This is going to be a very irritating few days – on Facebook at least.
On Friday, Donald Trump is going to be inaugurated as United States president. Barack Obama and family will take their bows and move on with their lives. My Facebook echo chamber, populated with journalists and eco-warriors and people of a politically correct persuasion, will be filled with shared photo essays of the gorgeous Obamas and many, many WTFs as our favourite American news websites (think Washington Post here) document all the varied failures of The Donald and his flashy family.
Here’s the thing though: the whole thing makes me uncomfortable.
I know next to nothing about American politics. Neither, I would wager, do many of the people sharing all those links on Facebook. I have no way, for instance, of assessing the truth of a fragment I spotted in the Guardian: “President Obama will leave behind a distinctly patchy legacy on immigration, one that veers wildly from his reputation as “deporter-in-chief” to his determined efforts to secure legal status for millions of young undocumented immigrants and their parents. That less than flattering title has been bestowed on Obama by immigrant communities and civil rights groups dismayed by his record of removing more than 2.5 million people – more than any previous administration. The latest figures from the Pew Research Center show that in recent times the Obama administration consistently sustained rates of removals well above those effected under George W Bush.” (my bold)
What’s this? Barack’s administration has been deporting people while we have been admiring his oratory and his stylish, glamorous wife and daughters? How can that be? Is it even correct? Am I going to bother to do the research to check it out? Probably not. Why let facts stand in the way of easy hero worship?
But the facts matter. The reality under the shiny surface matters. Terry Pratchett, as usual, applies his deep understanding of power and how it is wielded to sum this up in one rapier-like paragraph. In his novel Lords And Ladies, Granny Weatherwax says of a bunch of elves who are threatening the kingdom of Lancre: ‘Glamour. Elves are beautiful. They’ve got,’ she spat the word, ‘style. Beauty. Grace. That’s what matters. If cats looked like frogs we’d realise what nasty cruel little bastards they are.’
Every time I see another glowing tribute to the lovely Obamas I think this: just because I like the look of the Obamas, just because they appeal to my muddled left-wing sensibilities, just because they appear to be people of understated charm and sophistication, just because they radiate the kind of glamour that works for me, that does not mean that Obama has been a good president, or that he did not (perhaps) ruthlessly climb his way to the top of the Democratic pile to get to the White House. He is a politician and you don’t get to be President of the United States by being nice to musicians and making dreadful puns over a Thanksgiving turkey.
Just because Donald Trump looks and talks like an idiot (that hair, darling!), and has a family clearly deficient in good taste and liberal leanings, that does not mean he will make a bad president. There do appear to be many skeletons in his closet and I really don’t like what I’ve seen so far but we have no way of telling at this point what he will be like as a political leader. Much easier to make snap judgements about his appearance and be rude about his wife and children, who all have the distinct sheen of nouveau riche trash.
I have no way of weighing the real substance of an American president. I don’t live in the society in which the fruit of that person’s actions can be experienced and assessed. I can take the surface view and regret the ending of the Obama era. I can dismiss Trump and his supporters as deplorable. But my estimations of good taste have got nothing to do with good governance. Unless we have made a serious study of it, we cannot understand how power plays out in a country as vast as the US simply by looking at pictures or viewing YouTube videos. So for my part, I will be keeping calm and looking for the tell-tale signs of glamour – and I won’t be sharing links about the whole thing on Facebook.
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