A reader in Tanzania writes to ask: “How can a candidate who lost the popular vote by 3 million votes become President of the United States? Why is President Trump shouting ‘America First?’ Is America no longer the leader of the free world?”
It’s no use trying to explain how the Electoral College system works. Despite what millions of protest marchers after the inauguration may choose to believe, the truth is that Donald Trump represents America.
I try to convey to the Tanzanian reader that as the most individualistic country on earth, Americans have become a very self-centered people, and Donald Trump exemplifies the ‘me first’ mentality.
Of course, self-centeredness is a basic human trait, shared by all people to some degree. But in the wake of World War II the United States built and imperfectly led an international order based on human rights, the rule of law, freedom of speech, and a comity between the nations of the world through the United Nations.
As my Tanzanian friend knows all too well, that international order didn’t work so well for Africa, where colonialism continued to rule in one form or another. But given our interconnected global society that technology and globalization have wrought, it’s now grossly inadequate even in the West.
American and Western intellectuals have suffered a profound failure of imagination, refusing to even make the basic distinction between the defunct international order, and an urgently needed global order.
Therefore, as any person with a worldview worthy of the word realizes, the challenge is not “what this country stands for, and where it will go.” The question is far larger than America or any nation, despite and because of how small this country has become. The question hanging in the balance is the human prospect for the foreseeable future.
The reader is still not satisfied, and asks how America came to this pass, where a President of the United States can give such a mean, dark and backward-looking inaugural address.
For example, how can President Trump say that America has “subsidized the armies of other countries, while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military,” when the United States has a military larger than the next 7 countries in the world combined, including Russia and China?
He read where Trump told the Washington Post: “We’re going to show the people as we build up our military, we’re going to display our military. That military may come marching down Pennsylvania Avenue. That military may be flying over New York City and Washington, D.C., for parades.”
I try to convey that a corrosive militarism, camouflaged by a veneration of “heroes” and whitewashed by phrases like “the fallen,” took hold during the Bush-Cheney reign, and continued under President Obama’s mediocre presidency.
At a deeper level, I explain that Donald Trump reflected the inner reality of America in his inaugural address, projected outwardly.
This is why he spoke of the “carnage” of “rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation, an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge, and the crime, and the gangs, and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.”
America has its problems of grotesque inequality, drugs, and aging infrastructure to be sure, but we are still the richest and most prosperous country on earth. The “carnage” is internal, not external, which is why the more the academic and media elites try to counter Trump by citing outer facts and ignoring the inner reality, the more it festers.
Inwardly, America has become a barren land, and that has allowed evil to burst forth twice in this new century, with the interregnum of President Obama. Irrespective of the two-dimensional right/left political spectrum, we are a moribund people.
Donald Trump keeps repeating the delusional things he said in his speech like: “You came by the tens of millions to become part of a historic movement, the likes of which the world has never seen before,” despite their absurd and demonstrable falsehood. He is now the narcissist-in-chief in a land where narcissism has become synonymous with self-centeredness.
Resistance is not enough. At a moment when man’s destructive impact on the earth is most undeniable and in need of true leadership, Americans have elected a clown who denies climate change even exists.
At a moment when humankind must make a leap ahead, leaving behind our childhood and adolescence of tribalism/nationalism, America has elected a xenophobic chauvinist to the most powerful office in the world.
My Tanzanian friend asks: “What hope is there?”
Tribalism, nationalism and patriotism are essentially the same thing. As long as identification with ethnic, religious or national tribes continues to rule, fascism will continue to grow in America and beyond.
The problem is not one of scale. Marches, no matter how large and widespread, will not suffice. Radical change is required, and it begins with true individuals (the word means ‘not divided’) ending identification with any group.
The New World/Old World has ended. We have no choice but to build again, as human beings.
Martin LeFevre –