The Book That Trump Rewrote

The White House

The White House

The lesson learnt from the 2020 US election is that 2016 was not a fluke. The surprise triumph of Donald Trump four years ago did not represent a momentary lapse of reason, but rather signalled the demise of the traditional drivers of American politics and the attendant change in voter attitudes.

Whilst the Republican leadership spotted the shift early – and flew with it – Democrats proved rather slow on the uptake. Former Vice-President Joe Biden may yet eke out a victory as the vote count crawls towards a conclusion, his party’s performance at the polls has been far from convincing.

Biden will likely face a hostile senate dominated by irate Republicans and an ether glowing red-hot with fuming talk radio hosts, angrily milking the ‘stolen election’ fib for the next four years by which time it will probably have become a well-established alt-truth, ingrained deeply in the nation’s political lore.

Hart’s Heart

In 1988, the front-runner for Democratic presidential ticket, Gary Hart, dropped out of the race after revelations of extramarital affairs. Whilst a senator for Colorado (1975-1987), Hart regularly reached out across the aisle, receiving much praise for his principled politics including from firebrand Republican Senator Barry Goldwater who called him the ‘most honest and moral’ man he’d ever met. Hart’s spectacular fall from grace was sprang from a simple premise: A man who lies to his wife will likely lie to the American public as well.

Fast forward a generation to realise how quaint and trivial the triggers of Hart’s downfall seem today. New York Times fact checkers tabulated well over 10,000 dubious statements proffered by a US president who, incidentally, has a rather stressful and expensive liaison with marital vows. The newspaper stopped scrutinising Trump’s words in April 2019, considering the job an exercise in futility due to the overwhelming volume of doubtful claims emanating from the White House.

The Democratic Party’s attempt to counterbalance their thundering opponent with a candidate of impeccable character, donned in considered reason, and draped with the regalia of moderation has backfired. It may have been a cheap shot, but President Trump did have a point when he christened Biden ‘Sleepy Joe’.

Rambling Man

The man who may shortly move into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW has many qualities, but – alas – charisma is not one of them. Speaking outside his campaign headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware, on election day, Biden drove the assembled reporters to near desperation by rambling on – drone-like – about his youth and how he first found out about systemic racism and how horrified he was by this discovery and how he tried to help his poor downtrodden black friends and how it all left an indelible imprint on his young impressionable mind and how… …yawn.

Against this uninspiring automaton of political correctness, the Republicans launched an unguided missile ready to go ballistic at a moment’s notice and with a take-no-prisoners and spare-me-the-details attitude. Trump is a man of his time where Biden is not. However, that says more about the zeitgeist than it does about either Trump or Biden.

A great many Americans, given as they are to swagger, extravagance, and individualism, recognise in Trump a kindred spirit – a man fighting the machine and, more importantly, a rebel without a cause: Don Quixote meets James Dean. Angered and a little unhinged by a world moving at warp speed as it zooms past, almost half of US voters have embraced a recast of American Noir leaving the other half to wonder what is wrong with them.

Unless Biden manages to deliver the goods – i.e. provides an economy that roars ahead whilst coming to terms with the narrow moral dimension of US politics 2.0 – he will spend a miserable four years in Washington. Should Democrats wish to maintain and expand their feeble grip on power, they must nibble away at a Republican constituency that apparently is quite forgiving on the excesses of strong leadership. Biden may want to take a leaf from the book that Trump rewrote, unwittingly or otherwise, in particular on the power of the word.

Truth or Dare

French Sun King Louis XIV famously declared l’état c’est moi. President Trump tweaked that to Mine Is the Truth. Repeat anything often enough and it eventually becomes the truth. Throughout the ages, propagandists have lived by this singular insight into the causes of mass delusion. George Orwell, the unlikely socialist hero of American conservatives, owes his lasting fame to it as well.

Happily, when applied with moderation, propaganda works wonders for the economy. Its markets rise, float, or sink on perception as evidenced by the closely watched purchasing manager indices. The first job of the US president, once the election has been sorted and the oath of office has been taken, is to get a handle on the pandemic and kickstart the economy.

Trump wants to fire the venerable Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, and reopen the country for business by ignoring the presence of the corona virus whilst trusting that a vaccine may arrive – US Cavalry-style – at the eleventh hour.

Biden proposes an equally gung-ho approach, though from a different angle, starting with a third federal stimulus package of unprecedented scope and cost. To enact such a package, Biden must somehow cow, cajole, or otherwise bend the Republican-controlled senate to his will. However, the political honeymoon that traditionally follows the inauguration of a new administration is no longer. Republican senators, quite possibly egged on by a former president furiously tweeting from the side-line, will not shirk their responsibility of making life as hard as possible for a ‘blue’ president.

Investors may want to prepare for continued market volatility – and a drop, possibly precipitous – of asset prices. After trillions in quantitative easing, equity markets no longer reflect a verifiable reality, but rather a set of alt-truths not unlike the ones that move politics. Nothing is quite what it seems, and facts disguised by fanciful perception have a habit of popping out at the most inopportune moment.

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