The Observer

A Fine-tuned Machine

Donald Trump owes much of his electoral victory to his instinct. To his connection with people who are sick and tired of professional politicians that appear distant

In less than a month Donald Trump has demonstrated a sense of dangerous unpredictability in his behaviour. The image of the CEO of a country fully prepared to govern diminishes with every public appearance. His aggressiveness and disregard for his interlocutors —a curious psychological cocktail— are expressed in emphatic, hollow statements. White House press conferences have ceased to be intimidating affairs for reporters and, instead, are a source of astonishment. Tweets accusing his media critics of dishonesty are repeated with increasingly coarse language. The President of the United States defends his policies by continually qualifying them with ambiguous labels such as a "amazing", "very good", "well done ". He describes his administration as "a fine-tuned machine" and his diplomatic abilities with such reassuring phrases as "I love doing deals".

This week Trump let the first victim of his cabinet fall prey to the lions. The National Security Advisor (NSA) is a key individual in the taking of decisions. The post requires a cool head, a brilliant mind, the ability to deal with a crisis, combined with expertise in foreign policy. Michael Flynn was fired for having lied and for showing disloyalty in his dealings with Russia. This new crisis is further proof that Putin's tentacles are more active than ever in global politics. The former director of the Federal Security Service, the successor to the KGB, has uncovered a goldmine in cyberespionage, which he has used to try to manipulate governments, intentions and election results, from the last American election to the current French presidential campaign.

Donald Trump owes much of his electoral victory to his instinct. To his connection with people who are sick and tired of professional politicians that appear distant, cynical and inefficient in tackling problems with seemingly easy solutions. However, instinct is not enough to survive in politics. In addition to occupying one’s post, one must take political action, and the results of Trump’s first month in power are disturbing and erratic. The phone call with Taiwan ended in a statement on the unity of China, his hasty and poorly implemented migration policy ended up in court after having caused chaos at airports and domestic opposition, and as much as he may hate them, his obsession with media outlets is giving them a second wind.

Trump is an entirely televisual, telecinquista (1), Berlusconi-esque product. As the latter demonstrated, brash authoritarianism and an appeal to ignorance may allow one to win elections in times of unrest and distrust for democracy, but they are not effective tools for managing complexities.

Democratic authoritarianism

The world is currently in a state of disarray that is accentuated as the key players move from multilateralism to unilateralism and the appearance of nationalist leaders who act in an outrageous manner. Europe still seems to be the stronghold of multilateral cooperation, but we face the threat of Brexit and the real possibility of Marine Le Pen winning the French elections. Eastern European countries, with Orbán on point, are tempted by totalitarian darkness, while NATO is weakened thanks to America’s understandable wish to renegotiate the role it has played in recent years.

The situation is no worse than what we experienced during the Cold War or the apparent end of history that was supposed to arrive with the fall of the Soviet Union, but it is more unpredictable because fear is not to be found in the deterrent effect of atomic weapons, but in the pockets of voters and their uncertainty as to the future their leaders offer them and the economies undergoing transformation that leave  the majority of their citizens excluded from the labour market and, consequently, without a share of their country’s growth .

Inequality lies at the heart of populism, expressed in the form of anger against the establishment, and the opportunists know exactly what the disgruntled wish to hear. The American political situation is, in this sense, generalizable. Do we prefer politicians who run a country like a business in an authoritarian manner, who seek short-term gains and tell us what we want to hear while whipping up hatred, or do we demand that they don’t lie to us and they treat us like adults?

Trump won by using his intuition and by acting like a rebel fighting against the system. The next opportunities to defeat populism will occur in the Netherlands and France. Le Pen will benefit from the socialists’ failings on complex questions of security, immigration and terrorism. Together with corruption on the right. The health of liberal democracy will worsen in the coming months. Will it subsequently recover?


N.T. (1) a reference to TV stations, such as Spain's Telecinco, which aim at the lowest common denominator.

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