Lady and the Trump

When the American dream turns into a nightmare come true.

US Presidential Inauguration
President Donald J Trump reacts from the reviewing stand during the Inaugural Parade after he was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States in Washington DC [EPA]

In the more than 40 years that I have lived in the United States, I have never seen it (even the day after 9/11 in New York) so deeply forlorn, frightened, out of joint, as I have seen it since Donald Trump was declared the winner of the presidential election early in the wee hours of November 9, 2016. 

On Friday, January 20, 2017, that dreadful air of fear and loathing was finally staged, signed, and sealed as Donald Trump was officially sworn in (with all due pomp and ceremony) as the 45th president of the United States. Presidents Carter, Bush, Clinton, and Obama were there welcoming him into their august midst. 

Something in the very plot of American story went off kilter on this day. From George Washington to Abraham Lincoln to Theodore Roosevelt to John F Kennedy down to Barack Obama, the historic lineage and the heroic rhapsody read and revered in the long annals of the US history finally came down to this: a morally compromised, blatantly racist, white supremacist, xenophobic, sexist, tax-avoiding real estate crook, swinging loudly the arrested vocabulary of a third-grader, ceremoniously entering the highest and most revered office of this proud and hitherto confident nation.  

Beyond partisanship and hype

Much of the public animus hyped against Trump, to be sure, is partisan. The liberal elite are livid, caught off guard with their hands in the cookie jar of favouring Trump’s rival; sorely bitter in their defeat. 

But there is something more deeply troubling in this nation. It has lost all its habitual decorum and accustomed delusions. It can no longer fathom and dream itself “Great!” Trump’s slogan “Make America Great again!” was a Freudian slip, the death knell declaring the American dream a nightmare come true.

Like millions of other Americans, I spent my Friday, January 20, 2017, aghast at the very sight, at the very prospect, of Donald Trump putting his dangerous little hand and big empty ego on the Bible to be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. Something is crumbling inside this nation. 

But unlike millions of other Americans, I am not saddened that it is not Hillary Clinton who is being sworn in as the next president of the United States. One of two calamities were about to happen to the US and the world at large. One of them was averted. That’s the good news. The other one has happened. We need to figure out how to resist his dangerous term uninterrupted by the smokescreen of the other “lesser evil”. 

If you do not live in the US and are not bombarded daily by the jeremiad of regret for Clinton, nostalgia for Obama, and liberal fury against Trump, you may find these staccato sentences strange. But they are not if you live here. Our active defiance of Trump must not be predicated on a false nostalgia for Obama, or even worse, on an even more false regret for Clinton. Trump was their parting gift of a Pandora’s Box to the US and the world around it.  

OPINION: America was a ‘stan’ long before Trump

I glanced at the video clips of Donald Trump being sworn in as the next US president as much aghast, if not more, than any other person. But my perspective of relief at Clinton’s loss informing my focus on Trump’s hazardous course ahead is decidedly foreign in this land. The liberal chorus of Don’t Cry for me, America of Clintonites has cornered the market of opposition to Trump.  

The Democratic Party partisans from Barack Obama down to The New York Times show not a single sign they have learned anything from this calamitous election for the US and the world at large. Their ignorant loss is integral to the Republican neanderthals’ victorious ignorance, confounding the dawn of this Dark Age on American politics. 

A sad American day 

It is a sad day for the world. The US as an idea has always transcended the US as a reality. Today, that transcendent idea has finally collapsed upon this hideous reality and become indistinguishable from it. Trump is the democratically elected president of the United States, duly voted for and now ceremoniously sworn in. 

Over the past 24 hours I have been whispering to myself, like a talisman, the names of every American poet, novelist, dramatist and filmmaker I have always loved and admired: I must remember what brought us all here: Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Walt Whitman, Ernest Hemingway, T S Eliot, William Faulkner, Alice Walker, Jamaica Kincaid, John Ford, Herman Melville, Mark Twain, F Scott Fitzgerald, Tennessee Williams, Terrence Malick, James Baldwin …

The US is losing its redeeming factor. The tempestuous ugliness at the very core of a militarist empire can no longer hide and camouflage itself under the thin veneer of any claim to civility. They love Obama, for he was the last shining smile concealing the frightening gnarls of American militarism. Trump has grabbed the sacrosanct symbols of this nation, as he put it now infamously, “by the pussy”. Trump is the vulgarity American arts and letters had scarcely kept at bay. 

The US now sees itself as ugly as Israel, with a crook as its president, as rude and ill-mannered as Benjamin Netanyahu. The US now looks into a mirror and sees a racist state it had thought exorcised into Israel. Americans have, overnight, turned into Palestinians, the dreams of their democratic institutions occupied by the nightmare of a militant minority of zealot racist triumphalists.  

Millions of decent, defiant, angry, and determined Americans are now trapped inside a vulgar buffoonery, as Palestinians are in Israel, and as Arabs and Muslims are in their own countries from one end of the globe to the other – caught in the web of a graceless, crass, kitsch state, with the picture of President Trump all over it. 

America has become the “banana republic”, the “third-world tyranny”, the “stan” it has habitually been termed, racialised, and ridiculed, to think itself superior to them all. The US now believes Russia has done to it what the US has done to countless other countries: aborted the democratic course of their national destiny and imposed a gang of ignoramus billionaire public enemies in charge of their future.  

A short subway ride from where I live in Manhattan stands tall and triumphant the Statue of Liberty, or Lady Liberty, as we affectionately call her. The Lady is now looking askance at the uncertain future of the homeland she represents.

The Lady and the Trump are at odd with each other. She is a formal abstraction incarnate, a hopeful promise in metal and might. He is concrete crudity, crass in diction and frightful in everything he represents and invokes. 

Americans are now caught in the stormy sea change between the Lady and the Trump. She is every promise yet to be delivered. He is the delivery of a punishment for forgotten sins. As our ship sails down a stormy dark future, the lighthouse of Lady Liberty watches over us helplessly, in both hope and despair.

Hamid Dabashi is Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York. 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.