The first State of the Union Address by President Donald Trump was many things. It was racist. Boorish. Short-sighted. And, of course, it was reactionary. As in, head-on-backwards reactionary.
But one overlooked aspect of the speech was what Trump kept doing throughout. It was divide and rule. In fact, much of his Presidency is built on it. Americans have been told to choose between DREAMers and citizens, tax cuts for the rich or funding for all. The military and security, or terrorism and war. Coal or renewables. The Wall or the imaginary hordes of MS13 let loose to run amok like latter day Huns. And so on.
The Non-United State of America
Indeed, Trump’s whole modus operandi seems divisive, to the point of being comical. He won’t condemn the far right without a big dash of whataboutery. Nor will he consider the dignified protests of NFL players as anything but the actions of ‘sons of bitches’. North Korea and the Middle East are nails, and he is the hammer. (He is certainly a massive tool…)
Trump has taken this
divide and rule to its
All this was clear in the speech and more. Guantanamo Bay is going to stay open! (Take that, pinkos.) Yay for police families who listen to God and adopt the children of junkies! (But do nothing about the opiod crisis.) Let’s hear it for bipartisanship! (As long as it’s only on my terms.)
We know what he is. So do his supporters. The only developments from now in are the next barrage of outrages he will spew forth. We all knew what we were going to get.
In many ways, the State of the Union speech showed that Trump is incapable of being anything else. He still has that smug pig-in-muck expression on his face. His voice still has that snide, low minded but faintly mewling and affected tone to it. He still does that annoying thing with his thumb, index and middle fingers.
The Art of Darkness
But still, we have not dealt with what Monday’s speech really means. That is, Trump is not merely America’s first openly far right President. He is also its first coloniser.
This needs some qualification, of course. The USA itself began life as a colony. It was built on conquest.
Like the British and Portuguese Empires, it has imported other minorities for its benefit but treated them like dirt. As with the French Empire, it seeks to impose a monoculture on others. (“Speak American!”) And, like the Spanish Empire, it likes nothing more than foreign adventures. The gold might now be black and no longer non-ferrous. But Cortes would surely have approved of the 2003 Iraq adventure.
Indeed, part of the reason America is so… odd is that its white majority still acts like a bunch of Victorian colonials. (Right down to still using inches, pounds and feet.) Think of the obsession with guns, and its implied fear of blacks and other subjugated groups. Look at a photo of a lynching and compare it to atrocities in the Congo Free State. Or see how faith, violence and white supremacy go hand in hand, and in a way that any colonised people would recognise only too clearly.
Again, none of this is new. What befell Barack Obama’s father and thousands of other Kenyans at the hands of British authorities is not that far removed from the horrors of slavery and then Jim Crow.
As Ta-Nehisi Coates has pointed out, imperialism is also a great social glue. In America, no matter how low class you were, white skin meant you were always above the black man. Muse on that the next time you run into a Trump fan who wants to ‘Make America Great Again’.
The Art of the Squeal
But what is new here is how Trump has used an old colonial tactic on everyone in America. Put simply, Trump’s whole approach is based on divide and rule. He wants conflict. He wants people to fight each other. Only this time, everyone is being divided, and ruled.
History shows how this was used in the British Empire on a regular basis. Local blood feuds and divisions were nurtured and made full use of. This in turn sowed the seeds of conflict and tragedy for decades after decolonisation. But no imperialist ever lost sleep over the long term cost. Nor does Trump.
One grim example is what the Belgians did in what would later be Rwanda. The 1994 genocide of Tutsis by Hutus, and the tit-for-tat wars that followed, can be traced back to the former Belgian rulers and their divide and rule policies. Like Trumpism, this was underpinned by racist dogma and pseudoscience. Such divisions helped keep the colony biddable, of course. But they also doomed the country to tragedy.
The King in Orange
Fostering division is nothing new in America. The rift between Blue and Red America has a long, often bloody history. Nixon’s Southern Strategy hinged on white Americans voting against their interests out of fear of minorities. Let’s not forget this either: That most whites who voted for Trump, and indeed Roy Moore, chose a candidate who was not only an out and out racist, but gleefully at odds with the rest of the country.
We know what he is.
So do his supporters.
But Trump has taken this divide and rule to its logical conclusion. He has a rump (a Trump-Rump?) of fans who wallow in his worst excesses. His plan may well be to cling to power by appealing soley to this base, even at the cost of destabalising the rest of the country.
Look at his war on the FBI. His persecution of immigrants. A clear grudge-laden attempts to erase all that Obama achieved. He wants Americans to hate each other.
So far, he’s done a good job, and the colonisation of America by its new masters is complete. Few of his voters get this, of course. As for Trump himself, he may as well wear a pith helmet.
Image by A Yee @ Flickr. Used and modified under the terms of the Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) licence.
Alexander Hay is a writer and polemicist based online and in print.