Very curious to watch Donald Trump’s inauguration last week. These rituals are always heavy on signifiers and light on substance, as they are supposed to be, but Trump’s confirmation as our 45th president was an extreme case. I was especially interested to see whether the media’s cartoon rendering of reality during the campaign season would carry over once he moved into the White House. It will, as is already clear. We are treated to a preposterous rendering of Barack Obama’s virtues, and we are in for yet more exorbitant accounts of Trump’s shortcomings. Press reports this time around may be to journalism what graphic novels are to literature—filled with stick figures and stock imagery, wanting in all complexity.
Let’s be clear: There is plenty to brace for and defend as Donald Trump assumes the presidency. All those who marched in cities and towns across the planet last weekend did so with justification. But simplifications of the kind that our orthodox-liberal media foist upon us will not do. The obsessions with taste and style they encourage amount to schoolyard crudities when put against all that Americans ought to be concerned with. Contempt as a unifying principle, a thought that people who ought to know better now suggest, is unbecoming all around and holds no promise. The world and our moment, a moment of historical significance, whiz by. If you want to talk about resistance, the first thing to resist is blindness to events vastly more consequential than crowd counts and braggadocio.
“With the election of Donald Trump, the old world of the 20th century is finally over,” Frank-Walter Steinmeier wrote in Bild am Sonntag, the German tabloid, last Sunday. This is a very large assertion, not to be ignored. The German foreign minister, a Social Democrat in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s across-the-aisle coalition, is a curious figure. Since taking office in late 2013, he has consistently, if occasionally, voiced objections to American hegemony in global affairs. Read the sentence again: Steinmeier makes his observation with subtly plain relief.
Should we Americans share Steinmeier’s apparent sense of anticipation for the end of something and the beginning of something else? This is our question.
President Trump has faced unceasing resistance from the Pentagon, NATO, and the national security apparatus ever since he proposed a renewed détente with Russia. He has made clear his disapproval of Washington’s “regime change” policies on many occasions. Trump has been preoccupied with the sacrifice of American jobs to corporate-written, corporate-indulgent trade accords for more than two decades, according to people who have followed him over the years. He may or may not succeed in doing much to remedy this abuse of the American working class, but that is a separate conversation. On Monday he formally killed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Obama’s breathtakingly anti-democratic framework for radical deregulation. (Let us dispense with the fiction that the TPP was a trade deal; it was nothing of the kind).