Ian Paisley preached that the Pope was the Anti-Christ and Roman Catholicism was a satanic cult. For decades, the nightmare scenario in Northern Ireland was that Ian Paisley would become head of state. It was Paisley’s greatest ambition and he eventually achieved it through the peace process which both polarised politics and introduced power-sharing. The middle ground collapsed and two parties which were implacable enemies, used to celebrating the murder of each other if not actually participating in that murder, took power.
Once in power Paisley looked like a new man, with the one time leader of the IRA Martin Maguinis his best friend. So disturbed were many of Paisley’s followers by this change that they called ‘Martin and Ian’ The Chuckle Twins and engineered the downfall of the leader they previously adored.
When George W Bush became president of the US he to looked like a president who would spend his days playing golf, a man without a mission, until the Twin Towers were attacked.
Trump may not be the most dangerous person to hold the office of President of the US but right now he looks like it. He looks like it because of what he says repeatedly about women and muslims. He has a mouth like Bernard Manning expressing every bigoted attitude one would associate with the stereotype of an American Alf Garnet.
But many of these attitudes he expresses others hold silently, like many of the millions who voted for him. The difference between Trump and Bush may largely be a difference in style. Before Ronald Reagan was elected there was a popular joke.
“What is flat and black and glows in the dark?”
“Iran after Reagan is elected”
Reagan’s election shocked many at the time because he was the second best John Wayne who would make America stand tall again and flatten anyone who stood in the way.
Don’t get me wrong, we are still paying for the Reagan presidency. From support to the Contras (including helping them to import cocaine into America) to arming and training Osama Bin Laden, Reagan has a lot to answer for. He did corporate America’s bidding, unleashing neo liberalism and brought down the Soviet Union without leaving anywhere glowing in the dark.
I am not convinced that Reagan or Bush were any less sexist than Trump but they had the wit not to show it. We can be blinkered by our sense of taste and manners if we judge Trump solely by his odious behaviour.
In evaluating Trump we need to look further. Maybe like Paisley he has just come along for the ride.
Maybe like GW Bush, having come along for the ride he will find a mission which will take us all down a disastrous path.
Maybe he, like Reagan, will be the poodle of Corporate America with a pragmatism that permits him to sup with any devil that suits his purposes.
He has the House and Senate in Republican hands. In the later stages of his campaign he ceased to be the darling of the GOP but that will have changed. If he does nothing else but play golf the republican Party will have a ball ploughing a deep right wing furrow. The supreme court will swing right and Obamacare will be an interesting footnote in history. Gun control will go nowhere and capital punishment will rise.
When I spent a couple of months in America in 2014 in the runup to the election campaign, yes they start early, I was struck by a few things. Young people had high hopes of Hilary. Older democrats did not. Jed Bush was still in contention and I heard older Democrats say they would prefer Jed to Hilary. (“Hilary is just McCain in drag”). Jed was thought to be a lot more liberal than his brother or father.
Another common remark was “The president is the CEO of America, we need a proven businessman in the post” It also seemed universally accepted that welfare (“free cake”) was bad and government was too big. “We need government off our backs”. To an outsider it is the differences from home that are most noticeable.
I was struck by American politeness, it is a very polite society but it is a style of politeness that is very different from the formal politeness of other societies to the extent that I’m sure some could interpret it as rudeness. I’m sure many Americans (men) see Trump as perfect gentleman. You don’t rise that high without a smattering of charm and charisma. Hitler had it. And Trump’s brashness is part of his charm, like the naughty uncle at the wedding reception.
Are the American poor so stupid that they think a billionaire property tycoon understands or cares about their lives? I don’t think so. I’m not convinced there was a real swing towards Trump among the poor. Trump polled the same as Romney 4 years ago, it was the Democrat vote that collapsed. Thanks Hilary.
Are people blind to his sexism and racism? No, but does that make them sexist and racist for voting for him? Yes actually it does, though they don’t think so.
And what about that naughty uncle? The naughty uncle too often turns out to be something a bit more sinister. His playful ‘pussy grabbing’ signals a serial abuser. I tweeted a few weeks ago my worry that Trump reminded me a bit too much of Jimmy Saville. One hopes one’s tweets will go viral and make a difference. It didn’t. It is amazing to recall that a minister in a british government once placed Jimmy Saville, with no discernible qualifications for the job, as head of a Broadmoor, a secure institution for very seriously mentally ill people. Talk about locking the fox in the henhouse. We are complicit in our own delusions.
I still see Trump as a Jimmy Saville figure who may just, like Paisley settle down, in the henhouse, enjoying the privileges of his status. And that is the best I can hope for.
More likely he will stay in character, a greedy, corrupt and egomaniac.His business dealings are peppered with bullying and abuse to pursue self interest. Now he can pursue self interest from a bigger stage.
It will be down to his own party to control him, if they choose to and if they can. He now has scores to settle with a few of them.
Liam Fox is my archetype of a politician whose right wing views synchronise perfectly with his self justification for naked profiteering. He is a crook, a very polite gentlemanly british crook. It bothers that he is back with his nose in the trough.
Mix Liam Fox and Jimmy Saville and multiply by the square of the number of SUVs you could line up between earth and the moon and you have Donald Trump. We are in shockingly dangerous territory.
If Trump was the first corrupt egomaniac to have gained power history would be a dull subject. The greatest catastrophes of the 20th century had such a person at their centre. People who have captured power sometimes by democratic means, such as Hitler, and held onto it and abused it through manipulations, threats and murder. One could doubt the capacity of such a person to dominate the institutions of the state if clear recent examples didn’t exist.
But most corrupt egomaniacs have been content to line their pockets and protect their position and many of them have been good friends of America ensuring the security of American interests. People in these countries might be amused at the fuss.
But there are global consequences and the greatest impact may be on Europe. Trump has been described as seeing Nato as a protection racket where those who pay up get protection and those who don’t don’t.
Putin may now extend his ambitions into Nato territory confident that his admiring friend in the White House won’t honour Nato commitments. The EU may find that without assured American support it is time to take more responsibility for its own defence. And Britain may twig that it isn’t a good time to divorce europe as the fiction of the special relationship dawns on them.
It is even conceivable that Putin could feel free to use battlefield nuclear weapons safe from an American response as long as he didn’t attack the interests of an isolationist America.
I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Trump will feel he has won the golden goose in a raffle and do nothing to upset anyone who might question his entitlement to it. As long as the goose keeps laying it could offer more protection than Nato.
I’m also keeping my fingers crossed for a popular, sophisticated and effective revolt against this outrage.