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Trumpery is the last thing we need

Donald TrumpThe US matters to us. If we must have a global super-power, we’d rather it was the US than anyone else. That is why, observing from the sidelines, we have a growing sense of incredulity and consternation as the battle for what is often touted as the leadership of the free world unfolds.

We are of course accustomed to the excesses that, in our terms, often characterise American public life. But, even then, it is hard to comprehend that a figure as bizarre and extreme as Donald Trump could be taken seriously by American voters.

It is at least of some comfort to know that there are many Americans who share that distress. Nicholas Kristof, writing this week in the New York Times, reports that he invited his followers on Twitter for words beginning with “p” to describe Donald Trump and was rewarded with a deluge, ranging from “petulant” to “pompous” and on to “pernicious”.

It is not as though there is anything special about “p”. Choose any letter you like. “B”? What about “bombastic”, “blustering”, and “bigoted”?

The odd thing is, however, that we do not need to scour the dictionary for a word that accurately captures the essence of Donald Trump. There is a perfectly good English word, with a respectable provenance, that pithily says it all and is just waiting for its moment in the sun. That word is “trumpery” – and it could, I suppose, be spelt with a capital T, if one wished.

The dictionary definition tells us that “trumpery” means “foolish talk or actions”, with a secondary meaning as “useless or worthless”. How extraordinary that here is a word that has existed for centuries and has innocently waited all this time – unsung and unheralded – for a Donald Trump to come along and embody its meaning as though it was his sole purpose in life.

There must, surely, be a small possibility that Donald Trump has been aware of the word from an early age and perhaps developed an irrational fixation and affinity for it. That would explain why his name is now Trump – so that even his name is “trumped up” – and it may even suggest that he has deliberately tailored all his actions and speeches since then so as to fit the word that so appeals to him.

These are possible explanations for Donald Trump’s extraordinary behaviour during the primary campaigns. But none of then goes all the way to explain how the foolishness of “trumpery” has become something darker and more worrying.

Trump is, after all, the classic demagogue. He has learnt how to amplify and exploit the prejudices of his supporters. He recognises no responsibility to take on the true tasks of leadership, to explain and educate; indeed, he glorifies ignorance, trumpeting that “I love the poorly educated”.

He offers no solutions to difficult issues, other than the bombastic and egocentric assurance that he is himself the solution. He has learnt that, in the age of celebrity, the greatest risk is to stay out of the headlines. He cares little for the damage he may do to social integrity and the interests of women, or those of different ethnicities and religions, still less to America’s standing in the world; that is just another sacrifice required of the American people in order to secure the greater good – the election of Donald J. Trump. He knows that there is little or no downside in being outrageous, as long as the television cameras are there to record it – and no one does “outrageous” better.

So confident is he in his ability to capture the headlines – any headline – that he does not bother even to try to conceal what he is really about. “If I were to pull out a gun and shoot someone,” he boasts, “people would still vote for me.” It is that combination of apparent frankness and readiness to shock on the one hand and calculation and cunning on the other that makes him so dangerous. “Trumpery”, sadly, is only the half of it.

12 Comments

  1. James Martin says:

    “The US matters to us. If we must have a global super-power, we’d rather it was the US than anyone else. ” Sorry Bryan, why would that be, why is the USA better than anyone else? Remember it was the actions of the US (with us wagging our tails behind) who created the mess in Iraq, Syria and Libya with ISIS and other jihadis, not any other nation. It is the US who is bankrolling the illegal Israeli settlements with their bottomless financial support for the Zionist state, not any other nation. And it was the US centred banks on Wall St that created the last economic crisis, not any other nation. So why for you is the USA preferable, because it certainly isn’t for me.

    A far better article than yet another laughing at Trump’s bombastic idiocy would have been one that compares the likely effect on foreign policy between isolationist Trump and interventionist Hillary Clinton, because for all his endless faults on that issue Hillary is not the lesser evil at all.

  2. John Penney says:

    Hillary Clinton , as the distaff partner in the utterly corrupt Wall Street shill partnership that is the Clinton political dynasty, is a “stable continuation” figure for the entire current trajectory of US domestic and foreign policy. It is now clear , surely to all of us on the Left, that Barrack Obama was also a completely compliant “business as usual” pawn of the 1% – despite all his limited pseudo radical “Yes we can” windy rhetoric , and now forlorn promise to the US Black minority that his presidency represented a “new beginning” for the bulk of the oppressed Black American underclass – rather than just the now fully co-opted Black political, middle, and business classes.

    “Business as usual” for US Imperialism is of course a pretty grim business for most of the global population. Let’s not forget that it isn’t a choice between the crazed theocratic madnesses of the likes of Islamic State or a benevolent US hegemony (as all too often Right Labourites clearly believe) . It is precisely the world economy distorting and mass impoverishing hegemony of US capitalism as current world hegemon that has now produced the global capitalist crisis out of which crazed millenarian clerico-fascist movements like Daesh have grown on the fetid compost heap of ever greater world impoverishment and general despair of the multitudes left destitute by the ravages of the global superrich and their lead global superpower – the USA.

    Bryan may, and apparently does, choose to “prefer” US global hegemony over any other potential global power on the scene. Most Labour politicians have always done so. And let’s be honest , those that did not all too often chose to be followers/fellow travellers of an even more vicious, dictatorial, working class oppressing world power – ie, the Stalinist Soviet Union.

    Then and now, surely the correct overriding orientation for all democratic radical socialists is still that old slogan , “Neither Washington nor Moscow (or Beijing, or Brussels, etc) , but International Socialism”.

    Trump actually represents something even worse than the corrupt “business as usual” political fakery of Hillary Clinton. He is an unstable, mercurial, Right populist demagogue – feeding off all the worst xenophobic, racist, US as “unjustly hated , misunderstood , world good guy” mass US redneck fantasy, Right Republican politics. He, if elected as President, would swerve rapidly and unpredictably from isolationism to confrontation from crisis to crisis – driven by the undeliverable demands and expectations of his lumpen political base and his own widely recognised juvenile emotional instability – and the wider context of the world capitalist crisis in which the US population are as a whole being squeezed by the job and income slaughtering forces of globalization just as much as we are in Europe. Imagine Trump as President, in a showdown with Putin’s equally hyper nationalist Russian Mafioso oligarchy over issues like Ukraine, or the Baltic States, or hegemony in a re-ordered Middle East – or the current growing stand-off with China in the oil rich waters off China’s coastline. A Trump led US would raise the possibility of a nuclear stand-off with Russia or China to a new post Cold War high. No sensible socialist would want Trump in the White House.

    It is still possible, though not at all likely that Bernie Sanders will be POTUS ! – especially if Hillary Clinton is unable to continue as a Democratic POTUS candidate due to her now pressing EMAIL misuse scandal. One thing is for sure , for the sake of all of us, it better not be the unstable demagogue, Trump.

  3. parallels with 1932 Germany are appropriate. Whatever we may think of other politicians in America, that Trump can be in pole position to take the white house should make everyone worry about whether the US is about to fall into the hands of a virtual fascist as the ‘most civilized nation in Europe’ did under Hitler Except Hitler has happy to be called a fascist,

    Trevor Fisher

    1. gerry says:

      Oh Trevor – you are overreacting somewhat: DT is not going to be the president, we all know that: the Republican party won’t vote for him en masse. DT is hilarious, a comic amplification of the ugly American stereotype – the meltdown he has caused to the liberal press in the US is worth the price of his candidacy alone. He is really Silvio Berlusconi reborn..and before we get too smug here, Viktor Orban, Vladimir Putin, the Saudi royal family, the Iranian theocracy, Sudan’s genocidal maniac Bashir, Assad, Sisi, Erdogan and many more are all mini or maxi Hitler types using the appeal of fascism to get to, or stay in power. And of course the most successful fascists on the planet today are the Islamist ones, from Erdogan to the Muslim Brotherhood to Saudi Arabia to Hezbollah to ISIS.

      But don’t have nightmares about Trump, Trevor.. why arent you worried about the fascists who actually are in power right now?

  4. Bazza says:

    I hope Bernie Sanders wins and he has 8 states to Clinton’s 11 (includes a small overseas primary) which is remarkable seeing Bernie is up against the Democratic establishment and Hilary’s Big Bucks!
    Clinton is a safe Democratic and like the Republicans runs the US for Big Business (although there is an inch of difference between the Democrats and Republicans and that inch is important) but I read in the Guardian how Clinton as Secretary of State supported a coup against s reformist leader in Honduras a few years ago as we see yet another environmental female activist recently murdered.
    And Bernie needs to build bridges with Black Americans (wearing a Black Lives Matters t shirt may help).
    Of course whichever Republican is chosen they will (if elected) use Big US Government massive state intervention to help the rich, screw the poor and to massively interference in people’s private lives – a woman’s right to choose, planned parenthood and even on vaccinations!
    It is going to be difficult for Bernie Sanders but you never know he may be planting a seed for a US Labour.
    On the vile Trump – heard a joke from a good mimic who send in a Donald Duck voice: “It’s Donald Dick!”

  5. there are no fascists in power at the moment. Hitler was regarded as a joke till the Enabling Bill – the nationalists thought they could control him, and the Communists argued After Hitler Our Turn Next.

    The most ominous thing about Trump is the fact that he would, if elected, have a real mandate to act and if you have seen the film Sicario, the Mexican border – unlike the Muslims – is a real scab that cannot heal.

    we can argue about fascism, which is not a simple phenomenon to describe – but one aspect of the Trump surge not yet noted is that Trump is appealing to the military. No other candidate has done as many high profile visits to military bases. OK the term here is Bonapartism. So I put it down for future discussion.

    Trevor Fisher.

    1. gerry says:

      Bonapartism is a better term for DT, yes – but I repeat: DT is not a conservative or even ultra-right wing at all, which is why the Republican party elite are in full panic mode about his appeal. And the fact that there are estimated 15 million illegal Latin American migrants in the US which neither Democrats or Republicans have tried to stop ( neoliberal parties in the US, just like here, love “free trade” and “free movement” and big business supports all that undercutting cheap labour), has given him his breakthrough: let’s build a wall, and start deporting. It’s easy to see why that appeals to many US workers – don’t you get it?

      You deny that fascism is in power today – I think you are profoundly wrong. Fascism is a totalitarian social system which subordinates everything to the supremacist leader or cause – and Islamic supremacy as practised by Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, ISIS, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Taleban fits the bill – Iran’s supreme shia leader or ISiS’ caliph Al Baghdadi are fascist leaders par excellence.

  6. I fully understand the appeal of the anti immigrant movement, and those who can stomach the Daily Mail’s extracts of the book on Blair can see that Blair was dangerously in favour of open borders which WIlson and the real Labour Party was not.

    Fascism as a leader dominated system is alive in many forms, but the religious element in the Muslim world makes it more than a leader dominated system. The systems operated by Mussolini, Hitler, and others in the Latin American context (Peronism being a classic example…. see Evita for the feminist element in this, the musical gets that bit right) depend on the personality cult of the leader. Factor in a holy book and things change.

    You don’t need a holy book to be a fascist leader, Mussolini, Franco and others did not have one. Hitler did. However its the personality cult not the books that define fascism, and I don’t see religion as being part of it, though it is allied. European fascism was largely Catholic. If religion was the defining characteristic, India under the Hindu Party would be fascist, and I don’t think it is. not all unpleasant and visciously intolerant regimes are fascist, and it is a mistake to use the term as one of abuse. BNP was fascist, UKIP Is not. But I loathe both.

    Trevor Fisher

    1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

      I too have sometimes been preoccupied with the mystery of how a stable, reasonably democratic, socialist country like Germany in the 1930’s could have become and and such a short period of time the industrial, “death machine,” of both real history and popular fiction.

      I would personally share much of your analysis above but with at least one caveat.

      Part of the answer is of course the collapse or if you like the sell out of of the middle class leaders of the German left.

      Like too many people you still seem to see European fascism somewhat in the context of some kind of Raiders of the Lost Ark Super villains, (and I have heard at least one eminent American historian argue that takes at least 50 years minimum for real events to become, “history,” and to then start to be the proper subject of objective historical analysis) when in fact the reality, and certainly in Germany, (though probably also elsewhere,) was probably nothing like that at.

      For my money Spielberg captures something of what was actually happening under German fascism in the opening sequence of Shindlers List; when Shindler the businessman, pins his Nazi political party badge to his lapel, (he has to,) before attending a soirée of well heeled, “like minded,” wealthy and the connected bourgeois Germans.

      He was basically having to demonstrate that, (however distasteful it might have been that to him or not,) that he was “one of us.”

      In fact the German people en masse, (he also had his admirers here in the UK and elsewhere and still does,) seem to have been delighted with Adolph Hitler and his policies, with but a few crocodile tears about the dreadful and regrettable necessity of the, (unwilling,) sacrifices of the vulnerable few, (actually anything but a few,) for the greater good of middle classes; who enjoyed the torchlight rallies and their new prosperity and sense of optimism tremendously and also driving their state subsidized VWs down autobahns build with what was essentially pressed labor, (under the German Work Program,) of the unemployed working classes and so on, whilst all being financed by among other tyactics the state seizures of assets from the Jews, (and later by the naked exploitation of the conquered territories,) and by the massively corrupt monopoly systems that he introduced, (which is where Schindler comes in.)

      In fact looking at Blair and many of the innovations that he introduced, and particularly, “privatization,) and the extend to which the same middle class, commercial and business interests are now essentially operating as laws unto themselves and are co-opting the rest of society to their own financial ends I see much that is seems reminiscent indeed of the same kind of thinking that underpinned the Nazi economic miracle quietly happening here in the UK.

      For my money, (and although the US have traditionally preferred to deal with various flavors of dictatorship and yes with fascism for want of better description of most US backed regimes and seem somewhat to abhor democracies in practice,) it was Blair far more than a fairly typical example of an American like Trump that were and are the true fascists.

      Which raises the question is America a fascist or is it becoming one ?

      But that’s can of worms and a topic for another day.

    2. gerry says:

      You make some fair points: and yes the BNP is clearly a Nazi derived party, whereas UKIP is not a fascist party in any sense. We do have to use these terms clearly too.

      In many ways, though, Islamic fascism, having both a holy book/”prophet”, and supreme leaders (Sunni, Shia) is even more dangerous than non religious fascism like the BNP…virtually all genuinely fascist movements get their core support from religious fundamentalists be they Catholic or Orthodox or Islamic- I agree with you.

      But just read the core Islamic shahada or creed: “there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet”. That is a crystal clear statement of Islamic supremacy, pure totalitarianism in its intent: exactly why Jihadists and islamists everywhere display it on their black flags from Tower Hamlets to Teheran.

      And Trevor – this religious-fascist supremacy is virtually impossible to eradicate: millions and millions say they will die/kill to “defend” Mohammed and Islam – just like the mass murderous medieval Crusaders. Who predicted that by 2016 we would see the mass return of forced conversions to Islam, public slave markets, beheadings, crucifixions, burning alive, punishment amputations, sex slavery of children, apostates and blasphemers punished by death, gay men being thrown from high buildings in accordance with sharia law, the brazen murder of writers, journalists and cartoonists, enforced gender apartheid , religious courts and religious police? I never saw all that coming – yet here we are with these things commonplace all across the world.

      So in 2016 I think you/we should all be far more worried about the dominance of this religious form of fascism than anything Donald Trump says. And if they fully take over Pakistan, they too would have access to nuclear armageddon.

      1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

        “So in 2016 I think you/we should all be far more worried about the dominance of this religious form of fascism than anything Donald Trump says.”

        “Well all I can say response is that having gone through the riots in Oldham for example, (not how they are too often portrayed; but you probably had to have been here,) and having several old, valued and much loved friend who are Muslims etc, I’m not.

        I’m far more worried about Blair and his legacy for the reasons outlined above.

  7. David Ellis says:

    Trump is a populist demagogue. A rabble rouser. He is John The Baptist to some future fascist American Jesus. Fascism is the military smashing of organised labour which uses the social weight of the petit bourgeois mass and armed murder gangs funded by big business as a battering ram against it. If Trump gets into power he won’t have the political mandate or the physical organisation necessary for the task. He would be some kind of insane bonaparte ever on the edge of toppling but nobody can be sure which way the regime would topple: to the socialist masses or the fascist gangsters.

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