Watching US President Donald Trump address the 73rd UN General Assembly (UNGA) was like watching Chewbacca trying to play King Lear. It was that grotesque. A man whose every word screams narcissism and sociopathy, who entered the White House when he should have been entering a therapist’s house, is the product of cultural values that are as American as apple pie.
Those values are first and foremost white supremacy, a malign yet religious belief in the superiority of the white race upon which the country’s founding institutions rest. And just to be clear, white supremacy should be understood not only as a racial construct but also as an ideological construct, which thus explains Obama and every black and brown cop, prison guard, border guard, and member of the nation’s armed forces. The unconscious belief in the idea of America, elicited by each of the above, is an unconscious belief in its white supremacist character, responsible for forging a latter day Roman Empire, which, as with its historical counterpart, is defined by and rooted in class and racial oppression at home and hegemony and imperialism abroad.
Trump in his UNGA address espoused both, exactly as he has done since entering the White House in January 2017 upon his November 2016 election.
The laughter with which Trump’s claim was received at the UN — that his administration had achieved more in two years than any US administration in history — squares with the consensus among US liberals that the 45th president represents an aberration, a leader who stands in contradiction to the high morals and ideas associated not with only the White House but the United States itself.
They could not be more wrong.
In truth Trump represents not the idea but the reality of America, the ugly reality of a country and society with its mask removed. For what is the United States if not a country over which unfettered greed, individualism and ruthlessness reigns? And what is Donald Trump if not a man whose entire life has been testament to those same maladies?
It all seems light years away from 2008, when a young hitherto unknown senator from Chicago, Barack Obama, was filling stadia across the country with soaring oratory — preaching hope, unity, and change to a country left battered and bruised after the two-term presidency of George W. Bush. Thus who better qualified as a messenger of hope and salvation than the nation’s first black president? It is why those who wanted to believe America had left behind its shameful past of slavery, Jim Crow, and social injustice allowed themselves to believe that with Obama’s ascent the day of Jubilee had finally arrived.
It had not.
It is arguable, indeed, that Trump’s election was in large part a reaction to his predecessor’s two terms at the helm. The racial element certainly cannot be overlooked. And for those who considered, perhaps even still consider, Trump to be on the side of the American worker, as he presented himself throughout his campaign for the White House, such a belief exists outwith the bounds of the real world. A billionaire gangster capitalist is as much a friend to the American worker, to any worker, as the spider is to the fly.
No matter, it is impossible to arrive at a proper rendering of Trump without first taking a sober view of Obama. For the gulf between the promise of Obama’s presidency and the reality was wider than with any administration in recent memory. And while there were undoubtedly objective factors that made the challenges he faced upon entering office considerable — the worst economic recession to hit the country since the 1930s, the power and influence of vested interests in Washington, and a Republican controlled congress in his second term that made his ablity to pass legislation as difficult as climbing Mount Rushmore in a pair of roller skates — Obama nonetheless failed to live up to the expectations he sowed in the hearts and minds of those who believed in him not only in America but across the world.
This being said, his presidency can boast of some notable achievements. The moves towards normalization of diplomatic relations with Cuba was one, as was the negotiated settlement with Iran over its nuclear program; this despite both meeting with vigorous opposition. At home his signature Obamacare reform programme — officially known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — which while failing to break the grip of the medical insurance industry over the country’s healthcare industry, did provide access to healthcare for millions of Americans.
Yet these successes, when placed alongside foreign policy disasters such as Libya in 2011, a drone war that wrote a new page in the annals of perfidy, the suppurating sore of US military engagement in Afghanistan, support for a Syrian opposition dominated by an ideology tantamount to primeval barbarism, while at home the prevailing obscenity of inequality, the inability to take on and defeat the gun lobby, the failure to tackle institutional racism within law enforcement, and his administration’s epic fail at reforming the country’s racist criminal justice system, those successes pale almost to the point of insignificance.
The point is that the language of hope and change Obama spoke prior to entering office failed to materialise to any meaningful extent when he did. His decision to view the role of US president as the CEO of a global empire informed by unipolarity and hegemony, with all the attendant economic and geopolitical consequences, goes down in history as a monumental failure of judgment, policy, and vision at a time when Russia and China’s growing economic and geopolitical strength provided an opportunity for the world to enter a new chapter of cooperation and stability.
Trump’s arrival after him merely injected Nietzsche’s admonition that, “Extreme positions are not succeeded by moderate ones, but by contrary extreme positions,” with new meaning.
In 2018 the world has to contend at least another two years of Trump as leader of the ‘free world’, a president whose greed and thirst for adulation, praise and fame makes him the poster child tout court for America and the American Dream. He is the United States shorn of embroidery, finesse, and fancy packaging. He is, as said, America with its mask removed.
In centuries to come his name will resound as the signpost of an empire in decline, just as Nero’s does in our time. His address to the 73rd UNGA leaves no doubt of it.