The Wolfian Blog

American Presidents
Arriving where we are

Twenty years ago, I was first exposed to the internet. It was a Maths course and they put us Primary School Mathematics specialists two to a computer to explore this weird new thing, the internet. All I remember is that we had a little book of website addresses, and that we got bored very soon. It was another year before we got the internet at home.

When we did, it was the age of Bill Clinton, the end of History, a new world. I had many arguments with right-wing Americans who hated Clinton, who thought he was the epitomy of evil, but I thought then, and I think now, that Clinton was the best president of my lifetime. He was far from perfect, and he did bad things in criminal law. He laughed about things that were too serious, and he had a dubious background, but he was real, he ruled with a clear sight, and he was for me the personification of progress after the retrograde years of Reagan and Bush (Snr).

2000, I remember well. Bush Jnr won over the dull plodding Gore, but in any other system he would have been up against Clinton, one of the foremost orators of his time. Bush would have been blown away by Clinton but instead he faced Gore who looked beatable, and yet he won on a coin's toss in Florida.

I hated Bush's rule, though now it seems benign, just like John Major seems benign when compared to Cameron or May. The past seems benign only because the excesses of right wing extremists grows in time, building on past victories. Without these past victories it would be nothing, so Trump is as he is because Bush was as he was.

Bush's regime saw a massive restriction on civil liberties, led by AG Ashworth, and war made a national policy, war made a national pastime, even, whereby not backing this war was seen as unpatriotic and even treasonous. Bush's America tried to make an enemy of the enemies of war, it restricted the 1st Amendment, created "Free Speech Zones" that would be ghettoes of protest, against the freedom of government corruption.

No, there was nothing good about Bush. He only seems good now because of the passage of time, because Trump is so bad, and because on a human level, George W Bush is probably a nice enough guy who seems decent in his post-office private life.

Obama was hope, but he was not perfection. His rule saw the drone become the norm, death from the sky without trial or warning, killing wedding parties and funerals as often as it did gatherings of apparent terrorists. There was no justification of action in any legal framework. Men, women and kids were slain for US global political aims. It was and is an evil, and Obama will never be free of it.

But he was a better president in other ways than Bush. He wanted to help his people, and aimed to bring about the best type of universal healthcare that bipartisanship could bring about. He generally, if not always, had a dignity about him. He never demeaned the office of President, and he was a symbol of hope, even to those whom his policies should perhaps have put off.

Obama was a president with faults, but one we could accept had higher goals. He filled the office with a flawed dignity, a calm balance between peace and war. He destroyed Libya for hubris, and he had Bin Laden slain so he would not stand trial. There was nothing idealistic about Obama. But even so he was maybe 55% good, 45% bad. He seemed acceptable, a reasonable if not welcome face of America's global hegemony.

The 2016 election might seem like a bad joke to the future. Hilary Clinton was the hawk side of Obama, replete with a possibly illegal private email server, whilst Bernie Sanders was the exciting ancient guy who could mobilise the youth through pure energy and conviction. This was the Democratic infighting, which was confused further by the Green Party of Jill Stein and her principled position on many issues.

Against this was a divided Republican primary campaign where the candidates got more and more extreme. In some aspects Rubio seemed the least extreme, but a few weeks later he moved rightwards towards the others. Trump, as the most vicious, the most bombastic, and the one happy to embrace the most extreme positions, gained the trust of the absolute nutjobs on American TV.

In any sane world, Trump would have had to reply to all the accusations against him. But the way that US politics has gone meant that he could claim that questions were attacks, that having to explain was tantamount to an assault on his dignity. His own weaknesses, the horrors in his past, he could hide behind these lies. It became less important how horrible Trump was as a candidate, but how his opponents could defend themselves.

And yet Hilary won the popular vote, and only by a narrow margin in the electoral college did Trump win - the electoral college that Trump had said was an anachronism that would be wrong, and a narrow margin that he would later boast as the best ever.

Trump won, as far as the world knew, as an insurrectionist against the system. His slogan "Drain the Swamp" seemed promising, but it turned out he meant getting rid of professional politicians to replace them with millionaire businesspeople. To anyone sane, this is not draining the swamp, this is replacing a carefully controlled part of the swamp with a crazy insane inundation.

Trump had nothing else going for him, except the hope he might be OK, not be so bad, hopes that he soon, and apparently deliberately, began destroying as soon as possible. It is hard to tell whether he believes his own hype on subjects such as Healthcare "reform" and Tax Cuts - maybe he is so shallow intellectually that Fox TV editorials in favour of such things convinces him it is the right way to go, appealing to his racist anti-Obama prejudices. Or maybe it is all a game, and he knows it hurts people but wants it for his rich friends?

Either way the Trump White House is morally bankrupt, and when it can be said that its only intellectuals are people fighting against him while staying in post, such as Mattis and Tillerson, it is also intellectually bankrupt. Apart from prejudice and policies formed in opposition to Obama due to racism there is no underlying logic to Trump's programme.

Now that indictments have started to drop in Mueller's investigation into collusion with Russia, perhaps we will get to a semblance of the truth. Perhaps Trump will become completely unhinged. Perhaps some sort of coup will be attempted. We are in unchartered waters.

But historically, have we been always heading here? Clinton was hamstrung by Gingrich's Congress. Bush destroyed a lot of the perceived truce in society between government and opposition. Obama pursued war with extra-state weapons, killing people with impunity. Trump can be placed on the end of many lines of convergence.

But causality always leads to where you are, that is its nature. One can equally see that things can have gone differently. Kerry-Edwards could have won and prevented a second term for Bush (Jnr), McCain could have resisted the relentless drift rightwards, chosen a sane VP candidate instead of Palin and made a plausible challenge to Obama. Hilary could have fought fascism, rather than fighting an interloper, she could have mobilised forces that remained dormant because they did not understand the threat to the Republic.

But we are where we are. Will Trump be impeached? Are we in for President Pence, surely the most accidental president in the last century, if not longer? Or if Pence is dragged down, are we looking at some yet-to-be-named VP to his short-lived tenure, or do we get to see Paul Ryan in the White House?

Jay Wolfe