Discussing Trump Abroad

My work takes me to countries all over the world.  But it’s not just work.  Since Trump’s ascendancy the need on my part for a kind of psychological decompression, every couple of months or so, outside the US has become almost imperative.

I’ve been an academic mercenary in the US since 1987, that is, someone in the immensely fortunate position of being able to work here legally without becoming citizen.  I’ve been given some grief for taking this position, but still believe it’s possible to contribute to the American “knowledge economy” while being a non-citizen who pays all his taxes (unlike so-and-so, beginning with the current US president, and in the country of my citizenship, the queen of England, the latter according to disclosures made recently in the Paradise Papers).  What is it that they say about the fish rotting from the head first?

The possession of citizenship, more often than not a matter of convenience for the 1% who can in many cases afford to buy multiple passports — Paul Manafort, the lobbyist who was Orange Swindler’s campaign manager, and now facing criminal charges, owns 3 passports–  is certainly not coextensive with being someone who works and pays their taxes!

Going abroad, however, whether it be in Malaysia or Greece or wherever, confronts the person living in America with the inevitable questions about Trumplandia.  Foreigners, at least those who are curious, are bewildered by Trumplandia, and its master of ceremonies, the Orange Swindler.

Here are some of the questions, obviously reflecting very different levels of informed opinion or interest in American politics, and in some cases a measure of satire, I’ve faced outside the US since the Orange Swindler’s ascendancy.

How can someone with four bankruptcies become president of their country? Or with being a self-declared sexual harasser?

Why does Melania Trump always look miserable when she is seen alongside him?

Does Trump have some kind of psychological condition associated with his observable behaviours X, Y, or Z?

Can someone so oblivious to the difference between truth and lying be voted president of the most powerful and richest country on earth (okay, we are not talking here about someone like Idi Amin and poor Uganda)?

Does bringing his manifestly unqualified children into his administration not amount to outright nepotism?

Is Trump under the influence of Vladimir Putin for whatever known or unknown reason?

Is Trump as rich as he says he is?

Why do so many self-proclaimed Christians belong to Trump’s base?

Given his cabinet of unqualified billionaires, is Trump really “draining the swamp” in the way he promised?

Will Trump be impeached?

Given that he was obviously unqualified for office, did Trump really expect to win the election?

Is Trump a white supremacist?  For example, he never calls whites who are mass shooters, of whom there have been several in recent years, “terrorists”, but uses this term when someone who professes to be Muslim drives their vehicle into a group of pedestrians.

Can Trump even find Germany, the homeland of his immigrant großvater, on a map?

Do those who voted for him now feel betrayed?

Who is a typical Trump voter?

Does Trump represent a crisis for the Republican party?

He can’t spell when he’s on Twitter, so is he as highly educated as he makes out to be (his own Secretary of State/foreign minister, Rex Tillerson, has called him a “moron”)?

Is Trump addicted to golf (asked by someone who plays golf)?

Nearly every one of these questions is impossible to answer with a real degree of certainty.  Yes, Trump has an inordinate self-regard, and his base has been sold down the river by him, though cognitive dissonance in whatever available form serves them well in denying this.  We also have, thanks to a plethora of surveys, a pretty good idea of who supports Trump (and it bucks the conventional wisdom that his supporters were predominantly “rednecks”).

As for the rest of the questions posed above, even the serious ones, there are no real convincing answers.

Potentially more conclusive is an attempt to identify the structural conditions which made it possible for the kind of political subject to which we give the name “Trump” to emerge.

As a clue to identifying these structural conditions, the obvious needs to be said:  the Orange Swindler had his harbingers.

Dubya Bush was one such forerunner, of course, with his minuscule attention span, malapropisms, incoherent sentences, countless gaffes (e.g., one recalls that when on a visit to Tokyo, and unable to tell the difference between currency depreciation and devaluation, Dubya caused the Japanese yen to tank on international currency markets when he used the latter term to refer to the former, until his staff issued a hasty correction to undo what Dubya had done to sink the yen).  There are entire websites devoted to Dubyaisms.  Doubtless the Orange Swindler will receive similar attention, if this has not happened already.

And let’s not forget the ignoramus Sarah Palin, with her circus of a family (some may recall that Sarah Palin’s daughter Bristol was the patron of a “chastity pledge” organization until two unwanted pregnancies impelled the termination of Bristol’s position as the organization’s patron).

Clearly a very strong case could be made on behalf of Sarah and Bristol Palin for their needing to support the potentially more helpful Planned Parenthood (let’s say), instead of some flim-flam “chastity pledge” organization.

But, hey, this is rightwing America!

The Orange Swindler is not such an anomaly when we analyze the underlying conditions making his ascendancy possible.

This analysis will also have to account for the rise of Dubya and Palin, and before that, a then little-known governor of the state of Arkansas, notorious before and subsequently for his recurrently lascivious conduct, and his push, along with his spouse, to make the Democrats a “Republican lite” party.

Numerous CounterPunch writers have provided such analyses over the course of the last couple of decades.

The onset and consolidation of neoliberalism has seen a consistent transfer of wealth upwards from the have-less to the have-lots.  Desperate people, hoping something will be done for them, turn to the political equivalent of snake-oil retailers.

There is now an emerging film genre featuring the wolfish characters who take the low road to Wall Street.  Some call this “predatory capitalism”, though it is easier to call it greedy-bastard capitalism.  And of course, the greedy bastards have the politicians in their pockets.  Hillary Clinton cared more for these bastards than she did for Joe and Jill Normal in Appalachia.  The Orange Swindler at least put on a show for the Normals.

Understanding this is really that simple, but doing something about it, for now at any rate, is an entirely different matter.

Kenneth Surin teaches at Duke University, North Carolina.  He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.