World as we know it will change with Trump as US President

Both the pro- and anti-Trump camps need to acknowledge that America's structural problems are grave, pressing and severe.

 |  5-minute read |   27-01-2017
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Will the end of the American century happen with a whimper, a bang or the rubble of protest signage? The signs — trampled debris of lusty activism — ran the gamut from erudite and witty, to the outright vulgar.

Taking aim at the new resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, protesters sought to put President Donald Trump on notice about future actions he might take damaging women’s rights, failing to protect the planet, and some even denied he was their president.

Challenges

It’s heartening to witness, in an apathetic era where few bother to vote, a portion of the American body politic so galvanised. If nothing else, we’ve Trump to thank for this. With earnestness and zeal, well-meaning folk across the land hoisted banners on high, donned woollen pink pussycat hats and, alternately, purred or hissed in unison, posting prodigiously on social media to signal virtuous solidarity.

marchbd_012717082507.jpg Protesters sought to put President Donald Trump on notice about future actions he might take damaging women’s rights.

Social activism writ large faces a number of critical challenges. First, there’s the moral constitution of the activist. Mahatma Gandhi, the progenitor of modern protesting, lodged it firmly within a spiritual frame of compassion, satyagraha and non-violence. Cognisant of the need for a certain grace and sanctity, Gandhi called for individuals to act with dignified authenticity if they are to advance social causes with moral authority.

There’s a fine line between genuine conviction and crude self-righteous posturing. Properly-constituted, individual agency contoured by humility is empowering. The opposite is rabble-roused frenzy with crude turns of phrase that conclude with self-congratulatory pats on the back.

Oddly, incivilities and mob-based social anomie, the very thing that many protesters were railing against, was embraced by some as par for the course. With Hollywood in town, everything turned R-rated in a mishmash of metaphor and rage, preluded by Meryl Streep’s breathy meretricious melodrama.

Protesting and ruling implicate presence or lack of forms of virtue. If angels were to govern men (and women), Madison reminds us, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. Trump is no paragon of rectitude, nor does he profess to be such. And politicians of every ilk should be held accountable, acknowledging that in democracies sovereignty resides with the people.

There are also institutions in place to check and balance power. Political transitions are always bumpy, and even former President Barack Obama, for whom Trump is an anathema, urged the public to give him a chance.

Another challenge for social movements is direction. Amorphous, rudderless protests for protest’s sake are the stuff of college campuses. Absent a clear agenda, leadership with a coherent platform, and a message capable of converting sceptics to the cause, protests fizzle or fail. History shows that when activism topples a status quo, creates a void, or unleashes anarchic forces, darker realities often emerge.

An unfathomable ambition of some protesters is to have the new administration fail. To this is appended a hope that its policies will be even worse than any conceivable worst-case scenario. They welcome the apocalypse as a self-fulfiling prophesy. This is the kernel of American decline — a destructive burn-down-the-house stance that’s at the other end of the spectrum from the civil rights movement of the 1960s which propelled America forward.

Reckoning

Hillary Clinton herself unleashed some of this. As Thomas Frank pointed out in The Guardian, her campaign turned on the vacuous proposition that she is the last thing standing between you and the end of the world. Her coronation denied, the end of the world is surely nigh. In truth, it’s the end of America that is at issue with the country buckling at the knees, buttressed only by a toxic ideology of exceptionalism where rhetoric and reality are severely out of sync.

Throughout two terms Obama invoked and promulgated the rose-coloured exceptionalism myth. The truth of the matter is a plainly different picture. The 2016 election represents a major reckoning. Crumbling roads and collapsing bridges, a failing education system, tens of trillions of dollars of public and private indebtedness, crime-infested inner cities, declining race relations, underfunded pensions, swelling prison systems, stagnating wages and income inequality define the dystopic topography of contemporary America.

To this one can add levels of legalised corruption that would make every founder of the republic recoil. Then there’s the centrepiece of the Obama legacy, the so-called Affordable Care Act. Although its aims were laudable, hijacked by the insurance lobby and big pharma, it has exacerbated the exorbitant costs of healthcare. Objective stakeholders acknowledge it must be revised.

Agitation

How the ripple effects of pro- and anti-Trump agitation play out will be telling for America. Can there be a pulling together, will people finally acknowledge that the deep structural problems in the country are grave, pressing and severe?

Foremost among them is the decimated middle class required to be the engine of a 70 per cent consumption economy. Or will the moral bankruptcy of balkanised identity politics predominate, where polarised communal raging takes precedence over notions of the common good and actions reduce to brutish wills to power?

Of course, America is not alone in its social and political ills. Politics, out of touch with people, is fuelling populism everywhere: near economic collapse from overindebtedness is ubiquitous, environmental challenges are mounting, and the inability to build coalitions collectively to recognise and address existing and impending crises is the norm.

If Trump’s major role has been to declare that something is rotten in the state of Denmark, this is a step forward. What he can fix remains to be seen. One way or another, the Trump presidency will reshape America and the world.

Borrowing Hillary Clinton’s memorable term, it’s time for us to realise we’re all deplorables now — saddled with a similar plight on the same dying horse.

Perhaps this realisation can knit together a nation and doff the woolly caps. Time will tell whether in the euphoria of protest mania this is simply too much to ask.

(Courtesy of Mail Today.)

Also read: Why the Women's March struck a chord all over the world

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Writer

Peter V Rajsingh Peter V Rajsingh

The writer divides his time between New York and Gurgaon.

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