The many faces of Donald J. Trump
This article, although it starts in a strange manner given the topic, first deals with President Trump’s credibility, then with that of the mainstream media and our political parties, and finally, with a few suggestions on how we might at least attempt to avoid our pending sociopolitical and economic Armageddon.
As usual, I have to start with the disclaimer that I am not a Trump supporter, that I am not in agreement with many of his policies, not because I can’t stand him but because I disagree with their neoliberal premises, and that only with respect to his positions as a candidate in the areas of foreign affairs (excluding Iran and Israel) and in the area of repairing our crumbling infrastructure is there much agreement.
I very much liked the idea of doing away with the anachronism that costs so much in lives, treasure and threats, NATO, and of the purported “free” trade agreements that are merely flagships for the benefit of multinational corporations at the expense of the populations in all countries involved. I liked the idea of rapprochement with the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China, and of withdrawal of our forces from the Middle East, and, of an end to our overthrow and attempts to rebuild smaller less powerful states everywhere, purportedly in our image.
Domestically I oppose both the “welfare program” tailored to the insurance, pharmaceutical and medical industries at the expense of everyone, to which we refer as “Obamacare”, at least as much as I do Trumpcare, especially in light of the option “tried and true across the globe”: single-payer health care for all. Spending more for less than anywhere else in the world admittedly helps a few, but only the very few. Unfortunately, they’re our legislators’ real constituency.
I oppose our current immigration system, whether the hypocritical Democratic Party variant or the in your face GOP alternative. I oppose them for both ethical and pragmatic reasons:
- Ethically because the combination of our neoliberal and neoconservative policies prevent economic growth abroad and generate the flow of refugees that seek our shores to whom we disparagingly refer as “mere economic refugees”, as a result of, first, our political interference installing and maintaining our own flavor of dictators, and second, our non-stop military intervention abroad destroying states that neither we nor our “special” ally, can control. Those people are our victims and our moral responsibility.
- Pragmatically because our demographics require an influx of at least twenty million immigrants in order to balance the age of our population in order to make our social safety net self-supporting. At present, fewer and fewer working age citizens have to support more and more baby boomers now retiring. Logic dictates the obvious solution but our xenophobia may in fact soon reverse the immigrants’ vision on which this country was founded and as a result of which it grew wealthy, powerful, innovative and great.
On the other hand, I do not support abuse of the judiciary to play politics with our dysfunctional immigration policies (or anything else). If we don’t like political decisions by our elected leaders, then tortured interpretations of our Constitution are not the appropriate alternatives to electoral politics by hundreds of would be de facto presidents. It cheapens and discredits the real need for judicial intervention when the Constitution is in fact violated.
As a political scientist I am probably a neo-institutionalist, not because I believe it is the only or best way to evaluate and improve political society, but because given my particular capabilities, it may involve the manner in which I personally can best evaluate it and provide suggested improvements. I respect most other schools of research and analysis making me more a part of the blend of hybrid political philosophies colloquially given the name Glasnost, which has nothing to do with Gorbachev’s policy of the same name, but rather, refers to the view that there is no correct form of political research and analysis, all schools having relevance and the best use of each depending on the context.
So, given the foregoing, … about the current President’s credibility.
My perspective is that he is not a liar nor is he deceptive, just very confusing. There is a difference between those negative concepts and merely being wrong, or being fickle. I believe that Mr. Trump is brutally honest, so much so that metaphorically his feet are full of bullet holes and usually found stuffed in his mouth but that at the same time, being a total pragmatist, his opinions, observations and beliefs can turn on a dime. The consequence is that notwithstanding his brutal honesty, if credibility is judged on the basis of facilitating predictability (as opposed to honesty of the minute), he is very lacking in that attribute. It’s kind of like the difference between a photograph and a film. His candor is unassailable at the photo level but his accuracy as a film is all too frequently abysmal. He seems a mixture of contradictions somehow seeking order without a care in the world for self-discipline. Political correctness is totally alien to him, something his supporters find refreshing, inspiring trust, and that his detractors find wonderful in the sense of a fertile source of ammunition to use against him. He says what he thinks at the instant he thinks it, without a care for what others may think, what he recently thought or what he may think in the future, or perhaps most importantly of all, what the consequences might be.
Given the foregoing, he is not easy to manipulate or control, even by those who would help him, but all too easy to distort by those who wish him ill, especially if they are blissfully amoral and their only goal is the attainment, accumulation and maintenance of power. The latter pretty much describes Mr. Trump’s most vocal critics: Clinton – Obama Democrats, the military-industrial-intelligence community (the world’s real axis of evil) and the mainstream media. They are bereft of credibility as well but for totally different reasons, they have pretty set goals, the maintenance of our twin political Neolithic pillars: neoliberalism and neo-conservatism, with the ultimate goal of concentrating wealth among a tiny minority, getting smaller and smaller so that an outside observer might one day see it as the attainment of Thomas Hobbs’ absolute monarch, the one who owns everything. Given the two, … well, first of all, a pretty terrible choice; but I’d sooner trust the former.
If it’s truth we seek then while we may find it with Mr. Trump, we won’t be able to rely on it, and with respect to his most direct opponent, “the Hillary”, it exists only by coincidence, i.e., when it coincides with her interests, but even then it will be spun full of loopholes and plausible deniability, and if it later proves inconvenient, then pooooooof!! It will never have existed. Who are you going to believe anyway, “your lying eyes and ears and faulty memory or even old notes and newspapers”, or Hillary and her media allies? “Come on now”, “get over it”, “move on”. “Crazy right wing conspiracy!!” And as for today’s mainstream media, … As dishonest as Hillary but without the subtlety.
On the other hand, if it’s effective and beneficent governance we’re concerned with, then my neo-institutionalist perception concludes that while we have never really had anything but the verisimilitude of democracy, democracy itself might well be a useful mechanism for arriving at and implementing decisions designed to attain the common welfare. However, in order to function at all it requires real participation by the vast majority of the public, based on adequate, accurate and complete information. Not “one-truth-fits-all” information, but rather, representing, in honest fashion, a spectrum of perceptions from which we can develop and constantly improve public policies, assuring that the “means” do not deteriorate into perverted “ends”, as is now the case.
To accomplish this we need cultural changes to our current political nature, i.e., our resistance to participation either because we’re just too lazy, too cynical (believing nothing can make a difference) or too busy with other priorities. But as importantly, we also need to virtually demolish our two principal political institutions and to reconfigure them in a functional, rather than dysfunctional manner.
The most essential reform, given its ability to deceive and manipulate us (in a sense, our puppeteer) and thus presents the greatest and most immediate danger involves that sacred cow we call the press. The press whose members ought to have been our knights in shining armor but as too often happened with real knights, became black hearted highwaymen. The perversion of the press from the independent medium on which we ought to have been able to rely for both information and coordination probably started with the rise of its impunity as a result of well-intentioned but poorly thought out constitutional and judicial protection from the consequences of its actions (see, e.g., New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964), https://billofrightsinstitute.org/educate/educator-resources/lessons-plans/landmark-supreme-court-cases-elessons/new-york-times-v-sullivan-1964/). A free and independent press cannot exist when it enjoys impunity and has, through mergers, become so consolidated that it has virtually eliminated equal access to opposing views on a level playing field; or where ownership is so concentrated, not among journalists but among corporatists and financiers whose goal is not to inform but to earn profits, not so much directly but indirectly, through policies they succeed in having implemented by the leaders they rather than we chose.
The second essential reform must be to our bipolar political party system, really not two snakes in the grass but a single two headed hydra controlled by the same people who control what passes for journalism in the United States today. That will require serious constitutional reform, especially given that our current political system is unlikely to prepare, sign and execute its own death warrant. It will probably require the convocation of a Constitutional convention by the States, perhaps more possible at this instant in time than it has been since 1787. But a Constitutional convention is way, way past due. Something the Founding Fathers knew but which we’ve never understood, preferring instead constant de facto constitutional revision through purported judicial “interpretation”, e.g., today black is blue but tomorrow it might well be grey.
We need to replace the current duopoly with an efficient system of multi-party proportional representation such as exists all over the world, although it admittedly it only functions well in a few places. Proportional in two separate aspects, first, in that it is based on equality of voting power among the individual citizenry, but just as importantly, in that it permits allocation of legislative power proportionally among the different political schools of thought based on the proportion of the total vote attained. In such a system, assuming five separate political movements, then legislative power would be allocated, not on unidistrital winner take all basis, but in multi-seat constituencies with each having a number of representatives in proportion to the percentage of the vote received. For my money (not that I have all that much, at least not anymore), the system best combining the twin goals of democracy and pluralism is found in the governmental system employed in the Republic of Ireland (i.e., the single transferable vote form of proportional representation from multi-seat constituencies), although the best functioning system today is probably that of the Republic of Iceland (see, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Politics_of_Iceland).
Unfortunately for us, right now our current political system is among the world’s least democratic, least pluralistic, most dysfunctional and most easy for the guys in black hats to manipulate (my apologies to Zorro). After all, look at the presidential options it just gave us.
So, …. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel.
We just have to affix it.
© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2017; all rights reserved.
Guillermo Calvo Mahé is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia although he has primarily lived in the United States of America (of which he is a citizen). Until recently he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales. He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies). He and can be contacted at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org and much of his writing is available through his blog at http://www.guillermocalvo.com.