Now that Donald Trump has secured the Republican nomination, Hillary Clinton looking set to wrap up the Democratic nomination, and no viable independent candidate in discussion, the options appear set. The world’s sole remaining superpower (for now) must choose between two individuals that have set records for their unpopularity. Whoever assumes the White House is likely to start with the lowest approval rating in history.
Given Trump’s efforts to alienate women, Hispanics and other minorities, one would assume a clear path for Clinton, but given the uncertain outcome of the civil war within the Republican party and Trump’s populist and xenophobic message, a historic realignment of American politics remains possible. Under such circumstances, all bets and predictions are off.
There can be little doubt however, that the Trump candidacy alone represents a deeply damaging moment for U.S democracy. Not only does it show how antiquated and out of touch its current political system has become with swathes of its electorate, it threatens global stability in myriad ways. Trade wars, an isolationist and mercantilist foreign policy and a seeming lack of ideology (or understanding) underpinning any of the policy u-turns thus announced would radically reduce U.S influence globally, reduce allies’ trust and create global regional chaos in the event of unilateral U.S military withdrawal. Lapsing security guarantees alone would problematize the nuclear proliferation question in eastern Asia and the Middle East and effectively mark the end of American military hegemony. The economy would follow too were Trump to embark on economically ruinous policies of deporting illegal immigrants and confronting China directly over currency manipulation.
If, as many outside the U.S hope, Trump’s reactionary campaign fails, it is hard to argue that a Clinton victory would signal business as usual. In some way, the damage has already been done. The economic, social and demographic forces propelling Trump have been legitimized (even if the majority of his supporters come from declining demographic segments) and he is unlikely to represent the last of a string of strongmen types both cashing in on and fueling populist rage – a situation unthinkable in the U.S even a decade ago.
There can be little doubt that a slow burning political crisis is underway in America that will outlast this election cycle. In an increasingly divided nation that views moderation as a compromise too far, this is likely to result in further gridlock (such a thing is possible) in Congress – rendering void many Presidential plans. The geopolitical and economic forces that propelled the U.S, throughout the 20th Century are evaporating as sources of competitive advantage and its government needs to tackle a host of pressing complex domestic and international issues from social security to climate change. Inaction is not an option, yet 20th Century ideas still prevail. More than ever the U.S. needs an honest and straightforward internal dialogue about the severe economic and social issues it faces and a unifying candidate able to articulate this clearly and confidently – something unlikely when the fight for the most unpopular President in history concludes this November.