Trump’s hostile takeover of America succeeds

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President-elect Trump routs the liberal establishment

White van man is on the march. Trump’s victory in the United States presidential race is a victory for disaffected white men – opinionated, racist misogynists – who have decided to give the establishment a kicking.

One thing is for sure, 2016 will go down in history as a watershed year. First Brexit and now Trump, reactionary forces are in the ascendant. The liberal consensus – that has dominated post-war politics – is broken.

Mrs Clinton was a flawed candidate. She carried baggage, was too close to corporate America and failed to connect with the voters. But she was the standard-bearer for liberal values and should have won. Her victory would have secured President Obama’s legacy – so he is a big loser too.

The FBI did Clinton no favours, but its intervention over her private emails only confirmed unease already there.

Like Brexit, the campaign bombed in part because those who had most to lose did not get out and vote. The working class, African Americans, millennials and women failed to give Clinton the backing she needed, and deserved.

But this was not the only reason for Trump’s triumph. He successfully mobilised voters who previously did not function as a group. Older white males gravitated to him. With his leering and hubristic bar-room campaign, he became their standard bearer.

There have been suggestions that Trump the president will be different from Trump the candidate.

But there is no reason to believe that this leopard, who scapegoated vulnerable groups to win the White House, will change his spots. Hubris, and his enormous ego, will always rise to the surface. Trump cannot help himself, he behaves like the spoilt reality TV celebrity he is.

He put on a show to win the White House; and he will ensure the show goes on. Trump will govern using the script of The Apprentice.

America has made its choice, and has a right to pick who it wants as president – even a complete amateur who has never been tested by high office. But this election is not just about America. What happens in the only remaining superpower resonates around the globe.

The world is now a more dangerous place. Volatility is the enemy of peace and security; and the leadership of the free world will soon be in the hands of an unstable demagogue.

And Trump has his doppelgänger. In Russia’s President Putin, the leadership of the unfree world is also controlled by a man who cannot be trusted – a man who believes self-preservation is the same as the national interest.

So where from here? It’s hard to see how the genie can be put back in the bottle.

Those who voted Trump and Brexit imagine there are simple solutions to complex problems. But there are no easy answers, it will take time for that to sink in. Trump will disappoint.

In the meantime, the left must find its voice again. It must find a way of reconnecting with the electorate. And it must find a champion who has a vision of a world that is positive and inclusive.

The hard right has successfully crafted a narrative that presents liberals as an out-of-touch elite. It has demonised migrants. And it has tapped into the nasty underbelly of petty nationalism.

The last time these forces were abroad, Adolf Hitler rose to power.

Trump is no Hitler. But as the rising tide of violent racism in post-Brexit Britain has demonstrated, there are risks that the demons that destroyed Weimar Germany will be unleashed. 

I hope I am wrong. But on this morning after the night before, it is difficult to dispel pessimism.

President Obama was elected with “Hope” as his one-word slogan. With Donald Trump’s election, “Abandon hope all ye who enter here,” has become the catchphrase of modern America.

Whatever the question, Trump is not the answer

 

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Donald Trump infiltrating the Republican Party

The American sociologist Robert King Merton is not a household name. But he is one of the founding fathers of modern sociology. An unassuming professor at Columbia University, Merton, who died in 2003, pioneered the scientific study of human society.

He is perhaps most famous for his exploration of the Law of Unintended Consequences. Each of us will have experienced its effects. We do something for the right reasons, but the outcomes are often different to those we expect.

A classic example of the law in action can be seen in the current state of the British Labour Party. Those who signed nomination papers for Jeremy Corbyn, to ensure a full range of voices were heard in the leadership debates, never believed this would result in his election.

Much the same thing is happening in the United States where Donald Trump has taken over the Republican Party and is in the process of destroying it from within.

Whatever you think of their politics, the Republicans are one of the great political parties of western democracy. Among their presidents they number Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower and the greatest of them all, Abraham Lincoln.

Richard Nixon (although a crook) transformed the west’s dysfunctional relationship with China, and Ronald Reagan (by no means a towering intellectual) presided over the collapse of communism and the end of the cold war.

A President Trump would make the most recent Republican incumbent of the Oval Office – George W Bush – look like a master craftsman of the democratic arts.

Trump should have been taken down in the US Primary elections. These are designed to weed out the rubbish from the field of candidates. No-one imagined he had a chance. Then the Law of Unintended Consequences kicked in. Much the same thing happened in the Brexit referendum.

David Cameron – recently branded one of the worst prime ministers in British history in a poll of politics academics – never believed the vote would be won by a bunch of right-wing conspiracy theorists with an inferiority complex about Britain’s relationship with Europe. But it was.

Trump’s brand of negative, misogynistic politics is tailor-made for the Twitter age. It’s easy to lie in 140 characters – Tweets, sound-bites and slogans strip away the detail, the context and the facts.

And they play to an audience that is looking for simple answers to complex problems; that believes nobody is listening to their voices, and which sees the elite getting away with murder.

Lost on them is the nonsense of a multi-millionaire property developer portraying himself as an anti-elitist man of the people.

Trump is on the ballot because people have exercised their democratic right to put him there. It cannot be contested that the exercise of democracy is a good thing. Yet the unintended consequence of giving people a voice is that they may misuse it. Or worse, their legitimate fears and worries might be exploited.

History is filled with those who exercised power through the exploitation of democracy. In the last century Adolf Hitler rose to power by taking over and then undermining the democratic process.

It is instructive to look at the Merton’s analysis of why actions and motivations that are inherently good can lead to unintended consequences: ignorance, making it difficult to predict outcomes; failing to analyse problems properly; putting short-term interests ahead of long-term goals; making decisions to address problems that don’t really exist; and making decisions on the basis of outmoded value systems.

That final one is the most dangerous. It is what is fuelling Trump’s cry of “make America great again”, and it was the underpinning basis of the xenophobic, anti-European, Little Englander campaign that it taking us out of Europe,

For those of us looking on (in horror it must be said), the consequences of a Trump presidency are all too apparent. If he governs the country the way he has governed himself over this past 18 months, God help the free world.

His core vote – and he has one – has been sold a vision of a resurgent America on the side of the little people against the forces of global capitalism. If they buy into his dream, their vote will have the same unintended consequence of those who claimed Brexit would make Britain great again: a currency in free-fall, an economy unfit to meet the needs of working people, a society riven by racial hatred and abuse.

Having given us candidate Trump, the US electorate appears to be the only force capable of stopping him. Let’s hope they do.

  • This article first appeared in The Irish News

Who slurs wins: dirty politics in Britain and America

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Boris Johnston and the man he wants to replace David Cameron

As we have seen with the internecine warfare in the Tory Party over Brexit, often the bitterest political battles are within parties rather than between them. In the main, parties are broad coalitions, but even those focused on a single issue, or formed around an individual, have their moments.

You don’t have to look far for examples: patricide with the ejection of Ian Paisley as leader of the DUP, matricide when the Tories dispatched Maggie Thatcher. The SDLP in its prime was riven by tensions between its tribal chiefs: Hume, Mallon and McGrady; and as we have seen recently, it is not slow to dispatch a leader it believes is past his sell-by date.

In most political systems, much of this power play goes on behind the scenes; erupting only when party discipline breaks down or an individual loses the run of him or herself and goes public – Boris Johnston’s Brexit buffoonery is a case in point.

If the stakes were not so high, the Blue-on-Blue Brexit battle would be entertaining. There’s some entertainment to be had in hearing members of the Government rubbishing its own policies, turning on their Prime Minister, and deriding the competence of bodies such as the Treasury and the Bank of England.

These ghosts will come back to haunt them when the vote is passed.

Winston Churchill, who knew the value of political insurrection, once observed: “The opposition occupies the benches in front of you, but the enemy sits behind you.” Jeremy Corbyn would agree with that.

In Britain and Ireland these tensions bubble to the surface like magma oozing out of an active volcano, with the occasional eruption. The United States does things differently.

It has institutionalised internecine political warfare with the primary elections system – the blooding of presidential candidates by their own parties. The primaries have dominated US politics for the past 18 months or so. We still have to get through the conventions before the general election proper begins – but we now have a clear idea about who will be battling for the presidency.

The American system is designed to introduce a degree of paralysis into the body politic. Members of the House of Representatives go before the voters every two years; the President’s powers are checked by Congress and the Supreme Court; and even a two-term president, such as Obama, becomes a lame duck once the primaries begin and the focus shifts to the next holder of the office.

The primaries are always been a blood sport; but this time round the level of invective has been particularly unedifying. It has brought the political process into disrepute.

Billionaire Donald Trump’s rise has shocked the Republican establishment, and his party ‘colleagues’ have been unsparing in their condemnation of his racist and misogynistic comments. Like the Brexiteers he has not been afraid of twisting the truth to suit his narrow political ends.

Hilary Clinton, unquestionably one of the best-qualified candidates to challenge for the presidency, has also had her own challenges with the doggedly determined opposition of Bernie Sanders. Like Trump, Sanders has played the anti-establishment card, and his campaign has done all it can to hole Hilary below the waterline.

But this week Clinton secured her grip on the nomination. That in itself is a milestone. She is the first woman with a credible chance of becoming President. But Sanders and his supporters continue to undermine her candidacy, to such a degree that you would imagine they’d prefer to see Trump in the White House.

Politics is a rough and dirty trade. Not for the faint-hearted.

Those in favour of the system say it tests the candidates for the ordeal to come. Those who cannot stand the heat are weeded out; political arguments are honed, and the electorate gets a chance to ‘test’ the candidates to destruction.

That is all well and good. But a system that allows an individual like Trump to rise to the surface must be deeply suspect, as is an electoral process that sends into the final phase of a campaign, two candidates handicapped by wounds inflicted by their ‘own’ side.

On the Democrat side, the primaries have ensured the right result. Clinton is a class act, with all the potential of being a first-class president.

But the Republicans have failed their country by their inability to contain a populist demagogue, worse they have failed those of us who have no vote in the election, but who will be directly affected by the decision made in the coming November elections.

  • This article first appeared in The Irish News on June 9 2016

Stop the world – I want to get off

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Donald Trump: Only in America could you attack the elite by voting for a billionaire

One of my favourite sayings is the observation that ‘it doesn’t matter who wins the election, the government always gets in’. The history of democracy is one of constant disappointment that votes for change at the ballot box result in more of the same once people get into power.

The classic example of modern times is the election of New Labour in 1997. Tony Blair swept to power on a tide of enthusiasm, and left office mired in scandal. Whatever his achievements in Ireland he will never shake off his association with a discredited American president and the shameful war in Iraq.

People here have seen precious little benefit from the shift to devolved powers. Chameleon like, the civil service has adapted to its new masters; while on the ground there is little evidence of a step-change in the quality of education, the delivery of an effective health system, or the establishment of an economy capable of addressing poverty and disadvantage.

Frustration with politics is showing itself across the globe. For now, the anti-establishment candidates for the US Presidency are in the ascendant. Donald Trump, the multi-billionaire, swept to victory in the New Hampshire Primary. On the Democrat side, Hillary Clinton – former first lady and US secretary of state – had her progress to the White House checked by Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders.

Socialist is a trigger word in a United States that has never really got over McCarthyism. Although Sanders is not a socialist in terms we would know – he’d sit comfortably with the centre left here – his success is a kick in the teeth for the establishment.

In the United Kingdom austerity, and a sense of injustice that the bankers got away with the scandals that brought it about, has also fuelled the anti-establishment vote. UKIP’s jingoistic populism generated some four million votes at the last general election. Labour, still toxic after Blair and Brown, failed to break the Tory grip on power. But the subsequent election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader – with the attendant surge in Labour membership – is another challenge to the status quo.

The chattering classes like to joke about the prospects of a Trump presidency and a Corbyn premiership. But more worrying is the prospect of Trump in the White House and Cameron in Number 10. As Bush-Blair demonstrated, British prime ministers need a close association with the United States to maintain their prestige.

Corbyn has yet to prove he has the capacity to reach beyond his core support. If he does, and that requires an enormous stretch of the imagination, he has the spectre of Alexis Tsipras to contend with. Elected by the Greeks on a massive anti-austerity vote, he has had to kow-tow to Greek’s international bankers and implement the very austerity he was elected to overturn.

If my “the government always gets in” theory holds water, it should not matter if Trump wins through. There should be enough checks and balances in the system to limit any damage he might do. But there is always the exception that proves a rule. And Trump might well be it.

We are a long way from the final presidential showdown, and it is all too easy to over-emphasise the importance of a single primary campaign. President Trump is still a nightmare rather than a reality. But his current ascendancy – alongside that of Sanders, Corbyn, the SNP in Scotland, and the leftist Potemos movement in Spain, among others – is a clear signal that conventional politics is no longer fit for purpose.

It might seem perverse that Americans are turning to a multi-billionaire property developer to challenge the ‘elite’ in Washington, but that’s the crazy world we are living in today.

Democracy is a blunt instrument. Ordinary voters don’t have many ways to influence the decision-making process, and we only have the undivided attention of those who govern us every four or five years.

We are at a stage in human history when there is a real desire for change, and a recognition that we cannot go on the way we are going.

We put our faith in the market and in materialism. But it has fallen short.

Consumerism does not bring us happiness and is not sustainable. The earth’s resources are being depleted, wealth is increasingly in the hands of fewer and fewer people, the world is being torn apart by conflict – in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Egypt… the list goes on.

We know from history what happens when politics fails. Nature abhors a vacuum, and totalitarianism flourishes. Stop the world! I want to get off.

  • A version of this article appeared in The Irish News on February 12 2016