Donald Trump has done many things since entering the White House in 2017, but most of all, he has held up what he might call “a big fat mirror” over his country. Because of this, Trump has allowed the wider world to see and hear what ordinary Americans are thinking in a manner free from the elitist veneer of Hollywood. While Trump was born into a wealthy family and became even wealthier in his own right, he nevertheless maintains a manner of thinking and a manner of speech that is analogous to that of the ordinary American – especially those outside of major metropolitan coastal cities where even those with meagre means aspire to be a mini-elitist.
While one might be forgiven for thinking that the “big fat mirror” held up over America by Trump might reveal images of wholesale ugliness, there is actually far more subtlety to the ordinary American than there is in respect of American elites. Ambrose Bierce once said, “God created war so that Americans would learn geography“. As such, countries like Iraq and Syria will likely be more familiar to the ordinary American than placid places like Slovenia or Singapore. And yet even so, because some of Iraq and some of Syria are desert, when Trump said that for Americans, Syria offers no wealth but is instead “sand and death“, most ordinary Americans would not only agree but may well have described Syria in such terms in private company.
Crucially, while the American sense of exceptionalism (aka superiority) is deeply ingrained in most Americans – amongst ordinary Americans, this exceptionalism isn’t born out of malice. It is more derived from a sense of shock that anyone has to “suffer” with the fate of living in a country that isn’t the United States. That being said, few such Americans want immigrants from places other than western Europe out of a fear that they would bring features like “sand and death” to the streets of the USA. Thus, there is a naive disdain filled with a “live and let die” attitude towards the rest of the world that is clear and present among most ordinary Americans. This is the same reason behind why such Americans refuse to believe that countries like Singapore, Finland and The Netherlands have a higher quality of life rating than the United States. To say such a thing to an ordinary American would be like calling the earth flat before a learned astronomer.
Americans also love their military and yet war propaganda for domestic consumption remains a high priority for US elites. This is because while the ordinary American, like Donald Trump, loves to see the military in action, most can’t fathom fighting beside people (or worse yet “for people”) who look and act so very different from ordinary Americans. This is why, even when one takes 9/11 out of the equation, most Americans would have agreed with Donald Trump when he characterised the USSR’s involvement in Afghanistan in the following way during the same meeting with the press in which he make his “sand and death” remark:
“The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there. The problem is, it was a tough fight. And literally, they went bankrupt”.
Forgetting the fact that Trump has confused the USSR’s military action in Afghanistan during the 1980s with the 1990s era phenomenon of Mujahideen veterans entering Russian soil (often with CIA assistance) to partake in provocations in the north Caucasus – Trump importantly hits on several themes that are deeply relatable to the ordinary American.
First of all, because the Afghan Mujahideen wore thick beards, spoke in languages whose foreignness is immediately terrifying to the ordinary American and practised an Islamic religion that most Americans known nothing about – the idea that the US should support such fighters was always anathema to the ordinary American. If the opposite were true, Ronald Reagan and the Hollywood-industrial complex wouldn’t have needed to work so hard in the 1980s to literally compare the Mujahideen with the fictional character Rambo and his band of “freedom fighters”. Secondly, Trump has emphasised the fact that when the USSR “went bankrupt” in the late 1980s, the US did not, thus assuring the ordinary American that while America’s antics in Afghanistan in the 1980s gave the world Osama bin Laden, at least it didn’t immediately cause a total economic collapse.
At one point during his meeting with the press, Trump turned to India and mocked Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government which paid for the construction of a library in Afghanistan. About the Indian built library, Trump said,
“You know what that is? That’s like five hours of what we spend. And we’re supposed to say, ‘Oh, thank you for the library.’ I don’t know who’s using it in Afghanistan”.
Here Trump speaks the ordinary American’s language by stating that other countries that the US is supposed to respect, spend far less money abroad than the US and that furthermore, building a library is Afghanistan is useless, with the implication being that Afghan citizens are totally illiterate.
Finally, Trump turned to Iran and stated:
“Iran is no longer the same country…Iran is pulling people out of Syria. They can do what they want there, frankly, but they’re pulling people out. They’re pulling people out of Yemen. Iran wants to survive now”.
Outside of Israel where the US aimed anti-Iranian propaganda machine is a major industry, few in the wider world, including in Iran, actually understand what the US thinks of Iran. Almost all of the negative feelings that Americans feel about Iran are due to the hostage crisis of 1979-1981. While the taking of any US hostages abroad would make big headlines, the fact that the hostage takers were bearded Islamic revolutionaries in non-western clothes is what sealed the deal for many Americans. This might sound frivolous, but the fact remains that if Americans were taken hostage in Canada or Australia by a right wing “self defence” group, many Americans would actually be cheering on the rugged, white skinned, English speaking, putatively Christian hostage takers.
Beyond this, American feelings about Islam also have a great deal to do with the 1979 hostage crisis and consequently about Iran more widely. Prior to 1979, the vast majority of Americans knew nothing about Islam – some probably never even heard the word until the boxer Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali upon his conversion to Islam. It might seem shocking that in a nation the size of the US, so few had known much about one of the world’s major religions prior to 1979. But even after Islam bashing became even more widespread after 9/11, few Americans actually know what the average pious Muslim’s religious beliefs are beyond woefully inaccurate stereotypes.
Therefore, while Israel tries to convince ordinary Americans that Iran is some sort of monstrous nuclear armed empire, for the majority of ordinary Americans, Iran is “bad” because forty years ago some Islamic revolutionaries stormed the US embassy in Tehran and took hostages. This is why although most Americans prefer Israel to Palestine for the simple reason that Israel is a somewhat western style society, they cannot directly relate to the wild claims that Israeli officials make about Iran. What’s more is that Israelis know this which is why Israeli media went into open panic mode after Trump said that Iran can do what it wants in Syria.
While panicking Israel, Trump’s statement about Iran offered reassurance to the ordinary American that the Islamic Republic is allegedly weaker than it once was (the opposite is actually true in terms of Iran’s military and intelligence) and that as such it can enjoy the “sand and death” of Syria without any Iranian Muslim with a beard taking a group of Americans hostage in central Alabama.
Thus when it comes to foreign policy, Trump speaks to ordinary Americans who hold the following conclusions about the world
–Every part of the world is worse than the United States with Asian, African and Latin American parts of the world being the worst
–Every part of the world where a non-European language is spoken is frightening because such people are “up to no good”
–The military is great when it “kicks ass” but long wars to fight for the “freedom” of foreigners aren’t worth it
–Anyone with a long beard who is also a Muslim is automatically dangerous
–People in “shit hole countries” living in “sand and death” should stay that way so long as they’re too poor to buy weapons that can harm Americans
In this sense, while American elites push for wars to supposedly bring “freedom and democracy” to the parts of the world most Americans paradoxically dislike while knowing little about, the ordinary American prefers to show off military strength without accomplishing much in the process. For this reason, Donald Trump has made foreign policy issues uniquely palatable and even interesting to the ordinary American because he discusses such issues in the language of the ordinary American while voicing their long held conclusions.
This is just one of the reasons why barring a major economic meltdown between now and 2020, Donald Trump will likely win re-election because outside New York, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago – most Americans think and talk just like him. The world owes Trump a debt of gratitude for exposing the true America to the rest of the world.