What happens to a country with some of the best universities worldwide, where many of the most brilliant books about sociology, politics, economics appear, where, in other words, many of the world’s most influential intellectuals are still at home – what happens to such a country when a man becomes president who seems to emerge right from a comics book where he would represent an American-style Obelix, but with an even more pompous self, a man who dares to taunt the scientific community for its alleged ignorance in matters of climate change?
Imitating the silverbacks
In other words, what happens to a country whose president obeys the permanent psychic urge to present himself as the world’s greatest and only one: “It took my predecessor eight years to achieve, what I, Trump, have done in eight weeks!”
Among primates, such an urge is not uncommon. Two rival silverbacks meet each other in an upturned manner hitting their breasts. This is gorilla style when demonstrating one’s own eminence in front of the enemy. Will Donald Trump soon adopt this impressive gesture? The question does not seem inappropriate when we hear him babbling about the “wonderful” power of his truly destructive weapons – for example, the “mother of all bombs” just dropped over Afghanistan.
Read the truth from my lips!
In the US, there are hundreds of thousands of researchers, scholars, and journalists who see their greatest and most important task in distinguishing scientific facts from unscientific nonsense, political demagogy, and ideologically motivated distortions of truth. But what happens to their country when the political power, in the form of a reigning president, suddenly decides from above, what people should accept as a fact and what not? What happens when a president wants to dictate the truth to the media? The answer to this question leaves no room for any doubt. Such a president wants to convert his country – whether or not he is aware of it – into a dictatorship. For this is exactly the classical definition of such forms of government. Political power usurps the final judgment on truth.
Confounding business with the state
What is currently happening in the US may be summarized by a single sentence: A man who seems to have succeeded in business has stumbled into politics with the naive delusion that such a background would sufficiently equip him with the requisite knowledge for leading a state. It is well known that the bosses of American companies (especially if they act as owners at the same time) are, in the best case, well-meaning patriarchs, in the worst case, they are absolute rulers – from ruthless to brutal. Like true dictators, these bosses set the goals, hire the people they need to realize them, and fire everyone who stands in their way. Their objectives need not have any substance – it is sufficient that figures of the most recent quarter turn out to be right. One of the key competences of any successful manager is the praise of his products: even a bad product can be brought into the hit lists through the arts of make-believe. Trump must have learnt this elementary lesson in the brokerage business where appearance counts at least as much as the substance.
Narcissism – a drug for the needy ego
The US is probably still the country with the world’s largest reservoir of leading intelligence. It was commonly held to be one of the most esteemed qualities of such intelligence that their bearers put their own light under the bushel of modesty. For we are rightly convinced that real greatness does not need ballyhoo. Conversely, it has always been seen as evidence of narcissistic stupidity when people boast of their own achievements. So we may well ask ourselves what, the hell, has befallen a country that once produced intellectual giants like Thomas Jefferson, Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, William James, Lewis Mumford, Barbara Tuchman, to raise a man like Donald Trumps to the status of its first citizen?
A surprising parallel: Rome – America
I think the answer to this disturbing paradox is most likely to be found in history, more exactly, in the history of Rome, with its surprising parallel to the career of the United States (see “World Power America – the New Rome” by Peter Bender). The republic was following the path of greatness as long as it succeeded in democratically mobilizing the entire population (in this case, a strong peasantry always ready to take arms against the common foe). Rome became a dictatorship, when the land passed into the possession of a handful of families benumbing the disenfranchised people with panes and circuses.
Much the same happened in the United States. They counted among the most respected democratic communities until the seventies of the last century for up to that time they provided work, income and political rights to their people. But then, the so-called elite brought about the neoliberal turn, that is, a rapid concentration of property, political power and media domination in the hands of a handful of families – just as in Rome during the disintegration of the republic. Well-paid industrial work was outsourced to Asia as profits for the one-percent-oligarchy – the largest investors in the country – could be fabulously increased by producing at low costs in Asia in order to sell those products at comparatively high prices in the US. “While 37 percent of the American workforce was still employed in industrial jobs in 1945, it is now less than 11 percent” (Joseph Stiglitz, 2006: 270). This happened because „Between 1992 and 2007 China’s exports increased a dozen-fold and its trade surplus with the United States ballooned from $18 billion to $233 billion. In American discount stores such as Wal-Mart, Chinese-made goods typically filled 90 percent of the shelf space by 2008; rare was the American who did not don at least one piece of made-in-China clothing every morning“ (Ian Morris, 2010). Thus jobs were destroyed on a large scale – not the jobs at the top, that is, in high-tech industry, management and finance, but jobs in basic industries where the lower and middle classes had up to then made a decent livelihood.
When people become superfluous
Both leading parties have pursued this policy and by doing so made a Trump possible. In other words, both allowed the lower and middle classes in the United States to become superfluous. For the people really needed by the American one-percent plutocracy the latter easily gets from all over the world by attracting the most qualified with generous salaries. How beautiful! In this way it saves its own country the costs for a broad, publicly funded educational system shifting the required schooling efforts to other, mostly poorer, states. The oligarchy itself does not, of course, need a public system. Its own offspring is trained in self-financed private schools. In terms of economic output, the United States puts only one-sixth as much into public education as do Scandinavian countries and only a quarter of the German amount. And as if this were yet not enough, American companies were eager to hire immigrant workers so they could push wages of unskilled labor even further down.
A nation hopelessly split
The results of such politics are characteristic of modern-day America. On the one hand, a numerically shrinking camp of an intelligentsia, to which the best American universities owe their reputation and their rank. On the other hand, a swelling army of impoverished Americans for whom science is the disease of egg heads, climate change the lie of national traitors, and evolutionary theory the devil’s invention. The beguiled poor may surely count on the new president as an ally. He has declared his readiness to further economize on state education.
America’s intelligence driven towards RT
In this as in other matters, Trump will not encounter any serious resistance – power over the media as well as over economics and politics having long since been transferred into a few hands. Even before the times of Donald Trump’s presidency, an oligarchy of media moguls determined what the public should regard as the truth and what not. American intellectuals – those who criticize the ruling plutocracy – had little chance of being read in the leading newspapers or heard in TV broadcasts of their own country. That’s why they so eagerly desert to the rival camp of Russia Today (RT): There they are welcomed with arms wide open. What a gift for the new Russian czar!
The globe and the cowboy
There is no doubt about the consequences brought about by the disenfranchisement of citizens in ancient Rome. Self-assured, proud democrats who had ruled large parts of the world, were turned into a crowd of almsmen, fed by a tiny upper-class with an (almost) unconditional income, until the state, socially rotten from within, collapsed under the onslaught of so-called “Barbarians”.
But what will become of US world power when the politics of its government are so designed as to further ignorance within its own population? What happens when a man becomes president, who combines both: the immense wealth of the one-percent-oligarchy and the state-sponsored ignorance of the US-American underclass?
Another paradox represents an even more burning issue. What are the consequences for the world at large? Two thousand years ago, the fall of Rome was still a local event – the disintegration of one single power in misfortune and poverty. Nowadays, the mistakes of a single megalomaniac affect the whole globe. Not a single moment should we forget that the globe has long since been transformed into an atomic powder keg. Will the transatlantic ego-trumpet be posting like a silverback in front of Putin? Be quiet man, I, Donald Trump, can reduce the world ten times to dust and rubble with all my magnificent super-bombs, you only once!
A man who does not tolerate so much as a scratch on his ego, and – if irritated – shoots cowboy-style from his hip; a man who is surrounded by a government team of predominantly equally questionable assistants, is now the world’s leader who determines the fate of the blue planet and ultimately the lives of each and every one of us. That is no reason for joy!