“We here highly resolve that the dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Gettysberg Address; Abraham Lincoln 1863
A total of 154 years – or, if you prefer, seven score years and fourteen – have elapsed since Lincoln delivered his memorable words.
In the following notes I shall look at the possibility that, under President Donald J. Trump, the Gettysburg soldiers may prove to have died in vain, and that the prospects for government of the American people by the American people for the American people might be looking shaky.
“Every nation gets the government it deserves”
“In a democracy people get the leaders they deserve “
Both quotes have been attributed to Joseph De Maistre, a political philosopher who advocated not dissimilar policies to those of Mr Trump, that is, autocratic and abrasive.
I take the view that the former quote is unfair – it can hardly be argued that the long suffering people of North Korea deserve the various members of the Kim Jong family that have elbowed their way to power.
It can and indeed is being argued that the people of the USA voted Mr Trump into office and that they should suffer the consequences of their democratic choice.
“I need not point out what happens invariably in democratic states when the national safety is menaced. All the great tribunes of democracy, on such occasions, convert themselves into despots of an almost fabulous ferocity. Lincoln, Roosevelt (T) and Wilson come instantly to mind.”
HL Mencken – Notes on Democracy
What might Mencken have had to say about the present incumbent of the White House? I suspect that Mr Trump would be thoroughly excoriated mainly on the grounds that some of the worrying problems and tensions inside the great republic and around the world are largely the creation of Donald “Quick Draw” Trump.
Not that any amount of excoriation is likely to puncture Mr Trump’s famously thick skin. One of his detractors – no shortage of those – has averred that the only sensitive part of DJT is the tip of his organ of generation.
“Trumpery” – showy and worthless stuff: rubbish: ritual foolery.
Chambers English Dictionary
Thus far Mr Trump appears to be living up to his name.
Some matters arising during the first few months of the Trump regime
The administration of Donlald Trump has been nothing if not fascinating thus far. I am sure I am one of many in the USA and in Europe who wake up every morning eager to pick up the latest Trump news story, and anxious to grasp its significance.
His presidency has one consistent feature: excitement. What will the fellow say next?
Rather more worrying – what will the fellow do next?
Examples from the brief Trump reign include:
- The tetchy Trump phone call to Mr Malcom Turnbull, the Prime Minister of Australia. It appears that Mr Trump wished to renege on a commitment made by Mr Obama to accept a small number of asylum seekers from Australia. Not a promising start in the search for peace and stability in the Pacific region.
- The ill thought out ban on travellers from a handful of mainly Muslim countries.
- The declared intention to proceed with the building of a wall to keep out illegal migrants from Mexico. (Whatever happened to welcoming the huddled masses yearning to breathe free?)
- The raucous assertion that the USA had been short changed in some key international trade deals and that allegedly poor agreements would be either renegotiated or cancelled.
- The confusion in the White House over who said what to whom in the Kremlin. At least one aspect of the confusion has been clarified and Mr Mike Flynn has walked the plank. It is doubtful if White House policy towards those who let down the regime has got to the point where Mike Flynn faces the prospect of the same fate as that meted out to Mr Kim Jong-nam, the erring half brother of the mighty Kim Jong -un. Mr Jong-nam was despatched from Kuala Lumpur onto a rather longer journey than he had originally planned.
The relationship between Mr Trump and Mr Putin is said to remain civilised and the two men did exchange a brusque handshake at the recent meeting of world leaders. I for one rejoice that this is so. I cannot think of any other duo on the planet that I would prefer to see on speaking terms than Messrs Trump and Putin, given what might, just might, happen were Mr Trump to add Mr Putin to his ever lengthening black list.
What about the matters at the heart of the furore in the USA about which Americans said what and met whom from the Kremlin? It is interesting to compare the Russian approach with the American approach. Senior Kremlin officials have long argued that discretion is all in espionage matters, whereas the American preference, or at least the Trump preference, appears to be for transparency. We did nothing wrong and if we did – so what!
The word is that various electronic cloak and dagger men from both sides have been making mischief with each others’ computers. I had always understood that this was the raison d’etre of the espionage community. If not – just what do the Cheltenham boys and girls get up to?
Anyway, a couple more examples of interest:
- Mr Trump and Mr Kim, he of the odd haircut from North Korea – a rum duo at work here. Their widely publicised exchanges of views rather resemble playground exchanges between small boys from yesteryear – “Just you cross that line and see what happens.” It is a sign of the precarious times that Mr Kim manages to project himself as the more irresponsible of the two raucous disputants.
- The Virginia disturbances over the Robert E Lee statue in Charlottesville. On the one side – those who wish the statue to be removed because Lee had led the confederate army against the union army in a war fought by the south to retain slavery. On the other side – those on the far right who wish the Lee statue to remain in situ. DJT got himself into difficulties by allocating equal responsibility to each of the warring factions. A more reflective and prudent president would simply have said that if the retention or removal of statues were to be resolved by today’s standards, there would be very few statues left in place. Where would it all end? Good for the global sculpting sector but disruptive across public squares around the world.
The qualifications of Mr Trump to become President
As a politician
“Whatever one may think about democratic government, it is just as well to have practical experience of its rough and slatternly foundations. No part of the education of a politician is more indispensable than the fighting of elections….. Dignity may suffer, the superfine gloss is soon worn away.”
Winston Churchill, Great Contemporaries, 1937.
Winston Churchill writing about Lord Rosebery who, like Mr Trump, had no previous experience of democracy in action. However and in addition Lord Rosebery had no enthusiasm for democracy in action whereas Mr Trump is as combative and as confrontational when wearing his political hat as he was when wearing his CEO hat.
Donald Trump had had no experience of public office nor of the democratic process before he contested, first the primaries to decide who would be the Republican candidate, and then the greatest election of all for the presidency of the United States.
There may be some overlap and some similarities between the work of the President of the United States and the work of running one of the largest companies in the world. Sadly Mr Trump is learning, not very quickly, some of the differences.
Trump as a businessman
“Bankers who are owed millions of dollars by Donald Trump .. Agreed yesterday to keep him out of the bankruptcy courts … all but one bank signed an agreement .. to provide a $20Million bridging loan enabling Mr Trump to pay interest on the bonds ….over the next 30 days the banks will complete the paperwork for the balance of a $65 million rescue package …
Bernard Levin in The Times, 1990.
The thrust of the Levin article was to praise the only bank that could not see its way clear to help Mr Trump to surmount his liquidity problems.
Mr Trump had form even then.
No American voter could say that he/she had not been aware that Mr Trump was just the latest in the long line of American business leaders who had earned the doubtful collective soubriquet of The Robber Barons, a term used back in the 19th century for entrepreneurs specialising in the robbing of the poor – the group included but was by no means confined to Messrs Carnegie, JP Morgan, Rockefeller and Vanderbilt.
Mr T has never been one to hide his light under a bushel – it would take an outsize bushel to hide the bright light permanently emanating from DT.
I recall suffering a strained neck when, on a visit to New York, I gazed up and up and up at the Trump tower building – the building bearing the Trump name had to be the biggest and brashest in town.
And yet Donald Trump – a complete outsider in political terms – has succeeded not only in business but now to the highest position in the land, indeed in the world, by a combination of bluster, bullying and bribery.
Reactions to the human firecracker that is President Trump
These range across the political spectrum from horror and consternation on the liberal left to uneasy and uncertain support within the Republican party.
I quoted HL Mencken earlier and repeat the quote now – “All the great tribunes of democracy, on such occasions , convert themselves …. Into despots of an almost fabulous ferocity.”
What obstacles might DJT encounter as he seeks to tighten his grip on the American people and on their long cherished institutions?
One encouraging development – at least from the Liberal Left standpoint – has been the readiness – indeed the eagerness – of some members of the American legal profession to confront Mr Trump. Lawyers have been noted since the human race began to make rudimentary social arrangements, so to arrange matters that one outcome of all legal proceedings will be their own enrichment.
“It is likewise to be observed that this society (lawyers) hath a peculiar cant and jargon of their own, that no other mortal can understand, and wherein all their laws are written, which they take special care to multiply; whereby they have wholly confounded the very essence of truth and falsehood, of right and wrong, so that it will take thirty years to decide whether the field left me by my ancestors for six generations belongs to me or to a stranger three hundred miles off”
Jonathan Swift:- A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms
American lawyers have brought to the very pinnacle of perfection the time honoured practice of confounding the very essence of truth and falsehood, of right and wrong.
As noted there is well founded anxiety across the USA about what might happen and about what might not happen under Trump.
Across the USA, opinions are divided, but on one point all agree – the American legal profession will prosper as never before as the combination of Trump’s reckless and ill thought out executive orders on the one hand and the rapacious lawyers on the other hand prepare for and engage in legal battles within the Byzantine complexity of the American legal systems.
Thank God for lawyers, upholders of, if not freedom, then of procrastination.
I predict that the four years of Trump presidency – please God the ONLY four years – will be over before some of the legal battles that he has spawned have got to the second legal base – and we then will be back to Business as Usual.
Is there a parallel between the Trump success and subsequent turmoil in the USA and the Brexit success and the subsequent turmoil in the UK?
Some commentators have argued that there are similarities and that in the main the similarities are based on the rejection of the established / familiar electoral options and the acceptance of alternative options that oppose the elite professional class.
In the UK this resulted in the Brexit vote. In the USA this resulted in the election of Mr Trump.
In both cases the electoral outcome has already triggered massive change and turmoil, with the prospect of much more of the same to come.
In The USA, Mr Trump shrewdly perceived the potential for change that had opened up as the result of the decline in the manufacturing sector, with the transfer of the work abroad, always to countries with a lower wage economy. Like the shrewd businessman he is, he spotted the electoral gap in the American rust belt and exploited it ruthlessly – it was possibly THE major factor in his narrow victory.
In the USA, enough voters disillusioned by and with their traditional parties opted for the candidate that promised to restore their jobs and living standards.
The issues in the EU referendum were rather more confused, and I for one got the result wrong.
I failed to spot that Mr Cameron had made a catastrophic error in calling the referendum and that some senior figures in the Tory Party would take advantage of the confusion to further their careers regardless of the economic and social consequences for the UK.
However, many of the same promises about restoring well-paid jobs and improving living standards were made to the British voters during the referendum campaign. And these arguments may in part at least explain the Leave vote in parts of the UK that had the most to gain from staying in the EU.
Mr Trump and the social media
“The Trump world was more like – let’s say a lot of different things, they don’t even need to be coherent, and observe through the wonderful new platforms that allow you to observe how people respond and observe what works —”
“That the Republicans didn’t lose the can be attributed in large measure to their expert manipulation of social media– Donald Trump is our first Facebook president”
“What our Facebook president has discovered is that it actually pays only to please some of the people some of the time. The rest simply don’t count.”
The above quotes were taken from “How he used Facebook to win” by Sue Halpern in the New York Review of Books, June 8, 2017 .
The addiction of Mr Trump to social media in general and to Twitter in particular had long been noted, and this aspect of his communications preferences became more and more pronounced as the USA presidential campaign proceeded.
Veteran pundits predicted that his addiction to the unusual – indeed unprecedented communications approach via social media would decline in the unlikely event that he were to win the election.
He did win but his preference for communication via Twitter has, if anything, increased. His terse pronouncements add daily to the delight of his followers and to the dismay of his opponents – numerically roughly equal.
A word about charisma
As I understand it many of the internal differences in the UK Labour Party centre on the alleged inadequacy of Mr Corbyn for the task in hand. It is said by some that he lacks charisma.
You can’t say that about Mr Trump or Mr Farage or Mr Blair or, to go back a few years, Mr Leon Trotsky.
Is charisma really – is it really – what is required in these delicate and fractious times?
The Donald J Trump show
On February 16 of this year Trump convened a meeting in the White House, ostensibly to announce to the press the latest addition to his cabinet.
The meeting was conducted along unusual lines. In essence it was a memorable confrontation between the media on the one side and Mr Trump on the other. Trump wanted to get his detestation of the press off his chest and he proceeded to do so.
Some president – some chest.
Having announced the name of the newcomer Mr Trump spent the next hour and a quarter engaged in a boisterous confrontation with his media opponents.
It was all good knock about stuff with Trump on the front foot throughout as he portrayed his critics as being a bunch of Un-American lying bastards – or words to that effect. To his chagrin the BBC’s Jon Sopel caught both barrels.
“Not truthful at all: liars every one of them to the very backbone of their souls”
Thus Don Juan to The Devil in Man and Superman by Bernard Shaw
The views of Don Juan about the friends of the Devil are along the same lines as those of Mr Trump about the media – verging on the critical.
I suspect that the USA and elsewhere – right across the world- is about to experience a great deal more abuse from Trump as he gets into his stride.
For my part I will continue to hope for the best and prepare – but how? – for the worst.
Unorthodox human resources arrangements in the Trump inner circle
Trump has not yet grasped that political appointments need rather more careful thought than was the case for his business appointments. Poor judgements by Trump in the latter category could and were resolved by the speedy issue of the American equivalent of a P45.
He has carried his sharp decisive approach into The White House to the consternation of his supporters and the huge delight of his adversaries.
In the space of a few months he has appointed a succession of people to key roles within his administration with each appointment being accompanied by a warm endorsement of the commendable virtues and suitability of each of the newcomers.
I am not sure as to the shortest time lapse between the announcement of the appointment and the more muted announcement of the departure – suffice it to say that some of the newcomers on arrival may have met themselves on the way out.
The revolving door metaphor hardly does justice to this series of White House comings and goings; a more appropriate analogy would be the scene in The Godfather when opponents of Michael Corleone were machine gunned in a revolving door.
I was thinking of a few suitable concluding words when DTJ did the job for me as he strode to a podium to announce a policy change by the USA about Afghanistan.
The gist of his announcement was as follows:
- His manifesto pledge to pull the USA out of Afghanistan was to be replaced by an equally clear pledge to send additional forces with the crystal clear remit to kill terrorists.
- The task of rebuilding Afghanistan would be the responsibility of the Afghan government.
- The Government of Pakistan must stop harbouring terrorists – or else.
Er – that’s about it.
Short and not particularly sweet, but current and aspiring terrorists in the area would be well advised to take note.
Image courtesy of CNN