US President-elect Donald Trump is selecting older white men who share his nationalist views, social and ethnic biases and his “America first” isolationist outlook to occupy senior positions at the White House and the other crucial departments and security agencies.
His national security advisor, Michael Flynn, believes that “Islam is a malignant cancer” and that “fear of Islam is RATIONAL” (emphasis his). He sees the Muslim religion as a “political ideology” masquerading as religion.
Trump’s nominee for attorney general, Senator Jeff Sessions, has a long history of fierce opposition to civil rights and a proclivity for racially charged views. Sessions has referred to the 1965 historic Voting Rights Act as a “piece of intrusive legislation.” His outlook on life is a throwback to the America of the 1950’s when women, blacks and immigrants were told to know their place.
Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon, who does not believe that the US has a “major race problem,” turned his website Breitbart News into a platform for alt-right groups, which include white nationalists, Islamophobes, misogynists and anti-Semites. The former leader of the ultra-racist Ku Klux Klan, David Duke reacted enthusiastically to these appointments as if he had been selected, firing this celebratory tweet:
Bannon, Flynn & Sessions -- Americans are on the way to taking back our government, our nation and our children's future! #TakeItBack— David Duke (@DrDavidDuke) November 18, 2016
General Flynn and Consigliere Bannon will be very close to President Trump and will interact with him on daily basis. One can only imagine the fierce competition between them as to who will be the Iago who will whisper in Trump’s ear and poison his mind further.
A confederacy of autocrats
It is true that candidate Donald Trump ran an untraditional campaign and most of his activities and pronouncements were unconventional – from insulting his opponents, not releasing his taxes, to his antics and childlike theatrics – these appointments certainly are not only unconventional, but much more dangerous, for they amount to a reaffirmation of white nationalism.
Trump’s victory was welcomed by like-minded far right European political parties. Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front in France, saw in Trump’s rise a vindication of a “great movement across the world.” In the United Kingdom, leaders of the Brexit movement, including Nigel Farage, were ecstatic and other far-rights movements in Germany, Austria and Greece saw in Trump’s victory a repudiation of the old politics of an ossified European Union that smothered the unique ethos of each sovereign state in a supra unyielding structure and exposed the continent to new threats including the ever expanding flow of refugees and migrants.
Mr. Trump, you can have your gold plated America on top of your tower in Manhattan but I insist on having my America which comes in every color and every accentHisham Melhem
The election of Trump was welcomed by a large confederacy of illiberal democracies and autocratic regimes entrenched in large swaths of lands stretching from Russia, through the Middle East to Central Asia. Russian President Vladimir Putin represents the prototype autocrat who is envied and emulated. Donald Trump exudes similar qualities: anti-intellectualism, the belief in conspiracy theories, intolerance of contrarian views and a deep contempt of a free media. But if Putin can dispatch his critics in the media to provinces from which they could never return, Trump on the other hand can only intimidate the reporters who are covering him, at times using his enthusiastic crowds to threaten and silence them.
Much has been written, and much more will be written, about America’s choice in 2016. In the immediacy of a monumental moment in American history when we are going through the most significant cultural, social, technical and demographic changes in our lives since the Industrial Revolution, it is difficult to design satisfactory answers or propose wise solutions. We are vaguely aware that such moments in history cause great disruption during which the old and the tried is no longer valid or solid and the new still has very rough edges that need to be chiseled.
The arrival of Trump was a moment of disruption. Trump is not a conscious agent of change although he claims to be one, for he is at best a Tabula rasa when it comes having a vision or ideas. Trump is animated solely by self-interest, greed and an insatiable hunger for self-aggrandizement. It just happened that he was at that crossroad where the colliding forces of technology, demography and economy converged to cause the disruption that he is benefiting from.
The America we deserve
Like millions of Americans, I was not ready for Trump’s victory. I voted against Trump, by casting a reluctant vote for Hillary Clinton. I felt cheated by the two parties for giving us almost an impossible choice. We were even deprived of the chance to cast our vote for a third party nominee, since those available were lamentably lacking. As an American by choice, I feel the sting of defeat more deeply perhaps. I made my choice years ago to end my inner exile and to arrive home. Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln inspired me and Mark Twain and William Faulkner were my traveling companions while Charley Patton and Muddy Waters lifted my soul. I became so immersed in the Civil War that when I walk with heavy legs on Bloody Lane at the Antietam battlefield I can almost hear the cries of horror and courage of those young men fighting and bleeding, as if one of them is a Virginian ancestor of mine, and as if I was not born thousands of miles away. Even when I was disappointed with policy blunders and the occasional lapses that even great societies sleepwalk through, I always marveled at the vibrancy of the American creed and the spirit of giving and creating, I was always moved by the ingenuity and the audacity (Americans are nothing if not audacious) of people who came from the four corners of the world to shed their narrow parochial nationalisms and to partake in American patriotism which is much bigger than their narrow ethnicities and more egalitarian and welcoming.
On the Streets of Philadelphia, I discovered America’s bewildering arrays of colors and tones, and accents: white, black, brown and every combination imaginable. Add to the mix a babel of languages. It was reminiscent of the Beirut of my youth, the last cosmopolitan bastion in the Eastern Mediterranean. The America I encountered when I arrived in 1972 was curious about me just as I was bewildered and curious about her. Yes, America can be harsh at times, even crass and cold, but then you realize that America is playing a trick on you; she was testing you, she was preparing you for a rough but exhilarating ride. I worked in factories to pay for my education and there I saw different sides and faces of America. Then you realize that America is great only because of its diversity. America would be much poorer and more provincial without that constant stream of immigrants enriching it in ways that cannot be duplicated elsewhere.
This is my America that Donald Trump wants to gut and negate. Mr. Trump, you can have your gold plated America on top of your tower in Manhattan but I insist on having my America which comes in every color and every accent, the America I deserve and cherish because I had a hand in building it and therefore I want to celebrate her.
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_melhemSHOW MORE