February 25, 2016
With every passing day, a scenario that until very recently seemed totally inconceivable advances remorselessly into the realm of the conceivable. What was — in 2015! — so remote as to be virtually impossible is changing its statistical status to being decidedly possible, after which it could move to a probability and then a likelihood.
I refer not to the potential Trump nomination, which is already deep in the probability zone, but to something far wider, a trifecta that will radically alter the entire Western democratic world. This is that in May 2017, a mere fifteen months hence, Donald Trump will be president of the United States, Marine le Pen will be president of France and, along the way, the British will have voted to leave the European Union. Add to that the growing chance that Angela Merkel will lose power later in 2017 and the scale of the impending upheaval becomes clear in its full, frightening, extent.
But let’s be clear that what is so frightening is not that this or that person is going to win or lose, or that power will pass from party A to party B. Those outcomes, after all, are the very essence of the democratic process. Rather, what is at stake is something bigger than person or party. What may happen — nay, what is happening, irrespective of the precise outcome of each election, referendum and political process — is that the key nations of the Western world, the mother of parliaments and her primary offspring, are changing, even decomposing, before our astonished and disbelieving eyes.
Brexit and break-up
The UK, for example, is not merely leaning in the direction of ‘Brexit’, i.e. its departure from the European club after 42 years of contentious and discontented membership. It is also leaning hard in the direction of internal disunity and dissolution. It has already devolved considerable power to Scotland, but the process is not unique to Scotland and does not stop at the 300-year union between Scotland and England (and Wales)).
In the absence of a vision or idea that can encompass all the political and ethnic entities in the UK as currently constituted, people are falling back on more local and more ancient identities — or are importing new and alien ones, under cover of the post- modern, everything-is-as-good- as- everything-else multi-culturalism.
That very process, of emergent struggle between attempts to revive native ethnic/ religious cultural identities against the perceived threat to them from imported competition, is tearing France apart. Yet that is old news, as is the rise of le Pen and the movement she leads. It is the spread of that poisonous process to Germany, hitherto perceived as both socially liberal and politically stable, that is new and genuinely shocking.
But at least in Europe what is happening makes sense, in the context of Europe’s long and troubled history and the cultural, ethnic, religious and racial baggage it has collected along the way. The same cannot be said for the United States, where the simultaneous emergence of Trumpist populism and Sandersian pseudo-Socialism have turned the accepted political culture on its head and left the overwhelming majority of Americans, especially older ones, gawping in open-mouthed amazement and undisguised confusion.
In a brave attempt to respond to this mood, which is rapidly moving from delusion (“he’ll blow himself up”) to despondency (“he’s unstoppable”), the noted conservative researcher and commentator, Charles Murray, wrote a long and insightful piece in last Saturday’s Wall Street Journal. Writing to his fellow conservatives in the conservative paper of record, Murray sought to place the phenomenon of Trumpism into the context of the wider sweep of American political and cultural history. His message, however, was uncompromisingly gloomy. We, he told his generation, have lost the country and culture which we inherited and in which we grew up.
He placed the blame for this epochal event not at the door of individual persons, certainly not of The Donald, whom he views as a symptom and outcome rather than even a proximate cause, but of broad and deep-seated social trends, foremost among them the collapse of the institution of marriage and hence family.
Obviously, liberals will not accept this analysis, but they too must explain Trumpism. To glibly dismiss it as a backlash to decades of a political culture based on packaged drivel that treats the electorate as imbeciles is too simplistic, although that is surely correct and part of the story.
Trumpism is the antithesis of Trump himself. There is no single slogan or silly mantra that can encapsulate it, let alone get to its roots. But while serious scholars ponder the disease in an effort to suggest a treatment, if not a cure, the plague continues to rage and to spread. The Establishment — first of the Republican party, but soon perhaps of the nation — is facing the classic dilemma of whether to close ranks and fight back, with the associated risk of losing, albeit honorably, or of making an accommodation and thus becoming an associate or even partner, however unwillingly.
If the Americans are so confused and distraught, small wonder that the rest of the world — allies and enemies alike — is scratching its collective head. Everyone is sting off Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Kathy’s song’: “All gone to look for America”.