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'Trump victory may seem drug dream but shows how extraordinary is now ordinary in US politics'


IANS Jaipur
Over a year after his shocking but not entirely unexpected victory, the reality of Donald Trump as the US President may still seem "incomprehensible" but is actually proof that a great number of American voters feel abandoned by the system while the "extraordinary" seems to have become entrenched as the new ordinary in the world's most powerful democracy, says a veteran British political observer.
"Imagine that you were stuck on an island or cave in 2015 and you wake up in 2017 and look at your Twitter feed, and you see Donald Trump posting very unpresidential things, you would think you are on some great recreational drug," said journalist, author and documentary maker Matt Frei as he sought to explain "the Trump phenomenon" and what it portends on the US and international levels.
In a session entitled "America Trumped: How did this Happen?", Frei, who has reported from the US for both the BBC and Channel 4 more or less consecutively since 2002 till very recently, said he doubted that Trump's election victory was as "incomprehensible" and "extraordinary" as is usually thought.
He noted that Presidential elections had become increasingly unusual in America since Ronald Reagan "who was a Hollywood actor eventually became President", the victory of George W. Bush after a court battle and of Barack Obama, despite his name being oddly similar to Osama Bin Laden - and thus "this extraordinary reality is not that extraordinary."
"In American politics, because of the vastness and exoticism of the political landscape you're dealing with, the extraordinary ends up becoming the ordinary.... Donald Trump is now the new normal" said Frei, who made the documentary "Meet the Trumps: From Immigrant to President".
And Trump, by his very oddities, seemed made for the role, Frei said, revealing he had learned from a former servant of his that Trump used to have dinner, which invariably comprised hamburgers, chicken wings, fried chicken, or very well done steak and almost never vegetables or even salad, alone in his room while watching TV. "He did not drink any alcohol, only ordering six cans of Diet Coke and drinking three that were closest to the expiry date."
But despite all this, Trump is a master politician who gauged and tapped the resentful and bitter sections of the voters, realising "the American people got a sugar high when Obama talked about unity, but he could induce an even better sugar high by channeling their rage towards the establishment", he said.
Frei said that there were many voters in crucial Midwestern swing states with whom Trump's message "actually resonated", his call for an immigration ban gained much support, while his "unadulterated and very politically incorrect" rhetoric served to make him seem an "outsider" and attracted those who thought they were "disenfranchised".
On why Trump's Democratic rival Hillary Clinton lost, Frei held that her experience -- as First Lady, Senator for New York and then Secretary of State - worked against her, making her seem a member of the ruling class, and thus "part of the entitlement that America was fed up of". Trump, on the other hand, was "a symbol of the opium called the American Dream, which in reality is dead but his grandparents were immigrants who made it big".
Given Trump's erratic and impulsive nature, allied to his raw and effective political acumen, it was difficult to hazard a guess how his Presidency, which is "brand preservation exercise on a global scale", would play out, said Frei, adding it essentially boiled down to "Is Trump going to change America, or is America going to change Trump?"
(Vikas Datta can be contacted at

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First Published: Jan 29 2018 | 9:52 PM IST

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