A bonfire in a field of damp firewood, Donald Trump is moving millions of Americans - and politics does not get any more basic than that. He has already succeeded in making the upcoming US presidential election into a referendum on him. Not the parties. Not conservative or liberal ideologies. It's Trump. “I play to people's fantasies. I call it truthful hyperbole,” he has said. The problem is Trump isn't winning in spite of such statements; he is winning because of them. He is a mirror and a lot of Republicans like what they see in its reflection.
Can Hillary Clinton defeat him? What would a hypothetical Trump presidency look like?
President Trump would get elected without substantial support from the Republicans establishment and with open acrimony from elected Democrats everywhere. He will have no protection from liberal media. Without any support from all these quarters, how is he going to govern the strongest country on earth? Nothing we have seen in his campaign so far suggests that he is a “uniter” or would be in command during a tense situation. If a civil disturbance occurred, how would he handle it? Would he be inclined to have protesters rounded up or “roughed up”? Even a fool knows that will blow the lid off race relations in America, leading to breakdowns of social order.
Beyond the unmistakable frisson of violence to bomb this or that or exclamations that he will negotiate “great deals,” Trump has displayed no knowledge of the hard or soft power of the United States. What would happen if the United States Armed Forces, despite his promise to make its military “so strong our heads would spin”, began to have doubts about the judgment and stability of its commander-in-chief? No one knows because the US is one of the few countries in the world that has never had to deal with such a scenario.
And around the world, who would respect Trump as the de facto leader of the free world? Who might be the illustrious diplomat to serve as his secretary of state and travel the world to vouch for his judgment and fitness for office? Who would believe he had the capacity to build alliances or enforce measures to punish rogue actors? Is his infamous statement that US should ban all Muslims from entering the country “until we find out what the hell is going on” going to build trust among communities?
Describing how Christians abroad are being massacred and Christians at home are under cultural and political siege, he once pledged: “We're going to protect Christianity.” Not just Christians, but Christianity itself. What he is promising is to stand outside the churchyard gate and protect the faithful inside. He's the knight standing between them and barbarians abroad and hard line secularists at home. Is this the worldview that's going to “make America great again?”
The Grand Old Party does not know how to stop Trump and it is their fault. Throughout history it's a party that has won elections mostly on anti-government rhetoric. Now they are facing the music: millions of voters dazzled by a man with no known party loyalties and no coherent political principles, an oft-married casino mogul and reality-TV star, a narcissist and a demagogue who presents the next election as a hostile takeover, offering to turn America around with his “deal making” brilliance as if the roles of Congress, the Supreme Court and limits to executive power were not well defined under the US Constitution and could be negotiated upon.
What's remarkable is not that Trump is not going to be president, but that such a thing should even need considering. The vagaries of the Electoral College notwithstanding, no survey suggests that 60 million Americans, or indeed anything like that number, are willing to vote for him despite the assurance of his wife Melina Trump, a former model, that her husband will change his tone if he is elected president of the United States. Yeah, right.
The Trump fantasy will fade at some point. But it has already revealed the hollowness of American democracy.
The writer is a member of the editorial team at The Daily Star.