Trump and the American Dream

Trump and the American Dream

By M Hickes

THERE’s an old Chinese proverb which says: ‘Man who laughs while throwing stones at battleship today, might have no face at all tomorrow’.

The media might have had tremendous fun poking fun at President Donald Trump, but perhaps the lumbering bear can be goaded by the bees too often.

As the great battleship of the Westerns oceans, he might look a bit ungainly, fire off once too often unnecessarily, tweeting into cyber space, and be an easy target for those willing to lob easy grenades.

Notwithstanding his remarks about the Mayor of London, his state visit to HM The Queen has been a success and he has performed with dignity and grace; his speech at the banquet was eloquent and respectful to the crown and country.

For those who are his detractors, it might be worth considering that maybe it is not the presidency which is awry, but a little like Hamlet had it, instead the ‘times which are out of joint’.

In the past 20 years, the internet and social media has changed the nature of society beyond recognition.

The certainties of the 20th C – newspapers and stolid media, high street stores, respectful communication, supermarkets, universities, teaching, banking, insurance, photography, the BBC and independent TV, and many of the so-called solid middle class professions have been impacted by the internet. The stock market might one day even become wholly computerised.

In the future, it’s highly possible that the only professions which will actually thrive rather than just keeping their heads above water, might be those occupations which are not dependent on the net.

People will always need a haircut, a pint of beer, a loaf of bread from a bakery or a pint of milk, and somewhere from where to send their mail. Crops will always be tended, animal husbandry will always be a necessity, and people will always need clothes.

Might the demands of the internet be powering a shift away from the more upper/middle class industries, and ushering once prosperous workers into a downwardly mobile voting class?

Moreover, if the net crashed tomorrow, might people across the classes be bewildered for a while but then swarm back to the old values and ways of the 20th C?

Roman society had a least four distinct strata of society; the worker slaves at the bottom, a broad plebeian class, the equites who were the closest thing to middle class undertaking what we might now describe as middle class occupations, and the patrician class, who held power and enjoyed a luxury lifestyle.

To which stratum of our modern day society does Trump appeal? He might be Republican, but even sections of the hard right in his own party – those of the wealthy, old-moneyed America/ eye him cautiously.

He might be rich himself, but his appeal appears to be away from the Kennedy/Camelot style socio-industrial-political bubble and to the broader classes of lower middle class America; some might even say rednecks and hicktowns.

Whether he wins a second term or not, apart from the divisive Mexican wall and other issues, Trumps legacy might be that he is remembered for his apparent attempt to shift the socio-political power base away from the closest thing America has to a controlling moneyed upper class towards a further reach down the hierarchical pyramid.

Quite what equates to the slave class in modern society is debatable, but at least in Trump’s America, they are recognised and have a voice.

A poll taken after Trump’s victory ascertaining who was actually voting for him, determined that much of his support came from white, middle-class to poor middle aged men who didn’t have a college degree. Another group represented those ‘to whom government never listened’.

As the internet powers immediacy and extraordinary wealth for many, there is a danger it will create a champagne class across the world which chooses to turn a blind eye to such groups.

One of the ironies of the fall of the communist Soviet Union is that Russia – that once great bastion of seeming social equality – now has super rich oligarchs who themselves define a new echelon in the former socialist society.

In the former Soviet Union and the USA, there therefore now exist two powerful moneyed class blocks – probably becoming daily more enfranchised by the power of the internet.

Where then the classes in Russia who enjoyed Soviet protectionism and the ‘benefits’ of the state system?

In The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald, the focus is on a hedonistic upper class, some of it corrupt, whose attitudes are desultory towards the lower middle and working classes.

Myrtle Wilson and her husband, a garage owner and his wife, exist on the fringe of the Valley of the Ashes, - and would probably have voted for Trump.

But beyond that social seam, there is a ‘lower’ one which works among the Valley of Ashes itself – grey and unheard – without a voice and largely unseen; just like the disembodied hand of the waiter which hands Gatsby his champagne.

These classes existed in ancient Roman and exist now in America and elsewhere; and as the internet bites hard there are probably more to come. For all the abhorrence of a Mexican wall, who can blame a certain class of Americans looking to the only politician who might care to listen to them and give them a voice?

The artist Norman Rockwell found favour in his paintings of a type of America where men smoked pipes in armchairs while reading the Saturday paper and people shopped in local shops in local towns on local main streets. Both of these iconic activities are now under threat.

Perhaps it was an American dream which never really existed or at least one which was ‘achieved’ in the 50s; and one which people will increasingly long for as the new millennials age. 

In the 21st C, rapid change seems the only unmoving constant.

Whither then the chimera of the American Dream and the array of politicians which it throws up, forever in chase of such – or more importantly the classes to which they appeal?

One of Trump’s less heralded policies has been to a greater commitment to space exploration through both private and public space companies.

A level English students in the 80s were always taught, after the closure of the American frontier in the 1890 when reaching California, that for 50 years the American people looked to space (and thus space tv serials) to act as a quasi-new frontier.

Mr Trump, unwittingly or not, might just fulfil that dream aside from all the ‘wall’ and tweeting furores.

Perhaps the greatest irony might be that a president bent on enforcing frontiers might help America find an unbounded new one.

But then, at grass roots level, where iphones and shopping hubs are replacing the days of Rockwell and Roosevelt, and as politics continues to plough into intractable mire in Britain, the times might just become too far out of joint for far too many, whoever should so choose to ‘set them right’.

Thirty years on from Thatcher, Reagan and Gorbachev, away from the rigidity of the old political blocks, is the Trump-May-Putin world preferably more secure; or will the internet be the true dictator of everyone’s new manifest destiny?