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Donald Trump’s arrival into the Oval Office foreshadows not only a change in US and global politics, but a change in the fundamental rules of politics – the way that politics is done is about to change. In a matter of years Trumpism will be a principle theme in our schools’ history curricula, but at this moment in time it falls on us in the here and now to contend with this new social and political phenomenon; to begin to understand it and to hopefully discover its cure.
Trumpism is altogether unprecedented in the history of modern democracy. It would be fair to say that it has more in common with the autocratic and monarchic governments of the late Roman Empire, with its decadent, whimsical, and easily-led potentates than it does with a modern republican and parliamentary democracy. Our problem is that the particular political genius of Donald Trump has thrived in the world’s largest modern democracy.
Unlike the fascist authoritarian ideologies that destabilised and ultimately toppled European democracies in the first half of the twenty-first century, Trumpism is characteristically apolitical and free of any meaningful sense of ideology. It is a mass social and political movement – itself quite independent of the man Donald Trump – that has attached itself to a charismatic leader and in turn attracts to it heretofore fringe political ideologies.
Mainstream power politics – the syndication of massive corporate interests and a professional political élite – have left ordinary working Americans to fester; with fewer social supports, lower pay, more precarious conditions of employment, and politically and economically powerless. It is beyond doubt that the popularity of Donald Trump was the result of people’s real frustrations, and the systematic destruction of Senator Bernie Sanders – who did offer a reasonable alternative – did nothing to endear these tens of millions of people to the old guard candidate Hillary Clinton.
Without an articulate political language of its own through which to voice its grievances, this immensely powerful movement was an easy vehicle on which white supremacist ideologies, the so-called alt-right, and the politics of the far-right and neo-Nazis could hitch a ride. By no means does this suggest that this movement in toto is racist in nature. It is angry and frustrated, but the susceptibility of the socially vulnerable and the poor to such political ideologies is well documented. The movement was an easy target for the right, and so – in effect – became the right as the right became it.
Donald Trump, who must now lend his name to this formidable political force, being the charismatic opportunist that he is, merely became the arrowhead by which this movement and its parasitic ideologies could achieve their objectives – power and the taking of the state. Now that this objective has been secured the United States and the rest of the world are faced with a composite political beast we barely understand, and one that has shown itself time and again to have the ability to transform both itself and the realities around it. Everything is about to change.
Had this whirlwind formed in most any other country it would have been little more than a geopolitical curiosity like Kazakhstan or North Korea, but this one has developed in the low atmospheric pressure of the world’s most dominant and influential superpower. Europe’s continual lurch to the populist right and the fractures this is exposing in the structure of the European Union, the resurgence of Russia and the rise of China, and the departure of the United Kingdom from the EU all conspire to lend to Trump’s victory the conditions of the perfect political storm.
As part of the European Union the United Kingdom was more or less a member of a community of equals working towards economic and political objectives of mutual benefit. Outwith the relative security of Europe and the single market the British government is forced, as the Prime Minister has already made clear, to seek commercial agreements further afield – a vulnerability the United States will be keen to exploit. As a “special friend” and strategic ally of the United States the pull to closer trade ties with it is irresistible to Britain, and the rules of capitalism dictate that trade affects political realignment and accommodation by the weaker partner to the stronger.
In spite of Theresa May’s assertion of Britain’s greatness, the United Kingdom is about to be taken in to the commercial and political orbit of the United States, into the new sphere of Trumpism. Just as neoliberalism infected Margaret Thatcher’s Britain through its close association with the politico-economics of Milton Friedman and Ronald Reagan, so will Trumpism enter British politics through Theresa May’s need to rush to America.
This can do nothing but transform business at Westminster. Donald Trump is, by his overt affection, normalising the personalities at the front of Europe’s far-right; France’s National Front leader Marine Le Pen, Austria’s openly neo-Nazi Heinz-Christian Strache, and the English father of Brexit Nigel Farage to name a few. The media and the social and political establishment, as instruments of power, can do nothing but fall behind the new favourites of the United States – making them more electable, more powerful.
Here in Scotland, where we find ourselves shackled to and – more often than not – dictated to by Westminster, we are about to experience this power shift and rule change at close quarters. Britain’s qua London’s ability to deliver tribute to Washington will make Westminster’s interest in maintaining the Union the United States’ interest – seriously compounding the problem we have in gaining independence. Under these conditions, with Conservative politics and those of UKIP and perhaps the British National Front completely indistinguishable from one another, the Yes movement and the Scottish government will find themselves fighting an entirely different animal.
Our temporary comfort is that we, as a reluctant part of the United Kingdom, are still members of the European Union. What this buys us is a two year window of opportunity, while the Article 50 negotiations continue, to make our own alternative. Brexit makes the task of winning Scottish independence more urgent if we hope to remain a member of the European Union and the single market, and the advent of Trumpism and London’s powerlessness to stop itself from being subsumed into a dangerous new type of American imperialism makes the project of national self-determination absolutely critical.
The Butterfly Rebellion