I was a teenager when Trump was elected, I remember watching the beginning of the count in 2016, heading to bed and waking up to a new world. The past 4 years have felt as if we have all been living in a reality show. News channels are more dramatic and unpredictable than most thrillers. When president Trump was first elected, we all wondered what he was capable of. He really showed us. While COVID brought about the ‘new normal’, a change we all had to notice, it is arguable the world has never been the same since Donald Trump entered office. We are now more divided than we have been in decades, for the first time in a century the world no longer sees America as its leader. Trump showed us how powerful dishonesty can be when thrust in the hands of an egotist. In this article I will look at what legacy Trump has left behind and I will examine to what extent his actions mirrored that of an authoritarian president.
The Trump Party
The most common characteristic shared between authoritarian leaders tends to be a cult of personality. You can’t look too far from the Nazis for how a symbol as small as a ‘MAGA’ hat can be used to insight violence and spread hatred. Trump used hysteria to install fear in his supporters, a fear directed towards anyone who is not like them. He created conspiracies to defeat Hilary, then he invented a conspiracy to overturn the result of his lost election. In fact since being elected Trump has been recorded telling more than 20,000 lies. He lied about Stormy Daniels, he lied about his tax returns and he even accused Rep. Ilhan Omar of being a member of Al-Queda. His supporters never cared about the truth and two weeks ago stormed the capital in an attempted coup with the purpose of disrupting the confirmation of a democratically elected president. The whole world was shocked as America descended into chaos and 4 people died in the attack. In 2019 Trump claimed that Article II of the Constitution gave him the authority ‘to do anything he wanted’ (referring to the section 2 ‘Presidential Immunity’ clause). Though this was abundantly not true, he made his believers truly think so. Trump is the only presidential candidate in history to hold campaign rallies in his first year in office. He appointed family members to key positions and gave friends favourable tenders with no competition. His daily tantrums on twitter caused billions in stock market fluctuations. It was considered less surprising when he tried to fire Robert Mueller who was a state attorney investigating his ties with Russia(silencing the opposition). Trump’s presidency was not about his supporters or a greater cause, like many authoritarians his focus was him.
Following the death of Geroge Flyod millions of protestestors around America took to the streets advocating for the #blacklivesmatter movement. Trump when discussing the murder called it “terrible” but then stated “more white people die” at the hands of the police than blacks, he additionally posted on twitter: “When the looting starts the shooting starts” as a threat to protesters. He went on to further threaten the protestors with “vicious dogs” and became the first president since the Holy Week Rising (Assasination of Martin Luther King) to deploy the national guard on peaceful citizens. It is estimated 19 people died as a result of his actions in the protests, he was so desperate to intimidate the protestors he used a loophole in the Posse Comitatus Act to call in the national guard. In comparison when his own people stormed the Capital Building killing 2 police officers he refused to condemn their actions calling them “patriots”. Trump’s presidency has seen the highest rise in racial tension in recent history, starting with the ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville 2017 (4 dead), the first time in decades white supremists gathered in thousands . This was no mistake. He used his overt racism to appeal to the silent majority ‘Alt-right’ who longed for the return of complete white supremacy and encouraged groups like the Proud Boys. He catered his message towards the unemployed and uneducated white American’s who needed an enemy, and he made us into the enemy. Trump oppressed the freedoms of black people every day he was in office and the Republican party is now synonymous with that hatred.
(Photos from the BLM protests)
No lie told, I must admit the American economy hit record after record under Trump. During his leadership the stock market broke the Dow Jones Index 25 times, reaching a peak of $31,000 on January 7th 2021 (it is worth noting Obama broke the record 28 times bouncing back from a recession). His policies oversaw record participation as millions gained access to the markets through casual trading apps like Robinhood. He introduced the 2017 ‘Tax Cut and Jobs Act’, commiting to a record tax cut in a bid to attract the big companies with large capital reserves. Companies like Disney reacted well, giving out $1,000 dollar cheques to their employees as a result of the new tax savings. Everything seemed to be perfect. Except, the tax cut which he promised would generate $1.8 billion in revenue actually cost the American taxpayer $1.5 trillion. While corporate tax went down 14% (35% to 21%), individual income tax only reduced by 2% (37% to 35%). What’s even worse is that the average American had to pay for a tax cut that big businesses did not even abide by. Overall investment in America remained negative even as profits hit record highs(before the pandemic struck). And while the markets did boom the sad reality is that the majority of Americans do not have a stock portfolio. A report by the Federal Reserve showed under Trump the top 10% gained control of 88% of all trading on the stock market (for the first time in history), a record for inequality in America. One of the most key signs of a dictator is elitism and I guess it’s fair to say Trump isn’t far off.
He made an election promise to ‘run the country like he does his companies’. Unfortunately this was true, as he has been lying about the state of the economy the same way he lied to Forbes about his net worth in the 80’s. According to data from the Federal Reserve Trump has created a $7.8 trillion increase in national debt. This amounts to $23,500 in new federal debt for each American citizen, the third largest increase in US history. During COVID, Trump’s lack of intervention led to the highest levels of unemployment in US history (20 million). Trump was focused on boasting about the stock market while millions suffered. It is estimated that by the end of March, American consumers are due to pay $70 billion in unpaid loans offset by the COVID relief packages. He behaved like a dictator when he threatened Tik Tok with a ban just to try to give his old friend, Larry Ellison, an opportunity into the business. He would host official guests at his own hotels and would even advertise products from the oval office. There have been reports the Trump organizations biggest creditors have chosen distance themselves from the outgoing president. This means his debt of more than $1.12 billion is due to creditors within the next 4 years. He might have to sell landmark properties like Trump Tower and his Mar-a-lago golf course (also removed from the US PGA tour recently) in order to stay afloat. Trump failed to learn the most important lesson in being an authoritarian: if you lose power, you lose everything.
Trump the Diplomat
Trump’s diplomatic strategy has been uncertain to say the least. In early 2018 Trump accused Africa of being a ‘s*******’ and consistently complained we are ‘sending our worst people’ to America. It is true that people often do leave African countries out of desperation, however, it’s not without provocation. The US (and more specifically the CIA) has played a huge role in causing Africa’s instability by funding oppressive governments (like contributing to the arrest of Mandela in 1962) and assassinating inspiring leaders (Patrice Lumumba, Amilcar Cabral, Kwame Nkrumah, Felix Mouimi). Furthermore, his statement is factually incorrect; Nigerians are actually the most educated group of settlers in US history with more 61% of Nigerian-Americans over 25 currently holding a bachelor’s degree (compared to 30% of the general US population). They are also regarded as the most successful ethnic group in the US with a median household income of $62,000. I’m assuming the president simply did not have a chance to include Nigeria into his statistics or maybe (and more likely) the comments were motivated by his deep racism. It’s no secret he thinks of less of African/black people, he in fact never visited a single African country during his term and was the first US president to not do so in 50 years. (If we are being honest, I don’t feel like he would have had a great time here, especially considering the issues he faced in London.) If one were to judge his foreign policy in Africa I think he achieved his goal of isolationism and distancing with expertise.
On the 3rd of January 2020 Trump ordered the assasination of Qasem Soleimani, the most powerful Military General in Iran. Soleimani was a local hero to many Iranians, a man they could rely upon to protect them. This act was one of many acts which could be considered an act of war. His action was infuriating because of how unnecessary it was, in 2015 Iran had signed the ‘Iran Nuclear Deal’, a peace treaty agreeing to demilitarise their nuclear technology. Iran is now rebuilding their arsenal and it could take years before they can be convinced to trust America again knowing another Trump could come back. This is just the first of many diplomatic blunders including withdrawing from and defunding the World Health Organisation (in the middle of a pandemic), instigating a 3 year trade war with China (also worth a mention, the invention of the phrase ‘China Virus’), and his on and off bromance with North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Un. Despite all this Trump has an achievement which no other US president can ever claim, the signing of a Middle Eastern Peace deal allowing Saudi Arabia to acknowledge Israel for the first time. Its just a shame the people of Palestine had their entire country removed from existence and their public genocide ignored by their only protection in order for this too happen. I guess this plays along the lines of mass murder that many authoritarians, accused of ignoring and hiding their atrosoties. The saddest thing about Trump’s diplomacy will always be that we will never know whether it was based on strategy or based on emotion.
In 2020 Trump’s lies turned deadly with 400,000 Americans dead as a result of COVID-19. He convinced millions of his supporters the virus was a lie leading to the fastest rate of infections per capita. The virus falling under his presidency exposed the deeper issues associated with electing an illegitimate leader. A man who came into power under the promise of ‘drain the swamp’ in the end he became the dirtiest of them all. Looking back through the chaos that has been the last four years (with an honourable mention to 2020) there is no doubt the Trump presidency has contributed to the majority of the carnage. Despite the irremovable stain left on America’s democracy and loss of thousands, I still believe the Trump presidency was a necessary evil. America can no longer be the beacon of the new world without solving the deep divisions that have plagued its society for years. The truth is Trump’s supporters belong to a group of deeply racist people who have had these ideals past on for generations. 70 million Americans voted for this man and attacked the most sacred building in their country in his name. As Africans we need to learn this kind leadership is a choice taken by those who ignore the early signs. The America we were sold, the beacon of democracy, has fallen and become the America we never wished to be true. The king is naked and there is no more hiding.