The world must beware the cult of Trump
Kevin Rafferty says the perversely iconoclastic new president’s dangerously simplistic world view and imaginative takes on reality portend turbulent times for not just America, but globally as well
Do you believe in The Donald, the almighty father, re-creator of the world? And in Don Junior and Eric, sons and heirs to the golden Trump Organisation, and daughter Ivanka and husband Jared Kushner, who, with The Donald, will be the holy trinity to renew the face of the Earth? For theirs is the presidency, and the power and the glory of the greatest nation on Earth. But maybe not for ever and ever, and certainly not Amen.
I hope my Christian confreres will forgive my mishmashing of the creed and doxology to the Lord’s Prayer – but how else to explain the rise and rise of Donald Trump?
Watch: Trump wins White House in stunning upset
He runs a quasi-religious cult in which the leader can do no wrong, even if he asserts that black is white, or makes abusive comments about women, Mexicans, African Americans, people with disabilities or anyone who dares cross his path.
Few cults, or political parties, have leaders as narcissistic as Trump, or as determinedly iconoclastic. No other cult is an elected and nuclear-armed government with a leader who has mused what’s the point of having nuclear weapons if there is no intention to use them.
On Saturday morning, Hong Kong time, Trump will take the oath of office as US president: the American – and world – order will change.
Immediately after he was elected, Trump promised to heal the wounds of a badly divided nation.
He has not kept his promise. Far from healing, Trump has shattered the convention that America has only one president at a time: he let loose a torrent of Twitter edicts, effectively running a parallel presidency to incumbent Barack Obama.
He successfully pressured Carrier to keep 800 jobs in Indianapolis, before turning on carmakers, threatening tariffs on companies, US or otherwise, selling foreign-made products to the US.
He promised next to deal with pharmaceutical companies. But when Trump suggested his plan was health care for all with government intervention to control drug prices, he offered a vision of Trumpcare trumping Obamacare that Republicans steadfastly blocked. This could be Trump the zealot dealmaker, smashing conventional barriers, discarding allies.
His “press conference” showed Trump as a reality television star. Press secretary Sean Spicer started by attacking the media for disclosing controversial and unsubstantiated intelligence claims that Russia had a dossier against Trump. In attendance were Vice President-elect Mike Pence, Trump’s family members, and assorted supporters and cheerleaders, who dutifully applauded their hero’s best lines.
Watch: Trump rejects Russia dossier report
Trump ducked and weaved between questions and then offered a plan to hand over the Trump Organisation to his sons. Sceptics question whether the close-knit family will be able to maintain a hands-off relationship. Trump kept his financial stake and repeated his contention that conflict of interest does not apply to the president, and that he is capable of being president and running the business.
Trump has continued with his insulting tweets and tame interviews to spew out radical policy ideas.
He declared Meryl Streep “one of the most overrated actresses in Hollywood”, the UK “so smart” in getting out of the European Union; Nato as “obsolete” and the “one-China” policy as “under negotiation”.
Watch: Trump versus Streep
Most controversially, he poured abuse on US intelligence services, asking whether CIA director John Brennan was the source of the “fake news” that Trump was a compromised asset of the Kremlin. He suggested multiple times that he might do a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin, further scaring America’s traditional European allies.
His view of the world conflicts with reality. Trump claims the US economy is on the brink of collapse, and infested with criminal immigrants stealing the few jobs left. In fact, Obama turned the economy around after inheriting, in 2009, the worst crisis since the 1930s, and added millions of jobs, so that the unemployment rate is a lowly 4.7 per cent. Job losses among blue-collar workers, who put Trump into office, stemmed from swirling globalisation encouraging US companies to move production abroad; it cannot be blamed on immigrants.
The biggest mistake Obama made was to leave the dominance of Wall Street’s big banks intact and unpunished after they took the world’s financial system to the brink of collapse.
Trump poses as a populist champion, but has picked more billionaires and multimillionaires for his cabinet than the White House has ever seen. Goldman Sachs, infamously described as a “giant vampire squid” at the heart of Wall Street, is back. Trump’s top adviser Steve Bannon, his nominee for Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin and Gary Cohn, leader of the National Economic Council, are all Goldman Sachs alumni.
Trump has raised questions about America’s traditional global outreach. Threatening Nato, solidarity with Europe, free trade, the “one China” policy, and climate change agreements, while cosying up to Russia, add up to a threat to blow up the established world order. In postulating so wildly, Trump has single-handedly built a platform for President Xi Jinping (習近平) to show himself as the world’s leading statesman.
And he is doing it mostly through shallow 140-character Twitter feeds. Trump has a dangerously simplistic view of the world.
He threatens to impose punitive tariffs on China and Mexico, and German and Japanese carmakers, without considering the cost to their American consumers, or retaliatory action, or the implications for the global economic and trading system.
He accused Obama of founding Islamic State and promised to smash the jihadists without explaining how, and has threatened China politically and economically.
Optimists say congressional hearings on his cabinet picks showed men prepared to disagree with Trump. Defence pick General James “Mad Dog” Mattis spoke strongly in favour of Nato, expressed worries over Russia, and said that the Iran nuclear deal should be accepted.
On many issues, from Russia to Iran, Trump’s cabinet picks are contradicting his professed foreign policy
Rex Tillerson, the ExxonMobil boss nominated for secretary of state, disagreed with Trump’s overtures to Russia, his suggestions that countries like Japan might acquire nuclear weapons, and that climate change is a hoax (but he still threatened China). Other nominees took issue with Trump over his attitude to Muslims.
But who is in charge? Tillerson raised eyebrows saying he had not had a substantial discussion with Trump about Russia. And ever since the hearings, Trump has fulminated against China, trade, and in favour of extreme vetting of Muslims.
These are not merely interesting times in the words of the old Chinese curse, but turbulent ones. Beware Trumpsday.
Kevin Rafferty has reported from Washington under six successive US presidents