Scotland is a fairly tolerant place at the best of times. Our attention to human rights is meticulous for the most part, and our rights to freedoms of speech, a fair trial and liberty are ones we might not vocally revere, but most certainly respect with an intrinsic and habitual adherence.
To extend such an observation to a country like America would thus seem fair – their emphatic constitutional adoration far outweighs our own solemn observances. Does it not follow that, in the sweet land of liberty, liberty itself would exist a firm and universal feature?
You would think. But ‘Murica, as well we know, is hardly a historical beacon of equality or progressive thought.
It is a nation still haunted by racial division and governed by gross financial inequality on an astronomical scale. Ultimately, America is a nation blinded by its own success – that infamous ego and entrepreneurial attitude, where so long as the money’s pouring in, everyone wins and if you’re not winning, well I’m sorry buddy – sucks to be you. Love it or loathe it, America is the sovereign manifestation of the free market and proud to be.
We see their global influence and follow their leadership with both admiration and envy. The American brand continues to flourish as the stars and bars billow proudly in the wind overhead. It’s only when a complete nutter like Donald Trump comes along, then, that we are reminded just how troubled America actually is.
Not troubled by Trump’s views of course, which could come from any of many uber-conservative broadcasters or commentators – but by his apparent political momentum. After calling for the refusal of entry to Muslims into the United States, yet another poll this week found him to be the outright front-runner for the Republican nomination. Kudos, Mr Trump. Kudos.
Despite alienating much of his own party and many others the world over in the process – and offending most decent, normal, coloured, poor, Hispanic, Asian, Middle-Eastern or “different” people ever to have existed – Trump continues to thrive. The man who publicly labelled all Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and called for Muslims to be visibly identifiable (a la a certain faith group in a certain European country during the 1930s and 40s); this is the man who Republican America would have govern the world.
But why? Why is someone with views as extreme and utterly despicable as Trump still in the media spotlight at all? His ethnic stances cause division and tensions where none need exist. He is a xenophobe. He is a preacher of thinly-veiled hatred with a contempt for impoverished and minority groups so bitter and deep that it borders on supervillainous. His rhetoric is backward and poisonous, yet still he is taken seriously among a considerable number of the US population.
That we’ve continued to do business with him for so long is perplexing. His fascist leanings are a direct threat to global security, while the extremity of his views would have been enough in any other case to have him ostracised from the public sphere entirely. But alas, he also just happens to be a very rich white man, with someone else to blame for America’s problems.
If America is the sovereign embodiment of capitalism, Trump is its human proponent: the fat-cat with the fat ego to match. He is wealthier than most who are reading this article will ever be combined; he is successful and ruthless in business; he shoots from the hip and has no qualms with standing up for what he believes is right.
And he has money. Lots and lots and lots and lots of money.
In those respects, Trump is very much the all-American poster boy – the type one might find pointing determinedly out of a military advertisement with a cigar wedged between his teeth. He represents the boom of Wall Street-gone-by and the hardwired vision of USA as being better than every other country on earth. He is Captain American, only with a fatter wallet, bad hair and that dark side that encourages all potential heroes to use their powers (lots and lots and lots and lots of money) for evil. “What he believes is right” is very much the issue.
Or rather, what many Americans appear to believe is right. Trump is thus the tip of a much deeper iceberg; and iceberg of ethnic superiority and far-right extremism that has been much examined in the European context, but has received little attention in the American exemplar. That people like Trump can call for the reduction of Muslims to second class citizenry so brazenly; that anyone can look at the San Bernardino shootings and see a case for more guns and less brown people in the world is naturally disturbing to some, but apparently inspiring to others.
And why? Because in pointing the finger elsewhere, his followers are allowed to believe that yes, America is still great: our problems aren’t our own, it’s all those funny looking guys’ fault! In precisely the same way the Fronte Nazionale can make gains by linking high unemployment to immigration, rather than the economic shortcomings of Hollande’s increasingly lurching government; or how the tabloid press here in the UK can convince readers than not only are refugees responsible for our sky-high benefits bill, but they are also responsible for stealing all of our jobs.
Attacking immigrants and cultural minorities allows the public to believe that their country is indeed superior in some way. That the patriotism they’ve had brainwashed into them from the second they exit the womb is not meaningless after all. That the imaginary borders they use to separate themselves from less-important human beings are strong and enduring.
In this case, far right extremism goes largely unchallenged because America believes in America. Trump is thus vying for public support by encouraging fear and suspicion of others; by conflating this archaic and decidedly nationalistic caricature to hyperbolic proportions – ones which tread a very fine line between the laughable and utterly terrifying – and it seems very much to be working.