Some optimists thought that Donald Trump would be inclusive, seeking to carry everyone along, once he actually became President of the United States.
They were wrong.
He has been combative and divisive from the word 'Go'. In the manner of a petulant child answering an opponent on a playground with a "No, you’re a liar! Liar, liar, pants on fire!", his administration began its four-year innings by telling the media it was wrong to say more people had watched Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration than Trump’s — photographic evidence notwithstanding.
The combativeness was not one-sided.
People at large voiced their opposition to the new president on the streets across much of the US the day after his Friday inauguration. Women, in particular, rallied in processions in several towns and cities, making it clear that they would stand up to their new president. Society in the US has not been so divided, and alienated from the government, for half a century — since the Vietnam War brought millions on to the streets to oppose their country’s war policies.
The worst part of this is that Trump probably isn’t actually just being petulant. He may be working to a plan. Perhaps it is part of his agenda to put the media on the back foot, forcing it to be cautious about saying anything negative about him, his decisions or policies. It would not be the first time such an agenda had played out in a leader’s national policies. No doubt Trump and his colleagues will seek to undermine other institutions of democracy too. Their task will be easier if they do put the media on the back foot at the outset.
However, it might turn out to be a strategic mistake for liberal intellectuals to attack Trump on his chosen battleground. His backers might rally to him, just as they did after audio recordings of his lewd comments became public. His backers, it turned out, did not share his critics’ abhorrence for misogyny and sexual predation.
Many in the demographic segments that back Trump may not watch television news (preferring sports, sitcoms and movies) or even read the papers. In fact, they might be easily convinced to suspect the liberal media of ulterior motives. That would make it easier for the administration to marginalise the media, as well as universities and other bastions of liberality.
War games possible
Combative divisiveness could prove even more dangerous on the international plane. Trump’s selections for top jobs in his administration indicate that the oil lobby will play a powerful role, at least as much as it did during the George W Bush regime — and look at how that turned out! Dubya’s Neocon backers, led by his vice-president Dick Cheney, pushed the US into a terribly destructive war in the Levant (Iraq), which has divided the world bitterly.
Since then, the northern Levant (Syria) has become a battle zone too. Alongside — and intertwined with — the civil war in Syria, the world’s leading Muslim powers and a former superpower too have become embroiled in war there. Obama played his cards cautiously when Russia got openly, actively involved in defence of the Bashar al-Assad regime. So the danger that the Cold War could have received a greater boost via Syria was averted — although the Cold War has been back in play in the regions of Ukraine and Belarus.
The dynamics of Trump’s relationships with Russia on one hand, and with the leading Gulf states on the other, are yet to become clear. If the US oil lobby enhances American relations with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, it would put the US more firmly on the opposite side of the Russia-Iran axis — and deepen this very major global rift.
Much will hinge on why Russian president Vladimir Putin preferred Trump to become president, and the extent to which Putin will now be able to influence US policy — or, conversely, the US’ belligerence. Either way, it appears almost certain that division and combat are going to be the order of the day — both domestically within the US, and in the global arena — under Trump in the White House.
Updated Date: Jan 23, 2017 12:41:33 IST