Yes, ‘tis the season. That special time, which comes around but once every four years, when Americans prepare to go to the polls. When the rest of the world watches on with a mixture of anticipation, amusement, and dread. And when like just about everyone else outside of the USA, I find myself praying that Trump doesn’t win. But secretly fearful that he will.
Four years ago, at about this time in the cycle, the prevailing wisdom was that Donald Trump could never get elected. He was just too outrageous, and was just too busy saying things so far beyond the pale of normal political discourse (never mind normal civil conversation) that few people seriously thought he’d actually get picked for the job of President of the United States.
Although the signs were there, if what I wrote in a blog post in March of 2016 is anything to go by:
“Take your eye off the wheel for an instant and not only can it happen, but it very well might. History is littered with examples of people who were ignored, trivialized, and vilified, only to then nevertheless prevail at the polls.
So please, Dear America, on behalf of all those of us in the rest of the world who depend on your choices and thus give a shit as to the outcome of this election: do not underestimate The Donald. Don’t dismiss him as a clown. Treat him seriously, pay attention to what he says he stands for, and take what he says, and what he says he will do, at face value.
After all, you don’t want to be waking up in November, the day after Trump is elected, and saying: “Oh, fuck. How did that happen?” By then it will be too late. And then you, along with the rest of us, will be condemned by your own inaction to living a history that no-one thinks is actually possible”.
Still, here we are, four years later, when something that was largely considered to be impossible managed to become our collective reality. As a consequence of which we now live in a world where leadership of the United States is in the hands of someone who has less evident capacity to govern than my neighbours’ aged, arthritic cat.
This, I might add, matters – even for those of us in faraway lands. Because for the last hundred years or so America has been the undisputed greatest country of the modern world – the Roman Empire of our time. Exporter of not just products and services and money, but also mass culture, lifestyle, and ideals. Such that when America sneezes, the rest of us catch a cold.
I previously wrote a couple of pieces about the “boiled frog syndrome” (read them here and here). Although to summarise, the theory is that if a frog is dropped into a pot of boiling water, it will jump out immediately. But if dropped into a pot of cold water that is slowly heated, the frog will apparently not notice the gradual change in temperature. Rather, it will remain in the water until it is eventually cooked to death, and (quite literally) croaks.
Now, it is not totally clear whether the boiled frog syndrome is a real thing: various folks have conducted frog boiling experiments over the years, with no clear proof one way or the other, apart from a bunch of dead frogs. True or not, however, “the boiled frog syndrome” aptly describes our quintessentially human capacity to not notice gradual change as it occurs around us, even if it is happening right under our noses.
And this, if I may say so, is why Americans don’t get it. They are the frogs who have become well and truly boiled in their own political pot, their standards gradually eroded over the last four years, to the point where they do now not see the full sweep of what Donald Trump has done. Living inside of their day-to-day bubble, Americans have not noticed the changing temperature of the water all around them, and so simply do not get how much their President has, all on his own, managed to trash the international reputation and standing of the United States.
Sure, there may be many things wrong in the way the international system works – the United Nations, the WHO, various trade agreements, approach to tackling climate change, and so on. But to wholesale rip up so many of these agreements and accords and institutions, which took decades to create, in such an “in your face” manner? And then to boast and crow about what a super-tough guy you are in having done so? That is not the America the rest of the world willingly follows. It is just being a bully.
Sure, you’re the President of the richest and most powerful country on earth. But to belittle, sideline, look down on and downright insult so many elected leaders of other countries? That is not the America that the rest of the world knows and admires. It is just rude and disrespectful.
Sure, you’re a guy who had made a name for himself calling it like it is, speaking in non-PC terms and not pulling your punches. But to flip-flop, exaggerate, threaten, lean on, bend the truth and even flat out lie to us if it suits your agenda? That’s not the American President we all look to as leader of the free world. It is just being a despot.
American voters: you may not realise just how much, outside of your shores, your President has become a joke who commands no real respect any more. Of course, for the next little while you may not notice this. Hell, you may even genuinely think he is doing great things because right now we are all still kowtowing and doing as we are told, because at the moment we still depend on you, and we are afraid of El Presidente and his unpredictable reactions. But in all of history, fear has never been the basis on which any empire has been able to sustain its power and influence. So sure as eggs are eggs, if this “New American way” continues for another four years a new world order will arise in response. And it will be one in which America forfeits its position as the preeminent country on earth.
And no, I am not talking about the much-vilified China, or countries who are not naturally aligned to the USA. No, I mean those of us who live in Australia, and New Zealand, and Canada, and Europe – it is us who are getting upset. Countries which regard themselves as America’s friends, equals and allies. Democratic countries where we can accept differences in opinion, and where we can understand that in tough times your President must put America first. But we are also proud and independent countries, and we will not accept being ordered about like children, being lectured to by a man who cannot speak in complete sentences, or being spoken down to and lied to and insulted.
When Donald Trump was first elected, there were a very large number of people I respect greatly who did not share my general disdain for the man. They felt that he was a breath of fresh air. They felt that he was not beholden to anyone, and thus he would be a good President – he would rise to the challenge, grow into the job, and achieve a lot.
Now however, even amongst these folks, the goodwill has evaporated. At every dinner party or gathering I have been to in recent times, when the subject of America comes up, there is universal ridicule of Donald Trump. Even amongst people who agree with his approach or have supported and benefited from his policies (this also includes me in some instances – I thought he was right to move the American embassy to Jerusalem; I think he is right to be taking on China in the trade arena, etc).
No, nowadays, even amongst Donald Trump’s “fans”, the usual conversation starts off with something along the lines of: “look, I know he is a complete buffoon, but ……”.
Like it or not, the international reputation of the USA – built up over generations – has been shredded by one man, in a few short years. Not because of his strong policies or his unconventional approach, but because he has fundamentally debased the institution of the President of the United States, and all that it stands for, all around the world.
And to those of us outside of America who have always loved everything about America, this is not a happy place to be in. It brings me no joy to watch from a distance, as a great nation implodes.
So here is what I want to say to my American friends and readers, as directly as I can: please, if you care for your standing in the world at large, do not once again elect Donald Trump.
Yes, he may have some policies that you support. And yes, he may be offering to hand out some sweeties that directly benefit you. And yes, you may really dislike Joe Biden and really despise some of his party members, and you may not support any or all of the Democrat political agenda.
But surely even you must by now be aware of Donald Trump’s shortcomings? Surely even you must have cringed when your President suggested that injecting disinfectant into someone’s lungs might be the way to beat coronavirus? (And then later doubled down in this absurdity by suggesting he was making a joke that no-one got).
Surely even you must be appalled that in the past four years your President has been clocked (according to The Fact Checker’s data base) as having uttered more than 20,000 false and misleading statements? I know, I know, some of this is a “fake news” beat-up, and some of this is part of the vast conspiracy between news outlets and liberals and communists and anarchists determined to besmirch the good name of Donald Trump. But really, be honest with yourself – on at least a few occasions, with your own two ears, you know that you have heard your President tell a straight-up lie.
Surely even you must find it odd when your President uses his speeches as a way of plugging products for commercial companies that have said nice things about him? Surely even you must feel there is something not quite right when your President – a person who is supposed to be the national leader for all Americans – threatens to cut off, punish or disenfranchise those Americans who do not slavishly support him, or who dare to question his decisions?
Surely even you must be asking why is it that so many of your President’s confidantes and advisers have been sidelined, fired, or worse – wound up in jail? Deep down, do you really believe that fake news and conspiracy explains all of this? Or deep down, do you know there must be some truth in the old adage: “where there is smoke there is fire”. Because never in history has so much smoke surrounded any one US President.
Surely even you must be secretly embarrassed when your President – the person who is meant to represent the finest of America and American ideals to the rest of us – speaks unintelligible nonsense, or worse, shoots from the hip in a way that evidences little thought, and zero preparation? I mean, surely even you must have laugh-cried when your President sought to draw some equivalence between 170,000 Covid-19 deaths in your country and an “outbreak” of 9 new cases in New Zealand? “The problem is [a] big surge in New Zealand. It’s terrible. We don’t want that.” I mean, seriously?
Sadly, I could go on, and on, and on. But you get the point.
I just hope that in the next three months, something that is blindingly obvious to the rest of the world becomes at least a little bit obvious to the majority of those for whom it should matter the most.