Perilous times have visited America before, and on occasions they did linger for far too long leaving in their wake shattered lives and human wreckage and uncertain horizons. The Civil War, the most perilous moment in the history of the republic and an epic struggle of unfathomable pain and tragedy, is still lingering on and shaping our existence. The twin catastrophes of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl scarred countless lives and the ecology. The erosion of soil and soul was everywhere to see. The politics of fear and smear of the McCarthy era, and the with-hunt against mostly imagined domestic enemies destroyed careers and reputations of many otherwise patriotic Americans.
The social and political upheaval of the 1960’s, spawned by the Civil Rights Movement and the opposition to the Vietnam War has yet to completely fade away. The struggle for equal rights under the law was one important battle left unfinished from the Civil War. These bad times, were good times for scoundrels, demagogues and racists who spew fearmongering, stoked divisions and played on people’s legitimate economic and social anxieties. During these hinge moments in American history, strong leaders and courageous citizens, from Abraham Lincoln to Martin Luther King fought the good fight and sometimes paid with their lives to defeat fear and preserve the idea of America, as “a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
An ill wind has swept the land
These are perilous times in America. For the first time since the McCarthy era, a dark cloud of resentment, fear and loathing has descended on the land. A diseased election year was brought about by a weak and resentful Republican Party led by people who are interested more in transient party victories than in preserving the basic tenet of conservatism, or respecting the letter and the spirit of the Constitution, thus denigrating America’s long unique and great experiment in self-government. An ill wind has swept the land in the form of an orange-faced vile demagogue, a narcissistic and dishonest would-be autocrat. Donald J. Trump is everything that the founders of the Republic abhorred in a politician. He is not only ignorant but he wallows in his ignorance when he boasts that he does not read books. There is no there, there. No American president was as ill-prepared for the highest office in the land as Donald J. Trump. He utterly lacks intellectual curiosity, or interest in history.
He is even ignorant of the constitution. He has the temperament and the manners of rabid pit bull. He has the vocabulary of a ten year old, and the attention span of a teenager. Trump can never on his own articulate a coherent thought, but he has an abundance of angry grunts and aggressive attitudes and braggadocio. He even encouraged violence against his critics during primary rallies. The man who would like to occupy the office that once was occupied by Abraham Lincoln the wisest and most honorable of all American presidents, who uttered the words “With malice toward none, with charity for all…” usually, speaks with malice towards most and charity towards none.
This is the man; the party of Abraham Lincoln has just nominated as their standard bearer after four days of an unabashed orgy of fearmongering and demonization of other Americans and the worst xenophobic rhetoric in decades.
A dystopian world
True to form, Trump began his long speech – it was in fact a long howl- by outlandish exaggerations. Looking at a sea of white faces (there were only 18 black delegates, at the convention, or roughly 0.7 percent of the 2,472 national delegates) Trump stoked the ambers of racial tensions and fears in a supposedly lawless dystopian world where the streets of American cities are rolling battlefields on which the police are engaging armed criminals and gangs (who supposedly don’t look like the people who attended his convention), and illegal immigrants are not only stealing jobs from whites, but along with radical Islamists are changing our way of life. Trump was invoking life in white, Christian America in the 1950’s before that world was taken away gradually by non-whites and non-Christians. And yes, there is a sense of loss in the country. Many hard working Americans suffer from economic dislocation, as a result of loss of manufacturing and the new economic harsh realities brought about by the forces of globalization. Globalization produced a new stratum of dispossessed and disenfranchised Americans just as the Dust Bowl produced the "Okies".
Donald J. Trump is made in America, and he should be deconstructed on November 8. A republic “conceived in Liberty” cannot be allowed to turn into a republic of fearHisham Melhem
Trump’s tone and words were dark and foreboding. America was in decay and in decline and waves of invading Visigoths, ISIS’ inspired and sympathizers, and illegal immigrants from the South, are destroying the ramparts, and he is the only savior willing and able to deliver America from this new bubonic plague threatening what was left of American civilization. “Nobody knows the system better than me” he intoned, “which is why I alone can fix it”. By invoking Richard Nixon’s divisive and cynical cry of law-and-order of 1968, Trump was playing on people’s fear of crime and violence and exploiting their anxieties which were manufactured by exaggerated threats of immigrants, radical Muslims and minorities. The recent horrific violence in American cities, such as San Bernardino, Orlando, Dallas and Baton Rouge initiated by Islamists and young African-Americans fit perfectly in Trump’s narrative. Trump was looking at a world of different shades and colors, but he wanted to paint it black. Unfortunately, history shows that this kind of fearmongering and exaggerated fear can succeed in times of peril and uncertainty, at least initially. But Trump it seems is incapable of telling the truth. Despite the recent uptick in violence in some American cities, overall crime rates have been falling steadily for the last 25 years under Republican and Democratic administrations.
Statistics show that immigrants and their children commit less crime than people born in the US. Trump assured America that this chaos afflicting the nation will end soon. “Beginning on Jan.20, 2017, safety will be restored”. How? He does not say. The Republican convention, was another occasion where people were convinced to vote against their economic interests, since the underlining reasons for the alienation and anxieties of many Americans including unemployed middle aged white men, who are committing suicide in record numbers, are economic in nature and not related to violence. The speech was full of promises and commitments, but was very thin on how these promises will be fulfilled, as if he is implying that by the sheer force of his personality and will, change will take place. During the speech there were many pauses, scowls and gesticulations reminiscent of Benito Mussolini.
The new isolationism
Trump’s speech and his interviews during the convention re-affirmed his dangerous and vacuous understanding of a world rapidly changing. His world view is in fact a repudiation of traditional Republican views and commitments. He told the New York Times that he will not pressure the Turkish government, which is currently conducting an unprecedented witch-hunt against its perceived domestic opponents and in the process violating their basic rights, before we “fix our own mess” he said “how are we going to lecture (other countries) when people are shooting policemen in cold blood?”
Asked about his reaction if Russia attacked any of the NATO members small Baltic States, Trump said that his decision would be based on whether those nations “have fulfilled their obligations to us,” if yes, then “the answer is yes”. A 70-year-old alliance, that kept the peace in Europe and won the Cold War, is reduced to a mere transactional arrangement. In Trump’s not so brave new world, the United States will not promote Human Rights, and not necessarily deter aggressive regimes in countries like North Korea, Russia and Iran, or defend the countries that helped the US to maintain its dominance, militarily, politically and economically since WWII. These naïve views are a recipe for disaster in a world where Russia, China and Iran are acting in irredentist and aggressive fashion against some of their neighbors.
Cavorting with Lucifer?
Trump and his lieutenants repeatedly savaged his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton and all but declared her as the Devil incarnate. Wild chants of “lock her up” or “Hillary for prison” were the background chorus to many speeches. In fact, Ben Carson, former candidate for the presidency that Trump dispatched to early retirement accused Clinton of cavorting with Lucifer.” Are we willing to elect someone as president who has as their role model someone who acknowledges Lucifer?” Mr. Carson asked. “Think about that”.
The sinister demonization of Hillary Clinton during the Republican convention, has made criticizing her more difficult than before. Clinton is a deeply flawed politician whose relation with the truth is problematic and who suffers from a big deficit of trust, gives her critics ample ammunition to criticize her without resort to demonization. Clinton’s willingness to play by her own rules, as was clear in the way she deceptively handled her reckless use of a private server for her own emails outside the purview of the State Department is breathtakingly arrogant, but the way the Republicans smeared her make a legitimate critique of her behavior as secretary of state less effective during the incessant drumbeat to politically lynch her.
Trump himself made Clinton a sort of milestone to measure history; how the world was before and after Hillary Clinton. “Let’s review the record. In 2009, pre-Hillary, ISIS was not even on the map. Libya was stable. Egypt was peaceful. Iraq was seeing a big, big reduction in violence. Iran was being choked by sanctions. Syria was somewhat under control.” But then came Hillary Clinton, “what do we have? ISIS has spread across the region, and the world. Libya is in ruins, and our Ambassador and his staff were left helpless to die at the hands of savage killers. Egypt was turned over to the radical Muslim brotherhood, forcing the military to retake control.” Trump continues to chronicles the nasty work of Lucifer “Iraq is in chaos. Iran is on the path to nuclear weapons. Syria is engulfed in a civil war and a refugee crisis that now threatens the West.”
The year of voting dangerously
These are indeed perilous times, and it is conceivable that the American voters will elect Trump, which will not be the first or the last catastrophic decision made by voters in the United States and beyond. These are the perils of elections during perilous times. If elected, Donald J. Trump, by virtue of his explosive temperament, persona, and intellectual and political shallowness, will be a clear and present danger to America and the world. Even before globalization and the advent of the digital age, the world was very complex and very resistant to the type of simplistic notions and views espoused by Trump.
Donald J. Trump is made in America, and he should be deconstructed on November 8. A republic “conceived in Liberty” cannot be allowed to turn into a republic of fear by scoundrels and demagogues who claim that we are living in time of the plague. This is indeed the year of voting dangerously.
Hisham Melhem is a columnist and analyst for Al Arabiya News Channel in Washington, DC. Melhem has interviewed many American and international public figures, including Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, among others. He is also the correspondent for Annahar, the leading Lebanese daily. For four years he hosted "Across the Ocean," a weekly current affairs program on U.S.-Arab relations for Al Arabiya. Follow him on Twitter : @hisham_melhem