Home » UK
Category Archives: UK
There is no camp in Calais. But if you head out in the right van, at the right time, to the right place, you’d never know. Although French officials shut down the Jungle at the end of last year, around 500 refugees remain in the dilapidated and redefined coastal dump. 92% are male; almost 40% have travelled from Eritrea. The situation is overwhelming and frustrating. Based upon 213 surveys conducted by a team of researchers in the Calais area over five days this April, the Refugee Rights Data Project (in collaboration with Help Refugees and the Refugee Youth Service) offers a glimpse into the world we received brief access to last month. Of the eighty-six children interviewed in the study, more than 95% claim to have faced violence at the hands of French police, including verbal abuse and the use of tasers and batons. 84% of all respondents profess to having experienced tear gas. At first glance the statistics appeared far-fetched; after a few days I was only surprised they weren’t higher. During a fortnight spent volunteering at the Help Refugees warehouse with Utopia 56 and Refugee Community Kitchen, our Durham contingent observed French police interrupt food distributions with pepper-spray on a regular basis. Encountering the contempt with which essentially defenceless individuals were treated was, understandably, an unpleasant experience. Yet when, shortly after our return to the UK, the Conseil d’État declared a legal obligation for officials in Calais to provide drinking water and sanitary facilities for refugees in the area, upholding the decision of a local court against the interior ministry’s appeal and criticising the behaviour we had witnessed, there was no sense of relief. It is a fair ruling, and one that should reduce brutality, but it is a hollow victory. According to friends in France, the water tank is open for just five hours a day, and there are two showers between the hundreds. Furthermore, whilst police violence is inexcusable and abhorrent, despite the received wisdom amongst volunteers (and, perhaps, because of it), I am struggling to ignore a growing sense of unease that the constant, hostile presence of police is not the only behaviour encouraging impressionable minds to give the Channel a shot. Sifting through piles of generously unsuitable donations (a pair of black waterproofs is occasionally discovered amongst the Coach ponchos) and prepping meals (around 2,500 are distributed around Calais and the surrounding area every day) might provide short-term relief to rough sleepers, but it also encourages short-term thinking. On the second evening of our stay I watched from a distance as three boys clambered underneath a HGV in full view of the driver, and have returned home with numerous stories of the daily attempts that the overwhelming majority make to reach our shore. According to the French Interior Ministry, over 30,000 cracks have been made in 2017 alone. A steady trickle arrive; tales of reversing lorries account for others who won’t. By providing immediate, albeit hardly luxurious, essentials, does the final stage of their journey not appear that little more attainable? Do cheery British volunteers not paint a cruelly contrasting image against exasperated French locals? This is not a comfortable opinion to voice, but questions must be asked of the actions of aid organisations, too, and their blind eye to the blatant people smuggling. Pitting themselves against both governments only encourages the current situation whereby the most vulnerable are allowed to fall through desperate gaps. Alexander Betts and Paul Collier’s Refuge (‘Transforming a Broken Refugee System’, Allen Lane) makes a persuasive case for granting refugees immediate access to work and education, and is painfully critical of the temporary plaster approach adopted by many charities. It makes a powerful point. Three days ago tensions reached their peak as fights broke out between 200 migrants in the town’s two main distribution points; it hardly matters how many food or clothing packages are created if there is no means to an end. Whilst there are certainly no clear-cut remedies (although my own contribution would be to allow refugees to apply for British asylum on the safer side of the Channel, immediately, to prevent anymore needless death), tangible change has to come from the top. Ultimately, the decisions made by governments, however disagreeable, must be supported by aid workers on the ground if they are to avoid being consistently undermined, and completely inefficient.
Astute scholars of British innuendo will realize from the title that I want to do more than discuss the dynamics of grassroots politics. I also want to discuss how, using satire in popular culture can drive activism, but only so far.
Yes, I’m certain that it is easier to laugh and be hopeful from a position of great privilege, and little responsibility, knowing I can return home at any time. Nonetheless, if Trump and Brexit have shown nothing else, it is that humor and optimism can flourish at times of great tumult.
This struck me a few weeks ago when I arrived for my first day working for a state politician. On arriving I found a sticky note taped underneath my computer monitor reading “It’s scary how sometimes I spend less than an hour drafting a bill and it still passes.” At first, I was a little taken aback by the quote but soon I took pleasure in seeing it every day.
I would question anyone who has not felt that same pleasure in scrolling through Obama-Biden memes. For me at least because they represent an unmistakable optimism. There is something hopeful about knowing this emblematic partnership is soon to be replaced by something far less savory and still finding joy in that.
It must be made clear that this sanguinity is not to be mistaken with any sense of apathy or naivety. Satire need not distract from a pursuit of social justice, nor vice-versa. In fact, the two can work in harmony. Humor can promote self-care through laughter whilst firing you up with hard truths needed to inspire new activist efforts.
Nowhere have humor and activism been more evident than in the interplay between Millenials presence on two different platforms; online and in the streets. Popular culture has been present in Pussy Hats and Guy Fawkes’ masks and splashed over banners from D.C to London. And protest culture is reflected back onto the trendsetters of popular culture who seek to promote resistance from the ‘Gram to the Grammy’s.
Nonetheless, I must caution myself in categorizing a whole generation of people under the banners of its most privileged members. Popular culture’s response and the millions who turned out for the Woman’s Marches were inspiring but insufficient. They represented mainstream protest, for the most part, not that of oppressed peoples. For every ten signs trumpeting women’s rights, there might have been one for Black Lives Matter or Muslim communities, and the people who carried those signs reflected that.
Furthermore, participating in a movement without fully understanding its purpose is not enough, and satire has its limits too. Supporting a campaign on social media and forging creative, humorous signs without sustaining and improving on those efforts is meaningless. Since the election, too often those who claim to stand in unity with oppressed people have failed to keep their promises and show up for the hard work of organizing or when these communities are in danger.
We should aspire to be the generation who represent ‘the people’, an empowered spectrum of enlightened individuals who come together to form a united front.
Yes, wear your pussy hats and spread your satire, but do not mistake armchair activism for anything more than it is. If you want to get things done, you need to show up.
Part of the ‘A View From Across The Pond’ Series
I have witnessed over the last week or so, especially from things like Leave.EU and The Daily Mail, outrage at the fact that Sgt. Blackwell (a so called ‘war hero’) will not be able to return home to his family for Christmas. This is treated as some sort of unpatriotic attack by judges on our servicemen who keep us all safe, as if somehow they were not doing their job and ‘have lost their way’. This however could not be further from the truth and if one actually looks at the evidence, one can see that the judges have followed the law and even been generous in their doing so.
Examining the case that took Blackwell to prison in 2013 it is evident that he did break the law and do so grievously. Blackwell and others on his patrol came across a Taliban fighter wounded by Apache helicopter; he ordered two of them to move him out of sight of the British Surveillance and proceeded to tell them to stop administering first aid and subsequently shot him in the chest with a 9mm pistol. He then stated ‘Shuffle off this mortal coil, you cunt. It’s nothing you wouldn’t do to us… I just broke the Geneva Convention’. This is indisputable as there is video evidence of this happening; one cannot accuse the judges of having fabricated evidence or looking at this with a political stance. The judges therefore were quite right to sentence the man to life imprisonment for murder, something he admits to doing after killing the man.
Judges have already been generous to Blackwell; his appeal by Courts Martial in 2014 had his sentence reduced from life to eight years which, considering it is murder, is a very lenient reduction. Perhaps they were right to do so given the context of war and the stresses this undeniably causes but one cannot say that he was innocent, even after an appeal. However, when a twice convicted murderer is refused bail to go home for Christmas, this is somehow treated by some as a national outrage. The reason for this is however obvious.
The Brexit campaign was won through appeals to patriotism, to ‘take back control’ and to go against the ‘out of touch’ political elite. It is now funny then that the publications and sources who supported Brexit have become the most virulent opponents of the judges and especially after they ruled that parliament must first give its consent. What we therefore see here is not a legitimate legal complaint against a legal judgment but a political calculation. They are hoping that, by again appealing to patriotism, they can turn people against the judges as part of the ‘out of touch’ elite who will not send one of our boys home for Christmas.
The Daily Mail did not even mention that he had killed a man saying ‘The stoical dignity of a man who’s endured far too much: ROBERT HARDMAN sees barely a flicker of emotion as Sergeant Blackman learns he won’t be going home for Christmas’, Katie Hopkins goes so far as to say ‘Don’t worry… we’ll be back next week, and every week until the British Law and justice mean the same thing’ and Leave.EU said ‘They won’t let a war hero see his family at Christmas.. our judges have lost their way’. Throughout all of these statements, one can see the appeals to people’s emotions through things like ‘justice’, ‘war hero’ and ‘family at Christmas’.
This is not only completely counterfactual but entirely counterproductive; they are deliberately attempting to undermine confidence in our legal system in an attempt to push forward an agenda. I actually think that we should leave the EU after the vote but I also, and quite rationally, think we should do it within the confines of the law. Given that parliament is ultimately sovereign, leaving the EU as a constitutional issue should require parliamentary consent. Rather than trying to make a mockery of what is actually a very fair legal system, they should be focusing on ensuring MPs vote in line with the referendum.
The Sgt Blackwell case has become politicised, not for its legal merits or controversial nature of the case itself, but because it has become part of a fight by some to undermine the legitimacy of our legal system in order to justify why the court of appeal voted against the government and to induce the Supreme Court to vote in favour of the government’s case. I trust and hope that the Supreme Court will use their legal expertise and experience and not listen to the political outcry against judges being out of touch; they have done nothing wrong so far.
For most of America’s history it has been a nation of glorious isolation. Its founding principles eschewed the European power politics which ran so contrary to its enlightenment values and which were the source of imperialism and conflict. It was domestic issues which provoked the greatest psychological torment on the young republic.
Of course, the most significant period of its history has been, since it entered World War II in 1941 up until the present day, an era of global military, political and economic activism. But the election of Donald Trump to the presidency signals that the balance of US interventionism may be shifting once again.
From the date of its founding through the 19th century up until its entry into the First World War, American military activity was almost exclusively limited to conflicts on the North American continent, in its backyard in the Caribbean and minor sea battles arising from trade disputes. Public opinion was sharply against joining the Allied powers for most of WWI; even after it had intervened, anti-war sentiment only grew in anger at the scale of US casualties, hence the failure to ratify the Treaty of Versailles, and America’s subsequent non-participation in the doomed League of Nations.
It took the painful attack on Pearl Harbor to galvanise support for the Second World War sufficiently for President Roosevelt to do what he had always wanted to: stand with Britain and the Allies against Nazi Germany and her fellow Axis powers. Since then, the story has been one of continued development and dependable intervention in the world’s crises. It is a story we know all too well, but one whose time may be coming to an end.
President-elect Trump is hardly a towering intellectual, seeking to redefine US grand strategy in the way Presidents Wilson and Roosevelt attempted (with diverging levels of success). Yet he does potentially represent the most momentous change to US strategy since FDR. His vision of America is a rebuke to decades of global responsibility and interventionism.
He scoffs at alliances with Europe, South Korea and Japan, considering them in purely transactional terms. Free trade, for him, has resulted in a gargantuan robbery of American jobs; the benefits it has brought consumers in the form of lower prices do not concern him, nor does the fact that American leadership on trade has spread its values and norms around the world, bringing countless countries into its sphere of influence. His chumminess with Vladimir Putin seems to stem from the Russian president’s flattery rather than any appraisal of America’s strategic interest. And his apparent nonchalance towards Japan and South Korea pursuing independent deterrents underlines a worrying deviance from US and international consensus in opposition to nuclear proliferation.
Mr Trump’s apparent disregard for Nato is perhaps the most concerning of his positions. Clearly we cannot be sure of his sincerity, and many of his campaign ‘promises’ have already been watered down or quietly taken off his website (see: the wall and the Muslim ban). But his contention that America is paying too much to protect Nato members seems coherent with his general (and broadly consistent) theme of anti-globalism and ‘America First’ politics. We are yet to see his full team announced – which with a president so unanimated by policy details will be crucial – but some of the early appointments and mooted cabinet secretaries do not augur well for Nato. His National Security Advisor-designate, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, has called for closer relations with Moscow and supported Mr Trump’s questioning of Nato’s utility, as has future Attorney General, Senator Jeff Sessions.
It mihht seem perfectly reasonable to pursue closer relations with Russia; after all, that is exactly what President Barack Obama tried to do with his failed ‘reset’ back in 2009. However, there is an obvious yet little-mentioned connotation to this: Mr Trump’s emphasis on having a ‘great’ relationship with Russia derives from his belief that fighting Daesh in the Middle East is the overriding imperative for the US, to the exclusion of almost everything else. Indubitably, this is vital, and Mr Trump would do well to recognise that, in Iraq, the defeat of Daesh is moving closer every day.
This strategy fails to comprehend two factors, however. First, it completely misses the fact that Mr Putin’s deliberate targeting of civilians and moderate rebel groups in Syria is in fact helping Daesh, by leaving it out of the Russian Air Force’s sights and pushing despondent young Syrians into its ranks. Second, and in broader terms, it disregards the huge strategic importance to America of preserving the integrity of Europe in the face of Russian aggression.
Nato, and the explicit security guarantees which America extends to its members, serve a vital strategic interest for Washington. The alliance assures the freedom, democracy and sovereignty of its members. One only has to contrast the vibrant, liberal, modern Baltic States (which would be particularly vulnerable to a US withdrawal) to the states within Mr Putin’s sphere of influence – Belarus, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan, for instance – which conform to his style of politics: corrupt, repressive, murderous strongman politics. America’s abiding strength over the past half century has been its ability to spread and protect liberal democratic norms (notwithstanding well-known failures) worldwide. Its position as a superpower comes not solely from its military might but from its normative pre-eminence.
The greatest threat to European peace is that Mr Putin attempts against the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) something similar to what Russia undertook in Georgia and Ukraine. Admittedly, the circumstances were different: critically, these two states are not Nato members, and Russia’s interventions were obviously intended to keep it that way. Nonetheless, there are worrying harbingers.
First, as in Ukraine and Georgia, there are significant ethnic Russian populations in the Baltics: about 25% in Estonia and Latvia, and over 5% in Lithuania. Russia’s intervention playbook emphasises the use of propaganda, misinformation and covert action to whip up ethnic Russian nationalism and victimhood. It actively seeks to undermine stable, democratic politics in these countries and to aid pro-Moscow political parties.
Moreover, militarily, the Baltic States are extremely vulnerable. They share land borders with Russia, have nowhere to retreat to and lack the treacherous environment of Finland which kept the Soviets at bay for so long. For its part, Estonia does meet the Nato target of spending 2% of national income on defence, but there would be no doubt that Russia’s military could easily overwhelm the defence forces of the three republics rapidly.
This is one of the reasons why Nato has committed to stationing so-called ‘tripwire’ troops on the Baltic frontiers: Russia knows that to attack one of them would entail attacking British and American units. But, with the incoming, Nato-sceptic presidency of Mr Trump, the credibility of America’s security guarantee to these nations is put in serious doubt. He has threatened to not defend allies who, to his eyes, haven’t contributed enough, and his preference for strong leaders over sovereignty and democracy augurs ill for the Baltics’ protection.
To be sure, Nato members do free ride on American military might too much. Those countries not meeting the 2% target should commit to doing so, as Britain has. The real worry, however, is that Mr Trump’s criticism of the alliance is not simply an exhortation to spend more (something Mr Obama’s administration has done frequently), but a fundamental questioning of its strategic utility. This is so troubling because, as an alliance of deterrence, Nato relies on credibility – much like nuclear deterrents do in general. If Russia perceives weakness or a lack of resolve to adhere to Nato’s clause on mutual defence, it will be emboldened to, if not invade, engage in serious asymmetric operations to destabilise Europe’s eastern flank.
One might question why we should really be concerned about the Baltic States’ sovereignty. Other than the ethical and normative reasons outlined above, for the rest of Europe there is much at stake. If Russia were to take some kind of kinetic military action (however limited) against one the three, and Nato did nothing in response, its credibility would be shredded in an instant. If we are not prepared to defend these particular members, how about Poland? Or Denmark? Or Germany? Such conjecture is of course highly improbable. Yet the behaviour of Russia in recent years demonstrates that it is not at all invested in a peaceful, stable, democratic Europe – quite the opposite.
Europe therefore has to start to take its defence obligations seriously. It must impress upon the president-elect the paramountcy of Nato, but also reverse its own recent trend of continuous defence cutbacks. We have to make clear our resolve to punish Russia with sanctions for its violations of international law in Ukraine and Syria. Finally, Europe must stand up for its values far more muscularly, even if Trump’s America is to retreat into isolation. This means winning the air war with Russia, and countering the misinformation and propaganda spewed from Kremlin mouthpieces such as Russia Today. The crises of recent years have consistently caught Europe’s leaders by surprise. The next one must not.
This is not a defence of Trump, nor is it an attack; this is an attempt to try and rationalise the voting behaviour behind his victory and to make sense of the political scene in America and the West more widely. Trump was not necessarily elected popularly with conservatives often only reticently backing him, his opponent was a arguably poor one and he created a sense of a ‘better of two evils’ candidate and to some he likely spoke out as the anti-establishment voice who stood up for them. Only when we breakdown the demographic and look beyond media discourse and narrative do these things become clear.
There is no doubt that Trump was not ‘popular’ amongst conservatives in America; many Republicans withdrew their public support after the video of him bragging about kissing any woman he wanted leaked, Ted Cruz was very hesitant to back him at all and there has been a general sense of support from traditional educated conservative bases being somewhat lackluster or unenthusiastic. However, understanding why he got much of the traditional conservative vote in America is fairly simple to decipher. Clinton has been pro-gay marriage being decided on a Federal rather than State level, she has been a vocal supporter of Roe v Wade and abortion rights, the growth of the state and increased taxation and has been supportive of Obamacare. To a conservative American, this is an unacceptable alternative; religious motivation means some form of obligation to vote for the candidate who will oppose abortion and federal gay-marriage (whether we agree with this or not) and chances are they oppose an enlarged federal state as the vast majority of Republicans do. So, when at looking at the conservative American voter, no matter how much they dislike Trump, the reasons behind their voting for him are not necessarily all that surprising.
If one then takes it to a wider demographic, one can still see the element of ‘better of two evils’ but with a less conservative twist upon it. Many Americans will look at Hillary’s controversies over her emails which even in more positive interpretations do not make her a criminal necessarily but perhaps incompetent, her arguable negligence in Benghazi which caused deaths, accusations against her of silencing accusers against Bill Clinton and seemingly laughing about defending a rapist (at least this is how some of the media spun it) and accusations of conspiring to bomb Iraq to smother the Lewinsky story may make them begin to lean towards Trump. Trump has definitely done some abhorrent things; apparently bragging over sexual predation, fat shaming and a divisive rhetoric over Muslims and illegal immigration which could have serious repercussions if carried into office, and these make him a undoubtedly ‘bad candidate’. One may however see how people can be swung away from Clinton if the narrative of her misgivings, whether actually accurate or not (and arguably many are not), were perpetuated amongst the American population.
Finally, it is key to analyse the ‘anti-establishment’ appeal he had and how many voters felt like he spoke for them. For example, his going to the ‘Rust Belt’ in America and saying he will lower taxes on them and put up tariffs to stop their manufacturing going to China while saying “Make America Great Again” and fueling a nostalgic narrative would have held some sway. Particularly when you contrast it to Hillary who appeared as a continuation of the current elite trend, openly funded by the banks who had caused the 2008 financial crisis causing many average Americans to lose their home and part of an oligarchy who do not understand the average American person’s issues (not that Trump in truth necessarily does either). Trump’s strong narrative and ‘outsider’ status arguably gave him in edge in many communities, especially those disenfranchised with the current order of things.
Therefore, while to many of us Trump’s victory seems on the whole surprising, some analysis of his campaign, voting behaviour and priority in the US and the perception of Hillary in contrast to him begin to make a clearer picture of why he won the election. This is not to say he was actually a good candidate or that his time in office will be a successful one, but we should not necessarily be surprised he will be President.
We learnt this week you can both have your cake and eat it. That is, at least, if it’s gay cake. I’m speaking of course about the sexual discrimination appeal in Northern Ireland, Lee v McArthur & Ors. A difficult case indeed, as striking the balance between religious liberty and minority rights is an acutely difficult task within a liberal democracy. Pluralism is to prevail — or so we are told.
But I don’t think the Court’s decision was right. I believe the sloppy logic on the Court’s part lead to an unjust balance. I would (non legally) have found in favour of the bakers on the point of discrimination but nonetheless awarded the customer compensation. Let me explain why.
At the outset of its judgement the Court was undoubtedly right to emphasise the fact that ‘strongest opposition to the decriminalisation of homosexual acts between consenting males came from the religious community’, and, importantly, that ‘the LGBT community should feel able to participate in the commercial life of this community freely and transparently’.
Indeed they should. But this case was not about individual persecution of a member of the LGBT community: Ashers, the bakery, did not deny the defendant their services on the basis of their objection to his individual sexuality. On the contrary, it had been recorded in the evidence that Ashers had provided Mr Lee their services on a previous occasion. No, instead this case was about the bakers’ conscientious objection to the message, or idea that the cake would represent.
As Peter Tatchell so eloquently illustrated in the The Times this week, these facts really make the case about freedom of expression. Tatchell provided some persuasive counter examples that we have to consider as a result. Whether a Jewish publisher should be forced to print a holocaust-denying book? Whether a Muslim newspaper should be forced to print pictures of the Prophet?
Though I am resistant to the idea that companies have equivalent political or religious rights as persons — see the effect the US Supreme Court’s judgement in Citizens United v. FEC had — there must nonetheless be a margin of appreciation given for genuine religious objection. Discrimination is against people; not ideas. To argue otherwise would replace the tyranny of the majority with the tyranny of unsubstantiated legal rights.
The Court, however, resisted dealing with this argument. Albeit indirectly it argued that ‘the benefit from the message or slogan on the cake could only accrue to gay or bisexual people’, and so ‘there was an exact correspondence between those of the particular sexual orientation and those in respect of whom the message supported the right to marry.’
I do not think that is correct. On the contrary, suppose for example that a heterosexual mother had requested a cake for her lesbian daughter. The mother wished to support her daughter in life, and believed that the achievement of same-sex marriage would bring comfort to her daughter, and concomitantly happiness to herself. Thus she too would gain a benefit. The nebulous nature and fault in the original premise is sufficient to disregard the Court’s conclusion.
There are also, I should add, gay and bisexual people who legitimately disagree with same-sex marriage. They, like the bakers in this appeal, hold legitimate religious beliefs that conflict with the principle of same-sex marriage. It is not evident how they derive a benefit from such a message.
But the Court did not see this distinction between people and ideas. Its reasoning was sparse to justify its conclusion that ‘if businesses were free to choose what services to provide to the gay community on the basis of religious belief the potential for arbitrary abuse would be substantial’. That is true; but it is quite evidently not the issue at play here. We should be quite worried that rights are being misused in such a way.
All said, the case in my eyes turns on the (again non-legal) issue of advertisement. I believe that if a company is made up of religious persons to such an extent that the company itself has a religious policy on matter x, then it should be overt. The obligation falls on the company to make plain and present to all customers what its policy is, particularly with their advertising. That did not happen with Ashers, and so I believe the defendant quite justly should be entitled to compensation for being misled.
The beauty of the market means that in doing so Ashers and their like would be paying, in many people’s eyes, for their bigotry. I have heard that the so-called ‘pink pound’ is quite strong. But that is their choice — and their loss.
A long-observed result of democracy is that the tide of opinion flows quickly and strongly. The debate, too, is red hot and burns brightly. But for better or worse rights were given to stem the tide of public opinion. They are needed fundamentally to protect the most vulnerable individuals within society. They are not, contrary to what the Court effectuated in this case, about deciding what political views are en vogue. We must not take them for granted.
The fallout from the EU referendum result has at times become quite rancorous. Some politicians are refusing to consider the question settled; many are squabbling about what Brexit really means. It will, though, pale in comparison to the potential horror which awaits the world at the conclusion of the US presidential election.
Of the two plausible outcomes, one is clearly abhorrent. The other, that Hillary Clinton wins, will give all those who care about world peace a brief moment of relief. Do not be fooled into believing, however, that a Clinton victory will vanquish the Trump monster that has been unleashed through this most acrimonious and depressing of campaigns. It will continue apace, and moderates of all stripes must push back against it.
Donald Trump is readying himself for a defeat which, thanks to the wholly unsurprising revelation that he is a raging misogynist who jokes about sexual harassment, looks ever more certain by the day. Distressingly, though, he is not preparing for a concession. His ego is so enormous that he will never accept losing. Being a ‘LOSER!’, after all, is one of the most frequent taunts spat from his foaming-at-the-mouth Twitter account. Hence his most recent campaign speeches have been replete with accusations of evil Clinton-backed international media conspiracies to rig the election. This is not funny. It is threatening to undermine American democracy.
This enfeebling of the constitutional system has already begun with what The Economist has rightly termed the ‘debasing’ of American politics: so commonplace and casual are Mr Trump’s insults and tirades that we are becoming desensitized to them. It is hard to be spectacularly shocked by a candidate who calls Mexicans ‘rapists’, wishes to ban Muslims from his country and threatens women who undergo illegal abortions with punishment. The release of various tapes and allegations pertaining to his history as a serial misanthrope has prompted the deserved level of outrage, but so much other invective of his has not. Politicians and activists in the future will feel licensed to push the boundaries of acceptable public debate further.
There is a serious concern that Mr Trump’s supporters will engage in improper conduct at voting stations on polling day. He has urged them to ‘monitor… certain areas’ for irregular voting activity. As well as the fact that US law enforcement and electoral authorities are perfectly capable of ensuring voting is conducted legally, there is a frightening prospect that legions of Trump backers will congregate at majority-black and Hispanic polling stations. That he himself has not explicitly called for illegal activity is not the point: there is a grave risk that intimidation will occur. We have already seen how Muslims and African-Americans are treated at overwhelmingly white Trump rallies.
The instant the election result is apparent, a process of de-legitimation orchestrated by Mr Trump against Mrs Clinton will begin. The vote will be denounced as a fix. There will be no gracious concession speech, simply a vow to continue to oppose Mrs Clinton’s very presence in the White House. The conspiracy theories will be deafening: that she is secretly dying, that she is trying to fling open the southern border, or that she is in cahoots with Islamic terrorists. There are already fears that violence will break out. Some Trump supporters have told reporters that there will be ‘bloodshed’. Mr Trump has so hatefully convinced his supporters of Mrs Clinton’s evilness that behaviour like this moves into the realm of possibility. The level of diatribe aimed at the Democratic candidate by her rival – including threatening her with jail – portends only a total refusal to acquiesce to electoral reality and accept the result.
This brings us to the wider question of what happens to the movement led by Mr Trump. Rather than fading away, it will only be emboldened by a ‘rigged’ defeat at the hands of ‘Crooked Hillary’. It is hard to see that Mr Trump’s previous employers (NBC) will give him a new series of The Apprentice and nor will he be psychologically able to recede from the public eye, so speculation is rife that he will set up some kind of ‘alt-right’ conservative media organisation to prolong his crusade of hatred – and monetise it. It is harder to see where the millions of Trump voters will go, and who will take forth the torch of Trumpism in the electoral arena.
The Democratic Party is now so imbued with liberal values as to render it totally out-of-bounds to the atavistic Trump constituency. Equally, the mainstream Republican Party appears unfit to appeal to these voters. Indeed, the GOP elite is as scorned upon by Mr Trump and his followers almost as much as Democratic leaders. In the final weeks of the campaign, Mr Trump’s setup is becoming ever more detached from the remainder of the Republican campaign machine.
Establishing a new political party will not be easy, and would likely require someone with the pockets of Mr Trump to finance it – having spent huge sums on this campaign, this idea seems improbable. So who might be the new face of Trumpism? Little-known Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton is one possibility. Mr Cotton has been one of Mr Trump’s most enthusiastic and loyal defenders in Congress. His attitudes towards immigration and foreign policy are, though not identical, very amenable to the sensibilities of Trump backers. Critically, he is unlikely to carry the baggage which weighs so heavily on Mr Trump, nor to lack the ability to speak for five minutes without disaffecting another section of the population.
Of course many would argue that the crudeness of Mr Trump is one of the reasons for his success in the Republican primaries. But a deft candidate who could espouse a similar policy platform without alienating independent voters (especially women) with unceasing vulgarity could be triumph over a taxed one-term Mrs Clinton. It is for this that moderates must realise that suppressing the nationalist, authoritarian agenda of Mr Trump does not end with his defeat. The battle – and it will, figuratively, be a long-running battle for the kind of country America wishes to be – will go on and will be won by a responsible combination good governance, decorous discourse and decent patriotism.
Oh, and Hillary hasn’t won yet. It could get worse.