Trump & society: the great divider

Through the years: (Clockwise) Trump the boy, businessman, reality TV star and president-elect.

Demagogue, bankrupt, misogynist, xenophobe. At least some of the time Donald Trump has been all of the above. How will this character, so different from Obama, affect the social fabric?

He has declared bankruptcy four times. He has no experience of elected office. He has cheated investors, workers and contractors. He is subject to lawsuits. He avoided paying tax.

Two-thirds of Americans believe Donald Trump lacks the temperament to lead their country. But on January 20th 2017, he will become the most powerful man in the world.

‘It is impossible to react to this with anything less than revulsion and profound anxiety,’ wrote David Remnick, editer of The New Yorker, last week; he said Trump was ‘vulgarity unbounded’ and his victory would cause fear for ‘the many varieties of Other whom he has so deeply insulted’; last week’s result was a victory for ‘nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny and racism’. Trump could hardly be more different from President Obama.

Trump is an assertive figure. He has a dominant position in his family. He presented the US version of The Apprentice. Last year he boasted: ‘I’m really rich’. And he appears to have a particularly controlling attitude to women — several have accused him of sexual assault and even rape.

His unorthodox business approach — he once said ‘everything is negotiable’ — was reflected in an emotional campaign. In January, for example, he said he was ‘extremely angry and upset’ about ‘how incompetently our country is being run’.

Forbes columnist Rick Ungar says Trump’s personality will change American society. ‘If you think character doesn’t matter, I would remind you that being the American president is all about character,’ he has written.

And Trump will have a uniquely high profile. In 1904, Teddy Roosevelt coined the term ‘bully pulpit’ — the extra exposure attached to his position, he said, allowed him to influence the public and change the country’s direction.

Now Trump will enjoy that luxury — which technology has arguably strengthened in the last century. Some reports already suggest his victory has led to an increase in hate crimes, even before he takes office. How much will his brash style change America?

Trumpeting

Trump’s character will be crucial, some say. It defines him and will shape the mood of the US public. If a national crisis hits, this is the man Americans will turn to. He will be an example to children in the USA and around the democratic world. And his victory is a reflection on the tens of millions of Americans who voted for him.

Judge him on his policies, others respond. They will affect the money people have to spend, the opportunities open to them and the communities they live in. Few people pay attention to the president’s conduct on a day-to-day basis. And many of his voters did not endorse his character; they simply opposed Hillary Clinton’s liberal agenda.

You Decide

  1. Do you regard politicians as role models?
  2. Which will matter more: Trump’s character or his policies?

Activities

  1. You have one minute, working on your own. Write as many words and phrases that you associate with Donald Trump as possible. Then discuss your lists in groups of four.
  2. Prepare a two-minute talk to your class about a US president from history who interests you. What did he change and which mattered more: his character or his policies?

Some People Say...

“A healthy society does not need role models.”

What do you think?

Q & A

I plan to ignore Donald Trump. Will he still affect me?
It will be difficult to ignore him entirely — he is about to become the most powerful man in the world, and the decisions he makes will help to shape the future of societies like yours. He is likely to change the way people think about important issues in American society, and this will change the debate elsewhere too. Perhaps this worries you — for example because you think it makes minorities more vulnerable — or perhaps you think it will be healthy to discuss things more openly.
Can US presidents really teach me very much?
The attitudes and character of America’s presidents can help to teach you about the history and values of the most powerful country on the planet. Those are still very important in shaping our world today.

Word Watch

Lawsuits
For example, Trump has been sued over Trump University, a for-profit enterprise he ran which many of his own workers regarded as a scam.
Tax
Reports during the campaign suggested Trump may have avoided federal income tax for 18 years.
Two-thirds
According to a poll by The Washington Post and ABC in June.
Other
Meaning groups who are defined by their difference from Trump’s core supporters. For example, Remnick says Trump’s rhetoric about building a wall on the southern border emphasised the ‘otherness’ of Mexicans.
Obama
Remnick compares Trump unfavourably to ‘the first African-American president — a man of integrity, dignity and generous spirit’. During the campaign, Obama called Trump ‘uniquely unqualified’ to replace him.
Several
Expounded in New York magazine — see the link under Become An Expert.
Arguably
Some make the opposite argument, saying that social media has made it easier to stir up anger against powerful people — and therefore to turn people against the president.
Suggest
For example, the FBI reports hate crimes against Muslims have risen since the election.

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