Neither the problem nor the solution: Donald Trump as just another symptom of complacent Western liberal democracies
From all facets across the political spectrum, Trump has been claimed to be both the best and worst things to happen to US politics as well as to the discipline, itself – if it might still even be called such.
Whatever one’s current political inclinations towards the GOP presidential nominee, the lesson of Trump’s populist rise reveals much about the inherent dangers that come with the liberal democratic system. Many would argue that such dangers are worth the intrinsic benefits that are part of the democratic mechanism and all its flaws. In many ways, the last year reveals that democracy is, indeed, the worst form of government – except for all the others, of course.
Likewise, there are many who believed that Trump was, in theory, something that would stir up the political debate at a time of increasing complacency and overall loss of faith in the electoral process. Constituents on both sides of the spectrum wanted that process to be able to hear the voices of ordinary Americans once more. Many of Trump’s current supporters speak of their frustration with the establishment—be it the executive, legislative, or the judicial—and that the now-presidential nominee represented a jump into the political unknown, but that such an unknown was well worth the risk.
Unfortunately, both the toxicity and complacency with the established dichotomy of Democrats and Republicans has meant that many constituents are willing to risk everything for both themselves and their progeny in an effort to have their voices heard in DC. The cost of this, however, looms as very grave over both the US and the wider world.
Nominee Trump, it can be easily argued, is not the ideal economist, nor diplomat, nor commander in chief. His political experience is nil and his admitted ignorance on a number of pressing topics, especially foreign policy, is much more severe than any informed constituent should condone as being reasonable. His encouragement of nationalist and racial rhetoric and his self-professed rejection of international humanitarian laws have become not only the norm within his populist (and nativist) campaign, but also some of the leading reasons his support amongst lower and middle class white Americans has leapt forward in the last several months. The penned word “Trumpisms,” denoting his consistent errors and inflammatory remarks, would have long ago been a hundred gaffes too many for any politician of the establishment in either of the two major parties. For Trump, rather, it seems to only empower his success yet further.
All these faults considered, Trump should not be considered the problem—or, perhaps more objectively, the cause – of the current toxic state of US politics. It is more apt to diagnose the Trump frenzy as a symptom of the condition that is chronic fatigue and complacency amongst many US constituents. The geopolitical fallout of past and current administrations’ perceived mistakes at home and abroad has made many voters chronically frustrated and fatigued from the condition of affairs as they see them to be.
While US economic recovery adds tens of thousands of jobs every month, regional cooperation continues to improve in volatile regions of the world, and global coordination and humanitarian assistance has led to the most relatively peaceful time in human history—the inherent shortcomings of the globalizing age have led to an increasingly grim (and seemingly realist) geopolitical outlook for constituents. Citizens of all stripes have been pressed by an almost omnipresent allure of fear and prejudice by both the media and political pundits. Demagogues are merely a symptom of this condition—not the cause of the condition, itself.
An analytical assessment of Trump’s policies—or the political climate that allowed such policies to thrive—is by no means an inherent endorsement of his competitor, the presumptive Democrat nominee, Hillary Clinton. Many of Trump’s most ardent supporters, so at odds with the perceived shortcomings of the establishment, label Clinton as being an explicit symptom of the establishment in DC—what some view as the heart of a corrupt and complacent model of crony capitalism that feeds on the hard work of middle class constituents. To acknowledge Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric as being populist and nativist in nature—or to seek some sort of informed prediction for the consequences of such rhetoric—must be considered as something more than a simplistic rebuttal of conservative Republican principles (most of which Trump vocally opposes), but neither should it be considered an endorsement of his likely competitor.
The analogy of the current state of US politics being a pressing surgical condition, such as gangrene, is both deliberately cynical and tragically appropriate. The wounds caused by the perceived chronic mismanagement of many avenues within the mechanisms of democracy have been allowed to fester and spread throughout the limb. Rather than thoroughly diagnosing the condition and amputating the limb, many frustrated US constituents advocate applying a simple bandage that will cover up the injury in the very short-term, but thereby encourage it to spread and thrive yet even further in the long-term.
The question of when the limb will be beyond the possibility to recover is one that remains elusive not just to the US, but certainly to the entire globe, as well.
At the moment, it seems that many of us can only sit in grim silence and wait to see what will happen next. Yes, we could try and guess, but—as much of this campaign season has revealed to us—we would probably be wrong.
Casey Brunelle is an intelligence advisor with more than five years’ service in both the public and private sectors. A graduate of University of Ottawa, he recently completed an internship at UN Headquarters with OCHA.