Trump’s performance at the Republican convention reminds me of Saddam Hussein – nationalism at its worst


IMAGE/Democratic Underground/Duck Duck Go

The last few nights of political discourse in the US represents a toxic strain of American nationalism that feeds on violence and myths of superiority

The Republican convention was a nauseating performance even by the cess-pit standards of the Trump administration. In its cult-like obeisance to the supreme leader it reminds me of meetings of the Iraqi Baath Party that periodically endorsed Saddam Hussein as the national saviour.

The only speeches acceptable in both cases were dollops of fawning praise. Speakers outdid each other in adulation, pretending that shambolic failures were triumphant successes. Trump’s calamitous inability to cope with the coronavirus pandemic, leading to the death of 180,000 Americans, was ignored. Thirty years ago, Saddam Hussein likewise informed wildly applauding Baathists that the “mother of battles” in Kuwait had been a splendid Iraqi victory.

The comparison is not fanciful: the Iraqi Baath Party was an Arab nationalist party and the Republican Party could well be renamed the American Nationalist Party. In each case, anybody whose loyalty to the leader was suspect has mostly been purged and replaced with flunkies and members of the leader’s family.

Saddam presented himself as a man of steel, ever alert to defending the national interests of his people from enemies at home and abroad. He also liked to show a softer more empathetic side and would receive joyful members of the Shia or Kurdish communities whom his regime had violently repressed. Occasionally, these grisly gestures of paternalistic concern would go awry, as when, in the run up to the war in Kuwait, a five-year-old British hostage refused to sit on his lap.

Trump now faces some of the same problems as the late Iraqi leader and is coming up with some of the same answers. How, for instance, do you get away with describing a self-inflicted defeat as a glorious victory? The autocrat’s playbook is similar in both cases: the supreme leader simply lies and brazenly claims a world-beating success, while blaming foreigners and domestic foes for anything that went wrong. “When the China virus invaded our country, we launched the greatest mobilisation of American society since World War Two,” said Mr Trump as the convention got underway.

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