As President Donald Trump went on another verbal rampage this week, decrying climate change, and the Federal Reserve chairman, one is reminded of John Adams, the second president, who said, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”
Had the recent American midterm elections occurred in a normal election year, the incumbent President would have leveraged the booming economy, and robust job creation, in support of his party’s claims for re-election.
But the leader of the free world chose instead to spew hate on behalf of his constituents. Two issues consumed his support base — the recent Senate confirmation of US Supreme Court judge Brett Kavanaugh and the “caravan” of bedraggled refugees fleeing Central America’s violence and poverty, hundreds of miles away from the US border.
A ruthlessly efficient opportunist unfettered by morality or ethics, Trump defined the caravan, initially as “illegal aliens”, gradually raising the threat perception to “infiltrators” and finally to “invaders” with all its undertones of a demographic and cultural takeover, whipping up his core constituency into a hysterical frenzy.
Republicans managed to hold the Senate, partly due to Trump’s divisive campaigning.
Donald Trump’s governance strategy rests at the confluence of endangered White Privilege and subjugation of the truth.
With the midterm elections, the US Congress symbolises the fierce partisan division of America. The House of Representatives, now in the hands of the Democrats, represents the major cities and the suburbs, with its pool of diverse, educated voters. The Senate, in Republican control, represents the almost overwhelmingly white rural America, with its large number of non-college educated males.
The spectre of the recent Senate judicial confirmation hearing hung over the midterm elections. In 1995, US Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan called the Senate judicial confirmation hearings a “vapid, shallow charade”. The Senate confirmation of Kavanaugh as US Supreme Court judge elevated the process to a pantomime of the absurd.
Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her in high school, was understated, anguished and, at times, almost clinically detached. Kavanaugh had been the picture of majestic serenity in earlier television interviews. But in the Senate, apparently primed by the White House, he was the embodiment, not of privileged entitlement, but of red-faced fury and injured betrayal.
The current composition of the US Senate may even be considered a repudiation of the vision of James Madison, one of the Founding Fathers, who had envisaged the Senate as a more deliberative body than the House. Madison, the fourth American President, expected the Senate to act as a check so that Congress would not “yield to the impulse of sudden and violent passion and be seduced by factious leaders into intemperate and pernicious resolutions”. He added that “a body (the Senate) which is to correct this infirmity, ought to be free from it”.
The expectations of the fourth President, and the realities foisted on the nation by the 45th President, would perhaps go down as one of the enduring ironies of history.
In his 2016 election campaigning, Trump and his acolytes spoke against “political correctness” which quickly morphed into a dismantling of accepted civility in public discourse, even a negation of history regarding the civil rights movement. From there it was but a short step to making racism and xenophobia chic.
Perhaps no other action of the Trump administration has caused as much anguish and revulsion as the recent separation of children from their parents at the US border. The then Attorney General Jeff Sessions quoted Apostle Paul to say that the action had biblical sanction. An almost immediate response came from New York Cardinal Timothy M Dolan, who said, “For one, St. Paul always says we should obey the law of the government if that law is in conformity with the Lord’s law, all right? No pun intended but God’s law trumps man’s law, all right?”
As the recent victory of the Democratic party demonstrated, there is a resurgence of the political Left in the American body politic. To paraphrase John Stuart Mill, the American electorate has got a “clearer perception and livelier impression of the truth, produced by its collision with error”.
In America, as in the rest of the world, the rise of nativism has led to the decimation of the political center. Even as the Right remains strident, Democrats, exhilarated by their recent victory, nevertheless face pressure from the Far Left. As civility has disappeared, nuances in political discourse too seem endangered.
The long term ravages of Trump’s administrative actions too could linger awhile. Indeed, the full consequences of such actions as the rolling back of climate change regulations and the ever-widening income inequality could be in play years after Trump leaves office.
It is one of the tragic legacies of history that millions should suffer for the sins of a few. Two former Indian prime ministers, Manmohan Singh and Inder Kumar Gujral were fond of quoting the poet Muzaffar Razmi:
Ye jabr bhi dekha hai
Taareeq ki nazron ne
Lamhon ne khata ki thi
Sadiyon ne saza payi
(A freewheeling translation: History has been witness to this injustice, for the mistakes of a moment, generations have paid the price.)
(Ashok Easwaran is a Chicago-based journalist who has reported from North America for over two decades. The views expressed are his own. He can be contacted at [email protected])