The Gathering Storm
There’s just 97 days until the US election, and most of us now have an understanding of just how momentous is the decision that Americans have to make on November 8th. In the blue corner sits Hillary – unlikeable, perhaps, but a normal candidate from the traditional centre-left of American politics. However, in the red corner is the most radical candidate selected for President in modern history.
Surely they can’t elect him, people say, but the polls show the race is tight and just like in Britain’s Brexit vote, market research done by phone gets higher numbers for Trump than that done on the street – some people intend to vote for him but don’t want to admit it.
Where I differ from many is in the idea that we will reach a dangerous point of inflection at the vote in November. I think that moment is already here, and it comes down to a question that should always be applied to powerful leaders – how easy is it going to be to democratically remove this person from the national stage.
Today Trump has answered my question. In Columbus, Ohio, Trump said that he thinks the election is going to be rigged. Of course he offered no evidence. Although it’s unprecedented for a nominee to cast doubt on America’s electoral processes like this, it’s true to form for a man who has spent the last year doubling down on each outrage that leaves his mouth.
Just in the last week, Trump has said that if his daughter was sexually harassed at work she should ‘find another career’, called Hillary Clinton ‘the devil’ and suggested that Muslim parents who spoke of their slain Army Captain son at the Democratic convention made him suspicious of their motives. And anyway, Trump (who got deferments and didn’t go to Vietnam) felt he had made a similar sacrifice to them, through his hard work in the business arena.
The most telling indictment of the gutter into which this election has descended is the chanting at the Republican convention. Where once candidates spoke of their political outlook and vision, and highlighted their differences with the other nominee, Republicans continually chanted ‘lock her up’. There appears a widespread view in such circles that Hillary Clinton is not just wrong on policy but a criminal (‘the devil’, don’t forget), who should be imprisoned for her wrongdoing.
Yet the Republican glue still appears to be holding. John McCain said that whilst he could not have disagreed more with Trump’s comments about fallen servicemen, he still supported him for President. Paul Ryan has said the same. At some point in this election these men are going to be cornered by a canny journalist, who will point out to them that to fail to disavow racism is to participate in it, and to continue to support a man whose policies you profess to abhor means you have sold your soul. Ryan and McCain’s positions are untenable. Surely they will crack before November.
Still, it might not make any difference. Trump appears invulnerable. Americans are in a pitchforks state of mind, and once the rabble is roused, calm and reasoned sentiments can go take a hike.
Trump takes such contradictory positions, often in the same speech or interview, that it’s hard to decipher just what his policies actually are behind all the bluster. One way is to take a look at the statements of those around him. Trump hangers-on are from the frothing-at-the-mouth batshit-crazy end of the spectrum, not least confidante Roger Stone.
Stone today said that he expected voter fraud, and that ‘if there’s voter fraud, this election will be illegitimate, the election of the winner will be illegitimate, we will have a constitutional crisis, widespread civil disobedience, and the government will no longer be the government’. Stone said he thought there would be a ‘bloodbath’ if the election was stolen.
And that is the biggest problem we face. Because unless Hillary Clinton has a resounding win (and perhaps even in that instance), America now has a man at the helm of the Republican party who considers ‘winning’ his birthright, is happy to break any rule in order to do so, and will take losing as a personal affront. Trump believes that if he loses, it must be because he has been cheated.
Roger Stone just says what Donald Trump is thinking. ‘How we are going to make this man go away’ presents a potentially existential crisis to American democracy. It looks like he wants to stay, win or lose. And that is a very big problem.