Al-Jazeera / November 2, 2020
Whether Trump gets another term as president or not, Trumpism will remain definitive and integral to the very DNA of these fictitiously United States of America.
“They came, they uprooted, they burned, they killed, they plundered, and they left.”
This is celebrated Persian historian Ata-Malik Juvayni’s (1226-1283) description of the Mongol invasion of Central Asia. Literary historians often cite it for the brevity of its brutal accuracy. Now I look at it and think of the Trump presidency.
Donald Trump and his rich and powerful enablers and beneficiaries too came, uprooted, burned, killed and plundered. They uprooted the fragile democratic foundations of the country. They saw the burning of the West Coast by wildfires and refused to acknowledge the calamities of climate change. They saw the death of hundreds of thousands of Americans from COVID-19 and refused to accept responsibility for their criminal negligence. They introduced an enormous tax cut that plundered the resources of this nation to enrich the already rich and impoverish the already poor.
But that is where the similarities with the Mongol invasion end, for Trump and his millions of supporters are not leaving.
The US presidential election on November 3 will go down in history as one of the most vital and fateful decisions any nation has made to determine the course of their future.
But whether Trump gets another term as president or not, Trumpism will not disappear any time soon. Indeed, it will remain alive and well, definitive and integral to the very DNA of these fictitiously United States of America.
Uprooting a ‘democracy’
Trump’s presidency has cut through the moral and political fault lines of America like nothing I have seen for the nearly half a century I have lived in this country.
The very country that elected its first African American president with overpowering joy and jubilation in 2008 and re-elected him four years later, suddenly turned around in 2016 and exposed its irredeemably racist foundations by electing a rabid white supremacist who went on to unleash the vilest and most violent underbelly of the self-same country.
It is impossible to give a complete tally of the wrongs Trump did over the last four years. It is equally wrong to quantify his criminal behaviour. He caused immeasurable and irreversible destruction in this country and around the globe and he did not do it alone. His opportunist daughter Ivanka Trump, his Zionist son-in-law Jared Kushner, his charlatan sons Eric and Donald Jr, his entire cabinet, especially his first UN envoy Nikki Haley and current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, his string of racist and fascist advisers, from Stephen Miller to Steve Bannon and John Bolton, and his entire white supremacist base, joined forces to drag down and disgrace this country and the world at large. The terror of this totality is not quantifiable. It is a meta-thesised cancerous cell.
Trump’s ignorant, self-serving denial of climate change and withdrawal from the modest Paris climate accord added fire to a growing global calamity. His criminal mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the deaths of more than 200,000 Americans, and impoverished the nation to such an extent that it is now unable to even feed itself.
His attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act just to roll back his predecessor’s legacy, even amid a pandemic, was the clearest indication that the lives of millions of the most vulnerable Americans, some of whom happily voted to elect him as their president, mean very little to this “gangster”.
The damage Trump has done to this country is in every respect irreparable. His chief preoccupation during his term as president was reshaping the federal judiciary, and especially the Supreme Court, with a front of retrograde jurists. He undoubtedly achieved this goal by appointing three conservative ideologues to the nation’s highest bench, the latest being Christian fundamentalist Amy Coney Barrett.
Trump’s appointees to the Supreme Court, as well as hundreds of other justices he appointed to lower federal courts, will, for generations swing the American judiciary to the extreme right at the expense of American civil liberties, human rights, reproductive choices, LGBTQ rights and economic justice – and there is nothing Democratic Party hacks like Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer could do to reverse this.
More than four years ago, as the prospect of a Trump presidency hovered over the US, I wrote in these very pages that while Hillary Clinton is the political mask of the corporate face of America, Donald Trump is the real deal. Even before his ascent into the White House, I saw him as the naked face of the predatory capitalism that rules this country. Four years later, Donald Trump proved to have been a godsend for American corporations and the richest and most powerful Americans. His singular legislative achievement has been a Republican tax bill that significantly reduced the corporate tax rate promising prosperity but delivering misery for millions of working-class families.
Fact became fiction, fiction became fact
Trump led an entire nation into a fantasy realm where facts do not mean anything and the most ridiculous conspiracy theories are accepted as fact. One of his chief propaganda officers, the Joseph Goebbels of his administration, Kellyanne Conway, spouted so many lies with so much impunity that she eventually invented the newspeak catchphrase of the Trump era, “alternative facts”. An army of trained journalists could not chase after and keep track of her lies.
The chief beneficiaries of Trump’s “alternative facts” have been Zionists. He not only gave them Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, as if these were his to give away, but he also tore to pieces the landmark nuclear deal his predecessor signed with their arch-rival, Iran. Meanwhile, his son-in-law Jared Kushner conspired with the corrupt leaders of puny little Arab states like the UAE and Bahrain to “normalise” the armed robbery of Palestine.
Trump’s abuse of power in his dealings with Ukraine, and his consequent attempts to obstruct a Congress investigation into his misconduct, made him the third US president ever to be impeached. He nevertheless avoided being removed from office after the Senate controlled by Republicans who have their political fortunes tied to the president acquitted him of all charges.
Meanwhile, both China and Russia outsmarted the “stable genius” on planet Earth, so in a desperate attempt to keep his base convinced that he is always “winning”, he turned his attention to outer space. He established the “Space Force” as the sixth branch of the US Armed Forces, wasting yet more hundreds of billions of dollars on defence.
As he pivoted American militarism towards the heavens, Trump continued to try and seal the physical borders of the US on Earth. His racist attacks against Mexicans and banning of Muslims from entering the US were capped with his disgraceful response to the far-right violence in Charlottesville and the murder of George Floyd by a police officer to mark his unrelenting racism.
No law, no morality
The wanton cruelty of Trump came to a climax with his family separation policy that led to more than 2,000 migrant children, including babies, being separated from their parents and literally caged. Taking a page from the Nazi playbook, he even had migrant women subjected to forced hysterectomies and other procedures that jeopardise their ability to have children.
The assassination of Iran’s top general Qassem Soleimani in Iraq was the most blatant act of international terrorism he committed during his presidency – likely motivated by his undying desire to one-up Obama, who had ordered the assassination of Osama bin Laden during his presidency.
Indeed, Trump did very little for which Obama had not paved the way. It was Obama’s secret investments in fossil fuel projects around the world that justified Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris accord. His “Muslim ban” was nothing but an extension of Obama’s draconian policies targeting Muslim immigrants. Militarisation of the US police, which Trump put to brutal use during the Black Lives Matter uprising, took place under the Obama administration.
These are all among the structural damages Trump has perpetrated over the last four years, taking full advantage of a flawed democracy that could allow such a charlatan to occupy its highest elected office unhindered by any law or morality.
Hundreds of millions of decent and hardworking Americans are trapped inside a dysfunctional republic spreading its military wings over a delusional empire. Every four years they are asked to choose the lesser of two evils. And every time they choose between them, they become implicated in the diabolic calamities their new commander-in-chief inflicts on them and on the rest of the world.
It will take generations and a whole new literary prose drastically different from the current banality of late-night shows and compromised journalism to come to terms with what Trump has revealed about these United States of America. Americans will have to produce a genius novelist like James Joyce, Gabriel García Márquez, or Chinua Achebe, a new filmmaker like Stanley Kubrick or Costa-Gavras, a poet like WB Yeats or Mahmoud Darwish, an artist like Diego Rivera to come anywhere near to understanding what the Trump presidency has revealed about them.
That is a very tall order for a political culture that now seeks its salvation in a spent Democratic apparatchik like Joe Biden. If we are lucky, we will not have to see Trump’s face ever again after this election. But even when he is long gone, millions of mini Trumps will be lurking across the country, awaiting their moment to come to the surface. Coronavirus is just a deadly metaphor for Trump-virus, for which, after 200 years of experiments, Americans have found no vaccine.
Hamid Dabashi is the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University