Proper Gander: Nutters and Putters
Television programmes (and magazine articles) about Donald Trump are rarely in short supply, thanks to his knack for being a symptom of just about everything wrong with society. The upcoming anniversary of his presidency starting has given another opportunity to try and explain how on earth he got where he is. For starters, Channel 4 have broadcast an epic four-part account of his life called ‘Trump: An American Dream’, although ‘nightmare’ would be a better description. Other shows have focused on particular aspects of his rise, such as who his supporters are and his relationship with Scotland.
In ‘Angry, White and American’ (Channel 4), reporter Gary Younge goes on a road trip through Maine, Pennsylvania and Mississippi to speak with people who aren’t ashamed to admit on camera they voted for Trump. Younge wants to learn what experiences and mindsets led people to wave the flag and cast their vote for the dangerous demagogue. He’s interested in the extent to which economic deprivation has undermined the sense of identity which many white working class (by which he means blue-collar) Americans have had. In places like Johnstown, Pennsylvania, heavy industries used to provide local employment until the markets turned and they stopped being profitable. As factories closed down and jobs were lost, the little financial security felt by many communities fell apart. Trump found support from those struggling financially who believe that he’ll revitalise industry back to some mythical golden age. But, as Younge points out, most of Trump’s supporters are white, so if economic deprivation was a main driver for his support, then why didn’t poor black and Latino people tend to vote for him? Younge speaks with Erin McClelland, a Democrat congressional candidate who suggests that non-white Americans have always felt dissatisfied by the system, but dissatisfaction among white people is a new thing: black people haven’t had wealth and prosperity taken away from them, as white people have. While McClelland is obviously wrong about white people not being alienated by capitalism up to now, it may be that expectations have changed and this has led some voters towards Trump and his allies on the far right.
Trump and the far right have a reciprocal relationship. His most rabid supporters can be found here saluting and chanting ‘Heil Trump’, and in turn his rise to power has emboldened the movement. According to Younge, the far right and Trump’s advisers ‘swim in the same pool’. Prominent white supremacist Richard Spencer (who coined the term ‘alt right’, an odious attempt to rebrand fascism) is visited by Younge at a rally. Spencer’s sharp suit and fixed smile can’t disguise his abhorrent views, such as promoting a ‘white only’ ethno-state. Other opinions rattling around inside his tiny brain are just as vile and ridiculous, like ‘Africans have benefited from their experience with white supremacy’ and ‘if Africans had never existed, world history would be almost exactly the same as it is today’.
Those who voted for Trump to ‘make America great again’ seem to fall into two types: those who explicitly connect him with the narrow-minded racism of the far right and those who choose to ignore the bigotry which comes with nationalism. The latter, when interviewed by Younge, downplay America’s slave-owning history and the connotations of the confederate flag.
Over in Britain, we’re sadly not immune to Trump’s influence. In ‘Donald Trump: Scotland’s President’ (BBC1), reporter Glenn Campbell looks at the links (including golfing ones) Trump has with Scotland. His mother was born on the island of Lewis before leaving its rugged tranquillity for the bustle of 1930s Manhattan. According to those interviewed by Campbell, she taught Trump the value of getting attention, as well as traits like respectability and a sense of community which may have transferred less well to his adult life. When Trump visited Lewis in 2008 he reportedly spent 97 seconds in his mother’s birthplace before jetting off to Aberdeen for an inquiry into his plans for a golf resort north of the city. This inquiry was held after local councillors had turned down his proposal, fearing that two golf courses, a hotel and conference centre, 950 holiday homes and 550 houses would ruin the area’s natural habitats. The then-First Minister Alex Salmond stepped in and following the inquiry the Scottish government granted the planning application. A few locals have stoically refused to sell their homes to make way for the development, including one who flies a Mexican flag in solidarity with others threatened by what Trump wants to build. Those who agreed the development thought that the promised billion pound investment would justify an area of special scientific interest being built on. However, five years after the project opened, the second course and houses haven’t been built and an area which used to be a wilderness now looks manicured. Many regret the decision.
The development of Trump’s golf course (‘the greatest golf course ever built’, according to him) shows that if you wave enough money at something, you tend to get your own way in the end. His rise to power highlights other features of our capitalist society, such as how economic struggles and finding scapegoats in other groups fuel support for the far right, as it did in 1930s Germany. Far from being the trailblazer which his supporters want him to be, Donald Trump represents capitalism at its worst.