Our European correspondent explores Trump Fatigue.
Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be. Can you remember when many left-leaning observers considered that George W. Bush was the worst president in living memory? Every couple of months, the “misunderestimated” President would assault the English language and we would all chuckle?
The War on Terror (or as Sasha Baron Cohen, aka Borat, put it – War OF Terror) tainted the Bush and Blair legacies. It did not take a significant period of time for the world to gain perspective on how ill-advised those military adventures were. I am not here to look at the Bush presidency, but I wonder how many Democrats today find themselves thinking that, for a Republican, they really miss GWB?
This European observer still finds himself struggling to reconcile the fact that Trump pulled off the trick of becoming President. It is like the very worst reality TV show idea was pitched to God and he said “Ok, let’s run with it”. No matter what happens now, it seems certain that Trump’s tenure will be reflected upon as a seismic shift in the relationship between the presidency, voters and media.
It is ironic that the media (particularly the struggling print media), are being vilified by a president who appears to believe that they need to bend to his will, whilst at the same time they are being fed staggering headlines at an unprecedented rate. The goose may peck like hell but he sure lays those golden eggs.
But I am not even here to offer an analysis of PussyGate, Russian collusion, porn star pay-offs or the appeasement of Little Rocket Man. Rather I am interested in literally everyone else apart from Trump. In particular, I am puzzled by the reaction to Trump.
As a European, I was a little startled to learn that Europe was now America’s “foe.” I hope that Americans can understand that this comes as a surprise to us and we are going to need a period of adjustment.
It cannot have escaped your attention that Europe is having a tough time at the moment. Brexit and squabbles over migrants is more than enough to have to deal with.
Also the UK needs some clarification. As they will be leaving the European Union soon, does that mean that they will no longer be a foe or is this a geographic location thing?
While we wait to see how this new hostility will develop, I imagine that Americans would be interested in understanding their new enemy a little better. Until Trump decided that the long and fruitful friendship that has traversed the Atlantic was no longer worthwhile, Europe has been a nice place to go on holiday and a good source of whiskey, cheese, and sports cars (oh and don’t forget the golf courses).
Well for you gentle reader, I have penetrated deep into Europe’s blackened heart to seek out and know the minds of thine enemy. For if Europe is the foe, what greater manifestation of that evil than the European Union institutions; the Parliament and Commission, and the apparatchiks that grease the wheels of this terrible engine of oppression and despair.
I spoke to several members of those institutions over a couple of balmy night’s in Luxembourg, which if not the blackened heart of Europe, perhaps counts more as an infected kidney or swollen prostate.
The general consensus was that Trump is not, repeat not, stupid. All agreed that he was a successful business man (even taking into account his inherited fortune) and was a deal maker. This recognition was tempered with the strong view that such skills are of no use in politics, particularly when it comes to dealing with the riddle wrapped in a mystery inside a Putin. Whether or not the Russians had a hand in manipulating the election, they must have been delighted at the result.
The Eurocrats all remarked that Trump seems disinterested in building international relations. Even the positive overtures that Trump has made towards individual countries and leaders are valueless when they are rebutted by some ham-fisted insult days later. France’s Macron in particular has had his fingers burned trying to cosy up to Trump.
With regards to Europe being “a foe”, there was a lot of eye rolling, but no real concern. One of the Eurocrats told me that the last time she had been truly shocked was when Trump pulled the US out of the Paris Climate Accord. Most recently during a holiday break back home in Slovenia (Melania Trump’s home country), everyone was talking about Trump. Despite this intense interest, she found herself disconnected and just let the discussion wash over her. A fatigue had set in where previously there had been outrage.
This was the most clearly articulated instance of the main conclusion that I took away from our discussions. We are living a New Normal, where Trump watchers have started to feel punch drunk, never having an opportunity to fully digest the implications of the latest shocker before the next one comes along.
The other observation is that not enough people are seeing a clear Trump cause and effect. Bombs are not raining down on Washington, public transport still runs, Netflix is up and one can still get an Uber.
Why is this important? The insidious corrosion of truth, growth of the far right, marginalisation of the vulnerable and march towards isolationism is not leading to the sort of backlash that might be expected.
That this apparent disinterest exists at a time when individuals can communicate ideas to a global audience with the technology they carry in their pockets is puzzling. In the 60’s & 70’s, student activism did not have the Internet to help organise the mass protests that occurred.
How did the students at Kent State in 1970, who were killed by the National Guard for protesting against the US invasion of Cambodia, get informed? They will have relied on television, radio and print media together with perhaps some first hand accounts from soldiers returning from the battlefield.
Gathering information required considerably more effort and the opportunity to voice opinion was even more challenging as there were no blogs or Twitter. Campus newspapers probably offered one of the few channels that were available to students to be heard, albeit by a very limited audience.
The young students of today who are starting to protest against the lack of gun control in the US will undoubtedly be using social media to the full, but so far their efforts have had no tangible effect.
The student and worker protests in France in the 60’s brought the country to a halt, leading De Gaulle to flee France. (OK, I know that fleeing France was a favourite pastime of De Gaulle, but I presume that you get my point).
It has never been easier to be politically active. The links between political parties, individual politicians, peer groups and information sources are easily and inexpensively accessed. So who is exploiting the opportunities offered by this environment?
Ideally, We The People should be striving to inform ourselves by using reliable sources of information and either supporting or challenging our political leaders by leveraging the technological tools at our disposal.
Instead, we are seeing foreign powers employ vast armies to masquerade as target-nation citizens on social media, spreading lies and manipulating public opinion.
Far right and Alt-right blogs and commentators are also spreading lies, but in plain sight.
Both of these nefarious actors are producing a toxic output which is being hungrily gobbled up by millions who do not question the authenticity of the authors or their message.
It is perhaps too early to say whether social media technology will be used more successfully for evil than good (is the jury still out on the Gutenberg press?).
Earlier this year, Tim Berners Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web Tweeted “My message to all web users today is this: I may have invented the web, but you make it what it is. And it’s up to all of us to build a web that reflects our hopes & fulfils our dreams more than it magnifies our fears & deepens our divisions. “
I believe that technological evolution of communication is happening far faster than societies can adapt.
Trump’s approval ratings are pretty poor and there are almost daily indications that the long arm of the law is going to be reaching out to him at some point.
The environment appears to be ripe for Americans to be responding, but it does not seem to be happening. Like my friend at the European institutions indicated, Trump-Fatigue seems to be overwhelming.
I feel a great deal of sympathy for this response (or lack of response). As I write this and look around me in this comfortable, air conditioned cafe, people stream in and settle at tables around me, with lattes and quinoa salads. So is the world burning? What can I do about it anyway? I might as well get another espresso and then step out into the sunlight outside. It is a beautiful day after all, isn’t it?
Is that how another generation capitulates?
The long-haired protesters of a generation ago believed in their struggle. Are we now entering the age where we cannot be bothered to object but prefer to shrug and let it all wash over us?
The struggle has melted into a shruggle.