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Thursday, August 11, 2016

Donald Trump headed for historic defeat?

Donald Trump will not be president, at least not of the United States.  Indeed, I suspect he is heading for a defeat of historic proportions.

Not only do polls have him trailing Hillary Clinton in every state Obama won in 2012, she is also tied or ahead in former Republican strongholds like North Carolina, Arizona and Georgia.

And yet, despite my uncommon certainty about the outcome, I am no less unsettled by the current campaign than anyone else.

There is something deeply troubling about the Trump candidacy, and it is this: flagrant disregard for every imaginable norm of the modern liberal democratic consensus. For Trump, nothing and nobody is out of bounds.

When you grant yourself a blanket exemption from such norms - not to mention common human decency - there are no depths to which you cannot sink.

Elections alone don't create democracy. Instead, we rely far more than we typically realise on unspoken rules of engagement, respect for institutions and shared values. This is what allows our systems of government to function.

Since the Second World War, in the developed world at least, this liberal democratic consensus has underpinned unprecedented peace and prosperity.

Take the case of the Trump campaign's alarmist rhetoric on law and order. At the convention in Cleveland, after actor Scott Baio and underwear model Antonio Sabato Jr wound up their Trump endorsements, the speeches soon pivoted to crime and lawlessness across America.

Echoing Richard Nixon, circa 1968, one hyperventilating speaker after another argued that President Obama has presided over a sharp decline in community safety, and that Trump alone can fix it.

They wrapped into this narrative recent high profile police shootings, some incidents involving undocumented immigrants and, bizarrely, even the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

The alleged crime wave is entirely the product of Trump's fevered imagination.

In truth, violent crime in the US has continued the path of rapid decline that began in the 1990s. But the Trump campaign justify their sabre rattling by simply dismissing the statistics as falsified; an extraordinary claim.

As casually as you like, Trump's chief aide asserted that, because the FBI decided not to indict Hillary Clinton over her private email server, it must therefore follow that they have manufactured false crime stats.

Can you imagine the scale of the conspiracy that would be required to subvert data on such a grand scale?

When one side deems the rules do not apply to them, politics can quickly - alarmingly quickly - descend into a raging garbage fire of fear-mongering, slander and outright lies.

And so, without batting an eyelid, Trump urges Russia - a country his predecessor Mitt Romney called America's number one enemy - to illegally hack Hillary's computers. On Monday, he called on gun rights activists to take action to prevent Clinton from appointing Supreme Court Justices - a thinly veiled call to assassinate her.

For many of his supporters - left behind by the rapid and uneven technological and economic change brought about by globalisation; often chronically underemployed and undercapitalised; as well as threatened by newly ascendant demographic groupings - they can't get enough.

To them, Trump is a blue collar billionaire, whose stupendous wealth makes him impervious to lobbyists and big money donors, as well as unbeholden to party bosses who keep promoting candidates like Romney and McCain on electability grounds but, when push came to shove, couldn't even manage to beat a Kenyan-born Muslim interloper.

The Trump campaign offers a glimpse of what the disintegration of liberal democracy might look like.

Taken alongside the Brexit vote, the election in recent weeks of a right-wing demagogue in Austria, and the impending arrival of Marine Le Pen at the Elysses, these are perilous times.

The GOP have no one to blame but themselves. From the first days of the Obama White House, sniffing the anarchic breeze, Republicans capitulated to the sentiment. Instead of facing up to those intent on destroying the village in order to save it, they opted to join in the looting.

Years before Trump, Congressional Republicans laid the groundwork for him. Their intransigence shutting down the federal government; high-stakes brinksmanship over the national debt ceiling; and unwillingness to cooperate with the Obama White House over judicial and Cabinet appointments has been unprecedented in modern times.

It begs for a restoration of normalcy, but who will lead that charge? Who will mount the case in favour of restoring the liberal democratic consensus? Who will defend our institutions and democratic processes from all-encompassing subjectivity and the politics of unceasing grievance?

Clinton, probably correctly, is banking that a majority of Americans will swerve to avoid a collision with Trump and what he represents.

She's probably right - but that's hardly the end of the matter.

Win or lose, Trump's alarming success to date won't be lost on rabble-rousers everywhere.

Clinton as president will face a restive left, unimpressed with what they (wrongly, in my view) consider shabby treatment of Bernie Sanders, frustrated with her running mate choice and generally sceptical of her left-wing bona fides.

A primary challenge from the left in 2020 seems more likely than not, giving the GOP a clear path back to relevancy even if Trump leads them to a crushing defeat in November.

* Phil Quin was in the research unit for Labour as a marginal seats specialist for the 1990, 1993, and 1996 elections. He then worked for deputy leader of the federal ALP, Gareth Evans, as well as Victorian Senator Steve Bracks before branching off as a consultant. - Stuff

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