FOR the last hundred years the axis of western power and influence has pivoted on the relationship between the USA and its junior partner the UK.
Some call that relationship special but in reality it’s not so much special as practical. The UK, once the dominant global power in an age when that meant invasion, empire and control of other nations, saw its power and influence wilt and found a partner in the USA, an emergent maxi-me nation, the new global power in an age where that means domination of trade, not of borders and peoples.
This partnership allowed the USA to ascend more quickly and comprehensively than would have been natural and it camouflaged the diminishing global influence of the UK. Thus the UK avoided the inevitable cultural and identity crises that plagues nations with fallen empires such as Germany, France, Turkey, Italy, Japan, China and Russia. All great powers relative to their time in history, they since crashed and burned, enduring days of national humiliation
We still hear political slogans such as the Brexit clarion call “let’s take our country back” when clearly no-one had taken it from them. Trump’s “Make America great again” meanwhile, sounds even scarier when you realise that America’s period of greatness depended on its late entry into two world wars and the economic benefits that geographical distance from the battlefield later bestowed.
Bernie Sanders’ campaign should have had the slogan “Let’s make America fair for once.” That goal might be America’s best chance of achieving greatness.
I have written before of the difference between Scotland’s national movement, which is based on civic inclusion, internationalism, co-operation and self determination, and British nationalism that panders to xenophobia, feelings of superiority that make you think you should rule or influence other nations and the projection of power (Trident) rather than the protection of the powerless in society. Scotland’s evolving, new national image is driven by a desire for fairness.The regressive nationalism of post-Brexit Britain and America is driven by a desire to project greatness. The former is enlightening, the latter frightening.
Everyone knows the story of the boy who cried wolf. Many have also heard of Godwin’s Law: As a discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler increases. Sooner or later someone is compared to Hitler and whoever mentions the Nazis first has lost the argument.
An observation that is as witty as it is painfully true, and here I am about to cry wolf but I assure you, really, there is a wolf this time.
As I watched the news images of the Republican Convention I felt uneasy seeing the style of the speeches; Chris Christie’s mock trial of Hillary Clinton and the crowd shouting “lock her up” over and over again, baying for her to be jailed over the use of her private emails when secretary of state. But their own candidate is clearly guilty of the far more serious offence of stirring up racial hatred and intolerance.
A few years ago America saw the emergence of the comical but still dangerous Tea Party movement and many breathed a sigh of relief when it failed to gain mainstream political traction, but it never really went away, instead it laid the foundations for the emergence of Trump.
The signs of rampant authoritarianism are obvious: Military parades, charismatic but unhinged leaders, warfare, lack of opposition, cronyism, mass financial and electoral fraud, a controlled media, the simplification and sloganisation of politics, the creation of political dynasties and the idea that one man (it’s almost always a man) has all the answers. Authoritarian leaders are easy to identify once they are too deeply entrenched to challenge but they are difficult to spot as they make their way to power. If they were easy to spot they would never win elections in nations that are full of reasonable people.
To win elections they need the right conditions: An uneven and unequal society, significant economic problems, incompetent political elites, political and or racial unrest, a growing sense of loss of pride and position in the world and an easily identifiable group to scapegoat. Left-wing authoritarian takeovers are revolutions – they blame the rich. Right-wing authoritarian takeovers would blame the poor but there are too many of them, so they blame poor immigrants and people of different colours and creeds.
The warning signs are there in abundance in Trump’s campaign. It’s clear that the Trumpism “making America great again” means doubling down on military prowess, getting tougher on crime and locking more people up when the USA already leads the world in percentage of population incarcerated.
It will mean increasing the rhetoric of fear and blaming everyone who isn’t Christian or white unless they are rich. It will mean a return to traditional values, mostly through the vehicle of religion, possibly the only belief system that if controlled ruthlessly can convince a population to allow you to undermine democracy.
If Trump wins I fear for America. After the honeymoon period, civil unrest, race riots and gun crime that will make recent events seem tame may become commonplace, large corporations will become more corrupt and powerful, and unfettered racism will define the economic prospects of many.
The Republican Party of today must be stopped from ever gaining power with Trump as president. I am not saying it will lead to World War Three or concentration camps; authoritarian regimes of today will be different to those of the past, invading countries and starting world wars is no longer an option in an era of global capitalism. China, Russia and America are less concerned with nuclear deterrents than economic deterrents, their economies are so interdependent war is economically unwinnable.
Here in the UK we are not so far down the road as America is. The Brexit campaign mirrored Trump’s xenophobia and scapegoating but most Leave votes were cast for reasons other than racism and delusions of greatness. However, maybe as much as 35 per cent of the population of the UK are affected to some degree by its message. The UK also does not have a charismatic, delusional and potentially sociopathic megalomaniac about to take over.
Theresa May may or may not be the new Margaret Thatcher. She is a flawed leader but probably not highly deluded, and Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage lack gravitas.
Brexit was Great Britain’s Tea Party moment, so we must be more diligent and never let a Trump get even a sniff of power in the UK, or, better still, let’s leave the UK and be a nation that is the case study in enlightened internationalism, equality, sustainability, openness and democracy.
No greater than any other nation – just worthy of being equal to.