting in bedrooms in their parents’ houses, still waiting for the economy to improve while staring at fading posters of their idol. Not that Ryan and his ilk would have done a damn thing about any of that, of course, but isn’t it amazing how often the devil gets the best lines?
On both sides of the North Atlantic, hundreds of millions of people are continuing to slide inexorably towards and below the poverty line. They are doing this because of globalisation, because corporations are constantly trying to pare labour costs down as close to starving as possible, and the leaders of government, who went to the same schools and the same frats as the leaders of corporations, are letting them. People are watching themselves become economically extinct, because as another US right wing commentator pointed out, there is no way they can compete with immigrants who are willing to sleep fifteen or twenty to an apartment.
Since the early 1980’s – through Reaganomics in the US, Thatcherism in Britain and the various mutations thereof in other countries – the citizens of the West have been suckered into a giant pyramid scheme. Like all pyramid schemes, it’s worked out just fine for those at the top, while those at the bottom (the great, great majority by the way, don’t tell me I need to remind you of the shape of a pyramid?) are inexorably crushed. The scheme has discarded previously existing social contracts all over the world – the notion that democracy involves a covenant whereby the strong are tied to the weak by some concept, however vague, of fairness and justice – in favour of a free for all where the poor get rapidly poorer and the hyper-rich are propelled at increasing velocity towards becoming almost another species.
There was a time, not long ago, when no one except the extreme left believed that governments would place the interests of hyper-rich, speculative plutocrats ahead of the basic health and housing needs of their citizens, but this is precisely what has happening throughout Europe (with varying levels of severity) since 2008. Living standards have nosedived and basic state services have been butchered as nation states attempt to repay the debts of criminally irresponsible bankers.
There was once a half-conscious assumption that capitalism functioned pretty much like the track, or like betting on a football game, and that those who gambled fortunes sustained the character building experience of paying for their losses themselves. Since 2008 however, the holders of bonds in crashed US and European banks have enjoyed the supposedly impossible experience of having their cake and eating it.
It gets better. Almost no one in the West seems to realize that capitalism as we were taught to know it pretty much died on the day in 2008 when the most right wing US President for eighty years (George W Bush) carried out the biggest nationalization in the history of the world (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac). It’s been dead ever since. Any opportunity it used to offer you and me is dead. Any real risk it entailed to the hyper-rich is dead.
We’ve been shown that almost everything we were taught growing up – about values, about mores, about being responsible for your actions, about hard work and ability bringing just reward – was absolute bullshit, and that it actually all comes down to who starts with the most money, who knows the right people.
Trump and Brexit are two sides of the same thing, happening on opposite sides of the Atlantic. It’s not that people love Trump. Let’s face it, he’s pretty unlovable. No US political figure since Richard Nixon has dared look so ugly on TV, and even Nixon basically just wanted people to love him. Trump practically revels in his unlovability. But he has positioned himself so very cleverly as the conduit for so much of the anger that pervades the bottom of the pyramid, even while saying scarily pharoanic things like how he’d marry his daughter if she wasn’t, like, his daughter.
For the moment though, Trump is far less important than what he represents. That may of course change when he gets his hands on the nukes, but there is no way of knowing where what he represents is ultimately going. Yes, the peasants are revolting. If it seems mad that their champion is a billionaire frat boy, then let us ask ourselves about the last time someone won high office in the West without access to obscene amounts of money.
What people on both sides of the North Atlantic want is an end to the same power elites. It’s not that the British hate Europe. Most of them, believe it or not, actually don’t. What they hate is ageing, past their sell by date politicians and civil servants who refuse to go away, no matter what, pursuing exactly the same policies no matter what, and paying themselves obscene amounts of money no matter what. They want these unchanging power elites gone, and for the moment, they’re not too bothered about what replaces them.
What is most frightening perhaps, is that the same power elites appear to believe they can keep it all going, simply by doing more of the same, by shutting eyes and ears and pretending that Trump somehow isn’t happening.
My own country, Ireland, is an example. Its government’s response to the financial crisis was to slash lower incomes and kick savagely at the poor and ill, all the time spinning furiously about a largely fictitious ‘recovery’ which has benefitted almost nobody. The government which did all that was rejected by voters in unprecedented numbers, yet continues to try and limp on, tinkering pointlessly at the edges of a homeless crisis as if the existing Irish system, which offers outrageous privilege to politicians, big business, senior civil servants and professionals at the expense of just about everyone else, can somehow be kept ticking along infinitely on life support.
Privilege, it seems, is no guarantee of intelligence, and Ireland – like many other places – is headed for choppy waters indeed.
And Trump might just do it, you know. Hillary may be, by the old measures, just about the most qualified person ever to run for US President, but she’s a poor, poor campaigner. She looks even more tired than she did eight years ago, and she looked pretty tired back then. It’s all going to be very interesting.