Donald Trump simply can’t be president, can he?
Well, he’s gotten this far, having defied repeated predictions that his campaign would fizzle early and inspiring record voter turnout. But this, surely, is where the Trump train finally stops. All the pundits seem to think so: James Downie at the Washington Post, Nate Cohn at the New York Times, Jamelle Bouie at Slate, Eric V. Schlecht at The Hill, Peter Apps at Reuters, Anthony J. Gaughan at Salon and The Conversation. Ben Gran, who writes for this very site, last week said in no uncertain terms that “Donald Trump will never, ever be president.” This is the widely-held mainstream opinion, one shared even by the current POTUS: that Donald Trump can’t be, won’t be the next President of the United States.
That’s probably right. As low as Hillary Clinton’s national favorability rating is, Donald Trump’s is lower. There’s been an overpoweringly bad buzz about Trump’s campaign ever since he first stepped onto a stage to simultaneously announce his Republican bid and—starting as he meant to go on—insult whole swaths of the community. The former Apprentice star has been and will continue to be the focus of intense and intensely negative media scrutiny. World leaders who Trump one day hopes to work with have variously described him as “stupid” and “a disgrace.” Countering his own claims that he will be the “greatest jobs president ever,” Trump has also been ranked the sixth greatest threat to the global economy, putting him level with jihadi terrorism. And still, despite all that, some recent polls—not many, but enough maybe to make you feel nervous—have Trump beating Clinton in November.
Sounds hard to believe doesn’t it? Donald Trump, the man who calls Mexicans rapists, promises to ban Muslims from entering the country, considers women little more than objects, refuses to reveal his tax returns, has never even heard of America’s nuclear deterrent, and calls for an end to the minimum wage, is doing so well that some already have him beating one of the best-known and more qualified politicians on Earth.
The optimistic are citing other polls of course—Clinton currently ahead of Trump by an average of six points nationally—and generally brushing the matter aside. But leads can vanish. At points in 2008, McCain was ahead of Obama in head-to-head polls. At the beginning of May, where we are now, they were tied; Obama eventually beat McCain by a significant margin.
We, all of us, have underestimated Trump every step of the way. Remember how sure so many experts were that Trump would never be the Republican nominee? Now his path to the Republican nomination is without obstacle. We’re down to the final two. If the 2016 presidential race were The Apprentice, which is probably exactly how Trump equates this competition, you would now be pretty concerned that the wrong contestant might be about to win.
Of course things will change for Trump between now and November, but they will change for his Democratic rival too. The DNC is going to throw everything it has at Trump in order to stop him, and the Republicans are going to counter that by lobbing the kitchen sink at Clinton. Unfortunately for Hillary, controversy matters to her more than it seems to for Trump. The demographic make-up of the United States doesn’t bode well for the Donald, but where apparently no controversy can disaffect his voters (see, for example, the Trump/Hitler quotes video), Clinton’s standing nationally continues to plummet.
The bottom line now regardless is that voters have a chance to elect Donald Trump in November. He will be on the ballot, his presidency just a marked X away. You know this is bad. Many continue to laugh at Trump’s hair and the size of his hands like the jokes would make four years (at least) of him in the White House easier to swallow, but there’s been some appropriate doom-mongering as well. From Vox: “Donald Trump’s rise is a scary moment in American politics.” And from The Guardian: “America’s Trump nightmare has arrived.”
Such headlines are wrong about one thing, though. Of course Trump is a threat, but it’s ridiculous to presume this will be just an American issue, in the same way it would be wrong to say the problems caused by the Bush administration in terms of deregulation and foreign policy were limited solely to the US. What goes down in American elections tends to affect the entire world. This isn’t just “America’s Trump nightmare” — it’s everyone’s. And not just for today. President Trump would be a problem we’d all be dealing with tomorrow and beyond.
Far-right political parties have been gradually making headway in Europe for a number of years — in Poland, in Switzerland, now Austria — but for the most part, in most nations, sense has prevailed. Jimmy Carter has echoed others in saying he believes Trump would be a “malleable” president likely to change his extreme views once in the role, but if Trump is voted in based on his hard conservative, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim platform, that might just be what we get. The current Republican majority Congress, despite their misgivings about Trump, would gladly enact his campaign’s environment-choking neoliberal extremism. That would be catastrophic for America, but the real Trump nightmare would arguably be this: If he’s elected President, then Donald Trump could change global politics as we know it.
A Trump administration would not just put an end to America’s march towards progressivism. Where America leads, the rest of the world inevitably tends to follow, and Trump’s America could help to legitimise extreme conservatism in Western politics and potentially give rising far-right groups in some powerful nations the boost they need to complete their own coups. Trump could be a powerful friend to the AfD in Germany, UKIP in the UK, and the National Front in France, all of whom are increasingly troubling mainstream parties at the polls.
It’s not just the politics of the West that President Trump threatens to alter either. On January 20, 2017, if Trump is sworn in as the 45th president, he would suddenly gain control of the world’s most powerful military force. What effect on the Middle East (and, in turn, the migration crisis in Europe) if Trump were to be just as hardline in the region as he’s implied, killing for oil and wiping out civilian families How great would the divide between the secular West and the Muslim community become if the leader of the free world continues to treat people of the Islamic faith with such hostility? What would be the result of Trump ever having to handle something like the Iran deal Similarly, how would Trump, who has a distaste for China and has displayed repeatedly his instinctive need to appear the tough guy, deal with tricky political situations like the South China Sea dispute?
What effect would Trump’s confused economic policy have on the global economy? What effect his prejudices? Would America forfeit its at-present close and crucial business ties with China and Mexico just so Trump can satisfy his own egotistical need to “win”? What would the role of one of the leading nations on tackling global warming become if that country were suddenly taken over by a man who doesn’t even believe in man-made climate change? Barack Obama was a key figure at last year’s Paris climate talks, pushing for global action. Donald Trump would likely fill Obama’s role by telling the world there’s no need for urgency, at a time when scientists say we’re already reaching the point of no return.
This is not just an American problem. Donald Trump is a threat to the entire planet. And not just now: the world is still feeling the effects of the capitalist mainframe gone haywire thanks to Ronald Reagan’s ‘big bang’; it’s still coming to terms with the great recession caused in part by Bill Clinton’s rampant deregulating; it’s still dealing with the fallout from George Bush’s Middle Eastern jaunts. How many years down the line would we be facing the repercussions of President Trump? This buffoon, this reality television star with zero experience in politics, likely isn’t going to beat Hillary Clinton. All the same, as much as Trump’s defeat in November sounds inevitable in our liberal bubble, there is still that chance. So it’s probably time to stop laughing. Because if he wins, Trump, like those who’ve ruled before him, has the potential to cast a shadow over generations to come.