The events in the US over the last few weeks serve to remind us that our way of life in the West is seemingly a very fragile thing. Despite the clear peculiarities of the outgoing Trump administration, his departure from office has brought a picture of civil and social division across America to the fore. Many have fondly imagined that the Trump era was a blip, some form of societal aberration which will never be repeated. Yet here we are on the cusp of a new presidency and administration with a substantial number in the US electorate railing strongly against the fact that Trump is leaving office. How can it be that a presidency so marred by personal unpleasantness and a lack of civility, a presidency that has presided over what the rest of us thought pretty right wing in actions and statements can be so visibly and forcefully supported by a number that cannot be regarded as insignificant ?
The logical response is that there are a substantial number of Americans who do not fit into the stereotype of the American Dream. These are the people that have dreamt the dream but never entered it in real life. Socially at the thin end of the wedge, politically marginalised for years, working in environments where their employment has vanished and turned to dust without even a blink of a Washington bureaucrats eye. Until Trump. Trump, the most improbable champion of the common man, emerged four years ago into a job most would never imagine in their most fanciful thoughts he would have succeeded in obtaining - after all, he was stinking rich already, what did he need to add to his CV ? Yet arrive he did and in a style that no US President before him has ever adopted. Brash, arrogant and full of ego yet curiously in tune with many of the dissatisfactions felt by that vast swathe of common men and women. In a flash, Trump started doing things both politically and in real time action that made the Washington establishment cringe but which resonated deeply with the 200 million or more Americans who had felt ignored, left out, unrepresented and even forgotten by the smooth and urbane former incumbents of the White House. All of a sudden, here was somebody who did things he said he was going to do and do them against the grain of most former American presidents. Most of his actions have involved controversy - the Mexican Wall, the climate change withdrawal, trade and economic sanctions against virtually anyone he didn’t take a shine to, the Make America Great Again push to bring protectionism back into mainstream politics, and so the list goes on. Almost all his acts flew in the face of conventional wisdom - yet he was supported at a grass roots level by millions. Here was a president who did things the common man cared about, not least because most of them protected American jobs and focussed on the almost inbred fear of the American nation of either ‘Reds under the bed’ or ‘Terrorists under the bed’.
Ironically, until the blight of COVID, much of what Trump undertook has resulted in some benefit to those 200 million forgotten Americans - economically and in employment terms particularly. The 200 million were no longer forgotten. Now, as Trump reluctantly prepares to leave office, we might ask ourselves what those 200 million are going to do. The divide between them and those on the other side of the social fence is perhaps larger than ever. There is talk of civil strife, even of civil war. Weapons are being bought and amassed by thousands of Americans who never previously imagined the need to do such a thing - it is reported that there is a shortage of ammunition for all this weaponry, such is the scale of their numbers being bought up. Only once before has the American social divide reached this position - and on that occasion it left over 600,000 dead and with the divisions still largely in place. That must in itself be reason enough to make even the disgruntled think twice about such a course of action ? But America has never truly acted rationally within its own borders - or overseas for that matter - it has usually adopted the shoot first and ask questions later approach to any conflict situation and in doing so has created a mentality that tells the American people to prepare for the worst...so predictions of sanity when the blood lust is running high are not a foregone conclusion.
We all need to hope that the transition of power is not a powder keg awaiting the fuse to be lit. Whether we like it or not, the Western world needs a big brother champion, especially now in an era of adventurism and expansion by China and Russia. Maybe that’s a selfish reason on our part, but in cases like this it is truly a case of ‘size matters’ - and most of the rest of us don’t have it. Civil strife historically has changed little in terms of outcomes and it is a condition that America must avoid - for itself and the rest of the free world.