It is fair to say the Presidency of Donald Trump has not, so far, been a runaway success.
An unfortunate mixture of defiance, degradation and attempted domination from the new leader of the free world has led to a backlash from the American public and the world at large, mostly centring around his initial actions on the restriction of immigration and the particular banning of citizens of Muslim states from entering the US. The confusing responses from the White House to such petty things as the inauguration and a simple difference of opinion in the media (the exact thing which it is the prerogative of the media to employ) have done nothing to ease the apprehension surrounding this new Republican administration.
However, while many are predicting, somewhat prematurely, that this President must surely leave a damaging legacy on the already fragile arena that is political engagement and populism, I think it is worth taking some time to consider a potential and very real plus side that may well come out of the Trump administration, albeit not one that 'the Donald' would have necessarily foreseen or even planned.
It is a popular conception that the best way to engage people in something is to make it relevant to them. While it cannot necessarily be argued that that applies to all Americans in this case, the fact remains that, whether they are arguing for or against Trump, the new regime has created that desire to care and influence the workings of government from all sides, and that is what I believe the greatest legacy of President Trump may be; it will reinstall in the American public the belief in the power of the vote (or lack thereof) and reinforce the idea that, in the words of Edmund Burke, "the only thing needed for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."
To clarify, I am not saying, contrary to the opinions of many political commentators or just men on the street, that Trump is the embodiment of evil, but what I am saying is that the masses opposing the man may take from this whole saga in American history that their political participation and engagement in the forms they have available to them is vital for the protection of their values. In short, there is potential for the divisive start to the Trump presidency to morph into a collective renewal of belief that the involvement of all people in politics and elections is of the utmost importance.
Trump is not wrong when he argues that a large number of the people opposing his election as President did not vote – in fact, he is likely to be correct in that observation. A voter turnout on 8th November 2016 of just over 55% of the eligible voting public speaks to a dearth of belief in the importance of the vote, and our current situation may be just what is needed to shake this belief and open the eyes of the unenthused to the dangers of forgetting this power is open to them.
But it goes further than that – it could even go so as far as to be said that the outrage at the Trump situation could lead to a renewed interest both by the American people in the state of their own union, but also for the citizens of other nations about the state of their relationships with the United States. Given the beginning of Brexit negotiations and the possibilities inherent with that, Britain is the prime example here – Theresa May's refusal to openly condemn the actions of her new American counterpart provide a telling insight into how seriously she is taking the preservation of a peaceful relationship with, to paraphrase Mark Kermode, the good lady professor her across the pond.
It could be that this is a spirit of necessary compromise that, while having not gone down too well with the British media, that the American people could do worse than to embrace. Disharmony has reared its ugly head far too often in recent memory, and often with widely-felt consequences – one need only bear in mind the Republican opposition to a fresh set of laws on gun ownership and the consequences that have come from the lack of restraint in that area, given the numerous fatal shootings that have taken place over the last couple of years. The Obamacare battle will also live long in the memory as a reminder of how little is achieved with such obstinate opposition. Any objections to the working of a political system have to be made with a progressive attitude in mind or the whole system grinds to a halt. Simply being oppositional for the sake of it leaves us nowhere, which is why the fervent hope must be that those who opposed Trump in the election but did not act on that opposition by voting and advancing the democratic ideal as it was intended will not make the same mistake again in future, and will realise the dangers that can come from political apathy.
As much as it goes against the grain of the industry, I feel that this new attitude of progressive action has to be taken by the media as well. It has long been the industry standard to whip any shift in public mood into a frenzy and exacerbate any divisions, but what we must realise is that this only serves to drive a further wedge between those with existing political disagreements, because it plants in the mind of one camp unfair and exaggerated depictions of the opposing views of the other. Both the pro- and anti-Trump media have already proven how unfortunately competent they are at this since his election in November, and unfortunately they show no signs of stopping any time soon.
However, this media intensity is stirring up political emotions in what may have been a previously neutral or disillusioned public, and that must be taken as a potential sign of a more engaged nation. Long-term the practice of the media has to change, but at this point in time maybe the particular brand of sensationalism is actually what is needed to re-energise the political public and to re-instil in them the desire to influence their political spheres by the means open to them. An apathetic voting public does not work for anyone, and the election of Donald Trump despite the level of backlash against him speaks to the apathy of the voting public, and will in time imprint on those people that they were wrong not to vote themselves and do their part to protect against such a situation. However, what we must guard against is what is still threatening to happen, where the people become almost over-energised, and the whole debate spills over into unhelpful shot-firing.
I would like to make it clear that in this clash, those speaking against Trump are just as much to blame for the heated state of affairs we currently find as the pro-Donald campaigners and speakers that the attention has naturally focussed on. The attitude in the media of making mountains out of what could just be molehills on both sides of the aisle is a practice that is seeping through into the minds of the voting public and further endangering any chance the Trump government has of establishing a prosperous co-operation that can settle these differences. Sure, the man himself is showing no signs of wanting to work with anyone that isn't one hundred percent with him, but his advisers and more politically-minded staff will know how important it is to try and build a bridge to the other side, to allow for the possibility of any kind of genuine progress in the next four years. However, this is precisely why I feel there is potential for the Trump presidency to leave us with an appreciation for reasonable pragmatism and political opportunity.
If, over the next four years, the Trump administration continues its hard-line approach to policy decision-making and is rebuffed as it has been so far, we may find an America in 2020 that has not advanced any further under Trump than from where it started. That being the case, it will surely act as a wake-up call to the apathetic that, whatever their views, it is down to them to ensure that they are governed by who they see as most fit. It would leave behind a recognition of the need for progressive opposition and an inclusive but more importantly tolerant political dialogue amongst the voting public. More importantly, by the same stroke, if the Trump administration does soften its attitude and become more pragmatic, we will be sure to see more proper action being taken in government and generally better-functioning government, as well as a less divided body politic by proxy. This will highlight naturally the benefits of a united political front and a willingness to compromise. Either case of events will provide us with the simple conclusion that there is nothing to be gained from outright opposition and stubbornness, and that the way forward is to work for the greater good and to be willing to prioritise that above personal disagreements – the public must recognise this as much as the politicians.
In short, the Presidency of Donald Trump has the potential to unite as much as it has already divided. What now manifests itself as a rage against the machine, if you will, from Trump's opponents and a large proportion of the domestic and international media, and the backlash from the man himself and his supporters, has the potential to bring the American political elite and the people voting for them together under a new spirit of working for the benefit of their nation and finally rid themselves of the sentiment of almost intentional opposition that has plagued them for a generation or more. The lesson that is there to be learned is that if Trump is the result of division, then maybe unity is worth a second go. Furthermore, what it is that the people must unify under is the ideal of political involvement and expression, and a respect and appreciation for the democratic framework they have long taken for granted. The Trump regime will, I believe, whatever the ultimate path the administration takes, result in a recognition of the need for all people to be willing to try and influence their own fate where politics is concerned, but also to recognise that there is nothing to be gained from opposition, and that pragmatism and co-operation between differently-minded people is vitally necessary.