I watched the Presidential elections with increasing interest as candidate (now President) Trump took centre stage in the run-up to the US Election. Did I ever think he could win? Well, I confess that underneath much of the verbiage (and removing the unacceptable racism, sexism, and insults) were threads that resonated with the idealist turned sceptic in me. This was as good an indicator in my mind that he could win as any pre-election opinion poll. Trump was going to "drain the swamp" of Washington. He was the anti-establishment outsider. He spoke his mind and was not afraid to do so. He represented a radical change of how things have been done in the past. Of course, unfortunately there was also plenty of demagoguery, populism and worse, but the political system needed a complete shake-over and only Donald Trump could achieve that.
It is true that people see in Trump what they want to see (whether positive or negative or both). As I have grown older (but perhaps no more the wiser) I have increasingly asked myself the question, is there such a thing as objective truth? As I have stated elsewhere, even interpretation of factual questions and matters of evidence can be highly subjective. This is just as true in respect of the opinions that we all hold in most fields. In our daily lives we are confronted with choices that require us to take a position on something. These are determined to a large extent by our own personal views and influences (if not prejudices). Except in the most clear-cut cases where something is black or white, there has always been a middle space of interpretation. Of course, the problem is that through the ages the 'elite' have been adept at presenting "alternative facts", that is, plain falsehoods, and unfortunately large sections of the population would take it as 'fact'. But the Trump Administration did not invent the notion of "alternative facts". Throughout history, since man started to keep records for posterity, we have been fed "alternative facts". And alternative facts are today played out in the battlefields of social media on a daily basis (Facebook, Twitter). Even people who regard themselves as 'educated' (not a word I like) will invariably choose to believe what they want to believe, often from their own selective presentation of facts. Of course, we cannot lay the blame for this simply at the doorstep of the political elite. What about the media whose sacred journalistic duty (if ever there was one) was to speak out? Or community or religious leaders? Even, on occasions, the judiciary? Unfortunately, it is always much easier to keep quiet, accept the prevailing wisdom of the day and not take on the 'establishment', than it is to speak out.
This brings me back to Donald Trump. Like Julius Caesar, Trump could say "Veni, vidi, vici", "I came, I saw, I conquered". Like Caesar the upstart, Trump took on the most powerful political elite in the world and won. No mean feat even by Caesar's standards! The Trump Administration's first week in office has been tumultuous to the say the least. It has been described as a threat to democracy and even anti-democratic. But isn't that symptomatic of democracy itself? Under our democratic system politicians are elected on the basis of promises (manifesto commitments), sometimes falsehoods. In turn, the elected leader who controls the legislature, controls the power to pass laws. After that, the only constraint on the rule of the majority is the constitution (if the country has one) or centuries-old hard-won freedoms and human rights (where a country does not) and the independence of the judiciary (if the country can count on one). Of course, the problem with the anti-democratic argument is that Trump is a democratically elected leader and can legitimately claim to be implementing what he promised and was elected to do. If that is anti-democratic, then perhaps what we know as 'democracy' does not really work. If truth be told, democracy has been under threat long before Trump (the politician) exploded into the scene. In a modern society where it is not always possible to distinguish reality from illusion, where politicians can make empty or wholly irresponsible promises to their electorate or sacrifice truth in their quest for power, where sound-bites are much more appreciated than substance, or where, increasingly, the voices of a few are heard louder than the voices of the many, Donald Trump does have popular appeal.
What happens now will determine the course of history. At one extreme, the Trump Presidency could signify the end chapter of the history on Western democracy. But today that chapter has not been written. Nor was Rome destroyed by Julius Caesar or die with him. Trump must be given a chance. Only he can determine his own place in history. Those that see him as personification of division and conflict, should not forget that much of our history was actually forged in conflict. Indeed, many of the achievements we marvel at today were made possible by conflict. Without conflict there would be no competition, no diversity, no individual and indeed even no democracy.
Or maybe the world just needed Donald Trump as a wake-up call.
This is my defence of Trump.
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