Comment in Expressen, November 13, 2016
Sleepless in Europe
I note that the former prime minister of Sweden, Göran Persson, is not going to lose sleep over Donald Trump. I realize that this is what makes a successful politician, the ability to sleep under any circumstance and shake off anything that hits you. I have sometimes wondered how Hillary has been sleeping at night, and how she sleeps now. She has had to take more hits and shake off more shit than any politician I can think of, so I hope that she at least shares Göran Persson’s knack for sleeping.
I certainly don’t. Since Donald Trump was elected president of the United States I am losing sleep. Not least because Donald Trump never seems to be sleeping. During the campaign he was up in the wee hours throwing stingy twitters at people who had slighted him ever so little, and after being elected he is still at it. People who don’t sleep at night can be expected to do anything while the rest of us are forced to close our eyes for a while.
Of course, I know as little as anyone else whether president Donald Trump will carry out anything of what he promised to do; like putting “crooked Hillary” behind bars, build a wall along the Mexican border and have Mexico pay for it, stop all Muslims from entering the US “until we find out what the hell is going on”, “drain the swamp” in Washington DC, deal with “dishonest media”, make torture legal, start trade wars, withdraw from US commitments to Europe, etc. With the support of both houses of Congress he will have many levers of power to pull and many buttons to push, including The Button.
“Why do we have nuclear weapons if we don’t use them?”, as he so wisely has kept asking.
Although it might very well turn out that he has lied about it all and that all he intends to do is a Berlusconi, that is to make his private (business)interests the business of the state.
What we do know for certain is that the victorious election campaign of Donald Trump has poisoned the political climate of liberal democracies for a long time to come. We have been shown that a language of defamation, hatred and lying can attract more voters than it repels and that verbal brutality can be a road to power. The outcome of the US election is a clear message to the burgeoning populist and xenophobic parties of Europe that hate and fear-mongering is a winning concept and that they henceforth should feel free to smear, vilify and incite without any fear of transgressing the “politically correct” borders of decency and shame.
You might think that there are no such borders left to transgress in the Europe of Jimmie Åkesson, Viktor Orbán, Jarosław Kaczyński and Marine Le Pen, but Donald Trump has arguably taken the rhetoric a bit farther down that road than anyone in a similar position in Europe. I also believe that the political fallout from Donald Trump’s victory might be more devastating for Europe than for America. We know only too well what the rhetoric of fear, vilification and hatred once did to the democracies of Europe. The Nazis didn't come into power with guns but with words.
Which is enough to make me lose sleep, since I happen to descend from a family which was largely annihilated by the deeds made thinkable and feasible by their words.
In an interview in the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter (28.10, 2016) Pope Francis used the term “the terrorism of vilification” for this kind of verbal violence, which I find a very apt term for what we saw in action in the US election campaign. “The sword kills many people, but the tongue kills even more”, the Pope said, and again I find myself quoting a world leader who repeatedly and effectively has used the words and gestures of faith and trust to resist the words and gestures of fear and hatred.
With the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States we are again learning that democracy ultimately depends on the people, the demos, having a democratic disposition, and that the “terrorism of vilification” is a weapon in the hands of those who intend to weaken and demolish it.
I will now think of all the Americans that didn’t vote for Donald Trump (the majority in fact) and try to get some sleep.