by Frank Schnittger
Mon Oct 31st, 2016 at 07:17:35 PM EST
In common with many political junkies here, I suspect, I've been following the US elections very closely. And yet, despite having written about 60 stories on US politics in previous years, I've written hardly a word this time around. Where to start? The subject is almost too horrible to contemplate: a reductio ad absurdum that keeps on plummeting into new unfathomed depths. Could anyone have imagined a candidate so ridiculous as Donald J. Trump winning the Republican nomination, never mind the Presidency itself?
A narcissistic, racist, misogynist. A self-confessed serial sexual abuser of women and allegedly a child rapist as well. An admirer of Vladimir Putin, Saddam Hussein and assorted dictators around the world. A businessman who has stiffed many suppliers, contractors and customers throughout his career. A candidate who has encouraged his supporters to commit violence, and who has said he will imprison his opponent if elected. A rich kid who claims to speak on behalf of the dispossessed, and yet proposes policies which will dramatically further increase the gap between rich and poor in the United States.
And yet he is polling within a few percentage points of the front runner, Hillary Clinton, who, for all her faults, is none of the above. Yes, you can fault her for using a private email address for official business, possibly to avoid congressional scrutiny. But she did so on the advice of a previous (Republican) Secretary of State, Colin Powell, and it was apparently a practice widespread amongst top officials, partly because of the cumbersome nature of the official email system, not to mention the risks of leaks emanating from that system due to cyberattacks and bureaucratic infighting.
So what is happening to the USA, and is it a harbinger of things to come in Europe and elsewhere in the world?
Much has been made of the increasing disparity in wealth in the USA; of the evisceration of the middle class by technology and globalisation; of the encroachment on traditionally white held occupations and areas by various racial minorities, some of whom are recent immigrants, legal and illegal. But studies have shown that much of Trump's support is not coming from those most effected by such trends, and that indeed his average supporter is wealthier compared to Hillary Clinton's.
Yes, his support is disproportionately from older, white, male, church going and non-college educated demographics living in more rural areas, so it is easy to interpret his rise as a protest against an establishment more inclined towards globalisation, pluralism and liberal social values. But it is difficult to imagine the contortions that religious fundamentalists and social conservatives have to go through in order to throw their support behind a serial philanderer who has never worshipped anyone but himself. Still, if you can believe the world was created 4000 years ago, perhaps you can believe anything.
Perhaps "liberals" make the mistake of believing in a rational universe. Where conclusions are reached on the basis of falsifiable hypotheses and hard evidence. Where facts and truth and verifiable theories are the basis of policy and decision making. Where democracy is supposed to be about enhancing the common good.
Perhaps Trump has it right that politics is really about provoking fear and creating scapegoats who can be blamed for those fears. About greed, envy and just plain ignorance. An inchoate rage about the world that is, without much thought as to how it could be made better. Perhaps it is just about riling up one tribe to fight against another for the spoils of war, and the only thing that matters is that you have more weapons than they do.
Perhaps it is difficult to overcome millions of years of evolution in just a few generations, but it is worth noting that humans became one of the most successful of all species through their ability to communicate and cooperate with one another, to their ability to care for each other and nurture the young.
Trump is threatening to return us all to the dark ages, a task made all the easier by the weapons of mass destruction he will have at his disposal should he manage to win the Presidency. It is a dystopian world of dog eat dog, and may the devil take the hindmost. We have seen echoes of such tendencies in the rise of far right nationalism in the EU as exemplified by Brexit, and also in the sheer barbarism of wars such as that now going on in Syria. We last saw it on a global scale in World War II.
Most often people are caught up in such conflicts through circumstances beyond their control; through accidents of time and place. But sometimes they have a choice, and the American people are being given that choice on November 8th. They can choose to turn back the clock on decades of political, economic and social development, or they can put their trust in the slow, complex, confusing and often frustrating process of engaging in political dialogue to make things better for everyone, even if some always seem to get the lion's share of the spoils. It doesn't have to be about them and us: It can also be about all of us.