Tue | Jan 23, 2018

Annie Paul | Trumpistan

Published:Wednesday | November 16, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Annie Paul
Zheng Gao of Shanghiai, China, photographs the front pages of newspapers on display outside the Newseum in Washington on November 9, the day after Donald Trump won the presidency.

So apparently I'm the only local journalist to have predicted Trump would win the US elections, announcing it in black and white when I wrote my last column on November 6, two days before the fateful date. I've only been saying ever since I got the measure of Trump, long before he won the Republican nomination, that we were looking at the future president of the USA. Friends poured scorn and vitriol over the idea, so preposterous did it seem at the time.

A week before the US elections when I said again on Facebook that I was calling it for Trump, a host of friends protested, some even getting upset with me. I was amazed at how invested they were in the US electoral race.

Basil Dawkins, the playwright, even placed a bet with me that Hillary would win convincingly. Fine, I said, get ready to name a character in your next play Annie Paul if you lose, and you're on. So sure was Basil that Hillary would win that he didn't even specify a condition in case I lost the bet.

Ergo post-November 8, Basil has renamed one of the characters in his forthcoming comedy, Annie. Titled 'Four Can't Play', the show debuts in December.

So how did I know with such certainty that Trump would become president-elect of the USA? The answer is multi-faceted. For one thing, I have actual experience of the Bible belt of the US, having studied journalism at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, in the late 1980s.

Insularity and ignorance are not reserved for the so-called flyover states of the US, however. I remember working part-time at a small electric parts assembly firm in small-town Massachusetts in 1980 and being horrified to discover that members of the secretarial staff there thought the whole world was Christian - Catholic, to be precise.

Hard to imagine such innocence and ignorance today, but it exists. The US, as I gradually realised, is not a homogeneous country or people, despite the commonality of the 'American Dream'. The turn of events that put Barack Obama in the White House was a fantasy come true for African-Americans and liberals, but a nightmare for other Americans who not only saw a downturn in their fortunes but experienced an identity crisis as well.

Whiteness had been the norm in the USA, but all of a sudden, African Americans and waves of non-white immigrants of various religious and cultural backgrounds seemed to be gaining strength just as American jobs were being outsourced to the rest of the world. A mixture of the fallout from globalisation and internal American politics had transformed the status quo, turning a hospitable environment into a hostile one for many.




My friend, Sheri Cherian, from the University of Essex Economics Department argues that "liberals who have plum jobs and country club conservatives (Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, etc.) really do not relate to any of this, and anybody who points out that things are not working for those outside the top one per cent is labelled any number of choice epithets. Peter Thiel, the gay contrarian in Silicon Valley, is singled out for ostracism when he says that a lot of Sacramento, outside the Silicon Valley, is full of tent cities and people with rotting teeth as they do not have proper health care. Trump was not his first choice, but as he wants to challenge the status quo, he is going with Trump."

As Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone magazine put it:

"The Democratic Party's failure to keep Donald Trump out of the White House in 2016 will go down as one of the all-time examples of insular arrogance. The party not only spent most of the past two years ignoring the warning signs of the Trump rebellion, but vilifying anyone who tried to point them out. It denounced all rumours of its creeping unpopularity as vulgar lies and bullied anyone who dared question its campaign strategy by calling them racists, sexists and agents of Vladimir Putin's Russia."

According to Taibbi, the party's wilful blindness was echoed by a similar arrogance across America's intellectual elite.

"Trump's election was a true rebellion, directed at anyone perceived to be part of 'the Establishment'. The target group included political leaders, bankers, industrialists, academics, Hollywood actors, and, of course, the media. And we all closed our eyes to what we didn't want to see."

"And the whole time, The People, whose intentions we were wondering so hard about, were all around us, listening to themselves being talked about like some wild, illiterate beast. The People didn't speak our language, true. But that also meant we didn't speak theirs."

This is a lesson that those of us who consider ourselves superior by virtue of our higher education, taste and intelligence, urgently need to learn. Less contempt and self-righteousness, more humility and openness. As my friend, Faizal Deen, says, "If we are going to stop people like Trump from ever having a political future again, we must understand what makes them so successful in the popular world."

- Annie Paul is a writer and critic based at the University of the West Indies and author of the blog, Active Voice (anniepaul.net). Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com or tweet @anniepaul.