Six months before he was elected president, Donald Trump warned that if he didn’t win the White House, the United States would become a “totally different country – like Argentina or Venezuela.” Prophetically, since his election the United States has become a totally different country.
At the time, Mr. Trump was chatting on one of his favourite television shows, the appropriately named Squawk Box on CNBC, and he was warning that a Democratic administration would appoint liberal judges to the Supreme Court. That, he said, would wreck the economy and turn the United States into one of his favourite clichés, “a third-world country.” That, apparently, is how he sees Argentina.
In fact, under President Trump’s leadership, the United States has become like a third-world country – through its rapid decline into degeneracy. This fact is vividly illustrated by the latest revelation of Trumpian debauchery. On Tuesday Michael Cohen, the president’s long-serving (and long-suffering?) personal lawyer, told The New York Times that he paid US$130,00 to Stephanie Clifford. She was described by the Times as “the pornographic-film actress known as Stormy Daniels, who says she had an affair with Mr. Trump.”
The “affair” allegedly happened many years ago, around the time when the newly married third Mrs. Trump (Melania, now the first lady) was giving birth to their first child together. But in 2016, Stephanie Clifford, in her persona as Stormy Daniels, was threatening to launch a tell-all book about the “affair” just as Mr. Trump was launching his campaign for the presidency.
She had to be hushed up. So Mr. Cohen dipped into his own pocket and paid the hush money to the porn star. It was, as the lawyer noted, a private transaction. “The payment to Ms. Clifford was lawful, and was not a campaign contribution or campaign expenditure by anyone,” he said. In other words, he got the future President Trump off the hook, legally, at least.
The moral of this story is that it demonstrates that the current leader of what undoubtedly was once “the most powerful country in the world” – another cliché that comes easily to the lips of the president – has no moral authority.
He is both immoral and amoral. That was made clear during the campaign when a tape recording surfaced in which he can be heard describing the Trump technique for sexually abusing women. He said that “when you’re a star, they let you do it, you can do anything. You grab them by the pussy.” Those words may well have helped set off the avalanche of sexual harassment claims that have followed, in which celebrities have been denounced as serial sexual abusers by women who have decided not to suffer in silence any more.
There is another illustrative declaration that fixes the Trumpian personality like a butterfly pinned in a collector’s showcase. In a burst of euphoria at a Trump rally in January, 2016, he said: “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” With his narcissism in full bloom, he was suggesting that he could get away with murder.
And he may even believe it. He certainly believed Orrin Hatch when, according to President Trump, the senator for Utah told him that he is the greatest president ever: “Orrin is — I love listening to him speak … he actually once said I’m the greatest president in the history of our country.”
Here is where some similarities with Argentina may be discerned. What worries me most is the silence of conservatives in the United States. I remember a typically brilliant article or editorial (I forget which exactly) by former Buenos Aires Herald editor James Neilson, written at the height of the terror during the 1976-1983 dictatorship. He called upon “conservatives with a conscience” to speak out and condemn the atrocities which most people were refusing to see, although they were taking place under their noses. Argentine conservatives, who are inexplicably called liberals, sold their consciences to the beasts and goats who led the Armed Forces.
Some US conservatives have remained in touch with their consciences, however. Indeed, the response of conservative intellectuals has been heartening. Political commentator George Will, for example, is a withering critic of Trumpery. But the Republican Party as a whole and most (lower-case) republicans are like their kin in Argentina were in those dark years. They either refuse to see that a narcissistic, racist liar is leading their republic astray or, alternatively, come up with pathetic excuses for his behaviour.
Things aren’t as bad – yet – as they were in Argentina, of course, but he and the flock of sheep he is leading astray have caused the United States of America to be reclassified as “a flawed democracy.” That failing grade does not come from me, it was reluctantly posted by the Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU), which drew on reliable data from organisations such as the Pew Research Center. The EIU report emphasises that the downgrading of democracy in the United States began before Trump was even a candidate for president. In my view the consecration of Mr. Trump as the GOP’s candidate and his election as president were a consequence of the rise of authoritarianism and the polarisation of politics. President Trump personifies the worst in the United States. The best have lost their democratic convictions.
Here in the US, we haven’t replicated Peronism. There is, as yet, no ‘ism’ to add to the name of Trump. There is highlevel corruption, but outright robbery from the public purse would still not be accepted here. US institutions have proven not to be as strong as generally believed, but they are still holding the nation together. Unlike Argentina under the dictatorship, when the press collapsed, the US has a vigorous press. Hilarious satire keeps those who are unhappy with Trump laughing uproariously and helps us to maintain our sanity.
The multitudinous flood of antiTrump jokes tends to suggest that he is a clown, a fool. He may appear to be a clownish fool, but he has a formidable animal intelligence. That causes some of us old Argentine hands to worry that he may one day wake up and decide to emulate General Leopoldo Galtieri by trying to invade North Korea.
Perhaps he will be satisfied if he is granted the massive display of military hardware in a huge parade in Washington that he has been pining for since he witnessed the Bastille Day parade in Paris. It is to be feared, however, that such a stirring and totally undemocratic outburst of aggressive nationalism might encourage him to take a step too far.