Donald Trump’s ‘macho unreason’ must be challenged. The future of the world could depend on it, argues Joyce McMillan
In a studio theatre just off George Square, four men in suits are sweating. The scene of the play is New York, the company for which the four characters work is facing meltdown; they need to find solutions, and all they have to help them is the usual truckload of aggressive corporate vocabulary, and a grasp of human nature so limited and impoverished that it inevitably leads them to the brink of destruction.
The show is called Enterprise; and it would be a fine thing if men like these, and the culture they represent, no longer had to concern either us or the writer of the play, the brilliant New York satirist Brian Parks. It’s an astonishing 30 years, after all, since the film Wall Street first named and shamed this kind of corporate culture; and in that generation, the limitations of this mindset, and of the miserable extremes of economic neoliberalism that underpin it, have become pitifully obvious.
In that time, these new masters of the universe, have not only crashed the entire global financial system – requiring massive bailouts from ordinary taxpayers to get their preferred brand of casino capitalism back on track – but have miserably failed to further the cause of peace, have turned countries from Iraq and Afghanistan to Syria and Yemen into firing-ranges for their latest weapons systems, and have flatly refused to tackle climate change, a challenge so grave that it could make our beautiful home planet uninhabitable within the next century.
It’s small wonder that in the show, as in the real world, the men in suits are showing signs of decay, frothing slightly at the mouth, and allowing many an ugly glimpse of the brutal, money-driven elitism, and basic contempt for ordinary non-wealthy humans, that underpins their superficial talk of freedom and equality. And of course, the men in suits are not all men; the occasional woman is allowed to become one of the boys, provided she doesn’t object to their ‘locker room’ talk.
Yet just at the moment when these tired characters in their stale suits should be disappearing from the main stage of history along with their failed ideology, they seem not only to be redoubling their power over the economic lives of millions, but to have staged a kind of corporate capture of the presidency of the United States. It was bad enough, in all conscience, when the new President Donald Trump decided to spend his first few months in office releasing US companies from most of their environmental obligations, and launching an all-out war on science by appointing a notorious climate denier as head of the Environmental Agency, and withdrawing from the Paris Accord.
Now, though, he has decided to complete this journey into the world of macho unreason by threatening to respond with “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if North Korea continues its nuclear threats against the United States; the kind of threat which, to put it bluntly, could only be made by a man who has absolutely failed to acquaint himself with the likely impact of any nuclear war, not least on the ordinary Americans for whom he claims to care. This generation of leaders, in other words, has returned the world to somewhere worse than the place where it stood in the autumn of 1962, during the Cuban missile crisis, when – as a ten-year old child – I remember leaving home for school in the morning with the strong fear that the world might be blown to dust by evening.
So how did we in the so-called liberal democracies come to this pass, where the role of “leader of the free world” is held by a man like Trump – who will not cease to be absurd even if he leads us all to nuclear catastrophe – and where electorates on both sides of the Atlantic seem increasingly inclined to vote for dangerous, overprivileged buffoons, simply because they claim to represent “change”? The former US vice-president Al Gore has his theories, of course. Now an inveterate climate-change campaigner, he believes that the problem lies with big money, and its ever-growing ability to subvert both the democratic process, and the public debate and news agenda which is supposed to inform it. “Those with access to large amounts of money and raw power have been able to subvert all reason and fact in our collective decision making,” he told the Guardian last week, “and it’s clear they are still trying to cripple our ability to respond to this existential threat.”
If it’s relatively easy, though, to trace the process by which pro-wealth neoliberal thinking has first robbed many ordinary people of their economic dignity and security, and to offer them a series of faux-radical right-wing solutions to their plight, it is less easy to understand what can possibly motivate the people who remain at the core of this rotten system, driving it on. Perhaps there is just an all-ecompassing destructive impulse, that would rather burn the world than admit that the ideology, and the values that underpinned it, were wrong. Perhaps they imagine that no matter what, they and their families will be the survivors, in whatever plastic dome or walled island or Mars colony they can buy for themselves, with their great wealth. Or perhaps their brains have simply become so arthritic, from the repetition of so much self-serving nonsense over so many years, that they do not really think at all.
Whatever the truth, though, the vast majority of the rest of us – who love the world, and want its people to live together in the kind of peace and freedom some of us have been lucky enough to enjoy these last 70 years – now need to find ways of removing these people from power, and quickly. And although despair is a tempting option, a better choice is to work tirelessly for the new age we now so desperately need; hoping and praying that the presidency of Donald Trump will turn out to signal not the beginning of the end of the world, but the final crisis of a deadly ideology that has had its day, and now needs to be buried in its best business suit, before it finishes us all.