After his decisive wins on “Super Tuesday,” Donald Trump’s nomination as the Republican presidential candidate is no longer a joke but a mathematical probability.
Facing the urgency of the situation, 60 prominent Republican national security experts issued an open letter, expressing their disapproval of such a controversial figure as the GOP nominee, but the message might have come too little, too late.
Hopes rely on the performance of rival candidates in the upcoming weeks, particularly in winner-take all states such as Florida and Ohio. Chances are that the party establishment may rally around another candidate – or even support a Democrat – against Trump. There is also a slight possibility of a brokered convention in case no single candidate gets the necessary number of delegates. Still, the prospects of denying Trump the majority seem increasingly unlikely.
So far, the inevitable rise of Trump in American politics has proved conventional wisdom wrong, which is why, in the event of a presidential race between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Trump, a Clinton victory should not be taken for granted.
And given the global outreach of U.S. foreign policy decisions, the outcome of the presidential elections concerns us all.
As emphasized on the campaign trail, this election is really a fight for the heart and soul of the United States.
What Trump offers to cheering crowds is not simply an overturning of the policies of the previous president. His political stance on migration, freedom of religion and the prohibition of torture challenge core American values secured by the constitution. Thus, the elections will serve as a litmus test for the strength of democratic culture and institutions and define the way forward for Americans.
Regardless of whether or not Trump succeeds, the underlying factors which precipitated such strong electoral support for his unrealistic, yet equally threatening and catchy, campaign promises deserve explanation.
Contrary to popular belief, foreign policy issues do not play a crucial role in shaping electoral preferences in U.S. politics. What matters most is the economic performance of the leaders.
On the balance sheet, President Barack Obama did quite well on the economic front despite the crisis of 2008. The unemployment rate reached a seven-year low of 5 percent in October compared to 10 percent in October 2009. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) – popularly known as ObamaCare – provided 20 million Americans with healthcare coverage.
But on the dark side, the government failed to generate real wage growth. The rate of home ownership declined due to the hard times occasioned by the mortgage crisis, while student loan debts also increased steadily.
But perhaps the most serious problem facing the U.S. economy is income inequality, which is part of a global trend that signals a dead-end for capitalist growth.
Between 2009 and 2014, the top 1 percent of Americans enjoyed 27.1 percent of real income growth, whereas the bottom 99 percent experienced about 4.3 percent, which partly explains why the electorate opts for alternative figures from either the ultra-left or the ultra-right.
It is otherwise a political conundrum why a racist and Islamophobic figure such as Trump appears as the most popular GOP candidate among Muslims with 11 percent, following Democrats.
Without a doubt, Trump is a master of populist rhetoric who boasts the talent of being able to appeal to a frustrated electorate, who are angry over their perceived loss of the dominant position in American society. Relying on his business track record, Trump promises to create jobs by reversing labor offshoring, closing doors to immigrants, abolishing ACA and introducing tax cuts.
As for foreign policy, Trump vows to “make America great again” while sneering at the diplomatic caution of U.S. policymakers, saying, “The day of the chess player is over.” Instead, he promotes himself as the dealmaker who is cunning, secretive, focused and “never settles for less than he wants.”
Democracy is often reversed, as Seymour Martin Lipset, a prominent political scientist, suggests, especially when key factors that promote democracy, such as capitalism, economic growth and moderate opposition, come under attack. The global rise of authoritarian governments shows that frustrated masses turn to strong leaders and become more open to trade their freedom for economic wellbeing and security. Looking at the current debate, even the beacon of democracy may not to be immune to this trend.
At a time when the post-war liberal democratic order shows signs of falling apart, the U.S. is more crucial than ever before in terms of upholding the democratic ideals it stands for.
Let’s hope that the conventional wisdom prevails.