On The Edge
IT was hard to watch Barack and Michelle Obama during the inauguration of the forty-fifth President of the United States last Friday afternoon. Undoubtedly, they had to dig deep into the reserves of their dignity to ensure the final phase of the transition of power – with all its pomp and ceremony – ran smoothly as the cameras of the world parsed and analysed their every movement, facial expression, handshake, hug, mouth movement. Barack played a blinder while his inspirational First Lady’s mask fell on occasion – particularly during President Donald J Trump’s bellicose inauguration speech.
So, what fundamentally does the elevation of billionaire businessman Donald Trump say about the United States, democracy, the so-called free, first world? That money can buy power: whether that is the Wall Street aligned Clintons or the narcissistic twit of a Trump.
It also confirms that capitalism and consumerism come before true democratic principles. It shows the naivety of the electorate and how racism and protectionism can be used to manipulate them, albeit through fallacious arguments and promises. Finally, it exposes the fact that people who are still searching for the ‘American Dream’ have not evolved far beyond the lure – well, the promise – of fascist policies. Just look at how ‘white’ and how fundamentalist the religious dimensions of the inauguration ceremony were.
The American Dream
THIS is what the writer, James Truslow Adams wrote in 1931: “The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement….. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognised by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”
Clearly, Donald Trump has been too busy hand-counting the number of people who were at his rallies or who attended his inauguration in the spitting rain last Friday to recall that aspirational ethos. After all, he has been way too busy tweeting like a cartoon character; or smirking secretly about all the women he has grabbed and groped over the years (and that was only when he was ‘a star’, now he is the Commander-in-Chief); or watching reruns of footage of his mocking of the disabled New York Times journalist, Serge Kovaleski. Kovaleski had the audacity to challenge Trump’s racist claims that thousands of Muslims celebrated 9/11 in New Jersey.
But we all know this already, don’t we? We also know that like the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, who is heading out to Washington to pay court to him next Friday, our politicians, including the Taoiseach Enda Kenny are already watering that bowl of shamrock for the St Patrick’s Day sycophantic shenanigans.
Barack and books
MEANWHILE, the forty-fourth president of the US, Barack Obama, will be happily off-camera catching up on his reading and writing. Indeed, in the barrage of stories that contrasted Obama with Trump in recent weeks, one New York Times feature focussed on the fact that despite his busy daily schedule, Obama always found time to read a broad range of books during the last eight years. He explained to Michiko Kakutani that books have always played a central role in his life, providing companionship during his ‘sometimes lonely boyhood’ and helped him to discover ‘who he was, what he thought and what was important’ as a youth. They also helped him escape the bubble of the White House and all its freneticism. His late-night reading ranged from contemporary literary fiction to the classics, as well as the international best-seller ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ by renowned psychologist, Daniel Kahneman, which examines the profound effect of cognitive biases in decisions making. Obama said that he had recently given his daughter Malila a Kindle filled with some of his favourite books, one of which was the self and societal-searching book, The Golden Notebook, by Doris Lessing.
On the other hand, The Donald doesn’t really read books; he doesn’t have time. Although his ex-wife, Ivana Trump, told Vanity Fair in 1990 that he kept a copy of Hitler’s speeches near his bed. Although, you never know, that could be ‘fake news’.