So Trump it is.
So the Republican Party really does want to commit political hara-kiri. Donald Trump cannot conceivably win the presidential election. He has alienated too many of the electoral constituencies to get past the post come November: women, Hispanics, gays … the list goes on and on.
But then again, so does Trump.
A smug Englishman observing the Trump phenomenon from afar may be tempted to chortle as the American political train comes careening off the rails. First, though, he would be well advised to look at the impending train crash in his own country.
Britain, a stable country with an electorate well endowed with common sense – or so one had always supposed – has just voted to leave the European Union without having the faintest idea what will happen next, or even what might happen next. (The politicians who should have been explaining it didn’t know either.) Meanwhile Johnson, Trump’s rival as the clown prince of diplomacy, has just been named Foreign Secretary. The leader of the opposition Labour Party refuses to resign even though 80 per cent of his parliamentary colleagues demand that he do just that. The United Kingdom, that eternal bulwark of stable and decent democracy, increasingly looks no more viable than something constructed by Mr. Sykes and Monsieur Picot to carve up Arabia.
Joke about Republican hara-kiri all you want, but not if you live in Britain. Glass houses, and all that ….
Something is going on in the world that those of us who have doggedly, or perhaps carelessly, straddled the middle of the political road have not yet firmly grasped. Some claim to have grasped it, but this writer is not among them. While we dilly-dally, some western democracies seem hell-bent on drifting into the kind of amiable chaos that often precedes a worst kind. In an extreme example, think of a tragically inept Weimar Republic morphing into a triumphantly efficient Third Reich.
It may not be a western democracy in any traditional sense, but it is a Member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and has of late been angling to join the European Union. The first role is endangered, the second now improbable, after last week’s ‘coup’. (The quotation marks are used because many Turks believe that Erdogan engineered the whole thing in order to consolidate his power.) Turkey is on the brink of discarding secular democracy in favour of religious autocracy. Turkey is important for practical and symbolic reasons. The Americans have bases there, and the Europeans need Turkey to stockpile would-be migrants. Turkey as an Islamic state would be not just an inconvenience but a beacon of triumph for the forces of Fundamentalism.
France, too, is in a poor state, both economically and socially, if not as sick as Turkey. With massacres on the street becoming endemic, next year’s presidential election becomes increasingly unpredictable, Le Pen and others of her ilk written off at peril. A right-wing regime in France might well take the country out of the EU, as Le Pen has promised she would. That would have been inconceivable a couple of years ago. It doesn’t sound quite that way now, does it?
I’m not predicting doomsday, merely pointing out that politics that once resided on the edges of the spectrum now seem closer to the centre. The political Right is on the march everywhere, and not the soft, loony, not-to-be-taken-too-seriously Right, but a harder, more messianic Right that is not afraid of the kind of provocative rhetoric, as spewed out by Trump – the kind that demeans such virtues as moderation and common sense and ignores the dangers of unintended consequences.
The world may settle down, but what will allow that to happen?
It won’t happen all the while the Middle East boils and spits. Not while immigrants from that and other troubled regions are prepared to risk life on rubber dinghies in stormy seas (and at this moment, they seem to be coming in ever greater numbers). Not while troubled societies angry, or bored, with their politicians revert to ancient tribal religious affiliations.
And the crises of the West are all about immigration, as much as apologists claim that they are about any number of other things. Trump thinks he can win an election appealing to fears about Mexican immigration by building the world’s longest fence. Brexit may have been a protest against a variety of failed government policies, but first and foremost it was about immigration, specifically a fear that Turkey would join the EU and one million Turks would show up at Heathrow, begging bowls at the ready. France’s troubles are the long-simmering but now explosive legacy of its imperial sequestering of North Africa.
But all is not yet lost. Turkey I think is, but Trump may yet go down in flames, the artful Brits may well snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, France may withstand the tidal wave from the Right.
At this moment, though, I’m not sure I would bet on a horse.