American Crossroads

By Andrej Mrevlje |

Change is here. With Donald Trump sworn in, the long-promised change in this country has finally arrived. It is not the change that most Americans would like to see, but it’s still change. You can sense the fear and the uncertainty that comes out when people talk about the future — you can feel it in President Obama’s words during his last press conference, when he tried to reassure the nation with warm words, like a father trying to reassure his children. “We are going to be ok,” he told the nation that he’s no longer able to protect. The words of a helpless man who had to abandon the nation to its own destiny. There will be no reincarnation, no new pope — just darkness.

And you can feel the fear for the future in the list of the books that Foreign Policy recommended on Monday. These books are about dark times. About dictators, tyrants. I never thought of Bertolt Brecht, Hannah Arendt and Philip Roth as depressing writers, but this is how Foreign Policy’s Adam Kirsch sees them. Still — however you view them — these three authors are worth reading, even when they write about darkness. They are good thinkers and writers, and as such, they help their readers travel across periods of darkness and survive.

But not everybody views the change that occurred after the November election with pessimism. Donald Trump is a disruptive figure, and he embodies a discontinuity, but at the same time, he has virtually nothing to do with the whole change. Mr. Trump, now the 45th president of the United States, is an uomo qualunque. An everyman — the kind of man who was at the core of that movement born in Italy after World War II, which “opposed the broad alliance of anti-fascist parties united in the National Liberation Committees (CLN) and ranging from the Communists to the Christian Democrats as well as the occupation by the Allies. Leader Giannini found the difference between the disempowered fascists and the new rulers of the anti-fascist parties in the CLN negligible. For him, both camps were interested in abstract ideologies and social engineering rather than in the actual needs of the ordinary people.”

While Trump is a billionaire — which hardly makes him an uomo qualunque — he is also a white man of simple words when he speaks of the faded American dream in a country that has lost its identity  because of fast-paced liberal change.

I could go on describing the fear of the unknown that comes with change. Like the uncertainty of all the folks who were, in one way or another, linked to the Clinton dynasty. They represent a big piece of the population, especially among the urban and liberal population on the East Coast. For them, the capital that for years provided them with milk and honey suddenly became the center of a dark force.

The ends of dynasties have always been followed by a short period of warlords. In my opinion, it’s more likely that the strong cabinet that president is trying to put together represents a similar danger. While the president continues to enjoy his little, self-absorbed power game, his opinionated billionaires and former generals will be the patrons of their own turf. The idea that somebody like Mike Pompeo will lead the powerful CIA with such dangerous ideas in his mind is profoundly worrisome.

On the other hand, the 45th president does not seem to have anything else on his mind but expanding and consolidating his own brand while trying hard to make his family clan grow into a dynasty with him as the patriarch of the nation. As Jill Lepore writes in the New Yorker, “An American Inauguration is like a wedding: the President is the groom, the people his bride. Donald Trump is about to pledge his troth. It didn’t always work this way, and, really, it shouldn’t. Washington isn’t Vegas.”

So while Trump is an uomo qualunque, he is also seated in the most powerful office in world. As an everyman, he will go for whatever ideas other people offer to him. He has no vision of the world, and yet in these last two months after the election, he already managed to change the country, as the AP described:

Donald Trump enters the White House on Friday just as he entered the race for president: defiant, unfiltered, unbound by tradition and utterly confident in his chosen course.

In the 10 weeks since his surprise election as the nation’s 45th president, Trump has violated decades of established diplomatic protocol, sent shockwaves through business boardrooms, tested long-standing ethics rules and continued his combative style of replying to any slight with a personal attack — on Twitter and in person.

Past presidents have described walking into the Oval Office for the first time as a humbling experience, one that in an instant makes clear the weight of their new role as caretaker of American democracy. Trump spent much of his transition making clear he sees things differently: Rather than change for the office, he argues, the office will change for him.

But make no mistake: changing the White House by decorating it in fake Louis XIV style is really not important. These are small, unimportant games of an adolescent emperor, while many “dowager empresses” run the show from behind the curtain. At least, this is what I think the future Team America might look like.

While I would add and change a name or two, I generally agree with Axios’s immortalization of the Trump team. Ivanka Trump, Steve Bannon, Jared Kushner, Gary Cohn and Stephen Miller –among others — will try to herd the warlords who try to pulp out what is left of the juice in this country.

Change is here. While the Clintons are gone for good, the Democrats —  if they want to be important again and reconquer the grassroots voters who went for Trump — will have to regroup, renovate and become much more transparent.

I do not think that Republicans are in a much better position, since Trump does not even want to hear about the party. His identity starts and ends with himself, which means that — oddly enough — he is as capable of sympathizing with Republicans as he is of sympathizing with Putin.

During my last visit to New York, I almost lost a couple of good friends. I was trying to debate the fact that, with Trump in office, the country might be closer to the solution that it would be looking at if Clinton had won the election. One could almost say that the American working class found its revolutionary mission and goal by voting for Trump. Why I am saying this? Because I think that Trump’s disruptive behaviour works as a catalyst for real change. I do not know what this change might be, but I have an idea where this president might lead the country.

The never-ending election campaign, followed by the two-month transition period, already established some sort of the totalitarian regime in America. Just look around you — look at the news publications, watch TV, listen to what people have to say. The United States barely seems to talk about anything but Trump. The president must be happy. First because he likes it when people talk about him; and second because in this way, the country is too busy with triviality to figure out the rules of this new game. Have you noticed that there is almost no single party, event, get-together — anything — where people aren’t talking about Trump? Trump is the story — in the same way that Stalin and other dictators were. As I described in one of my previous posts, Trump keeps the country in perpetual checkmate with his tweets. He dictate the discourse. He feeds the media. He determines our private lives. With more power in his hands, this smoke screen can only extend further while those behind the curtain continue implementing whatever strategies they have in mind.

We are therefore the subordinates of Trump’s outpourings, even as we are trying to make sense of them. But they do not make any sense. Do not waste the time on them. Instead, try to figure out what the White House and Trump Tower are doing. Perhaps this time the NSA could do something useful — if there is some interest left to save this country and make it walk again. If not, the only real strongman capable of ousting the undemocratic, autocratic and erratic newborn president is Mark Zuckerberg. Literally. He would be the first software president. He can have us with one click. He has the strategy, he has the money, and he wants to conquer China with Facebook. And if he will do that, the U.S. for him will be just a bite. He will be running in 2024 — Vanity Fair says so.

Now, keep in mind: I was against the protest that spread around the country after Donald Trump won the elections. Those protests that called the elections illegitimate already resembled a pattern of eroded institutions. Today, as Trump effectively starts running the country, the rules of the game have changed. But the passage of power from Trump to Zuckerberg can only be prevented by social and political action.

I do not know what is more important: the defense of the constitution or a push for reforms for more efficient social and political systems. Some of the changes that need to be made in the United States are becoming urgent: the separation of limitless economic power from politics, a reconsideration of the electoral college and a shortening of the far-too-lengthy election campaign process, to name a few.

When I said that Trump is a catalyst, I meant that his very appearance on the political stage raised awareness of the dangerously thin line that America is walking on. It is therefore completely understandable that on the eve of the most important day in Trump’s life, Washington, D.C. did not only represent an inauguration stage, but also a polygon for protesters.

Americans are extremely proud of their country, and the inauguration is normally a day of celebration. So it is unique to see editorials in the New Yorker and Foreign Policy that greet President Trump with an appeal for social action to create barriers for the intrusive new president. It is a long path to get from here to the needed reforms that will inject enough antibodies into the American political system to prevent appearance of an authoritarian regime. Unfortunately, there isn’t much time, but the timing is right.

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