Back in January I blogged about the grotesque but compelling pieces of performance art that Trump was staging across America, and suggested that, like Oswald Mosley, his appeal was as aesthetic as it was ideological. I argued that, like Mosley, Trump was a response to an imperial power's long-term and irreversible decline.
In July, after Trump had taken the Republican nomination and begun his erratic campaign against Hillary Clinton, I used an unpublished Kendrick Smithyman poem and the lapidarian research of Alastair Bonnett to query the notion of the United States as a traditionally white nation. I argued that the rise of white nationalism in America was a sign of that nation's decline as a world power.
In August I speculated about the foreign policy Trump might pursue as president, and about the unintended consequences that policy might have in the Pacific. I suggested that Trump might accelerate, rather than reverse, America's abandonment of parts of the Pacific to China.
It seems that last post was in vain, because Trump faces a narrow and precipitous path to victory today.
Despite his deficit in the polls and the demographics he has managed to mobilise against him, Trump has announced that he's bringing a massive arsenal of fireworks for his post-election party. Trump is of course a uniquely hubristic individual, but the high-pitched triumphalism of his campaign has had its counterpart in Hillary Clinton's frequently repeated and impossible promises to revive American manufacturing and restore the country to its old eminence in global affairs.
I'm reminded of a poem that John Ashbery wrote in 1976, while watching a beleagured America attempt to celebrate its two hundredth birthday:
OUT OVER THE BAY THE RATTLE OF FIRECRACKERS
And, in the adjacent waters, calm.
Ashbery is known for writing long and cryptic poems, but he had begun to experiment with haiku-like fragments after encountered an anthology of Japanese verse in the mid-'70s. In 1976, as in 2016, the United States was contending with the aftermath of a disastrous war and an economic crisis. By contrasting the bright but brief fireworks of a Fourth of July celebration with the vast indifference of the sea, Ashbert reminded his readers that the American empire, like every empire, is a mortal, even fragile thing. His vision of fireworks rising noisily before falling pathetically into dark water might be considered a peculiarly American version of Joseph Conrad's famous image of the hubris of European empires:
There was no settlement visible, but the ship was firing its guns into the forest. Apparently the French were fighting some war near there. The boat’s flag hung limp like a rag while the hull, with guns sticking out over it, rose gently and fell on the greasy, slimy waves. The ship was a tiny speck firing away into a continent. It was pointless and impossible to understand. The guns would pop, a small flame would appear from their barrels, a little white smoke would puff out, and nothing would happen. Nothing could happen. It was insane, and it only seemed more insane when someone swore to me that there was a camp of natives (or ‘enemies,’ as he called them) hidden in the jungle.
America's politicians will keep firing uselessly.
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]