By Trevor Busch
It’s difficult to imagine the level of self-absorption that might be required to fully and truly understand any decision that slithers its way out of the Trump White House. As Americans now count the weeks, not the days, since a partial government shutdown was imposed on them due to their own president’s petty intransigence over funding for his border wall with Mexico, people have begun to speculate just who will blink first in this hackneyed version of a ‘Mexican’ standoff.
One suspects it won’t be our illustrious Donald J. Trump. Even a cursory analysis of his character and psychology, or a smattering of his presidential decisions, should suggest that we have a man for whom accepting anything but his own opinion about an issue is virtual anathema. What he believes, for all intents and purposes — at least it would seem in his own mind, anyway — must be the unassailable truth. Whatever anyone else says is simply the lies and accusations of political enemies, Democrats, those liberal intellectuals who can’t see the forest of truth that spews forth from my lips but for the trees. People with those kinds of attitudes have trouble accepting that anything they do is open to criticism, let alone wrong.
Those who become convinced of their own righteousness, of the purity of their cause at the expense of others, often make the most dangerous politicians. They are totally unwilling to compromise, rigidly inflexible about their principles, and willing to advance their doctrines and ideas at almost any cost. It can be viewed almost in a religious sense: many come to see themselves as the incarnation of their own messianic vision for the future. Unfortunately, one man’s messiah can be another man’s oppressor, even if they still imagine themselves as the noble liberator ready to free the unwashed from their illusions of true democracy and justice.
Instead, what most Americans hopefully see is a temper-tantrum Trump, casting about the Washington sandbox looking for an eye to blacken like a furious toddler who has had his toy wrested away from him by Congress. What’s been remarkable to witness during this most recent political debacle in the land of the free is just how much Trump has been willing to expose his reticent breast to the full light of public scrutiny.
There isn’t much that has been succinct about discerning Trump’s motivations for forcing this crisis on the American people. During his election campaign, Trump talked loudly and promised repeatedly that he would build a wall on the Mexican border to curtail illegal immigration, even arguing he would force the Mexicans to pay for it. The latter aspect of this lofty promise has yet to ring true, so instead of dropping the issue as a failed election promise — admittedly never a favourable position to maneuver a politician into — Trump decided to up the ante by attempting to force the American taxpayer to pay for their president’s own personal boondoggle. Is that not also betraying your so-called base by rolling out the public dollars rather than Mexican pesos to see this quasi-medieval anachronism constructed? A question for another debate.
But the Donald is never wrong, of course. In forcing this crisis on Congress and the nation, there’s never any acceptance of an iota of personal responsibility. Naturally the problems all lie with Congress, it’s all their fault for not accepting in my benevolent guidance and marching forward with me into a bold, new future. The disturbing problem with this ideology — among many too numerous to mention here — is that Trump actually appears to believe his own rhetoric, possessing the ability to convince himself that his version of reality is actual reality.
This drifts into the realm of Orwellian thought, of thoughtcrime and doublespeak, where the ability to know the truth can exist alongside a fabricated inner reality where the party and its leadership are always proven to be right — even when we know them to be wrong. Would any of us really believe that such a philosophy wouldn’t appeal to the Donald Trumps of the world given what we see today? Is not the fake news narrative that seems to be increasingly infecting social and other media platforms merely an extension of such pessimism about the human condition? The ability to manipulate, to control, to socially engineer has been a goal of many organized states since the dawn of the 20th century. Propaganda masters like Nazi spin doctor Joseph Goebbels wouldn’t know what to do with themselves in today’s world with their fingers poised over so many new technologies just waiting for exploitation. They swam in a world of mass communications venues like newspapers, radio, and fledgling television broadcasts. But even Goebbels could not have dreamed of the opportunities for manipulation that presented themselves with the advent of the Internet.
Others, inevitably, have. Foreign influences — most likely Russian — on Trump’s own election campaign and the opinions of the American people has brought the danger of propaganda to the forefront again. At the same time, it’s hard not to conclude that a Trump press conference or the pronouncements of the White House in recent years aren’t bordering on propaganda. As perhaps they always have been — the false origins of the Iraq war in 2003 and the former Bush administration’s virtual stage management of a War on Terror suggest this isn’t necessarily a modern American political aberration. But the shmoozy showmanship and radical style of the Trump administration would seem to be a departure from past administrations who at least paid lip service to certain values and institutions.
The crux of the matter is over Trump’s $5.7 billion demand from Congress to fund his border wall, but more deeply its origins lie in the attitudes and opinions of many Americans about immigration, and especially illegal immigration. It is ironic that a nation founded by immigrants, that promoted immigration throughout its history — give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free — should have transformed itself into a paranoid collection of citizens petrified by their fear of the other. What happened to a society of former immigrants that they could become so hateful and live in such abject fear of foreign enemies and aliens in their midst only generations after the last great waves of immigration to their own nation? A question for the philosophers and sociologists. Wasn’t the assimilationist melting pot theory supposed to create sanitized servings of fresh Americans from the ethnic goulash from which they sprang? Seems that hypothesis could use some re-working given the attitudes of many 21st century Americans.
Not that this is anything really new in North America, as well as Canada. It’s mostly forgotten today that Canada’s recent past showed a streak of nativism that would rival our neighbours to the south. Nativism is the political policy of promoting the interests of native inhabitants against those of immigrants, and while we see our own streaks of this kind of philosophy in Western Canada today, it pales by comparison with our past. Hostility to Chinese and Asians in general was often intense in the early 20th century, and most know the history of Japanese internments during WWII.
What is less well known is many Western Canadians’ flirtations with the Ku Klux Klan during the 1920s, which was often associated with the Protestant Orange Order of Canada’s attempts to politically attack and defeat Irish Catholics. Especially in Saskatchewan, huge numbers flocked to the banner of the KKK, and the organization would even influence a provincial election and had an MP amongst its membership. By the late 1920s in Saskatchewan, KKK membership numbered over 25,000. Little wonder this footnote of Western Canadian history has been quietly sidestepped in favour of more palatable remembrances for present generations. But it does illustrate that while we may be adept at forgetting, our nativist past was merely a forerunner for much of the hate-mongering and fear of the immigrant that exposes itself in the headlines today.
The U.K.’s recent failed efforts toward a successful Brexit plan and the British people’s animosity toward the EU has also in many ways hinged on underlying questions about immigration. Again, none of this is anything new in the annals of global politics. But when an American president holds hostage the nation to secure funding to implement his own prejudiced home-grown xenophobic theories of national segregation? There are darker and more disturbing precedents being set in today’s America than the clown-college sideshow of its politics.