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20/01/2017 1:19 PM AEDT | Updated 20/01/2017 1:20 PM AEDT

How America Went From 'Yes We Can' To 'Because I Can'

In these days of instant everything we sometimes forget there is such a thing as long-term consequences.

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How has this deep distrust of government and its institutions led us to the point where we see Donald Trump taking the Oath of Office?

Remember the war?

Okay, maybe I'm not being specific enough. I mean the one in Iraq. Not the first one, when Saddam got slapped on the wrist and sent to bed without his milk and cookies. The second one. The one where they lied about weapons of mass destruction, killed hundreds and thousands of civilians, blew a trillion dollars, chased Saddam into a hole in the ground before killing him and left behind a godawful mess which turned the whole region into a living hell that threatens world peace for generations to come?

Remember that one?

I only bring it up, in the lead up to this auspicious, historical and -- let's face it -- frightening day when we bear witness to the inauguration of Donald Trump, because the two are undeniably linked.

I'm not talking about whether he supported the war or not, a question which was exhaustively analysed during the exhaustively drawn out Presidential campaign he won and which, ultimately, like all the rest of the exhaustively analysed information laid out before voters, made no difference whatsoever.

I'm talking about something bigger, something much deeper and more significant. I'm talking about the impact of that war on the collective psyche of America.

Because remember just before that war? Remember how for almost a year before it started we knew it was coming? Remember how they told us so on the news every night in reports that seemed so not like journalism and so much like blatant American propaganda? Remember all the experts saying what a bad idea it would be? Remember they couldn't find the weapons, and then started saying they needed to invade so they could find the weapons? Remember nobody thought it was a good idea and then millions and millions of people worldwide marched in the streets in the biggest mass protest and collective display of will humanity has ever seen?

And then remember how they did it anyway?

In these days of instant everything we sometimes forget there is such a thing as long term consequences. We post photos on our Facebook feeds that kill our chances of getting our dream job after graduating. We rack up huge credit card debt shopping for clothes without realising what it will do to our chances of owning a home. We spend our free time sitting in front of gaming consoles rather than engaging in physical activity that keeps us healthy and helps us live longer.

We start a war, against the will of the people, who will one day, inevitably, have their say.

That day, the day they invaded, March 20, 2003, is the day Donald Trump won the election. That was the day the governing elite held up two fingers to the basic tenets of democracy and made it clear they were acting in their own, corporate best interests.

Everyone who marched, everyone who disagreed, everyone who was opposed to their short-term profit-based way of thinking got the message loud and clear how little their opinions mattered to those who held the reins of power.

Once the war began, criticism of the administration was silenced through its portrayal as unpatriotic and dishonouring the troops. When the Bush Administration won a second term in office in 2004, albeit by the slimmest of margins, the message went out loud and clear to those in the real corridors of power on Wall Street that they could get away with blatantly ripping off the system for their own interests.

The gloves were off and they set about building a massive house of cards out of dodgy subprime mortgages, collaterised debt obligations and other new types of securities, sucking hundreds of billions out of the American economy -- money which had previously been used to fund the jobs which held the whole system together.

That day, the day they invaded, March 20, 2003, is the day Donald Trump won the election. That was the day the governing elite held up two fingers to the basic tenets of democracy and made it clear they were acting in their own, corporate best interests.

From the outside it can be hard to understand the conditions which led to Trump's election because America does marketing very well and they have an entire industry in Hollywood devoted to the cause. They portray an image to the world of health, vitality, wealth and morality. Occasionally things can get gritty but good always triumphs over evil and the hero always gets the girl.

The truth, though, is that in this everyone-for-themselves society there are many more have-nots than there are haves, and it is necessary, for the elites to enjoy their privileged and exalted positions, that this is always the case.

Furthermore, it is necessary for a large proportion of the have-nots to believe fervently that they are only one small break away from becoming one of the haves and if they just work harder, spend more and maintain their belief in the American Dream they will one day join their ranks.

Maintaining this balance is crucial to maintaining the status quo but through their greed and self-interest those in power tipped the balance out of their favour. Not only did their actions create more of the have-nots, those they created saw themselves distanced from the American Dream and gained an understanding of the true nature of the system.

By the time the next election came around the American people had seen directly the impact of the way their country was being run. They were out of work, their children were fighting foreign wars for reasons they struggled to understand and, although the rich were most definitely getting richer, their own lives were not getting any better.

Obama came to power promising to make real changes. He had defeated Hillary Clinton in the primaries in large part because she was seen as being from the old-school establishment which had created the conditions Americans now found themselves in. (Sound familiar?) It is telling, as he leaves office, that most of the criticism directed towards him is that he did not change enough.

The greatest revelation I had during the long election campaign did not come about through the words of any of the candidates or any of the coverage they received but, rather, from two documentaries, one new, one produced more than a decade ago, which provided insight into the American mindset.

The first of these was 'Requiem for the American Dream', in which Noam Chomsky, generally regarded as the champion of left-leaning American thinkers of the late 20th century, sets out with devastating clarity the case that the American system is rigged to concentrate power in the hands of the elite.

By the time the next election came around the American people had seen directly the impact of the way their country was being run.

A few nights later I was flicking through the channels and found the Michael Moore film 'Bowling for Columbine' being run on a local station. During the scene I happened upon a Michigan militia member, dressed in camouflage and showing off his favourite guns, was putting forth his views on the American system. Forgive me for stereotyping but I would put a fair amount of money on the prospect of him being -- 14 years after the film was produced and barring an unfortunate accident with one of his beloved firearms -- a strong and vocal supporter of the Trump campaign.

But then it got weird. It got weird because the things this Michigan militia man was saying, which my natural inclination was to dismiss as paranoid and ludicrous, started to sound familiar. He was talking about the rigged nature of government, how it was all set up to favour corporations and take advantage of regular people and I could swear I'd heard it somewhere before. It was, in fact, exactly what Chomsky had been saying in 'Requiem for the American Dream'.

It hit me like a ton of bricks that those on the left and the right were seeing and saying the same thing and only differed in their reaction to it. One side wanted to arm themselves, circle the wagons and prepare for conflict, while the other side wanted to hold sit-ins, write protest songs and try to make changes from within. There was in fact a deep understanding of the degree to which people were being exploited by the system, on both sides of politics, and a strong and unsatisfied need to change the system.

And how is all this relevant today? How has this deep distrust of government and its institutions led us to the point where we see Donald Trump taking the Oath of Office?

Because for all of the coverage they received it was not uneducated, out of work Americans who got Trump elected. It wasn't racists. It wasn't misogynists. It was those who just wanted to throw a hand grenade in among the whole mess and start afresh, damn the consequences and full speed ahead. It was those who saw Trump as something different, someone from outside the system who would make changes, who put him over the top. In their eyes it doesn't matter what those changes might be, they just want a new direction and they are willing to take the chance it won't lead directly over a cliff.

We can only speculate as to what might have happened if they were offered the choice of Trump or Bernie Sanders, someone pushing just as hard for change but from a completely different perspective. As it was, once she was portrayed as the establishment candidate, Hillary didn't stand a chance in the face of the country's desire for something new.

The anger and disappointment from the decision to go to war, having gathered pressure and momentum in the intervening years, was finally allowed to be expressed and was aimed not at any particular party but at the foundations of power itself.

The people have spoken and President Trump is a reality. We can only hope the force which brought him to power, seeded as it was in the launch of an unwanted and unresolved war, is not an indication of things to come.

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