‘Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair’: the oft-misquoted cry of Percy Shelley’s Ozymandias, used by many who think they have achieved something great, but that – in its context in the poem – conveys the tragic irony that everything man builds up crumbles to dust.
Wednesday morning, 7:34 GMT (according to my radio) Donald Trump was elected President of the United States of America, and the American presidency – what is perhaps the greatest political edifice in the world – began to crumble into dust. That’s democracy, you cry! The people wanted him! That, I’m afraid, is rather my point.
Trump’s supporters hail him as an innovator, a free-thinker, a man unmired by the mess of a career in politics. A businessman. A truth-teller. A man who can make America great again.
For those of us on the other side, we see something very different. A demagogue who has ruthlessly used hate and ignorance. A Machiavellian sociopath who makes Lady Macbeth look like an amateur when it comes to heartless ambition. We’re scared. I’m a middle-class white lady who lives in the UK and I’m scared – why? Because the repercussions of not just a Trump presidency but a Trump election are global. Here’s why:
Even if Trump fails to put a single one of his noxious campaign promises into action, the simple message that his election sends is that a man who boasts openly about sexually assaulting women deserves to hold the highest office in the world. A man who says all Muslims are worthy of our hate and should be deported, is fit to run the United States of America, and have access to a nuclear arsenal that could wipe out the entire world. The message has already been given loud and clear: this is an acceptable way to behave. This is an admirable way to behave. Women, the disabled, LGBT people, people of BAME are worthless. A rich white man with anger on his side can do whatever he pleases.
People wanted him. 40% of female voters voted for Donald Trump. The ‘teflon president’ who vowed to prosecute women for getting abortions (then swiftly backtracked) and laughed about how fame allowed him to grab women by the pussy was chosen by a large proportion of female voters. Because people don’t really care what he stands for, apart from rage and destruction. Apart from blindly feeling.
Women the world over might have woken on Wednesday morning to find that it was finally true in practice, not just in theory, that a woman could hold the highest elected office in the world. That girls really do run the world (as Beyoncé tells us). Instead, they woke to learn that a man who only cares how a woman scores out of ten has been chosen to lead the world’s most powerful nation.
Was Hillary Clinton the perfect candidate? No. Was she judged by standards a male candidate never would be? Yes. I urge anyone and everyone to watch her concession speech. Painful, but important.
America has a population of over 320 million. 320 million people, and Donald Trump was the single one from among those chosen to be president.
I want to be hopeful. I want to say, this is done, let us move forward in the hope that this is not the disaster many of us the world over fear it will be. But I’m afraid the damage is already done. In electing Trump, we as the global society have endorsed a world in which celebrity is more important than competence, hate and bombast more important that careful compromise and the long, slow fight towards real equality for all. I’m saddened, and I know many of you are, too. Let us all hope there is something we can save from the wreckage.
I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”