Nicola Lamb: Inner activist awakened by Trump

By Nicola Lamb analysis

We live in unusual times: Donald Trump's rise to the US presidency has made people sit up and take notice of politics.

Ironically, public apathy at politics, feelings of powerlessness and disgust at the distance of elites from ordinary people got him there.

On the one hand, of the 319 million US population, only about 130 million of those eligible to vote did so for Trump or Hillary Clinton. About 100 million people did not. On the other, motivated, alienated voters helped ensure Trump got selected and crossed the line. Results show 19.8 per cent of Americans voted for Clinton, 19.5 per cent for Trump, 2.2 per cent for other, 29.9 per cent didn't vote and 28.6 per cent were ineligible.

Sure, it all turned out weirdly: What man of the people who promises to drain the Washington swamp has a golden tower, conducts diplomacy at his Florida resort and stuffs his Cabinet with Wall Street billionaires and generals?

But also, since when has politics felt this vital or interesting or been so talked about? So much for apathy.

Even here, thousands of kilometres away, people are tuned into it. People keep having Trump conversations. Even the normally news-phobic need to talk.

The serious side of this situation is both genuinely worrying for people opposed to Trump but also addictively dramatic.

While the concerns are constantly aired, what isn't really discussed so much is the flipside.

In the US, Trump has given his suddenly revitalised opponents political focus, purpose and meaning.

People learned again what they should have known - their vote matters.

Trump has brought out the slumbering inner activist. There's a recognition that this is a seminal moment, that the stakes are gigantic and stands are required.

Atlantic senior editor David Frum put it this way: "Trump is like a magic mirror in a fairy tale, that when you look at it, reveals who *you* really are".

A person is detained during a protest in Portland, Ore. Photo / AP
A person is detained during a protest in Portland, Ore. Photo / AP

This is something people in many areas of the Western world, with our largely safe, mundane, politically stable lives, are not used to.

Regional-sized conflicts, acts of terrorism and immigration have punctuated an economic-based existence in the US and Europe.

The slow orderly pace of change over decades, overseen by dry, distant officials, has led to a drift in connection between the governors and the governed and a resulting rise in populist, nationalist movements.

Brexit was the tremor that foreshadowed America's big quake and France and Germany could add to that instability with elections this year. Countries are warily eyeing the Trump team wondering what its foreign policy moves could mean for them.

The US protests in the past month have been geographically and socially much wider than the Occupy or Black Lives Matter demonstrations.

The women's march drew huge crowds across the country. Protests over Trump's immigration ban likewise reached deep into red state territory.

Events have been organised from the ground up on social media. Young lawyers volunteered to help people caught up in the ban. There's been rowdy town hall meetings between representatives and the represented. A left-wing group called We Will Replace You has started to put pressure on Democrat leaders in Congress to resist Trump.

Protesters clash with police in Portland, Ore. Photo / AP
Protesters clash with police in Portland, Ore. Photo / AP

The President's supporters have a different view of the Administration's start. The Washington Post reported on Trump's Florida rally last weekend saying: "Rally attendees panned coverage of the chaos within his Administration, the cost of security for his family and the President's now-halted [immigration] executive order ... Many acknowledged that the President's first month could have been smoother ... but they said the media has overblown those hiccups."

On a less intense level, the Trumpman Show is simply entertaining with its cinematic reel of daily developments.

In hindsight, in an age of economic insecurity, inter-connectedness, user-produced entertainment, and inequality, a tycoon and reality TV star member of the 1 per cent should not have been a surprise possible president.

People on social media complain about Trump's distracting tweets, statements and actions but then jump in to be distracted, and create more memes to be further distracted.

The Independent's Robert Fisk hit on this addiction in a column.

He wrote: "We all now need our evening fix - a mad press conference, laws hurled out of court, a square-jawed general brought low by an inane conversation with a Russian spy - just one more shot in the arm till the morning. The roller-coaster of Trump imitators has become the equivalent of one for the road."

Fisk says part of the fascination is watching traditional political leaders struggle to deal with the new US regime while pretending "that this is quite normal. They act the part".

He adds: "It's John Gielgud or Dame Dench suddenly discovering that they're not playing Lear or Hamlet but Scissorhands."

Fisk thinks "normal service" will resume at some stage.

If so, the new activism swept up in opposition to Trump will play a part.

- NZ Herald

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