Donald Trump, the man of Trump Towers, the Apprentice, Ivana, Marla, Melania, grotesque hair, Croesus wealth and renowned bigot is the Republican front runner in the 2016 presidential election campaign. A caricature of American excess is, through his progressive success in the election race, making America a caricature of itself.
I speak as a foreigner. I do not live in the US and I have visited the country only once: NY, Boston, Washington, New Orleans, Baton Rouge — places which appeared on my travel plans only because I knew people in most of them and from whom I could cadge a bed for a night or two. Like much of the rest of the world I am, however, a keen if often reluctant observer of America (where I live this is a term synonymous with the US so forgive me please if I use them interchangeably). Unlike the seemingly growing proportion of the world that feels otherwise, I do not despise the country or its people. I know, perhaps because I have been there and because my wife has family living there, that the US is a vast and complex place full full of delightful places and people with wonderful ideas and outlooks on life. It has some very beautiful scenery, great wine, delicious food and fine beer and, in many ways, a plethora of the things which make life bearable. I do find myself, therefore, wondering how the American persona could become so one dimensional to the external observer and whether the average American knows or cares about this impression?
Where I live there is a sharp and clear delineation between moderate wealth, that is people who have sufficient means to clothe themselves, with somewhere to call home and who eat regular meals, and poverty, where all or some of the these things are not possible. Most people here find themselves on the wrong side of this line and, with this are frequently victims of all of the old favourites; the social ills of crime, disease, substance abuse, joblessness, homelessness, poor education, single parenthood, hardship, struggle and often premature death. There is more to this list of course, but your immagination probably excludes the requirement for any further enumeration. Few people from either side of this line, however, envy America. Certainly the Dollar is a lot stronger than our local currency and when even the wealthy cease to be such when their wealth is converted, there is definitely some envy for the abundance which the US holds up on offer. I don’t believe, however, that there are many who, if given the chance, would prefer to be American. This seems contradictory, for if America has as so much to offer, surely we should all want to drape a Stars and Stripes over our shoulders?
There are many reasons for this attitude: the Hollywood view of the word is admittedly persuasive, as is the imported music, clothing and fast food. In a limited and rather ungratifying way this is attractive, but when it is contrasted against the ubiquitous hysteria and frequently facile reporting of US news networks and the grandstanding of its extremists (both right and left) it becomes less desirable. This position is often reinforced by a government, where I live at least, which has little patience for the country. Although we continually strive to retain our trading status and accreditation under AGOA (African Growth and Opportunity Act), we tend to see this as yet another example of American arrogance and economic imperialism and consequentially we don’t look across the Atlantic through rose coloured lenses. All of this, therefore, has succeeded in creating in the minds of many of us the strong impression of a country under siege. Not by an external foe (although there are certainly plenty of people who would like to see its demise) but by the greater fear held by the American populace of an unknown enemy and a desperate desire by it to cling to a stereotyped image of the American ideal. Surely, we wonder, it is apparent that enemy and ideal alike are created and supported by powerful lobbies with specific selfish agendas and no interest in the welfare of the average man? America is seen here as a society fractured by mistrust - of everyone (each other, corporates, politicians, religious leaders, big brands and the rest). A society in which the Orwellian vision of Big Brother has come uncomfortably close to reality. A society of Cheshire Cats with no substance behind the smiles.
This is an image which, while possibly true in some respects, is flat, without context, subtlety or nuance. With the enormous reach of the powerful channels of communication available to it, this picture could, with a degree of humility and self awareness, be contradicted by the US as easily as it is confirmed. So why is this complex, textured and often contradictory place stroking the ego of a man like Trump? A man who cements as true all of the shallow and often misleading impressions which the rest of us have about the country. A man who confirms to us that we were right all along.
I agree, America, that no one on your list of presidential hopefuls is particularly presidential, but come on people, why Donald?