It has been just under two weeks since the world woke up to President-Elect Donald Trump.
Since then, certain things have become clear. Hillary Clinton’s unfitness for office – for anything, really – has been illustrated by her refusal to address her supporters after the results were clear. Reports have it that she was drunk, violent or both. Regardless, the reaction of many of her supporters have provided an excellent rationale for voting for Trump. Crying college students, riots on the streets, calls to adjust an electoral system that has worked very well over the last few years …
In short, a great many people have behaved like children.
This is dangerously counter-productive. Peaceful protest is a time-honoured American (and Western) right. Violent protests, on the other hand, make the vast silent majority cry out for heavy repression. No one can claim the moral high ground when they’re screaming insults and threats, beating up dissidents, burning and looting and generally remaining everyone of why they voted for Trump in the first place. In the long term … how can these people possibly be trusted to handle their own affairs, let alone govern a country?
There is no such thing, in the real world, as a prize for participation. There will always be winners and losers. And in politics, you win by convincing the majority of people in each state to support you. You have to convince them that it is in their best interests to support you, not that they’re somehow obliged to support you or that you’ll blackmail them (emotionally or physically) into supporting you. The latter two breed resentment. No one is entitled to win – no one, not even Hillary Clinton, is inevitable. You want to win – you have to earn it.
If you cannot handle losing, how the hell are you going to handle the real world?
Politics – American and European – have steadily become poisonous. And part of the reason they’ve become poisonous is that both sides have steadily become convinced that the other side is the personification of evil. And that anything is justified because the cause, the defeat of evil, is right. Individuals vanish without trace in the fog of social justice, where the details are forgotten or twisted in service to the narrative. And now there are elements of the Right that want to pay the Left back in their own coin. Why should they not?
I could argue – and I will – that we should not sink to their level. But a right-winger could easily counter my argument by pointing out that such treatment deserves retaliation, that we should give the Left a taste of the punishment they’ve meted out. And, in the increasing tribalisation of politics, he may have a point. If identity politics can be used to blame right-wingers for everything done by other right-wingers, why can’t they be used to blame left-wingers for everything done by other left-wingers?
Live by identity politics, die by identity politics.
The core of the problem remains, as I have said before, that the elites and their supporters – the media, etc – have lost touch with the real world. And it is that problem, more than anything else, that needs to be fixed. But I fear it is beyond them.
The irony of the problems facing the Republican Party and the Democratic Party is that both parties are facing essentially the same problem. Both party elites attempted to put forward candidates chosen by them, as opposed to the rank and file. The Republicans pushed Jeb Bush, hoping he would be the third Bush to serve as POTUS; the Democrats pushed Hillary Clinton, after the Clintons effectively sewed up the nomination process.
Both party-preferred candidates faced heavy resistance from the rank-and-file. The Republicans had little reason to love Jeb or the handful of other establishment candidates, particularly as both George HW Bush and George W Bush were widely disliked. The Democrats, too, had little reason to love Hillary Clinton. Her history was dubious at best, while she had a reputation for being a flip-flopper. And so both candidates were challenged, by Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.
Perversely, despite all the hyperbole about Donald Trump breaking the Republican Party, I think there is a good argument to be made that he fixed it. Trump never enjoyed the support of the elites (who chose to effectively commit treason, given that they were supposed to support the nominee) but he did have the support of the rank and file. Trump, for better or worse, reflected the desire of the rank and file for a plain-speaking candidate who would defy the elites and actually win. The elites recoiled in horror because the idea that anyone would find Trump appealing was unthinkable to them. But the rank-and-file showed its power by nominating Trump.
Pretend, for the sake of argument, that the entire command crew of USS Nimitz were summarily sacked. Would this actually put the giant supercarrier out of service permanently? Of course not – a new command crew would be appointed and the carrier would head back out to sea, rapidly overcoming teething troubles as the new crew learned the ropes. And, just like the carrier, the Republican Party will survive. It does not need the elites to survive.
By contrast, there is a very strong possibility that Hillary and Obama wrecked the Democratic Party.
We do not know if Hillary would have won the nomination fairly. We do know she rigged it in her favour. The DNC was effectively an arm of the Clinton Campaign. Reasonable candidates for the nomination were edged aside, leaving an outsider – Bernie Sanders – as the sole opposition candidate. And he was sabotaged by the DNC. And so the levels of shattering distrust between the elites and the rank-and-file have risen sharply. How many voters stayed home because they couldn’t bear the thought of voting for a cheat?
On the micro scale, the DNC should never have even considered Hillary a potential candidate. She had too much baggage. But on the macro scale, the Democratic Party is in serious trouble. It’s leaders are, if anything, more isolated from the common herd than the RNC. They assumed, arrogantly, that minority groups within the US would continue to provide mindless support. But such support was no longer forthcoming. If the living conditions of black Americans, for example, failed to improve after eight years of a black president – and democratic control of majority black areas – why should black Americans trust the Democrats?
And now, the Democratic Party is facing a major crisis. The system failed – it didn’t just fail, it was deliberately broken. It would have been problematic even if Hillary won – which would have provided minimal justification for stealing the nomination – but she lost. Now, the DNC needs to come to terms with its problems in order to face the future. And it is doing this after the Republicans won a crushing victory.
The rank-and-file needs to kick out the elites and reassert control. But that isn’t going to be easy.
The implications of President Trump will not be contained within America’s borders, even if Trump does build a wall. And I suspect that, whatever they may say openly, a great many foreign leaders are relieved. Hillary Clinton was a deeply suspect nominee from the start, a woman of terrifying incompetence and zero credibility mixed with a complete disregard for the optics (let alone anything else). The prospect of Hillary accidentally – or deliberately – starting a war with Russia could not be overlooked.
If nothing else, there will probably be a pause in the endless geopolitical power game as Trump takes office. Hillary could reasonably be assumed to be following in Obama’s footsteps, but Trump is a different issue. There will be an opportunity for the US and Russia to strike a deal that will please neither side, but one that both sides will find tolerable (and certainly preferable to a war with an uncertain outcome). And this will also be true elsewhere. Trump may recommit American power to defending Saudi Arabia, but also demand concessions in exchange. (The Saudis are still fuelling extremism and this has to be stopped.) Indeed, in many ways, the sense that Trump is irrational works in his favour, at least in his early days. One does not poke the rabid dog.
And yet, President Trump raises other concerns. European powers have been skimping on their defence contributions, despite a treaty obligation to spend at least 2% of their GNP on defence. In 2015, only Britain, Poland and the US met those treaty obligations. Trump has a point, as little as Europeans might want to admit it, about free-riders. This is not 1945. The European powers, if they want to be secure, can afford to spend more money on their own defence. Why should the US pay? And why should American boys and girls be sent to defend Berlin when Germany is unwilling to defend itself?
This actually has deeper implications. The US, for better or worse, is a proactive force on the world stage. Europe often feels differently. Can one reasonably expect the US to put up with absurd rules of engagement? Or outright sabotage – the Italians were accused of bribing Taliban insurgents, for example. Or sanctimonious speeches from politicians safely isolated from global politics? Or uncontrolled immigration that destabilises politics and may spread to the US?
At what point does the US conclude that the protectorates have a choice between shutting up and doing as they’re told … or being shoved back into the cold and ordered to look after themselves?
The real question is how this will play out over the next few months. Trump’s rise is the sign of a populist uprising against the elites, but it isn’t the only one. BREXIT happened, at least in part, because the elites made the fatal mistake of convincing the voters that they didn’t give a damn about them. The rise of other right-wing parties across Europe is another sign – on matters ranging from the economy to immigration, voters have come to believe that the elites just don’t care. Angela Merkel’s letter to Donald Trump, I suspect, pushed many buttons … and not in a good way. What respect has the elites shown for the safety, let alone the dignity, of their own citizens?
The blunt truth is that the European Union is nothing more than a castle built on sand – and the tide is coming in. There’s no such thing as European unity. The idea of merging a dozen different nations, with very disparate economies, into one was absurd right from the start. No one should have been surprised by the disaster slowly tearing Greece and the other weaker economies apart. The political delusions of the elites led to disaster.
Why should they be surprised, therefore, when their policies are rejected?
Trump has an opportunity to re-establish links between the ‘rebel’ European states and the US. It is not an opportunity he should miss.
There are three possibilities that should be borne in mind by all Americans, of whatever political views.
First, Trump may be unable to push his proposed legislation into law. The Republican elite still maintains a great deal of influence … and they don’t want Trump to succeed. His success spells their doom. It is therefore possible that all of his proposals will die in committee and nothing will be done.
Second, Trump may be seduced by the political elite. He would hardly be the first reformer to enter power and then be led astray. (Tony Blair, anyone?) His pro-change agenda may be quietly dropped and the current unsatisfactory situation will be allowed to continue.
Third, the naysayers might be right and Trump genuinely is a fascist, with plans to establish a dictatorship. Or he will turn authoritarian – following precedents set by Bush and Obama – after the rest of the government blocks his reforms. I don’t think that’s remotely likely, but the possibility should be acknowledged.
And even if none of these possibilities come to pass, his ability to be effective may be more limited than you suppose.
The political revolt that led to the rise of Trump – and BREXIT, etc – must not be allowed to fade away. Westerners must strive to regain control of government, to bring the bureaucracy to heel and keep local control in their hands. The idea that someone in Washington can propose a ‘one size fits all’ policy for the entire USA has proven disastrous, just as the same problem has torn Europe apart. Political power must be devolved as far down the line as possible, allowing maximum input from those who have to live under it. Common sense must be allowed to dominate. Change – real change – needs a grassroots movement that won’t give up, even when the odds seem hopeless.
The elites may have good intentions. But any organisation, as Jerry Pournelle noted, eventually becomes dominated by people more intent on bolstering their own power rather than the overall goals of the organisation. A sufficiently large organisation will effectively go to war with itself – witness the rise of obnoxious HR departments – as its people forget their true purpose. The RNC and DNC became dominated by people more interested in their own power and position – the Cuckservatives, in particular – and lost sight of their true goals.
This is not the beginning of the end, to quote Churchill. This is merely the end of the beginning.
I’d like to close this essay – and hopefully this series – with a rather droll observation – and a warning. Reality has a conservative bias.
I say ‘conservative’ instead of ‘right-wing’ because there are people on the right who are just as prone to absurd flights of fantasy as people on the left. The only real difference, at base, between fascism and communism is the lies told to maintain the elite in power. And both sides tell so many lies that they eventually start to believe them. Their rulers become deluded into believing that they can change reality with the stroke of a pen.
You can get a credit card, if you like, and defer payment for months or years. Or you can take out a loan (for education, perhaps) secure in the knowledge you won’t have to pay it back at once. I recall students who did just that, back when I was in university. They lived high, spending their student loan as though the money would never run out. But debt will eventually catch up with you. One day, your creditors will arrive to repossess everything you own. And that will be that.
There’s no such thing as a free lunch. The safety and security enjoyed by the vast majority of westerners depends on both a solid defence and the rule of law. Both have been grievously weakened, by politicians who believe the good times will never end and ‘social justice warriors’ more concerned with appearance than reality. As our laws become warped and twisted, with different levels of justice offered to different people, trust in society weakens and breaks. People voted for Donald Trump and Bernie Saunders because they were outsider candidates, when they could no longer trust the elites.
The core problem facing the Left is that many of its ideas sound good – and sometimes they are good – but they don’t know when to stop. Political correctness started out as an attempt to convince people to be polite. But it has become a mania for policing speech, when anything can be deemed offensive … in a world where the rules keep changing. How can anyone listen to politicians trying to explain away the latest terrorist atrocity and not feel disgust. The truth – that all decent people, including many Muslims, are at war with Radical Islam – is undeniable. And yet most politicians are unwilling to even consider whispering the truth.
It gets worse. Good intentions lead to hell … for other people. Affirmative action taints everyone who benefits … and those who didn’t benefit, but fit the favoured demographic; well-intentioned bids to forbid employers from checking criminal records lead to increased unemployment among black males, who are disproportionally likely to have criminal records … and so on and so on. Is it any surprise, therefore, that Donald Trump’s pledge to drain the swamp proved so popular?
The Left – and the Right is often guilty of this too – does not attempt to win arguments by reason. Instead, it appeals to emotion; the sense of doing good or the fear of being publically shamed by being called a racist, sexist or worse. One may have free speech, as long as one mouths politically-correct platitudes; one may have tolerance, as long as one is part of a favoured demographic. The hierarchy of victimhood breeds nothing, but utter contempt from the average person. And so does the crap spewed out about every right-wing politician over the last fifty years.
Indeed, if Donald Trump is a fascist, he owes his rise to the media crying ‘racist fascist bigot’ at every GOP candidate. They’ve cried wolf so often that no one believes them any longer.
The rule of law – that the guilty must be proven guilty – is forgotten. And now many – many – people on the right want to retaliate in kind. And so we have the warning, a quote that has always lingered in my mind.
William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
William Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!
It’s a bad idea to dismantle something purely because its inconvenient. You never know when you might need it.
The next few months are going to be very interesting indeed.