Donald Trump’s State of the Union Address (SOTU) is both typical and untypical; it corresponds to type in terms of being synonymous with the show man Trump whose unique contribution to politics and politicking is narcissistic self indulgence. It is untypical because Trump, the showman’s inability to bridge the yawning gap between his campaign rhetoric and actual performance was pretty much evident despite the man’s attempts to gloss and elide over these. While the state of the American economy, which is pretty robust, is the consequence of structural trends in the global economy, and which took years in incubating, might have pleased many Americans, but both the prosaic and profound fact is that America is in decline. Trump and his show biz SOTU could not and cannot obscure this. Given this fact, Trump, in an attempt to pander to his core constituents, played up immigration reform, the state of the economy, the insistence on not closing Guantanamo Bay prison and so on. The themes that Trump dwelt upon are premised upon are calculated to obfuscate and obscure America’s fundamental weaknesses- cultural, political, economic and structural and not to illuminate.
It may be recalled that Trump rode to power on his promise(s) to “redeem” America, of the assorted ills that afflicted the country- both real and imagined. Contrary to popular belief, it was or is not mere globalization and its contents or discontents that had riled Americans. Yes, globalization was a factor but not the summum bonum of American grievance or angst. Fundamentally, and pared to the bone, it appears that the well springs of American angst flew from the fear of swamping of the white superstructure of the country. Complementing this rather primeval fear was deep income inequality and stagnation in many parts of America. What was and continues to be tricky is disentangling cause and effect here. Was it the fear of the swamping of White identity that was the causal factor? Or , was it income inequality and deep economic malaise(s) that fostered this identity politics? But, either way, the deep angst , anxiety and uncertainty that was generated was projected onto Trump- in a positive way. The man’s crude and vulgar populism melded with many Americans’ anxieties and fears and it proved to be the siren song that drew many to him. The rest was and is history.
But, while Trump’s victory and his assumption of the American presidency may have accorded psychological comfort to many Americans, but it, in the final analysis is both ephemeral and illusory. Trump is not and will never be the answer to America’s problems. The conjurer’s trick that he played on Americans is just that: a conjurer’s trick, an illusory façade that has been pierced merely after a couple of years or so under the presidency of the man. The reasons for this pertain to forces and structures that are actually larger than Trump and his deceptions. The path dependency of these forces means that notwithstanding policy stimuli to reverse these, no grand reversal is actually possible. The white section of America’s populace, which actually voted Trump, then is set for a huge disappointment. The question then is: what will happen in America and to Americans?
Trump will, in all likelihood, last the full term but what he will succeed in doing is diminishing America and its institutional fabric which, among other things, will lead to a depleted country. While America’s standing, internationally, is at its lowest, on account of a mélange of factors which includes Trump and Trumpism, this is set to decrease further. The well springs of this will be the domestic political and cultural condition of the country, which will be more polarized and fractured. Will, the question is, this impact Americans? Yes, is the unqualified answer. From a psychological perspective, there might be a correlation between the stature, position-political, power political, cultural and the degree of stability(emotional and psychical), and outwardness of a given society. All these have been subject to deep stress in America which Trump will, to repeat only intensify. Americans, will then be a more depleted and emaciated peoples when Trump exits. There will neither have been “redemption” nor “recovery”. But, as Trump goes, he will turn more obscurantist, evasive and more isolated. It is these conditions which actually portend more danger for both the United States and the world , at large. Can American institutions, provide the requisite checks and balances and thus a corrective to this? They might but only if they survive Trump.
—The author can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org