By Gunnar Westberg
TFF Board member
August 8, 2018
• Oh, my dear USA – the country where I spent six of the best years of my life, where I have paid so many visits, where I have so many friends – are you still alive, behind the Trump Curtain, or are you hiding in despair and disbelief?
Two weeks I spent there. Two weeks is an ideal time to confirm your prejudices and to reach premature conclusions. If you stay longer, you will understand that you have understood very little.
I went to places I know well: to rural Minnesota, to the civilized big city of Minneapolis and to the Capital of the World, New York.
And yes, you are still there, the real USA, the real Americans! Trump does not reign over your hearts. Everyone talks of him, tries to understand who he is, and how he came to be elected, but he has not changed the daily lives and the minds of the people.
Among the wealthy nations the US is still the most generous, friendly, open country and people of all. If you have to be a stranger – legal! – anywhere, be it in USA! It is also the country where nothing is impossible. I found a couple who upon retiring started a vineyard – in Minnesota! Who but an American would do that in your old age? I found that my old friends, medical doctors and researcher like myself, were still allowed and encouraged to stay in research, still make good contributions.
My former mentor, now 90 years, had spent several years establishing a medical school in Haiti. Unlike in Sweden and in Europe, they had not been asked to retire to make space for younger talents.
There is hope and there is trust in the US. But also fear.
The US is still the country of fear.
When you embark on your flight to the US, you will be treated with more suspicion, subject to a more extensive (but not necessary effective) search than when you go anywhere else. There is fear of terrorists, although they are almost non-existing in the country. There is fear of disease, fear that you cannot pay the medical bill, fear of unemployment, fear of the man you meet in the street, who may carry a gun.
But there is also trust. There is trust in the future, trust in the resources of the people.
And there is, here and there, trust in President Trump.
The Trumpists are not declining in numbers and not in the trust in their leader. He is credited with everything good. He brought peace between North and South Korea. He brought low unemployment; the economy is good; ISIS is about to be defeated. The Trumpists believe their President is the main reason for all that and that they should be grateful.
But the trade wars that President Trump has invoked – think China, Europe and latest Iran and countries doing business with Iran – will in a couple of years bring unemployment, a fall in the stock value, and a declining living standard. What will a populist president do then?
He will declare that the country, the US, is under threat and going to be attacked, that Iran is a danger, about to send its nuclear weapons against USA and Israel.
Mr. Trump knows that if you tell the people that they are going to be attacked, they will rally behind him as their leader, and accept any restriction in rights and freedoms. He also knows that the threat of war stimulates the economy.
The well-informed Americans I met had thought a lot about North Korea, but little about the much more serious problem of a possible coming US attack against Iran. They had not noticed the talk of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on “crushing” Iran.
Here is the greatest danger to the rest of the word from the Trump administration: He may have to invoke the threat of war just to retain his support and to stimulate the economy.
And John Bolton, national security adviser, will come out from the shadows and make the threat a reality.
The US survived Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. But their legacy was war. Nixon sabotaged the peace initiative of Lyndon Johnson in Vietnam, Bush started the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, wars that still plague the world.
President Trump might start the war against Iran, which could become the worst of them all.
But what do you learn in two weeks?
Art work credit
Painting by Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008), one of the leading US contemporary masters.