|How John Simpson sees President Trump|
John Simpson's World, What's Really Happening in the US?
I think we're seeing a small revolution. Perhaps it's a big revolution. I think we're seeing in America, but it's not only in America, that sense that people who've felt that they've been put down and kept quiet and ignored - their views have been ignored - for decades, all their lives maybe, are given a voice by essentially one man and a smallish group around him.
A man who didn't actually, of course, even win the 2016 presidential election in the terms of voting. I mean, several million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton got. So you can't say this is 'the will of the people'. It was the will of the weird US constitution.
Well, that's fine. He won on that basis.
But there's a kind of vengeance about the Trump administration which is quite disturbing to a great many Americans.
I've been covering American politics since 1963, since the days of President Kennedy. My first reporting was done there when Kennedy was still alive. And always America, a little bit like Britain actually, America was run by a section of society. It was more open than the British society was then but, nevertheless, there was a sense in which everybody knew the direction that America should take and they silenced the people that thought differently.
The first US election that I covered was in 1964 when President Johnson faced Barry Goldwater, the Republican candidate, and Barry Goldwater was a man of the far-Right. Nowadays he would be a Trump supporter. And the Republican Party allowed him to go forward as their nominee because in the wake of the assassination of Kennedy they knew that they couldn't possibly beat Kennedy's successor, who was Johnson. They knew that there was a sympathy vote there which they couldn't possibly cope with. And so the grandees, the liberal-conservatives, the Rockefellers, all of those kind of people, came up with the notion, I think really, that it would be a good idea to let Barry Goldwater go forward, be the candidate, be absolutely smashed at the election, and that would sort out the right-wing fringe for good and all.
Well, he was smashed at the election. I don't think by that stage there'd ever been a presidential election in the US where the winner won so conclusively. But it didn't smash the kind of Goldwater feeling.
And then it came up again with Ronald Reagan, with that notion that if you allow the rich to pay fewer taxes to get richer then there'll be a trickle-down effect, everybody in society will benefit. And that, something that was introduced in the 1980s, has clearly not had that effect. On the contrary the divisions between rich and poor are far, far higher now than they were in the 1980s.
And one of the side effects of that is a kind of bitterness in American society which has latched on to the message that Donald Trump has presented to them. They want to get back at somebody. They want things to be sorted out on their terms.
And, so, when Trump says in those ineffable tweets...I mean, you know, I use the word 'ineffable' because it sounds, you know, like the f-word...that he does, apparently at two o'clock in the morning, propped up in his lonely bedroom with nothing to do except tweet. And he says, for instance, that Democratic politicians who were born in the US should go back to the countries that they came from, and so on, these kind of things have a real resonance. You know, Democrats in America may be deeply offended by it. A lot of people in Britain are deeply offended by it, and all around the world. But not the kind of people that Trump knows that he represents.
And he claims to stand up for the little man...I mean, you know, a multimillionaire - how much money he has is in question - who's never been bothered about any little man in his life before and has, in fact, screwed plenty of little people over the decades...but they still feel somebody is saying these kind of things that they've always been saying. And it's a kind of relief and excitement to them to see their president saying the kind of things that they say in bars and their private houses that nobody's ever been able to say in public before.
People want to be convinced.
I mean, the best example of that is Trump is a man who has been recorded...you can hear it, it's all over the internet still...taking about grabbing women by the pussy and yet you find the the religious Right are among his strongest supporters. Why? Well, I suppose because they're prepared to ignore the things that they would otherwise be deeply offended by in the interests of the direction that Trump seems to be taking them in.
But you just feel there's a kind of disconnect between who he really is and who he presents himself as.
And, you know, America is the land of...and I love it very dearly...but it is the home of the snake-oil salesman, and people want to be convinced. They're a very positive country and they want positive things usually, and if you can present these deeply, deeply negative approaches as being something positive and helpful - 'Make America Great Again!' - then you've uncovered a rather disturbing secret about the way American politics runs.
And, of course, America in the past has made us feel rather superior and inclined to pat ourself on the back. That, I have to say, I think is over now. I don't think Britain has anything much to pat itself on the back for at present. But there's a kind of wild freedom to say and do things in the US which I think has resulted in all these things.
I mean, I look at my own industry - the news industry. President Reagan, when he was in power, decided to scrap the law that broadcasting, both radio and television, had to be balanced in news terms and we saw the rise of these appalling shock-jocks and characters who wanted to force a views of America down the throats of their listeners and viewers. And it's got worse and worse and worse.
And I think what we're seeing with Donald Trump is the result of two things that the Reagan administration did. First of all, the feeling that you can uncouple taxation from the way a society should be run and you can just allow wealthy people to keep all of their wealth instead of sharing it for the good of the nation. That's one thing that we've seen in Trump's America. And the other thing is this outpouring of wild and completely unregulated opinions which, you know, have resulted in Trump and Steve Bannon and all these characters.
Of course, it could all come to an end. Quite soon. I mean, next November, November 2020, there'll be another presidential election and it's perfectly possible on the basis of today's opinion polls that Trump will just be a one-term president cast into other darkness. I think that must be about 50-50 that that might happen, but only 50-50.
I don't think any constitutional setup like that [the electoral college system] or any element of the US constitution is open for change any more really than our own constitution here is. The amount of fighting that you'd have to go through, it's just an impossibility. So I think most political scientists in the US would say it doesn't actually necessarily reflect the popular will but there's no changing it because once it's in place it's there for good.