“We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality…”

Jun 2, 2024
DONALD TRUMP mugshot from Futon County Sheriff's Office, 25 August 2023. Image: Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

“Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty.” 

That’s what the jury announced in answer to each of the charges against Donald Trump in New York.

To most of us that’s clear and unequivocal. But in our era – particular in the US – clear and unequivocal reality has been overtaken by something else altogether.

To understand this new reality of US politics it is worth recalling a 2004 incident involving a George W. Bush advisor and a journalist.

In October 2004, The New York Times reporter Ron Suskind wrote a first-person article about the Bush presidency.

He included in the story a quote from someone he described only as a “senior adviser to Bush.” It’s widely believed to be Karl Rove, but Rove has denied it. The aide told Suskind that people like him were “in what we call the reality-based community who believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.”

Suskind mentioned in response enlightenment principles – which underpinned much of the Founders’ thinking (other than on slavery of course) – but the aide interrupted and said: “That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

That was all 20 years ago, yet we have since seen other ‘post truth’ situations including the Iraq War and weapons of mass destruction.

Moreover, whether we like it or not Americans have been living in this post-truth stage – as illustrated most recently by the January 6 2021 attack on the US Capitol.

Trump may not be the progenitor of post-truth, but he is currently the leading beneficiary of it and will probably be elected President on the strength of it.

A big call? Well, he starts with a structural advantage above and beyond being a beneficiary of the post-truth age. The US is far from being a democracy in the way we in Australia think of it. You can win the total vote as Hilary Clinton and Al Gore did, but be deprived of the win by the Electoral College or the Supreme Court. Third party candidates such as Bernie Sanders and Ralph Nader have also helped Republican Presidential candidates whose policies both would have opposed.

Moreover, if the election is close and contested it is difficult to imagine the Supreme Court not delivering it to Trump just as it delivered the election to Bush instead of Al Gore.

On top of that there is widespread voter suppression with a variety of tactics – all of them directed at Democrat voters.

At this stage the polling is showing Biden and Trump almost in a line ball with a slight advantage to Trump in the national vote but with Trump leading in the swing States, including Michigan, which Biden won comfortably in 2020. Moreover, while Trump may be seen as mad, Biden is seen as senile and too old. On a more positive side for Biden, older voters favoured Trump in 2020 but it is estimated that 10% of them have now gone to the great voting booth in the sky and won’t be there for Trump this year.

Then there are some imponderables. Either or both of the candidates could be assassinated. A distasteful thought but four Presidents have already suffered that fate – Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley and JFK plus a few other attempted assassinations as well.

Given Biden’s age and Trump’s dietary habits both could be removed before the election by stroke or incapacity, let alone attempted or successful assassination.

Not that incapacitation has interfered with some Presidential terms. A stroke didn’t stop Woodrow Wilson continuing but it was easier to keep secrets back then. Today it is doubtful if an incapacitated Biden or Trump could continue semi-secretly through the actions of a wife and advisor as it did with Wilson.

Indeed, Wilson’s wife Edith, was arguably the US’ first female President in that she exercised the Presidential powers to the chagrin of others who claimed it was ‘petticoat government’. Neither Melania Trump nor Jill Biden would be keen on such a role nor countenance it anyway.

However, the reality is that whoever might win in November a majority of Americans would have preferred different candidates altogether.

American politicians are prone to praying God Bless America. Perhaps they should be praying God Save America.

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