The President had much to say to “forgotten Americans,” who feel full of resentments. Fair enough. But what about the rest of us?
Trump talked of a Washington political elite that prospers at the expense of everyone else. That’s his division between bad and good, victims and victimizers. (A bit strange to cast Washington politicians as the Enemies of the People – when over 90% get re-elected every time.) Perhaps surprisingly Trump did not mention banks, Wall Street, or corporations. No – it’s just the Washington pols against the entire rest of the country, and the entire rest of the country is suffering.
It’s a country mired in “carnage.” Yes, “carnage!” I thought I was transported in a time machine back to 1933, judging from the grim picture of American society and its economy that he portrayed.
As if Washington predation is actually the cause of our economic challenges. It’s absurd. And meantime, in fact, most Americans are doing quite fine, and do not harbor grievances against some malevolent elite that we imagine is screwing us. But we seem invisible to Trump.
So his theme was us-against-them. His “us” is the 40% who voted for him and still back him. His words about national unity were cynically empty. This was an atrociously divisive speech, setting part of the population against another. I felt like I’m one of the “them.”
Us-against-them is likewise his global stance. For the better part of a century, America has seen its role as being bound into a world community, wherein promotion of our interests is served by promotion of our values. Those values have included democracy, openness, nations solving their problems peaceably, and trading with each other for mutual benefit. America has shouldered the lead and responsibility in building and sustaining this global order. The logic is that we are better off in a world where other countries are democratic and hence do not create causes of war and turmoil, and in which other countries grow more prosperous, and hence more secure, and better able to buy what we produce.
Forget all that, Trump says. His global vision is very different: it’s us against them. Our policy now will simply be America First; and other countries should likewise mind their own self-interest. Nothing about having any interests in common. (He’s even cheered on the unraveling of the European Union.) And we won’t try to “impose” our values on anyone. Values are irrelevant in this dark vision. Trump sees other countries only as “ravaging” us; the world as a zero-sum game where one nation’s gain is another’s loss.
This insanity is the whole world’s loss. Our own most of all.