Trump became the most powerful man in the world a year ago. Like many people, I watched the inauguration with a feeling of horror and nausea. The most striking image was Trump standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial – a racist and a misogynist who whipped up all the worst traits in the electorate, stood as a symbol of degeneration before one of history’s giants. It was the moment when America’s democracy finally imploded.
The White House today is in a state of permanent turmoil, and every day brings new questions about Trump’s fitness for office. But beyond the soap opera, what has Trump’s presidency meant for Americans and the world?
Despite the institutional wrangling, Trump has had a significant and direct effect on Americans. In particular he has been a catastrophe for the poorest. Trump’s new tax law is one of the most crude wealth grabs by the super rich that the world has ever seen – slashing the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%. His draconian crackdown on migrants has led to mass denial of visas for those trying to join their families, and deportation hangs over hundreds of thousands of US workers – from "shithole" countries in the president’s words.
Trump’s programme has seen the United States thrown open to virtually unlimited oil and gas drilling, a disaster for the environment. The mentally ill can more easily buy guns. And millions will be thrown out of the health system under his changes to Obamacare. In policy after policy, he has represented the richest 1% as no previous president could have done.
Internationally, Trump has poured petrol onto some of the most devastating conflicts in the world, by backing Saudi Arabia and Israel to the hilt, tearing up international norms and risking further, very serious, destabilisation. When it comes to North Korea, Trump has brought the world closer to nuclear war than we have been since the early 1960s.
But it’s not simply the direct effects of his rule, because change does not come only from above. In power, governments can create space for ideas and for movements to thrive. Trump has created such a space for neo-Nazis and white supremacists to organise. The far right march at Charlottesville took us back 50 years, as racists and bigots marched with burning torches.
Trump showed clear sympathy with these groups, who have found a new lease of life in his presidency. His attacks on democratic institutions like the courts and the press, however flawed those institutions might be, aim at creating a political chaos which will be used to enhance the powers of the strongman – Trump himself. The mobs who follow him, who persecute their fellow citizens and spread fear, will not go back in their box even if Trump falls tomorrow. The divisions are deeper and more permanent.
Impressive demonstrations and protests have confronted Trump across America. And here, he has twice changed his plans to come to Britain because of threats from the Stop Trump coalition to put millions of people on the streets. Although human beings adapt very rapidly to new situations, Trump is still seen as toxic and unacceptable to large parts of society – the least popular first-year president on record. People have confronted him and won. There is hope.
But confronting Trump is only the start of a very big task ahead. Trump is a symptom of a breakdown in politics globally. For 40 years, world leaders have preached a new religion: the free market. Governments are powerless to protect citizens, they told us, but multinational companies can create a promised land here and now.
This economy has left vast pockets of deprivation, unemployment and hopelessness – in the US, in Europe and of course in Britain. We cannot return to the day before Trump was elected. After all, the presidencies of the Bushes, and of Reagan, but also of Clinton and of Obama, were all too influenced by big money. They all spilt far too much blood. They laid the ground for this.
We need to rebuild our broken societies, and mend the gaping chasm that now separates rich from poor. We need economic policies that provide healthcare, housing, education and a good future for all. We need to replace the anger with hope.
Let’s not forget that ‘Trumpism’ is more than Donald Trump. It’s a type of politics: a strongman whipping up genuine grievances into intolerance and hatred of anyone different. It’s the politics, albeit with differences, of the fascists of the 1930s, which also rose in response to vast inequality and social breakdown. And it now extends from the US to India, from the Philippines to Turkey.
Echoes across the pond
Trumpism is also mirrored in some of the UK’s own politics. The growing intolerance towards migrants. The fashion for a notion that some mystical ‘people’s will’ should be used to undermine public debate and participation. The idea of ‘our nation first’.
In 12 months' time, I would be delighted if Trump no longer held office. But that would not be the end of Trump. To complete that task, we need to transform politics wherever we live. To confront and challenge the toxic idea of racism. And to build a society which is fit for human beings to inhabit in the twenty-first century.
Nick Dearden is the director of Global Justice Now, a founding member of the Stop Trump coalition. Read more of their work on The Dangers of Trumpism.
You can follow Global Justice Now at @GlobalJusticeUK