Insular Trump’s first days show he has already turned on the American people
Alice Wu says the avalanche of alternative facts and dangerous drive to delegitimise the pillars of American civil society indicate the US president is not just targeting China, Mexico or illegal immigrants, but his own people as well
The world has to give it to Donald Trump, the 45th US president. In just over a week since his inauguration, he has signed numerous executive orders, had his people put in information gag rules for various departments, and is working the press into the ground with so much to cover on an almost hourly basis.
His press secretary, Sean Spicer, came out on his first full day – when millions in the US and around the world came out for the Women’s March – to basically lie and then threaten the news media. Trump’s adviser Kellyanne Conway made Orwellian disregard for the truth the new American normal, with her “alternative facts” explanation for manufactured falsehoods.
There is good reason why copies of George Orwell’s 1984 are flying off the shelves – because, “The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”
Watch: President Donald Trump takes his oath of office
When people see photos of crowds at Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration alongside Trump’s, they do not see Spicer’s claim of “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration ... in person and around the world”. Yet, that is the sort of “alternative fact” that the leader of the free world is gaslighting us with. On the day he signed the executive order to build that “beautiful”, “great, great”, “the greatest wall” on the US-Mexican border and insisted Mexico will reimburse the American people, Trump also said an investigation would be launched into mass voter fraud. He also believes torture is “absolutely” effective in extracting information, so we have every reason to believe waterboarding may be making a comeback.
Watch: Mexican president cancels US visit over border wall row
So, that is the Trump strategy for running the United States – bulldoze the public, gaslight them and overwhelm the 24-hour news cycle with an avalanche of alternative facts. By day five of his presidency, there was no room left to follow, for instance, the story of his potential conflicts of interests that stem from his businesses.
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Trump meant every word of his isolationist, insular inauguration speech. If the first week of his presidency is an indicator of what the rest of his term will be like, we know America will be preoccupied with itself. The American people will be so busy either making the nation great again or protecting themselves against Trump that the world needs to be prepared to move on without the US.
The American retreat from the world will have irrevocable consequences. Within minutes of taking office, Trump’s White House had removed minority initiatives and the threat of climate change from its website. President Xi Jinping (習近平) had already made clear at Davos that China is ready to step up as the US relinquishes its global leadership roles in globalisation and fighting climate change.
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That probably sounds ridiculous coming from someone who reigns from pollution-choked Beijing, but when that same person warns of the perils of turning one’s country inward, it is unfortunate that it has fallen on deaf ears. China does know a thing or two about the dangers of isolation.
Watch: Xi Jinping warns against retreating behind protectionist walls
Trump’s push to become insular and self-delusional as a means of self-preservation is dangerous. Alternative facts make false realities. Trump hasn’t just been picking on China, Mexico or illegal immigrants, he has already turned on his own people.
His “ongoing war” with the news media is aimed at delegitimising the free press. His outrageous claim, which his own campaign lawyers had refuted, that there was widespread voter fraud involving some 3 to 5 million, delegitimises the American democratic process. And his new-found favour of torture delegitimises the rule of law.
Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA