Here comes the bogeyman

Published in Expansión

After a vicious campaign carried out by both candidates to the Presidency of the United States, based on demonizing the opponent, the winning Republican candidate has led continental European media (especially in Spain) to express a hysterical response verging on obsession. Media unanimity is always a symptom of a loss of freedom. Is the dictatorship of political correctness about to do away with free, independent and accurate, truth-seeking journalism? Will the media be satisfied with the new role assigned to them by such dictatorship, that is, being just an instrument for the replaying of propaganda slogans and trivial entertainment? Yes, Donald Trump engaged in an occasionally coarse and populist campaign, and did issue a number of disturbing statements. These are facts, but not all the facts. The truth is not the same as the whole truth. As an example, should we judge his Democrat opponent by her defining half of those who voted for the Republican (one-quarter of her fellow citizens), as a “basket of deplorables, racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, islamophobic”? I believe that after all this letting off steam, the time has come to analyze the situation in a calmer, more even-tempered way, with the emotional distance and skepticism needed to discuss politics anywhere in the world.

First of all, the histrionic Trump is an independent, an outsider. In fact, he may be the most independent President of the US in the last century. He is not a professional politician, nor is he a member of the political or economic-financial establishment, that brotherhood in which you scratch my back and I scratch yours, where all members help one another in holding up their masks. In fact, he faced the fierce opposition of a section of his own party (something unheard of), of practically all the members of the financial ruling class, including Wall Street, and of the virtual entirety of the US media (whose unanimous, manifest aggressive and openly biased attitude seemed more appropriate of media controlled by an authoritarian régime than that of a democracy). There were a few exceptions: a number of serious investors such as Carl Icahn, or respected entrepreneurs like Bernie Marcus (co-founder of Home Depot, a company now boasting a staff of 370,000). From that point of view his victory is objectively impressive.

Second, he is a 70-year old businessman who may quite obviously be criticized on many fronts, but not on his lack of experience, as we hear absurdly replayed. Obama became President at the age of 47 after no more than 4 years as member of the US Senate and 8 years as a member of the Illinois Senate. Before he became involved in politics, Obama’s CV appears to be a bit confusing, if I may.

Third, the Republican candidate’s program, deviously defined as a contract as if it were legally binding, advocates for a substantial reduction in the role of the State. For example, it proposes to require every Department to provide a list of regulations which hamper job creation or which are of no use (90%?), and also that for every new federal regulation two existing regulations should be eliminated. Regarding taxes, Trump’s proposal is to lower corporate rates to 15%, to eliminate inheritance tax (with the usual populist exception for the wealthiest minority in the form of capital gains held until death), and to limit personal income tax brackets to three with rates, please note, of a maximum of 33% and a minimum of 12% for married-joint filers with incomes less than US$75,000. Do you now understand why our fiscal vampires, that is, the entire Spanish political class, flee from the Republican candidate, wan and bleary-eyed, as they would from holy water? As far as environmental issues go, his program establishes a clear distinction between pollution (to be fought) and the radicalism of climate change, that new totalitarian and non-scientific ideology about which the President-elect has fortunately expressed his skepticism. Obamacare, an apparent disaster according to many analysts, will be reshuffled, and limits will be set for the number of mandates for members of Congress and their early landing in lobbies.

In terms of foreign policy, his program expresses the will to promote détente, reduce the number of armed conflicts and “end the current nation-building and régime change strategy” (a true novelty for American foreign policy). It identifies the Islamic State as its main enemy in the understanding that it will try to find common ground with Russia, which among other things is key to bring to a close the mini-world war now being played on Syrian soil (simplistically called the Syrian Civil War). Ironically enough, in 2012 Obama criticized Mitt Romney for stating that Russia was a more meaningful threat than Islamic terrorism. “The cold war’s been over for twenty years,” Obama scoffed at that time.

The Republican candidate’s tough stance on illegal immigration is well known: being an illegal activity, should he be in favor? That’s nothing new: under the Obama administration, the US arguably deported 2.5 million illegal immigrants. What may be subject to harsher criticism is the fact that Trump’s campaign linked illegal immigration, in a simplistic, misleading and populist fashion, to unemployment and the stagnation of US workers’ wages. However, the media has focused instead on his proposal to building a wall on the US-Mexican border. In fact, a section of the border is already secured with a double barbed-wire fence more than 4 meters high lengthened in 2006 as a result of a law which mandated the construction of an additional 1,100 kilometers, aimed at “reducing the access of illegal immigrants and drug trafficking.” At that time, Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton voted (throat clearing) in favor.

Finally, Trump has been the most clearly pro-life candidate in memory (and the Democrat candidate possibly the most radically pro-abortion), and his influence in the composition of the Supreme Court (due to vacancies) may jeopardize the existing pro-abortion legislation in force. Given that abortion is probably the most important moral issue of our times, this would be an extraordinarily welcome piece of news.

There are at least two elements in the program that raise concern, though: the protectionist rhetoric and the massive “deficit-neutral” (don’t bet your house on that) infrastructure-building program. It appears contradictory to look to détente in military issues while raising tension in commercial affairs, running the risk of an escalation with unforeseeable results. And while we may agree that US infrastructures are severely inadequate, public financing would imply political priority criteria far removed from rationality and utility, and a worsening of the country’s already fragile fiscal situation. An attempt to exit the crisis through protectionism and Keynesianism would mean replaying the mistakes that led to the Great Depression. It has been tried. It doesn’t work. It leads to dangerous places.

Coming back to Spain, it is ludicrous to attempt to equate the Republican candidate’s program with that of our clumsy Leninist-Communist Party (which ignorant journalists wrongly label as standard populism, when it is in reality something far more sinister and dangerous). In fact, although there are clear-headed exceptions, the Spanish media standard analysis of US politics is generally defined by a dazzling simplicity: the Republicans are the bad guys and the Democrats are the good guys. Republicans are stupid, yokels, ignorant, witless, selfish, and war lovers. Democrats, on the other hand, are intelligent, sophisticated, refined, altruistic and pacifist people (in spite of their war declaring track record!). Faced with a Republican win, in Spain we paraphrase Obélix: “these Americans are crazy.”

I ignore whether the President-elect will be successful in doing away with the dictatorship of political correctness and the single social-democrat mindset which is slowly dragging his country (and the West) down, or whether, on the contrary, he will turn out to be as mediocre as his predecessor, the hollowly eloquent, warmonger and premature Nobel Peace Prize winner. Nor do I know what effect the inevitable pathology of power will have on him, a pathology which both presidential candidates have shown plentiful symptoms of suffering. His program features some hopeful components, and others which are more simplistic and worrisome; on some issues there is no question that his success will depend on a moderation of his views, but paradoxically, there are others where it will depend on his capacity to be true to himself and to retain independence. Both the dirty, content-light campaign and the angry reaction of the stunned losers (who were supposed to be the true defenders of democratic vote-acceptance, right?), show yet another example of the decadence of democracy. Democratic elections are, like Sergio Leone’s movie (starring Clint Eastwood), a contest between the Good, the Bad and the Ugly – without the Good. However, the European situation is much more worrying, as not all populisms are born equal and in many cases they seem indistinguishable from the demagoguery of establishment-approved, Welfare State’s run-of-the-mill politics. The worst case scenario in the US (a country which deserves our respect and still has strong institutions and a system of liberties in place since the 18th century –albeit in slow degeneration, as in all Western democracies) is that Trump will be just another bad President, and that’s it. In the best case scenario he may become a game-changer in certain aspects. All in all, the US is still different, and old Europe continues to scratch her head in bewilderment trying to understand it.

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