Despite the title, this post is less about Donald Trump, the man, and more about a form of American nationalism that he exemplifies. Trump is loud and obnoxious and obviously objectionable to decent people, but he’s a symptom rather than the cause.
Trumpiness is the pervasive – and incorrect – assumption that American culture, people and politics are intrinsically more valuable than those of other countries. In short: ‘America First!’ It is about how one sees oneself in contrast with people from other countries. It is about how one believes foreign policy ought to be conducted. Trumpiness is an aggressive small-mindedness that arises from national solipsism. It is self-absorption to the point of wilful ignorance about the rest of the world. It’s the chauvinistic ‘America First!’ mindset that Trump crows about, even if the individual practitioner of Trumpiness doesn’t realise they sound like him.
I should emphasise that I’m not talking about people who are focussed on national politics because of Trump’s hateful policies. That’s not chauvinism as much as it is self-preservation. People can be marginalised within powerful countries; see: Flint, Standing Rock, Grenfell Tower, Tory disability cuts, French banlieues or the persecution of the Ainu people. Trumpiness is an expression of centrality, not marginalisation.
Trumpiness can be either intentional or inadvertent. Sometimes people don’t even register that they’re doing it. That’s almost scarier than the people who deliberately adopt this mindset. I’ve pointed out Trumpy things and some people don’t see the problem, possibly because they’ve become so inured to it that it doesn’t register to them.
What does Trumpiness look like in practice?
- CNN reporting on 10 Americans dying in a plane crash, but neglecting to talk about the 40 other people who died with them, or the impact of hurricanes on Texas and Florida, but not Barbuda or Haiti.
- Thinking American things are objectively better just because they’re American.
- American software companies neglecting to add spellcheckers for any dialect of English used outside the United States, or referring to their dialect as unmarked English in opposition to British English, Canadian English and Australian English. Yes, Trumpiness can be used to exclude people in influential imperial or colonial countries who are comparatively privileged on the world stage.
- Newspapers covering very little news about anywhere outside the 50 US states – not even Canada, Mexico or US territories like Puerto Rico, Guam or the US Virgin Islands.
- Destabilising the Middle East to get cheap oil.
- Withdrawing from the Paris Agreement because you think climate change is ‘fake news’ and a hoax invented by the Chinese government to make US manufacturing non-competitive.
- Using an American flag to represent the English language. (You shouldn’t use flags at all.)
- Not following international standards on weights and measures and not realising that very few other countries use your particular standards.
One of the saddest things about the entire thing is when non-Americans absorb Trumpiness. I’ve seen Trumpy attitudes from people who may not be American themselves, but are strongly influenced by American culture and fail to question certain assumptions they may have inadvertently absorbed from their American counterparts. I’ve come across cases where British or Australian writers contort themselves to write like Americans because of the Trumpy assumption that Americans cannot tolerate seeing or hearing other kinds of English. Developers in non-English-speaking countries (or even non-American countries, for other native English-speakers) are rarely able to work primarily in their own language.
America, naturally, isn’t the only country guilty of its own kind of Trumpiness. Britain, for example, has its Brexit-supporting, Daily Mail-reading ‘Little Englanders’. They are convinced that leaving the European Union will bring sovereignty and prosperity. Brexit will instead bring economic and social decline owing to their wrong-headed idea that isolating one’s country from the rest of the world will restore the ‘greatness’ of the British Empire. These are the people who fetishise pounds and stones, inches and miles, and old-fashioned blue passports. The same could be said about French people, Japanese people, Chinese people, Mexicans or anybody else who pushes the ideology that their culture is intrinsically superior or more important than others’. It’s just that American chauvinism is the loudest and most powerful right now; there’s nothing intrinsic to Americans or any other group of people that makes them automatically more chauvinistic than others. Nothing is better just because it’s American (or German, South African, Russian, Chilean, Thai, Ghanaian, etc).
For all that is good in the world, please don’t be Trumpy. Be aware of your biases. Watch for chauvinism, especially since it’s part of what brought us Trump and Brexit in the first place.