Sun | Sep 24, 2017

Ian Boyne | Trump-phobia grips the world

Published:Sunday | February 5, 2017 | 2:00 AM
Ian Boyne

It was another wild week in Trumpland America, with presidential executive orders and pronouncements that brought many to the streets in angry protests over what was seen as the betrayal of long-held and sacrosanct American values.

Around the world, there was an epidemic of Trump-phobia as the international community grappled with the reality of an American president as bizarre, mercurial , and xenophobic as to be surreal. A widely circulated meme shows the North Korean dictator expressing regret that his undisputed status as the world's craziest leader has now been trumped by the US president.

There has never been a US president so widely loathed and feared. His tweets are synonymous with terror. It is both easy and fashionable to bash Trump. The regular fare on American media is Trump-lashing. If you watch and read American mainstream media, you would be shocked that Trump's executive order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries has more persons supporting than opposing, it.

Two major surveys since the executive order was signed two Fridays ago show that a majority of Americans support the ban. The most recent poll conducted on January 30 and 31 shows 48 per cent of respondents supporting, with 41 per cent opposing. There are strong anti-Muslim feelings in the country despite what elite opinion indicates. Trump is tapping into a widespread aversion to Islam in America, especially among older Americans.

In December 2015, a YouGov poll found 58 per cent of surveyed Americans had an unfavourable opinion of Islam. And a month before, Donald Trump said that he would favour a legal requirement for Muslims to register themselves in a database a policy he said he would implement. A YouGov survey conducted days after he said that found that 40 per cent supported a national policy requiring Muslims to "register with the government and provide their home address".

Trumps reflects an America not generally represented in American mainstream media, except Fox News. Remember, the American people voted for exactly what Trump is doing now. He has not sneaked up anything on them. He is - unlike most politicians - implementing exactly what he promised on the campaign trail. He is genuinely unlike your typical politician.

Those who said we should not take Trump literally but only seriously now realise that we have to take him literally: That his tough-talking rancour and bad behaviour on the campaign trail have not been left at the White House's doors.

Trump was not be giving the people a six for a nine. He is giving them exactly what they voted for. They wanted back their country from the multiculturalists, the integrationists, and those who had made them strangers in their own land.

 

ELECTION ABOUT IDENTITY

 

This past US election was as much about identity as it was about economic displacement. The cultural displacement was greater than the sense of economic displacement that Rust Belt citizens felt.

With the decline of ideology and its replacement with the identity politics of race, gender, and sexual orientation, white Americans have seen all other groups assert themselves and their rights, while they had to suppress their nationalism and racial identity. Gays, transgender persons, Black Lives Matter exponents, feminists, and Muslims have all pushed for their voices to be heard while rednecks have to keep quiet, observe stifling codes of political correctness and watch the ascendancy of the Other. Now they are fighting back. They want to make America white again. Donald Trump is their man. He is doing exactly what they elected him to do.

The brilliant foreign-policy expert Walter Russell Mead has written an exceptionally insightful piece on the Foreign Affairs website titled 'The Jacksonian Revolt: American Populism and the Liberal Order'. In it, he demonstrates that the intellectual elite in America had misapprehended the white masses.

"In this new world disorder, the power of identity politics can no longer be denied. Western elites believed that in the 21st century, cosmopolitanism and globalism would triumph over atavism and tribal loyalties. They failed to understand the deep roots of identity in the human psyche."

Trump is successor to America's first populist president, Andrew Jackson. Walter Russell Mead explains: "For Jacksonians, the United States ... is the nation state of the American people and its chief interest lies at home." So when Trump declared, "From this day forward, it's America first", he was echoing that strain of American isolationist foreign policy.

Hear Mead: "Jacksonians see American exceptionalism not as a function of the universal appeal of American ideas ... but rather as rooted in the country's singular commitment to the equality and dignity of individual American citizens. The role of the US government, Jacksonians believe, is to fulfil the country's destiny by looking after the physical security and economic well-being of the American people in their national home - and to do that while interfering as little as possible with the individual freedom that makes the country unique."

Trump is not a typical Republican. He is as different from many Republicans in the House and Senate as he is from many Democrats. He does not believe that America has a mission to spread its values abroad and build democracy around the world. He does not believe in any Manifest Destiny mission in the world. Its Manifest Destiny is to its own people. Trump's break with the larger American foreign-policy tradition and liberal internationalism is profound.

 

UN-AMERICAN POLICY

 

As conservative foreign-policy analyst and neo-conservative Charles Krauthammer said in the Washington Post two Thursdays ago, ('Trump's Foreign Policy Revolution'), Trump's America First policy is un-American, ironically. "It makes America no different from all the other countries that define themselves by a particularism and blood-and-soil nationalism. What made America exceptional and unique in the world was defining its own national interest beyond narrow economic and security needs to encompass the safety and prosperity of a vast array of allies. A free world marked by open trade and mutual defence was President Truman's vision shared by every president since."

That Trump embodies identity politics and a white nationalism is also demonstrated by his clear bias in favour of Christians. Note that while he has effectively banned Muslims from seven countries, he has given special access to Christians persecuted by Muslims. To their eternal credit, many Evangelicals themselves have both protested his ban on Muslims from those seven countries as well as his privileging of Christians in his immigration policy.

At the end of the week, prominent American media were deploring what they were seeing as an encroaching theocracy in the United States as Trump seeks to stamp Christianity as state religion. The left-leaning Nation magazine last week Wednesday reported one leaked White House document being prepared as an executive order that would be the answered prayer of Christians. It would overturn the threats to the freedom of Christians who were being pushed in a direction to go against their conscience to facilitate gay and abortion rights.

I myself have warned about these dangers, which the recent US Commission Report on Civil Liberties shamelessly reinforced. A leaked draft of Trump's religious freedom order titled 'Re-establishing a Governmentwide Initiative to Respect Religious Freedom' would give exemption to religious people from obeying gay and abortion rights legislative provisions.

So while Trump is not likely to push for any repeal of the right of gay people to marry, he wants to ensure that Christians can defy any encroachment on their conscience. I support him on that.

Surprisingly, too, he told the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday morning that he would be repealing the Johnson Amendment of the 1960s that bars tax exemption to religious organisations that participate in political activity. This would be a sea change. The Washington Post had a column last week proclaiming, 'Sharia Law May be Coming to America. But it's Christians Who are Bringing it'.

Some Christians will be very conflicted over Trump.

- Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist working with the Jamaica Information Service. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and ianboyne1@yahoo.com.