(VANCOUVER ISLAND) Describing what the world would look like during a hypothetical Donald Trump presidency has become something of a cottage industry, with pundits predicting everything from a glorious rebirth of a prosperous and powerful supernation to a post-apocalyptic wasteland. While my instincts are that the latter would probably be closer to reality than the former, I contend that a Trump presidency, barring something explosive occurring before November, will not happen, that cooler heads and reason will prevail and Trump will lose by a wide margin. That said, it would be worthwhile to look at what the US will look like after Trump has returned to his regular job of media whore and flimflam artist.
The Trump candidacy and campaign has introduced a new style of politics in the US. Trump, who injected himself into the national political scene on the strength of his name recognition and his self crafted image of a flamboyant billionaire real estate developer, parlayed his ignorance of everything political into an asset. Wafted in on the winds of dissatisfaction with the way government was working, his bellicosity with respect to the entrenched political forces resonated with those who don’t think deeply about politics, but embrace a visceral anger at the status quo. And in 2015, the status quo was pretty disgraceful.
The Republicans in Congress had just spent the president’s second term doing virtually nothing, except obstructing and filibustering every Democratic initiative, and doing their level best to deny Obama any accomplishment. In their relentless crusade to destroy the presidency of Barack Obama, they ground government to a halt, and earned the title of least productive congress in US history, and the lowest approval ratings ever recorded. By the time Trump descended on his escalator to announce his candidacy as an outsider to politics as usual, syphilis had a higher approval rating than congress. To the surprise only of pundits and political insiders, his candidacy took off and he steam rolled his way through the primaries to become the presumptive nominee.
His pose as a straight-talking firebrand and hugely successful businessman appealed to those who bought the pose. But his pretence at straight talk, from the very beginning, was simply expressing thoughts that most people have been taught since childhood not to blurt out, and his dishonesty in business was not seen as a serious issue by his base. As his business record was exposed bit by bit, it became clear to everyone that Trump, in fact, was not what he advertised himself as being. The gradual uncovering of his nearly unmatched record of business failures didn’t perturb his base in the slightest; his fraudulent practices, including Trump University and his list of questionable bankruptcies, all seemed just fine to his true believers. Described like that, it would be something of a miracle that he managed to retain any following at all.
But what’s left out of that description is the true source of his appeal; what really sits well with his base has nothing to do with his business skills (or lack thereof); it has nothing to do with whether his net worth is anywhere near what he claims; they don’t care that he lies with breathtaking regularity and reverses himself so often that he seems to spin like a dervish. What matters to them is that he is belligerent and hostile; he is playing to a demographic that is angry and bewildered by what is happening in their country. His base is fuming that their previously unassailable position of white male privilege is now being assailed. They can’t understand, and simply won’t accept, that this is the first time in their history that being a white, working class man isn’t an automatic guarantee of respect and financial stability. Donald Trump’s open and unapologetic race-baiting is like a breath of fresh air to a demographic that desperately needs scapegoats for their declining fortunes.
People who are confronted with the reality that they and their peers are rapidly becoming a minority; people whose heads are exploding at the thought that Latinos, African Americans, Asians, and Muslims together are forming a majority and white Christian Anglo Saxons are making up a smaller and smaller wedge of the pie chart, are desperate for affirmation that their woes can be blamed on those groups. They are ecstatic to find a candidate who will openly attack the groups they used to dominate.
They are thrilled to find a candidate who routinely retweets white supremacist memes; who promises to expel millions of Mexicans; who promises a total and complete ban on Muslims entering the country; a candidate who refers to a black attendee at his rally as “my African American”, and never walks anything back, but rather, when challenged, doubles down on his bigotry – now, that’s their kind of guy. Trump has legitimised their racism. He has given bigots permission to express their hatred loud and proud, where before they felt compelled to speak more circumspectly or risk society’s stern disapproval. Now, all they have to do is say that they refuse to be politically correct, and they feel free to express their darkest, most loathsome and cruel thoughts. They believe that a refusal to be constrained by courtesy, or even the slightest shred of human decency, when those are described as “political correctness”, is courageous and honest. Given that permission to lash out at the groups they blame for their declining status and fortunes, it is no surprise that their candidate can do no wrong. It is quite possibly literally true that Donald Trump could, as he has bragged, shoot someone on 5th Avenue and not lose a single vote. And if that person was Hispanic, black, LGBTQ, or, even better, Muslim, he would probably solidify his position.
That is the legacy that the Trump candidacy will leave after he goes back to his TV appearances, his cons, and his phony investment scams. The tone of public discourse has been coarsened and degraded; campaign hate rhetoric has few, if any, limits now. The belittling and personal insults, the utter lack of substance, and the surfeit of vicious animosity has become the new normal. Hatred is back and it’s back with a vengeance. It is probably not entirely coincidental that alongside the rise of Trump we have been seeing a horrifying spate of police shootings of unarmed black men. Nor is it coincidental that police in Dallas were targeted by an African American. We are seeing racism unbridled. Political correctness, far from being the evil that Trump and his followers claim they have risen above, was simply a societal consensus as to what ought not be said or done lest we hurt others. Now it is a dirty word along with tolerance, inclusion, equality, and restraint.
A post-Trump America will be more openly bigoted. It will have a lower standard of media and political conversation. The country will be more divided than at any time since the social revolution of the late 60’s. But this time it will be divided along religious and racial lines; we can expect to see more violence, we can expect to see an increase in the popularity and membership of hate groups like the KKK and Aryan Nations. Respect and courtesy are already becoming extinct.
Donald Trump has done very little for anyone he doesn’t see in the mirror; he has done nothing for his country before his candidacy. But he has done plenty since then: he has diminished it in the eyes of the civilised world and he has made it a much more callous, hostile, and dangerous place.