Sifting the scat of Trump's first ten days



After Donald Trump's first ten days in office the shape of his presidency is beginning to be discernible. Its final shape will be determined by how he responds to events outside his control (including those initiated by him). But what we have seen merits reflection.

Donald TrumpMuch of what he has done is by way of promise: to open facilities used for torture, to build the Mexico wall, to spend massively on the military, to drop the Trans Pacific trading pact and to revise others, to build pipeline on environmental and Indian heritage grounds, and to prevent government agencies from promoting action against climate change. He has halted travel and immigration from seven Muslim nations and appointed his chief political adviser to the National Security Council. And he has continued to tweet liberally.

These promises and actions make clear what we can expect from the Trump presidency. Economically the President will keep his promises to lower business and personal taxes and direct massive expenditure to infrastructure. This will deepen inequality. He will also protect United States industries, hoping that these measures will give employment to people left aside by globalisation and benefit their communities.

Both in domestic and international relationships he will protect the short term economic interests of the United States. He will encourage exploitation of the environment, protection in trading relationships and make other nations pay for any United States services.

In his domestic policy we should expect punitive action in the name of security against minorities and against community groups that protest against violations of human rights. Both have been displayed in his suspension of entry visas for people from the seven nations. Culturally the administration will encourage disdain for informed opinion, for the search for truth and for stored wisdom and for their repositories — including the mainstream media, academia, non-government organisations, environmental scientists and historians.

And we can expect that the President will continue to scattify his critics by multidirectional rapid twitter fire that keeps their heads down and leads them to respond jerkily to each provocation.

If the success of a presidency is measured by re-election, there is no reason why the Trump presidency should not be successful. The stimulus given to the economy will certainly benefit the wealthy few. It may also bring some benefit to people neglected in recent years. And even if it fails, voters may respond favourably to his appeal to national self-interest and his scapegoating of minorities.

But if success is defined in larger terms of the national good the United States is likely to be worse off after four years. The likely deepening of inequality, the disregard for universal human rights and for the international and national responsibilities that flow from them, the contempt for the environment and for evidence based research, and the debasement of political speech promise a more divided society in a more divided world.


"The deepest challenge is to build the kind of relationships between persons, between different groups within society, with the environment and between nations, that enable people to flourish."


If that happens it will inevitably affect Australian society. So Australians will need to find a response to the Trump presidency and its effects. In such a noisy and staccato atmosphere the beginnings of an appropriate response lie in not responding to every tweet. We should stop looking with horrified fascination at the president and his personality, and reflect on the significance of what he and his administration are doing.

Where words are inflated and debased, the proper response is to maintain an adamantine sense of what matters in a good society. Here the deepest challenge is to build the kind of relationships between persons, between different groups within society, with the environment and between nations, that enable people to flourish. These are relationships based in respect and on the acknowledgment that we human beings depend on one another to prosper.

To evaluate whether the quality of these relationships is furthered or harmed by the Trump administration we need to have a vision of how respect and mutual responsibility are to be embodied in personal, communal and public life.

When engaging with the Trump phenomenon, too, a major challenge is to embody in our words and disposition the values that characterise the relationships that build a good society and are now debased in public life. This means resisting fear and anxiety, and consistently showing respect, even to people whom we are tempted to disrespect.

In an environment, too, where a violent and dismissive rhetoric is designed to make minority groups in society focus solely on their own interests and so alienate themselves from other groups, all must focus attention on the deepest source of threat to shaping a society in which they can each flourish. In our society the threat arises from gross inequality. Anger at inequality underlies the current disillusion with politics and its institutions. If it grows under the Trump administration the result is likely to be a more brutal government less tolerant of minority groups.

If we are preoccupied with our own narrow interests and ideologies we shall be like geese snapping at one another as together they head for the knife.


Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street.


Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, Donald Trump



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Existing comments

Trump the President is very much the same as Trump the Candidate. He has made good on his election promises. He continues to be his own man. We may not like his persona, his view of the world, his bluster, even his hair. We have to live with him though because if we refuse to we join him in his negativity. I believe Turnbull is right not to comment on Trump's latest outrage - after all, Turnbull has nothing to be proud of with his own border control policies. The answer to Trump: do the best job we can of being human ourselves.
Pam | 01 February 2017

Trump, I believe, was elected President because a very large number of Americans distrusted conventional politicians. The likes of Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton had no chance here because they were considered part of the problem, not the solution. It is interesting that some say Bernie Sanders, rather than Hillary, might have won against Trump. He also presented an alternate vision for America and a kinder, more inclusive one. You are quite correct, in some ways both Australian and American society are fractured. We do need a coherent sense of community. This is a work in progress.
Edward Fido | 01 February 2017

Andrew, thanks for another wise reflection.
Anne Benjamin | 02 February 2017

Why not accept the obvious explanation for Mr Trump's election win: that between two million and nine million Hillary Clinton supporters were dissuaded from voting by the relentless year-long campaign by Mr Trump, other Republicans, many mainstream media outlets and thousands of online sites asserting that she was corrupt and a criminal? Let's await the findings of the special prosecutor Mr Trump promised to appoint to prove these allegations - which the FBI has declared are false, but which Mr Trump insists are true.
Alan Austin | 02 February 2017

“…. the result is likely to be a more brutal government less tolerant of minority groups.” There are only two in the limelight. Korean-Americans, Chaldean Catholics and a whole slew of others have nothing to worry about. The Muslim problem isn’t even because they are stuck with unchangeable scriptures in which warlike Medina verses are interpreted to abrogate peaceful Mecca verses or – in the Muslim version of sola scriptura - they belong to a Protestant-style religion in which the lack of a central teaching authority means the extremism of an online preacher cannot conclusively be defined as un-Islamic. None of this Islamic terrorism would even be occurring if Yasser Arafat hadn’t been a reasonable fellow and concluded a proper peace with Israel. As for trespassing Mexicans and others who transit through Mexico, the US shouldn’t treat the occurrence of vast numbers of illegal immigrants as wrong in principle?
Roy Chen Yee | 02 February 2017

Great headline, Andrew... calling it for what it is.
Ian Fraser | 02 February 2017

Right on!
Deborah SIngerman | 02 February 2017

TACTICS TO OUST TRUMP:: Maintaining dignified attitudes of dismay and rejection of Trump’s policies is all very well. It might give many a warm moral glow. But self-indulgent moralising won’t get rid of him. Far more focused strategies and tactics are required, especially ones that just might set in motion the mechanisms to impeach him. Trump has several Achilles heels and the anti-Trump movement in the US needs to identify these. One is his tax status. Before the election he promised to release his tax returns. After his election he refused to do so. Clearly Trump has a great deal to hide tax-wise and there might be enough there to have him impeached. (They finally managed to jail Al Capone for tax evasion). The anti-Trumpists should focus their energies on forcing him to release his tax returns. Mass demonstrations such as those against US involvement in Vietnam in the late 1960s should be their inspiration, along with the potentially vast resources of social media in 2017. The chaos and disruption of such activism could eventually compel the US congress to respond and force Trump to release his tax returns. The anti-Vietnam protests forced President Lyndon Johnson to announce his resignation in March 1968. President Nixon was forced to resign over his attempts to cover up some second-rate burglary at the Watergate Hotel in June 1972. President Clinton narrowly avoided being impeached after his grubby assignations with Monica Lewinsky in the Oval office were exposed in 1999. It was not Nixon’s odious Vietnam policies that destroyed his presidency nor Clinton’s morally questionable administration that almost did the same to his. In both cases it was some dirty little scandal that did it. Those who wish to terminate the Trump presidency as soon as possible need to think in these specific tactical terms. “So let us not talk falsely now, for the hour is getting late.” (Dylan).
dennis | 02 February 2017

Thank you Andrew for reminding us that we should "stop looking with horrified fascination" at Mr Trump, and consider what is actually happening. I know it's dangerous to mention a certain leader of 1930's Germany, but a comment of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's is more than appropriate. He said words to this effect: "Don't expect him to be converted. He is obdurate. It is we who must be converted." I find that most challenging, and was reminded of it when I read your article. There is so much happening in the world that bears out what René Girard wrote about, that is, the basic human tendency to imitate others, and so what do we get? Groups and individuals opposed in theory, but employing exactly the same tactics - violence in deed or word to victimise someone or a group in the hope of restoring harmony or gaining power. So supposed opposites become mirror images of each other. Whether it's Charlie Hebdo or Quebec, it's basically the same phenomenon. Girard proposes that it's not difference which generates human violence, but sameness. What I need to practise is the difference which Jesus acted and taught: non-retaliation, even in thought and word.
Susan Connelly | 02 February 2017

I see some similarities between the Trump-led America and the Turnbull-led Australia. We have an administration with: a disdain for informed opinion, as evidenced by the cutbacks to the CSIRO and the ABC; the rapid exploitation of the environment, as evidenced by the approval of new coal mines, including the world's biggest coal mine, the Adani Mine in Queensland's Galilee Basin; the scapegoating of minorities that began with the Tampa and Howard's 'throwing clildren overboard' demonisation, and continued with references to 'Illegal Immigrants and refugees cruel detention for years on off-shore 'hell holes' ; and the growing inequality in Australia. We have a Government that protects tax concessions for the rich through negative gearing, that promotes 50 billion dollars in tax reductions for the largest companies, that uses Centrelink to intimidate even poor Australians into paying back money they may or may not owe. AND WE HAVE A PRIME MINISTER WHO MAY HAVE BOUGHT HIMSELF THE PRIME MINISTERSHIP WITH HIS DONATION OF 1.75 MILLION DOLLARS TO THE LIBERAL PARTY, A DONATION THAT COULD HAVE WON THE LIBERALS THEIR ONE-SEAT MAJORITY ELECTION WIN. There are indeed some similarities between Trump and Turnbull. Neither America nor Australia has good political leadership!
Grant Allen | 02 February 2017

The same thing is happening here in Australia, with the likes of Dutton, Morrison, Porter, Brandis.
Anthony Grimes | 02 February 2017

Sifting the scat: this aptly titled letter paints a troubled picture. But Trump is certainly a leader, the question is: is he a good or bad leader? Time will tell, the problem seems to be his his way of doing things; the focus of his decision concerning the ban of dual passport holders from 7 Muslim countries was to limit the action of terrorists, but predictably the press reported it as an attack on the Muslim religion. Trump does not consult others, he knows his own mind and does things his way which is very different from what politicians have done before him. Yes his moves are divisive and prompt but change can be a good thing because it mobilizes the people into action, and forces other governments to define their own stance on certain critical points.
Trish Martin | 02 February 2017

The parallels with Australia are frightening! We have had a succession of political leaders operating on winning votes by appealing to nothing more than self interest. Where are the statesmen and women of the future who appeal to our nobler qualities?
Ern Azzopardi | 02 February 2017

Does anyone have an opinion on why citizens of Saudi Arabia were not included in the ban? All I've heard is that Trump has substantial investments in Saudi Arabia. But surely if security is the issue then President Trump would not let personal commercial considerations get in the way. That wouldn't be right.
Brett | 02 February 2017

Thank you Andrew for reminding me that the best response to the Trump madness is to renew commitment to social justice and respect for all
Murray | 02 February 2017

‘The likely deepening of inequality’ Inequality seems to be the base cause of most of our problems, by creating tensions between extremes. In the environment, the imbalance between the hot dry air of deserts and the cool moist air of oceans gives rise to storms. In business the gross wealth of the few provokes resentment and frustration in the exploited. In religion, the assumed certainty of one’s faith and the rejection of that of others, causes intolerance and hostility. Only a policy to reduce and assuage all these tensions will create conditions that will allow peace, harmony and good will. It seems this will not be likely any time soon.
Robert Liddy | 02 February 2017

Thank you, Andrew, for sharing your wisdom and insights with us. I found it helpful to reflect on your article. I especially appreciate your understanding of the role 'gross inequality' is playing in so much of what is happening in our world. I wish more religious, political and business leaders would pay serious attention to this critical issue.
robert van zetten | 02 February 2017

'Here the deepest challenge is to build the kind of relationships between persons, between different groups within society, with the environment and between nations, that enable people to flourish." This is the right answer to the question we should all be asking ' Now what do we do'? Remember our Christian mission, ahead of any other loyalty or affiliation. Thank you, Father.
Joan Seymour | 02 February 2017

If the sole repositories of truth and stored wisdom is limited to the list you give, I shudder. The mainstream media are in utter disgrace from the triumphant belief in their own omnipotence on display during the campaign, and will lack credibility for many of us for years to come. The world is at war; look around. Christians are reported as the most persecuted group on the planet, again for the second year running. People are dying in droves, law and order is breaking down in many countries as lawless gangs exploit the refugee tides to seek out new opportunities. It is time somebody pulled the emergency brake and got the house in order. You may not like him, but Trump may well be the man for the time.
Paul Triggs | 02 February 2017

I'm surprised you didn't mention how Trump will support persecuted Christians refugees, he appointed a judge that defends religious freedoms and appears to be pro-life. Trump also defunded International organisations that not only carry out abortions but push Internationally for abortion laws with NO limits or exceptions: any time and any reason.
Nick Barnes | 02 February 2017

Although we should not be surprised that he is keeping the promises he made, Trump operates by disruption and surprise. He acts opportunistically to disrupt his opponents actions in order to win. Any discussion on what he will do as President fails without this understanding of the nature of his tactics. So, the question is not "What are his plans?" but "How will he handle obstacles and outflank opponents?". Another question is "What is the purpose of a disruption?" By denying entry to the USA, what other things were achieved? The media latch on to the disruption, and ignore what Trump slips past them at the same time. Meanwhile, Turnbull is over a barrel - what is Trump's price for taking the Asylum seekers?
Peter Horan | 02 February 2017

I love the Donald, not least because of his pro-life moves, which to me embody a commitment to universal human rights, including the most vulnerable...the "peripheries" as Pope Francis puts it. But as a free marketeer, I too have grave doubts about some of his policies, such as his commitment to rebuilding "infrastructure". Not because they increase "inequality", though,...I honestly have no idea how infrastructure renewal contributes to or lessens inequality. (Is there some definitive paper on this?) In any case, I can't see why inequality is such a bugbear. The human race is far better off today than it was 250 years ago, and those in grinding poverty are today being lifted therefrom at unprecedented rates. Who friggin' cares if the historically unprecedented process that lifts people out of poverty accidentally, or even intrinsically, causes inequality (and I dispute that it does, anyway)? I don't, and I see nothing in Catholic social teaching that binds me to another position. If you care about the poor ... the really poor ... what you want to do is lift them out of that hell-hole as quickly as possible, not raise them to be with the rich. The market, as even Sting concedes, is working wonders for the poorest across the world. For the sake of the poorest, go the market, or come up with something better.
HH | 04 February 2017

My respect for Trump just went up several notches with this interview with a hostile (Fox News) Bill O'Reilly: "O'Reilly asked Trump whether he "respects" the former KGB agent: "I do respect him, but I respect a lot of people," Trump said, "That doesn't mean I'm going to get along with him." Trump said he would appreciate any assistance from Russia in the fight against ISIS terrorists, adding that he would rather get along with the former Cold War-era foe than otherwise. "But, [Putin] is a killer," O'Reilly said. "There are a lot of killers," Trump responded, "We've got a lot of killers. What do you think? Our country's so innocent?"" Trump may be one of the few recent presidents that recognise that the U.S. government is subject to a Higher Law. Halleluja!
HH | 05 February 2017

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