Observations of an expat: Banana America

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Donald J. Trump’s political career is very likely over. But Trumpism lives on.

The disrupter-in-chief, conspiracy theorist extraordinaire and the world’s most outstanding example of a self-deluded politician has finally gone too far.

He clearly incited thousands of supporters to march on the seat of American government in an attempt coerce elected representatives into overturning the election result. The assault on the US Capitol while senators and congressmen met to confirm the results of the November vote, was an attempted coup, insurrection, sedition and treason.

Trump’s baseless claims that the election was a fraud were the inspiration behind the riots. His speech – and that of Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump Jr and others – clearly incited the crowd. His actions were a clear breach of his oath to protect and defend the US constitution.

The events of 6 January, and the two months that preceded it, set a frightening precedent which undermines democracy in America. And because the United States is seen as both the cradle and protector and chief advocate of global democratic values, it undermines laudable efforts to make other governments more representative.

The United States now looks more like a banana republic of the sort it regularly criticises than the “shining city on the hill” that it claims to be.

As awful as the Capitol Hill riots were, even more disturbing are the results of Hill HarrisX opinion poll conducted on 6-7 January.  According to this survey 59 percent of the voters polled disapproved of Trump’s handling of the riots. Great, you might say, that is a clear majority. But the flip side is that 41 percent of the electorate approved of Trump’s actions.

Despite the fact that the riot was a clear attempt to undermine the constitution, the rule of law and the democratic processes of government, a whopping 41 percent of the electorate thought Trump did the right thing.

That is Trump’s legacy: A hard core alliance of evangelicals, White supremacists, paranoid conspiracy theorists, gun rights activists, libertarians and far-right politicians.  Each of these groups on their own are too small to be an effective political voice.  But united under the banner of Trumpism they remain a powerful force even without their cult figure leader.

At the root of their grievance is racism and what they view as the American economic decline. Race and ethnicity has been a defining factor in American politics since its earliest days. It is the unpalatable fruit of centuries of slavery, the Civil War, Jim Crow, segregation, the civil rights movement and now the Black Lives Matter and its backlash.

It is not just African-Americans who have felt the brunt. Jim Crow laws were extended to Native Americans. Ethnic Japanese were interned during World War Two. Chinese labourers were deported after building the railroads. In the 1856 presidential elections the anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant, xenophobic Native American Party won 21.6 percent of the population vote. Racism is part of America’s national DNA. It will not go away, or at least not easily.

Mixed with the racist heritage is a contemporary economic decline. America is still the world’s largest economy—just. But its share of the global GDP has shrunk from a high point of 28.69 percent in 1960 to 24.4% in 2020. Not a huge drop but it has meant fewer jobs and opportunities in the rust belt which stretches from the Midwest/Great Lakes region to Western Pennsylvania, Ohio and Appalachia. The concept that each succeeding American generation will by right be better off than their parents is now considered a thing of the past.

These conditions are facts that remain regardless of who sits in the Oval Office.  They are social and economic realities and will continue to provide fertile ground for demagogic populists prepared to exploit it for their own political ambitions.

Those populists are easy to identify.  They are, for a start, the senators and congressmen who voted to contest the elections despite the attack on Capitol Hill. At the top of the list are Senator Ted Cruz from Texas and Missouri senator Josh Hawley. Both men see the populist mantle slipping from the shoulders of Donald Trump and are positioning themselves to win the support of Trump’s base by supporting the president’s conspiracy theories.

The fact is, that every time Cruz, Hawley and others look in the mirror, their naked ambition sees a president staring back at them.  Trump set the precedent of riding roughshod over the constitution and the rule of law. The danger is that whomever replaces him will see political capital in continuing the trend.


* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and the author of “The Encyclopedia of the Cold War” and the recently published “America Made in Britain” that has sold out in the US after six weeks but is still available in the UK.

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  • John Marriott 8th Jan '21 - 10:46pm

    Interesting that Farage appears so far not yet to have commented. A pretty good summary of where we are. Plenty of script rewriting at No 10!

  • He’s busy selling ‘financial services investments’, John.

    Snake oil, anyone ?

  • Yeovil Yokel 9th Jan '21 - 9:21am

    No, surely brave Commodore Farage is atop the Cliffs of Dover, filming himself for Pathe News scanning the horizon through his field glasses trying to spot the fleet of rickety small boats brimming with refugees desperate to reach hospitable Britain?

  • Paul Barker 9th Jan '21 - 10:09am

    This is an excellent analysis, “Race” in the Racist sense is at the root of Americas problems & in particular the failure to face up to the legacy of Slavery.
    I would not be quite so pessimistic about Americas Future; “only” one in five Americans Polled actually approved of the Insurrection itself with another fifth approving the Aim but not the methods. Also that Poll was before a Policeman died, that Death may shift the narrative.
    The Irony of Americas slow Relative decline is that they could reverse that trend any time they want by simply by accepting more Immigrants; the problem of course is that most of them would not be “White”.

  • Steve Trevethan 9th Jan '21 - 2:29pm

    Might the vulnerabilities of the Capitol have been discretely engineered to entrap President Trump?

    Might the recent events there have much deeper causes than President Trump?
    Might he have been the presenting problem rather than a root cause?

  • Robert Riebeth 10th Jan '21 - 1:38am

    What if these Trump supporters had actually made it into the US Senate Chamber before the Senators were evacuated? Some insurrectionists where trying to kill Congressmen — they had weapons and they were out to get Republican or Democrat Congressmen. There has got to be a serious consequence for Trump, Juliani and Trump Jr. If we just let this go, another autocrat and his family will try this in the future and the next group to attempt this may actually succeed. The nation is not moving beyond this anytime soon.

  • John Marriott 10th Jan '21 - 10:41am

    The storming of Capitol Hill is appalling; but, in many ways, what is far worse is the storming of what we recognise as democracy (government BY the people FOR the people). However, have we really ever achieved that goal?

    What we largely have, certainly in most ‘democracies’, is exploitation by global business and multinationals by pandering to human greed and a desire for an easy life from those who, possibly by hard work; but equally by a lot of luck (good health and geography). We really haven’t moved on much from the “bread and circuses” of Ancient Rome.

    For most people, who just take it for granted, democracy as we know it can appear to be unbelievably messy, except perhaps for us anoraks, who regularly contribute to platforms like LDV. That could be why so many people appear to be seduced by ‘the Strong Man’, such as Trump, Modi, Erdogan today, or, in the past, Napoleon, Hitler and Mussolini, who have been able over the generations to articulate a simple message. The 1930s slump gave succour to dictators masquerading initially under the facade of legitimacy, and, in the end, it took another world war to pour water finally on the bonfire of liberties dictatorship had created. Unfortunately, a few embers survived, as we know to our cost today.

    Democracy is on trial again. Can it rise to the challenge? It’s fine to highlight inequalities, pass conference motions etc. Don’t for a moment believe that, when Trump, Modi or any other putative ‘Strong Man’ departs the scene, that the forces that put them there will go away. And we could add Putin and Xi to that list as well.

    In this crazy world of ours, they still say that money talks. I could say that, if that’s the case, all mine ever says is “Goodbye”. A better answer might be when the billionaire says to the poor man; “OK, so that’s £1 more for you and £100 more for me”. Just look who really have benefitted from four years of Trump in the USA and those, who stand to benefits from continued Brexit chaos over here.

  • John Marriott 10th Jan '21 - 2:07pm

    Does anyone still remember the attempted coup in Spain in February 1981, when Lt Col Antonio Tejero stormed into the Lower House of the Cortes at the head of around 150 soldiers and members of the Civil Guard and fired his pistol in the air? He was counting on King Juan Carlos to support him, who, to his everlasting credit, refused. We laughed at that Comic Opera attempt from the right wing to take back control from the fledgling democracy. So, what’s the difference between what happened last week in Washington? Well, one big difference was that the US equivalent of Tejero failed to lead his troops in the ‘assault’ on Capitol Hill as he had promised he would an hour earlier. Were those ‘bone Spurs’ in his heels bothering him again, or was it that yellow streak down his back?

  • Totally unrelated to the content of the article but I’m curious about the name of the column. Why is it called “observations of an expat” and not “observations of an immigrant”? (FWIW, I deliberately used the latter term when I worked in Dubai and Malaysia to challenge my students’ assumptions).

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