The real threat is not Donald Trump - but what follows him
For all the trepidation his rise has caused, the fall of Trump on election day will bring precious little relief
The last couple of years have been a period of political surprises. Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump as the Republican nominee for President are surely the greatest. But as things stand, reality must take a complete leave of its senses for Hilary Clinton to lose the November election.
Yet for all the trepidation that his rise has caused over the past year, the fall of Trump on election day will bring precious little relief. The fundamental problem for American democracy, indeed, for American society in general is that this year’s Trump phenomenon is a mere symptom of a much deeper problem.
The problem is that the United States have become such a polarized and fractured society that 40 percent or more of Americans would rather vote for a candidate who actively despises them and throws schoolyard insults at them left, right and centre, than consider voting across the ideological line.
And what is worse, everything which we might have thought would disqualify any person from high office: racism, misogyny, vast inherited wealth, a proven track record of deceit and fraud, and last, but by no means least, a strong inclination to believe conspiracy theories. To a very large extent the very traits that have propelled him to the nomination of a major political party in the world’s foremost democracy.
And herein lies the threat to the future of the American republic. Trump speaks for a sizeable minority of American society. And this minority is both unwilling and unable to engage in conversation with the rest of the American society.
To be sure, this problem is not solely their own. The perplexion that the Trump phenomenon has caused amongst the “liberal metropolitan elite”, shows that the rest of us are equally bereft of the imagination required to have a meaningful political conversation with Trumpian America.
But this is something that the rest of us are at least beginning to fret about. How could we have allowed things to get this way? When did we lose the capacity to talk to our fellow Americans like this?
United Sates has always been a divided country: by race, by politics and by ideology. But for most of our history most of us have valued our shared American destiny more than anything elseDr. Azeem Ibrahim
My worry over the future of the republic stems from the fact that the other side shows no such concern. They are fired up, and the expected defeat of Donald Trump in the election will likely only radicalize them further. This will be a country in which 40 percent of Americans will chant “Lock her up!” about the President, and will believe that she is somewhere between a serial fraudster and the devil.
United Sates has always been a divided country: by race, by politics and by ideology. But for most of our history most of us have valued our shared American destiny more than anything else. There has only been one time in the history of the United States where we have been more divided: The Civil War. And the parallels between the people who support Trump and the secessionist South are hard to escape.
Where America goes from here, however, is not clear. If someone as thoughtful, diligent and conciliatory as President Obama has not managed to heal the rift in American society, it is hard to imagine who would. And if the Trump bloc manages to find someone even marginally less of a controversial figure to speak for it at the next election, they will become and even more formidable force.
Whatever happens, Hilary Clinton’s first priority for her upcoming term is to bring this country back together. And all of us must do our utmost to help re-engage with our fellow Americans. This must be our new national project: if we fail to do this, the price is too dire to contemplate.
Azeem Ibrahim is Senior Fellow at the Centre for Global Policy and Adj Research Professor at the Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College. He completed his PhD from the University of Cambridge and served as an International Security Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and a World Fellow at Yale. Over the years he has met and advised numerous world leaders on policy development and was ranked as a Top 100 Global Thinker by the European Social Think Tank in 2010 and a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. He tweets @AzeemIbrahim