A President-elect starts, as he said he would at some point, to act Presidential. In the early hours of Wednesday November 9th Donald J Trump claimed victory and said among other things “We must reclaim our country’s destiny.”
It was a somewhat elevated version of his “Make America Great Again” slogan, stepping up a bit from the 8th-Grade level vocabulary that has characterized Trump when not sticking to a scripted delivery.
His speechwriters were of course citing the deeply American concept of ‘Manifest Destiny’ that that was first introduced, lastingly, into the political lexicon in 1845 by – of all people – a New York newspaper editor. John L O’Sullivan of the New York Herald insisted it was actually our citizens’ “manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent”.
And it’s universally acknowledged (in the US, that is) that ‘Manifest Destiny’ is commingled with the idea of ‘American Exceptionalism’, a term that comes us to via Alexis de Tocqueville writing in 1831.
So as the media get down afresh to figure out, for the benefit of us all, what a Trump presidency will in fact turn out to mean, I’m hoping for some real concentration on this evidently re-emphasized national unilateralism – if that’s what it is.
I once made a big shift in my role in the media. I left commercial television (this was Britain, in the 1980s) to run a non-profit called the International Broadcasting Trust, dedicated to the proposition not only that all humanity is created equal, but that the rich of the world need a fuller understanding about the poor. We used broadcasting, both TV and radio, plus many different print formats to carry our message – not yet having the then unimaginable luxury of “the Internets”, to quote one of George W Bush’s more treasured malapropisms.
The urgent pressure behind our efforts was the already growing world phenomenon that’s constantly nowadays called Globalization – for which we used a different name: Interdependence.
That’s a label that I know to be a lot more accurate, and I feel it’s a lot more useful. It wouldn’t be a bad idea for campaigners these days to adopt it too. The G-word has become a term of abuse, after all, as when in Pennsylvania this summer a Trump supporter divided the population for me into two tribes: “Real Americans, and globalists”.
Our repeated story as international journalists (which has not changed over the decades, only intensified) is that our economies wherever we are in the world are deeply and increasingly – indeed unstoppably – interlinked, and it is vital to understand how those interdependencies work.
If that is not understood, then we end up with people’s economic positions being radically altered in a seemingly arbitrary fashion. The sense of injustice and unfairness will grow, perhaps get concentrated into angry political expression, and … well … one result is now unfolding.
The simplistic Trumpian selling-line of further elevating the ‘exceptional’, and putting “America First” (a line that blithely forgets the politically discredited use of that same slogan by Charles Lindbergh in opposing any US fight against the Nazis) will over time, I guess, be exposed as wholly inadequate. Simply not meeting, that is, the complexities of real-world economic actions and reactions. How long will it be, I wonder, before well-rooted newspapers like West Virginia’s Gazette-Mail are raising hell over Trump’s non-delivery of that wildly fanciful promise,“We’re going to get those miners back to work”?
The job of journalism is of course conducted, at one level at least, on an entirely day-by-day basis. News, after, all is our living pulse. But we also have to take a broad view and consider developments over time. Broader in this case can be just the length of one new presidency. I’m personally now favoring a tiny alteration to a very familiar phrase in US politics; ahead of us we now have Four Mere Years.
That ‘four’ may need to change, too. Trump himself could have been hinting in that victory speech, remarkably enough, at the possibility of an earlier end to his term in office than is customary. He appeared unsure about when would be a good time for his administration’s achievements to be looked back on and judged.
Hopefully at the end of two years, three years, four years, or maybe even eight years, you will say ‘so many of you worked so hard for us’. (My emphasis.)
However long we are reporting on him as President, we as truth seekers cannot allow him to try and ignore how much America is inextricably part of the world’s warp and its weft, and not somehow separate, as his nationalist nativist rhetoric has suggested.