Britain ushers in the bigots

“We don’t do God,” Tony Blair’s director of strategy and communications Alastair Campbell famously said in 1996, an effort to prevent the then-prime minister discussing his faith in public. It was good advice.

Britain was and remains not only a secular country, but a rightly cynical place, scarred by religion’s divisive blade throughout history, most recently by the violence of Christian sectarianism in Northern Ireland and the radicalised British Islamists swayed by a Wahhabi cult preached online.

In the U.S., religion and politics have long been in lock step, prevailing opinion suggesting candidates for office must prostrate themselves before the Almighty’s earthly representatives to get ahead.

The election of Donald Trump in 2016 chipped away at that presumption, the billionaire businessman proving that when it came to the support of white Christians, appealing to their whiteness could circumvent having to appeal to their faith. Race before religion, as it were.

Yet the disastrous election of British Conservative leader Theresa May this week has brought American-style faith infused politics to the centre of British power. The use of the Democratic Unionist Party as a buttress for a minority government currently balancing on three legs means May will be in debt to a group of radical protestants with links to terrorism, whose views wouldn’t look out of place on the 700 Club.

Same-sex marriage is illegal in Northern Ireland thanks mainly to the efforts of the DUP whose faith demands they intervene in the prospective happiness of people they don’t know and have never met.

Likewise, abortion rights have been deliberately hobbled, forcing countless numbers of young, scared and vulnerable women to leave the country to receive medical help.

Moreover, the DUP counts legions of creationists amongst its cohort, with some 40% of the membership believing children’s education should be deliberately stultified by the teaching of superstition in science class.

And like the U.S. Republican Party, the DUP embraces climate change denial, appointing a sceptic to the role of environment minister in 2008. After all, melting ice caps and the likely future starvation of millions of people is all part of God’s celestial blueprint.

This is who May is now in bed with. She has signed up to a short-term toxic deal that will not only further ostracize the young, liberal generation which the Tories are already hemorrhaging, but also progressive members of her own party, not least the Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson, a woman who single-handedly revived the Tories north of the border and whose reward for that feat is to find herself now sharing power with people who think her partnership with another woman is an abomination.

And this says nothing of the politically disastrous ramifications of giving succour to just one of the parties in Northern Ireland, with the potential to disrupt the sensitive balance between the DUP unionists and the nationalists of Sinn Féin.

The British parliamentary system gives May an absolute right to try and form a government with whichever party she can. And politicians holding personal ambition over the good of the country is commonplace. Yet surely May knows that engaging with the DUP is too high a price to pay?

Fortunately, she is surrounded by equally ruthless vessels of personal advancement, who are already circling the prime minister with the stench of blood. Likely she’ll be taken down soon by a member of her own cabinet.

After two general elections, a referendum and an independence campaign in recent years, no one in the UK wants another national vote. Yet a rerun in Autumn will be welcome if it means people such as the DUP are quickly dispatched back to the dark, unthinking fringes where they rightly belong.

This article first appeared in HuffPost UK. The original can be found here.

Why British Prime Minister Theresa May has called for a snap election

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday called for a snap election to be held June 8. May argued that “the only way to guarantee certainty and security for years ahead is to hold this election.” The House of Commons is expected to hold a vote Wednesday to approve May’s plan. So what’s going on?

What is a snap election?

British general elections are held every five years under the Fixed Term Parliament Act. Former Tory leader David Cameron won the 2015 election, so the next U.K. vote was scheduled for 2020. However, the majority party can seek to call an early (or “snap”) election, should they choose. That’s what happened on Tuesday. Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has said his party will vote in favor of holding the election, so Britons will most likely be heading to the polls in two months.

Why has May called it?

The snap election is almost entirely about domestic politics. May, formerly home secretary in the British government, was not elected prime minister, nor was she elected leader of the Conservatives. Her party elevated her to that position in the turbulent days of June 2016, after Cameron resigned following his defeat in the Brexit referendum. All of May’s rivals for the top job dropped out, so she became PM.

As such, May is trying to push through the U.K.’s exit from Europe ― the biggest political shift in British national identity in decades ― in the absence of a political mandate of her own.

Winning the snap election would not only solidify May’s position as Tory leader, but would allow her to claim that the public has backed her plan for how to extract Britain from the European Union. As May said Tuesday: “There should be unity here in Westminster, but instead there is division. The country is coming together, but Westminster is not. We need a general election and we need one now.”

Isn’t she taking a risk?

Not really. Labour, the Tories’ traditional rival for majority party, is currently in disarray due to Corbyn’s contentious leadership. Corbyn is a firebrand whose left-wing policies are not supported by a majority of his own MPs. According to the polling firm YouGov, Labour is currently polling at around 23 percent, far behind the Conservatives’ 44 percent.

The 2015 election gave the Tories a small working majority of 17 seats in Parliament ― enough to govern, but only just. By calling a snap election, May hopes to take advantage of the Labour crisis and increase the number of Tory seats in Westminster, giving her more room to push through her own policy agenda, including education reform.

Research also shows that May has strong personal support from the electorate, with a recent YouGov poll suggesting that 48 percent of Britons are confident she can successfully shepherd the U.K. out of Europe. She’s in a very strong position.

Could this derail Brexit?

No. Even if Labour were a functioning opposition party, their platform is to honor the result of the Brexit referendum and take Britain out of the EU. The Liberal Democrats are running on a platform of holding a second referendum in the hope of reversing the Brexit decision, but they’re polling at around 12 percent and have no chance of becoming the majority party. Article 50 has been triggered; barring something massively unforeseen, Brexit is happening. As May said, “Britain is leaving the European Union and there can be no turning back.” Moreover, winning a snap election could give May a stronger hand in dealing with Brussels in the forthcoming Brexit negotiations.

What will happen to the other parties?

One Labour MP has already said he will not stand for election under Corbyn’s leadership. Others will likely follow, and the party could lose scores of parliamentary seats in June. It’s unlikely that Corbyn’s leadership will be challenged ahead of the election, but should he lose heavily in the election, his slightly madcap tenure as leader could end. The Liberal Democrats will likely pick up seats, but not enough to challenge the Tories.

Are we in for another election surprise?

It’s very unlikely. There is no credible challenge to May; the question is whether she’ll win big or very big. Then again, Donald Trump is currently eating lunch off the Resolute desk, so who knows…

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original can be found here.

Two British siblings evaluate Trump’s win from opposing ends of a divided culture

A little over a week after the victory of Donald J. Trump, two British siblings, both long-term U.S. residents ― one in New York, one in Louisville, Ky. ― reflect on the American election, the echoes of Brexit and the country going forward.

Paul, 40, is an editor for the Huffington Post and has lived in Manhattan for nearly four years. His sister Katherine, 36, is a systems analyst at the University of Louisville. She has been in the U.S. for 10 years. Before moving to Kentucky, she lived in Indiana.

NEW YORK ― Red seeped across the Florida map on the screen above my desk. A colleague muttered, “Broward County, you bastard. Come on.”

“They’re still counting,” offered another in vain hope.

By 9:30 p.m., the noise in the office had been cowered into silence. Having said for months the U.S. election was “nothing like Brexit,” and assured friends that presidential polls are “historically very accurate,” this was exactly like Brexit.

I watched Trump’s victory speech at home in the early hours. I looked for a quote or quip that accurately summed up this disastrous moment in the history of the republic. Days later I readAntonio Gramsci’s line: “The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born. Now is the time of monsters.” But at the time all I could think was, “fuck.”

* * *

LOUISVILLE, Ky. ― I watched both the EU referendum results and the presidential election results with my husband. Both times we disagreed and both times he correctly predicted the outcome. As my Facebook feed swelled with liberal friends’ heartfelt reflections on what it meant to them to vote for the first woman president, I watched CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer visibly deflate as the voice of the people went further and further off script. Just like Brexit, this wasn’t supposed to happen.

Why did Americans vote for Donald Trump?

Paul: Only about a quarter of Americans did; slightly less than voted for Clinton. Almost half didn’t vote at all. The microanalysis of Trump’s win has barely started, but the broad strokes include the 2008 economic crash and subsequent bailout undercutting trust in government along with the changing demographics highlighted by the election of the first black president and rapid cultural shifts, such as the legalization of same-sex marriage. This left white Christian America fearful and bent on redress. So it responded to Trump and his siren of white nationalism. His election was also a rebuke to congressional Republicans who have deliberately hobbled government for the past eight years. Trump spoke directly to voters who felt abandoned by the system and forsaken by both parties. It’s a horrible irony that the congressional GOP is now being rewarded for its awful approach to governance.

Katherine: Economics and the desire to extend a middle finger to the establishment. Trump’s promises to “Make America Great Again” and “drain the swamp” appealed directly to rural communities decimated by the outsourcing of heavy industry and manufacturing jobs. It’s an alluring message for Rust Belt towns facing extinction as the coal mines or factories that support them close down, and it carries more weight because it comes from a businessman not a career politician. That said, there’s hardly any variation in the number of votes for the Republican candidate in the last three presidential elections; McCain, Romney and now Trump all hovered around 60 million votes. Democrat votes, however, have tanked ― almost 10 million more people showed up for Obama in 2008 than voted for Clinton in 2016. So the real question is not, “why did America vote for Trump?”, but “why did America not vote for Clinton?”

So why did Hillary Clinton lose?

Paul: Technically, because fewer Democrats turned out than in the previous two elections. As for why, it’s tempting to say because she’s a woman and paint America as patriarchal. There might be some of that, but probably more voters were put off by the whiff of corruption ― the James Comey debacle, the two-facedness that came out in the Podesta emails, being given a debate question beforehand and so on. Clinton had become emblematic of the government institutions that many Americans now mistrust. She was in hindsight the wrong candidate for the 2016 cycle. Voters wanted someone different. I should note the GOP has been demonizing the Clintons for decades; their name unites Republicans like nothing else. But what did she stand for? Besides being the first woman president? Is she of the left? How does she represent the working class? How does the modern Democratic Party represent the working class? Like the British Labour Party under Tony Blair, the Democrats seem to have disconnected from the people they’re supposed to champion. Bernie Sanders supporters would likely agree.

Katherine: Rejection of Clinton was in large part a rejection of an elite ruling class that appears shrouded in corruption and no longer speaks for a significant portion of rural America. Trump’s shambolic stream-of-consciousness speeches were not a deterrent to people who interpreted Hillary’s polished performances as just that ― a performance, and something that could not be trusted. Trump supporters often praise him for “telling it like it is.” His lack of refinement makes him relatable to a portion of the electorate who get a little thrill from a loose cannon and will forgive any number of abhorrent statements as harmless bluster so long as the prejudice invoked is directed at groups to which they are only tangentially related. Both candidates had serious issues ― a vote for Trump required the forgiveness of bigotry and a vote for Clinton required the forgiveness of corruption.H

How deeply divided is America?

Paul: Hugely ― and it’s not going to get better any time soon. Americans are already seeing the divisions of the campaign continue post-election. Now we have protesters on the streets in several major cities, including New York, demonstrating against Trump’s win. Racial problems were already simmering before the country elected a man who ran an openly bigoted campaign. So, of course, there is now an outcry, and it will continue. Minority rights will be fiercely defended, as will those of women, the LGBTQ community and anyone oppressed. If you think gay marriage legislation won’t be attacked, look at the record of Vice President-elect Mike Pence. Likewise the right to choose. Americans who believe in pluralism, multiculturalism and equal rights will not just let the new administration roll the country back to the 1950s. Also, if Americans think the white working class is angry now, wait till they realize they’ve been duped by Trump.

Katherine: The only thing uniting this country is the flag. As a Brit, it’s easy to mock a caricature brash American chanting “U-S-A! U-S-A!” at every opportunity, but the public performance of patriotism is essential to holding all these disparate groups together across a landmass that is 40 times the size of the U.K.. Unless you’ve been on a road trip here, it can be difficult for Europeans to grasp the sheer size of the place. You could drive the length of Britain just to get from one American city to another. Utah is nothing like California which is nothing like New York which is nothing like Kentucky.

What are your concerns about President Trump?

Paul: As I European, I worry that Trump’s win will give succor to the nationalistic forces already reshaping British politics post-Brexit. The British Conservative Party is no longer the liberal center-right party of David Cameron; it now treads a much more reactionary line. Likewise, the American Republican Party is now the toy of an ethnocentric, nationalist president-elect. France, anecdotally the most socialist country in the EU, could go the same way, bewitched by Marine Le Pen. And then there’s Germany, a country that’s acutely sensitive to far-right messaging due to its history. If anti-immigrant forces score electoral wins in either of those nations, we could be in for a very dark time.

As a U.S. resident, I fret that the country will polarize further, especially as it’s the people who voted for Trump who will suffer the most in the coming years. If Trump finds a way to repeal Obamacare, it’ll be the working class hit hardest. Likewise with Medicare privatization. There’s a massive tax cut coming for the donor class. Republicans argue this helps workers by stimulating growth, which eventually trickles down. What demonstrably happens is the rich get richer, and the disparity between the top and the bottom gets wider.

Living in New York ― a city of immigrants ― I’m acutely aware of the fear and anxiety generated by Trump’s xenophobic rhetoric. The president-elect’s team says he’s mulling a Muslim registry, with one Trump goon even suggesting that the World War II internment of Japanese-Americans set a precedent. It just won’t be tolerated. To quote a countryman, “a dog of that house shall move me to stand.”

Katherine: I worry about Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who I suspect will wield more influence than usual because Trump has no political experience. During his time as the governor of Indiana, Pence doggedly pursued an evangelical Christian agenda, leading to some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country. Trump, I think, ran on a whim, whereas Pence is following a systematic path to power. He understands how the game is played and is that much more dangerous for it.

In the week or so since the election, I’ve become equally concerned with a tide of vitriol from my own side, as many on the left process their outrage and shock. A campaign that encouraged the right to dehumanize individuals who are not like them has resulted in some on the left dehumanizing individuals who are not like them: “I want the South to burn,” one liberal friend in Pennsylvania raged, “It’s no more than deserved.”

Are Trump voters racist?

Paul: Trump is a birther and racist, and he ran racist campaign. He also surrounds himself with extremists; his chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, runs a website for the white nationalist alt-right. And there were many bigots at Trump’s rallies who were exposed on film during the campaign. But I wouldn’t blanket Trump voters as racist or sexist. I think it’s likely many people voted for Trump overlooking his chauvinism, not overtly because of it. Early data suggests Trump won a lot of the white working class who’d previously voted for Obama ― twice! So there’s clearly more than racism behind his win. But that doesn’t absolve those who voted for him. They voted for a xenophobe, and we’re already seeing an uptick in racist incidents post-election. That’s on them.

Katherine: Some of them are, and you’re likely to see that covered extensively by the media. But there’s a real danger in applying the hateful agenda of a vocal minority to all 60 million people who decided their interests were best represented by choosing Donald over Hillary. There’s a sense of hurt and mistrust among Hillary voters right now. They don’t understand how anyone could vote for bigotry because that’s all Trump is to them ― a deplorable. In the current climate, nuanced discussion is more important than ever but stereotyping Trump voters as white supremacists only shuts conversation down.

What should those abroad know about America?

Paul: Trump’s win plays into a European cultural snobbery about the U.S., the cartoon of an unsophisticated, childlike nation. The country has, after all, just elected a screaming infant whose psychology is forever on tantrum’s cusp. But it’s a grotesque caricature. American democracy hasn’t been perfect, but the United States is the only revolution to arise from the Enlightenment that’s ongoing. That, to borrow a phrase, is what makes America great. The sadness of Trump is that the centuries-old experiment will soon be tested to a breaking point, and by a man who has no regard for the battles fought to preserve it.

To understand the U.S., the national divide should be viewed not as political or geographic, but as tribal. It’s not enough that your side wins. It’s just as important ― maybe more important ― that the other side loses, and that they are made to feel defeated. The rivals have their own turf, their own media, their own personalities, prophets and icons. They even have their own history and their own facts. Because it’s tribal, it’s also illogical. Americans will act against their own economic interest if it harms the other side. Not all voters are dragged along on this wave of cultural sectarianism. But a lot are… Trump knew it, and he exploited it.

Katherine: The metropolitan areas and rural middle America don’t understand each other as a consequence of their relative diversities. Small town Kentucky is overwhelmingly white, Christian and struggling economically. It’s also solid red. But what is often misinterpreted as bigotry is simply lack of exposure. Outside the big cities, people may never have left the country. I’ve been asked if we have Christmas in Britain, if London is overrun by deer because we don’t carry guns and, without a shred of sarcasm, how England celebrates the 4th of July. I learned pretty quickly not to say “I’m from the U.K.” because here that only means University of Kentucky ― United Kingdom isn’t a connection anyone would ever make. Rural Kentuckians may go their entire lives without meeting a Muslim, but they’ve all been told radical Islam is coming to wipe them out. With media fear mongering as their only reference, prejudice is unsurprising, but it’s directed at nebulous groups not individuals; the same people who worry about radical Islam would be genuinely warm and welcoming if I brought a Muslim friend round for dinner.

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original can be found here.

The Trump plague is real. And it’s enduring.

For 18 months a plague has swept through America, spreading xenophobia, hate and resentment. Last night, 70-year-old Donald Trump was elected the 45th president of the United States. His campaign should have been routed. But this infection would not die.

The multicultural coastal cities that bookend the nation’s continental mass commiserate. The white nationalism exploited by the tycoon’s presidential bid has been emboldened. It not only now has a grip on the contorted husk of Republican Party politics, but it also has the White House.

“Trump has unleashed forces ― forces much bigger than he is ― that simply can’t be put back into the bottle,” said Richard Spencer, head of the National Policy Institute, a white nationalist think tank, earlier this year. He was right.

Chauvinism and bigotry have long been shadowy forces in the politics of the United States. But Trump’s campaign took them a step further, pulling them into the light, and with it, yanking American democracy towards a cliff edge. Last night, Lady Liberty stepped off into the void.

On Wednesday, as America awoke to news of Trump’s victory, the New Yorker’s David Remnick called the election outcome, “a tragedy for the American republic, a tragedy for the Constitution, and a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism.”

It is also a tragedy for the old Republican Party, which is now dead. The GOP has proved unwilling to stand up to the president-elect’s vociferous support, even when that meant playing footsie with anti-Semitism, calling to torch the 14th Amendment or undercutting democracy with talk of a “rigged” election.

For some Trump voters, conservative orthodoxies be damned. The motivating force is now immigration and hostility to non-whites. The GOP yielded. It had planned to spend four years subverting Hillary Clinton’s administration rather than have a reckoning of its own. That reckoning has now been permanently abandoned.

The party’s retrograde plank, revealed during Trump’s coronation in July at the Republican National Convention, will now be enacted. During that event, Trump delivered an acceptance speech appealing directly to the white working class. Eyeballing the camera, he bellowed: “I am your voice.”

“I have visited the laid-off factory workers, and the communities crushed by our horrible and unfair trade deals,” he said. “These are the forgotten men and women of our country. People who work hard but no longer have a voice.”

American manufacturing has certainly suffered in recent decades, and the impact on the working class is real. In his book “Hillbilly Elegy,” author J. D. Vance depicts life in a county in Ohio scarred by welfare dependency, drug abuse and a chronic lack of opportunity. This is the message of economic anxiety ― white workers forgotten in an age of globalism.

But Trump’s response was a masquerade. His economic plan will help Vance’s heroes naught. During the campaign he capitalized on their economic plight as a cover to peddle jingoism and bullying, tapping into the death throes of white Christian hegemony to fear-monger against “the other.”

And his supporters, still suffering from the 2008 financial crash, a collapse in institutional trust, and feeling culturally mocked for their beliefs in in God, guns and the flag, were captivated, drawn to the authoritarianism of a man who promised to cure their ills, to re-establish the group’s religious and cultural dominance ― to “Make America Great Again.”

Nominee Trump puffed: “I alone can fix it,” even at the expense of the U.S. Constitution, now flexible in matters of free speech, religious tolerance, or a woman’s right to choose.

Towards the end of his run Trump regularly recited lyrics to “The Snake,” an Aesop-style fable with “immigrants” as the viper that betrayed its naive host. Some have suggested Trump was the snake, biting the GOP after it took him in.

But the true serpent is the dark populism of the political right, welcomed in decades ago by a party now held hostage by its fangs.

The success of Trump’s campaign was the natural conclusion of the GOP’s long-standing inability to respond to a groundswell of demographic changes. Instead the party surrendered its soul to the mountebanks of talk radio, whose ethnocentric rhetoric energized millions of voters receptive to a message of white grievance.

Trumpism is white nationalism, and the Republican Party must now entertain it, regardless of whatever economic doctrines grandees like Speaker Paul Ryan sermonize in the capital. As journalist Bret Stephens lamented on the eve of the election, conservative and political leaders, “prostrated themselves before Mr. Trump simply because he won.”

Whatever Trump does in office, the fascistic forces that gave rise to his bid are now permanently coiled around a party that once fought for slaves.

There they will remain, even after Trump and his ghastly coterie are consigned to the ghosts of reminisce.

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original can be found here.

For Trump and his mob, partisan feeling won’t yield to patriotism

“There is tremendous voter fraud,” U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump told supporters in Wisconsin this week, before predicting that “1.8 million deceased individuals” will vote for his opponent Hillary Clinton.

Facing a potential wipeout at the polls, Trump has of late used rallies, Twitter and sporadic Fox News interviews to question the legitimacy of an election he is about to fluff.

Studies reveal there is no widespread voter fraud, and, with the possible exception of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the dead don’t vote.

On Tuesday, Trump went further encouraging his supporters to monitor polling stations for electoral wrongdoing, especially in the inner cities.

And fascism’s siren song was heard: “If she’s [Hillary] in office, I hope we can start a coup,” Dan Bowman, 50, recently told The Boston Globe. “She should be in prison or shot.”

“We’re going to have a revolution and take them out of office if that’s what it takes,” he added. “There’s going to be a lot of bloodshed.”

Remarkably, this was posted by an elected sheriff:

Voter intimidation is likely on Nov. 8, especially if Trump’s vigilante “monitors” openly carrying guns.

America has enjoyed a peaceful transition of power after every election since 1876, but the death rattle of Trump’s burlesque campaign is now threatening that long-standing democratic tradition.

As Donald’s surrogates often parrot, he’s an “agent of change.”

Grace in defeat.

Trump isn’t the first to test America’s precariously balanced civics. As recently as 2000, the country looked truly f***ed. An impossibly ugly election was followed by a contested result forcing the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene. In a split decision, it ruled that Florida’s disputed votes be awarded to George W. Bush.

His Democratic rival Al Gore won the popular vote, but the Texan took the White House.

Gore had grounds for grievance but noting the potential damage of a continued fight, he conceded victory, yanking the nation back from the brink:

“I also accept my responsibility … to honor the new president-elect and do everything possible to help him bring Americans together in fulfillment of the great vision that our Declaration of Independence defines and that our Constitution affirms and defends.”

Forty years earlier, Richard Nixon gave a terse variation of the same sentiment on national TV:

“I want, I want Senator Kennedy to know, and I want all of you to know, that certainly if this trend does continue, and he does become our next president, that he will have my wholehearted support and yours, too.”

Adlai Stevenson in 1952 promised his support to Dwight Eisenhower, noting: “We vote as many, but we pray as one.” A similar “pledge” was made by Bob Dole in 1996 after he failed to unseat Bill Clinton.

Even McCain’s slapstick bid of 2008 correctly managed the concession, refusing Alaska Governor Sarah Palin a platform to deliver her own speech, albeit against the protests of the vice presidential pick, who by this time had gone full “Black Swan.”

Why it is important?

A state cannot function if a third of its citizenry believes the elected leader is illegitimate. As such, the concession speech is a vital release valve after the build up of a lengthy election campaign that cuts deep into the national consciousness.

Yet Trump is now threatening to make the scar tissue permanent with repeated claims of “rigged polls,” “biased” debate moderators and “corrupt media” pushing “false allegations” ― all strings of a marionette controlled by a “global power structure” bent on stealing the election from America’s white working class.

This type of waffle has currency among the orcs and goblins of the internet; a conspiracy theory after all simplifies a complex world. However, for an American presidential candidate, it’s absurd.

In Trump’s defense, he is not responsible for the country’s polarization, nor did he create a society in which truth has lost its value. But he is deliberately exploiting both to undercut the democratic process by claiming the election is “one big fix.”

Why is he doing this?

During July and September, Trump’s flamboyant campaign pulled at the docking ropes threatening to take off. Many national polls showed the portly tycoon level with his seasoned yet very beatable opponent.

The improvement was attributed in part to his newly-appointed campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, who successfully yanked Trump’s snout ring around the country giving the impression of a sober operation. However, in October the ship exploded, bursting into flames like the Hindenburg.

The campaign’s combustible mix of white victimhood, Islamophobia, anti-intellectualism, KFC buckets and late-night tweets was finally lit by vintage audio of the candidate talking “p***y” on a bus.

The tape and subsequent flood of women claiming to have been assaulted by her boss left even Conway, the smiliest of Stepford wives, floundering and the campaign in a tailspin.

Loyalists cried foul but the tape was revealing. For decades Trump fostered the myth of a dealmaker doyen, a man driven solely by his resolute desire to peak in business.

The video, however, suggested Trump was impelled by nothing more than his perverse need to exert power over women. Perhaps this was already obvious. His willingness to confess to serial sexual assault was not.

Already behind in battleground states, Trump’s turn in the first Clinton debate did little to encourage swing voters. Then came the video and attendant allegations, effectively ending the race.

The second debate proved a turning point, a pantomime of Clinton-bashing that suggested Trump had given up the White House. Instead he would concentrate on maintaining a sizable, hardcore following that he could exploit for cash after the vote.

According to reports, this change was encouraged by campaign CEO Stephen Bannon, a bedraggled anti-establishment agitator who runs a white ethno-nationalism website.

In Trump’s ear like Grima Wormtongue, Bannon coaxed the willing tycoon to turn on the whole political class ― the Clintons, the Republicans, the media… even the election itself.

The GOP response?

Many prominent Republicans, sniffing the coming drubbing at the polls, jumped ship, giving Trump and his twitchy coterie another bête noire: those “disloyal” Republicans,” those “traitors.”

Even Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, a man with an almost ideological commitment to cowardice, baulked at fantasies of a “rigged” election, putting out a statement noting he was “fully confident” the vote would be fair.

Which is where we are three weeks out from the vote. The irony for Trump is that his opponent is currently having her soiled underwear shaken out daily byWikiLeaks. If he stopped talking about voter fraud, he could hammer her for the remainder of the campaign on issues far less mythical. But he won’t because his goal is no longer office.

Quoted by Gore, defeated Sen. Stephen Douglas (D-Ill.) told Abe Lincoln in 1860 that “partisan feeling must yield to patriotism.” But Trump requires partisanship to feed his post-election vision.

It appears that after 16 squalid months of race-baiting, lying, debasing women and threatening to upend American democracy, the campaign of Donald J. Trump has yet to reach its nadir. This could end in violence.

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.

Relax, world. Trump isn’t going to be president.

During his throat clearing at the 2011 White House Correspondents dinner in Washington, D.C., comedian Seth Meyers delivered a prophetic critique of the political ambitions of Donald J. Trump.

The mogul, touting a run in the 2012 race, sat scowling at his table as the comic quipped:

Donald Trump has been saying he’ll run for president as a Republican, which is surprising as I just assumed he was running as a joke.

Five years on and Trump is not only the Republican nominee but also the de factoleader of the Party. Yet Meyers’ insight remains pungent.

The West has inspected Trump’s rise with morbid fascination, as if it were gazing at a smoldering crash site, the charred wreck of the GOP circled by the ashen corpses of its passengers — Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie et al.

Cultural sneering abounds from Europe: “Look at what those silly Americans have got themselves into now.” Only British snobbery has waned, the country chastened by its vote to hobble economic prosperity in protest at Polish car washers.

International perceptions of Trump were revealed in recent polling. Asked if the businessman would do the right thing once in the White House, only 14 percent of Canadians said he would. Some 12 percent of Britons expressed confidence in the mogul, along with nine percent of French respondents, and eight percent of those in Spain. Only three percent of Greeks welcomed a Trump presidency.

Donald will have seen those numbers — surveys are the one election tool he regularly consults (around 10 percent of Trump’s personal tweets push data).

So the nominee is also aware of his historically bad polling inside the U.S. — he’s unfavorable with 88 percent of African-Americans, 87 percent of Hispanics and 55 percent of white voters. Even his own party doesn’t like him, with 51 percent of Republicans saying they’d prefer a different nominee.

And polls still matter. Brexit data showed the “leave” and “remain” camps tied for much of the campaign. Election night revealed a narrow win for “leave.” Polling put Trump way ahead of his rivals in the primary. He won that race months before the convention — all while Nate Silver, the political seer du jour, gave Trump only a two percent chance of winning.

As Politico reflected, the GOP nominee is “setting modern records for political toxicity.” So unpopular is Trump that David Plouffe, Obama’s former strategist, predicted his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton — herself up to a high waistband in toxic sludge thanks to email practices — will top 350 electoral colleges on election day. That’s ambitious, but Clinton only needs 270 to become president.

There is no mystery to Trump’s tower-high negatives. They are the product of an early campaign in which the tycoon used immigration and the threat of ISIS to exploit a white working class already unmoored by globalization and set adrift by technological and social change. This was Trump’s deal with the Devil — his Trumpian pact.

The GOP historically corralled this constituency by making overtures towards protecting “traditional” values, whether that was a Christian interpretation of marriage or the right to stockpile military grade weaponry next to the bikes in the garage.

The guns remain, but the Republican Party’s inability to arrest social change allied to stagnating economic conditions means the longtime accord between the white working class and the GOP establishment has disintegrated.

Workers have not only lost their jobs but they’re forced to watch on as the society undergoes rapid change, whether that’s the withering of religious superstitions, shifting definitions of the family or transgender soldiers in the military.

All the while anxiety is increased with talk of radical Islamic incursions over the Mexican border and a president in cahoots with Raqqa.

Established Republican politicians have failed so voters look to an outsider, an aging businessman who promises to stop the shifting social sands and protect them from a caricatured threat.

However, promises to “Make America Great Again” while head-butting a jihadi ideology (“I would bomb the shit out of ‘em”) only works for a limited constituency. It is not a trick Trump can pull off in the general election. That con is too long, hence his current deficit of around six points in national polls.

And notions of a terrorist attack pushing fearful swing voters to Donald’s cause were dispelled in Orlando in June. His polling barely twitched in the aftermath.

So Trump won’t be tweeting taco bowl pictures from the Resolute Desk come 2017. Like his hidden tax returns, the numbers don’t add up.

Yet none of this will end his campaign. That’s because the purpose of a modern presidential run is not to become president but to make money. The 70-year-old tycoon entered the primary hoping to poll at 12 percent, rack up a healthy delegate count and push some product on the way.The purpose of a modern presidential run is not to become president but to make money.

To be part of an Oval Office bid is a money-spinner. It increases a candidate’s profile, which can be peddled after the election by way of book sales, TV appearances and speaking fees. The further you go in the race, the greater the reward.

Sarah Palin’s preposterous ‘Going Rogue: An American Life’ isn’t so much a memoir as a 432-page monument to American idiocy. Yet it spent six weeks as a New York Times bestseller and sold more than two million copies.

After the ‘08 election, Palin landed a lucrative Fox News deal, launched an online media channel and scribbled a library of dimwitted volumes on The Almighty — all from a burlesque vice-presidential campaign that barely lasted two months.

Why else did 17 Republican candidates run in the current cycle? Certainly not to be president. There are bills to be trousered; there is media to be serviced. There are even TV channels to be set up. As Meyers said, it’s a joke.

Look at the property developer’s campaign spending. In June, Clinton spent$23million on TV adverts in the battleground states. Trump spent $0.As the Washington Post pointed out, Trump’s expenditure “bears little resemblance to a modern presidential campaign.” That’s not to condemn the Republican nominee for failing to match the granular voter analytics of the Clinton campaign. But his current efforts would barely register as a run for Congress. Less than 50 people are charged with disseminating Trump’s message nationally — you could squeeze most of his campaign staff into an elevator in the Trump Tower.

The magnate recently looked to professionalize his operation by firing Corey Lewandowski, the press-hating campaign manager (Lewandowski now appears on CNN, looking like a victim unable to shake feelings of affection for his former abductor).

Why would Trump fire his top guy five months before the election if he were not running a sincere campaign? Why bother? Because the campaign was heading for disaster following a succession of blunders. And there’s a huge difference between losing an election and getting wiped out.

Trump’s brand will be enhanced by a run that ends in a standard defeat. You can already hear him playing the victim, claiming the election was stolen, blaming everyone from the Republican National Convention, to the #NeverTrump movement, to the media, to the donor class, all the way down to a cabal of Syrian refugees smuggled over the border with instructions from ISIS to end Christmas.

Trump can sell that. He can sell being the casualty of a conspiracy to rob the American people of his terrific presidency. “This country would have been so great, believe me.”

What he cannot hawk is being the man who leads to the GOP to an historic clobbering, taking a fleet of Congressmen down with him. The race must be kept respectable if not competitive.

It shouldn’t be hard. The polarization of the country means 45 million Republicans would vote for a potted plant if it said it hated Hillary. All Trump has to do is run the traditional Republican campaign — casual discrimination, militaristic bombast and the occasional NRA catchphrase — and tribal voting will take care of the rest.

This first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original can be found here.

The conspiracy theorist-in-chief

His name has never once appeared on a ballot paper and he has never held public office. Yet Dr. Ben Carson has spent much of the past 50 days sitting second in the polls to be the presidential nominee for the Republican Party ahead of the 2016 election.

Only the insurgency of Donald Trump, a man with an equal paucity of elected experience, has demoted his rival to the role of subsidiary, though recent polls have Carson besting his competitor in the early voting state of Iowa.

Either way, both remain far ahead of the “traditional” candidates in the race for the nomination, a roster that includes three former governors, two current governors, three senators, one former senator and a member of the House of Representatives.

Much has been written about the appeal of “political outsiders” across the US and Europe in recent years. The predominant American narrative has Carson and Trump riding a wave of conservative discontent birthed by the election of Barack Obama, and nurtured by a Republican party impotent to offer coherent opposition ever since.

Yet Trump and Carson are also exploiting a very American flavor of disgruntlement – the obsessed, conspiratorial mindset of a pocket of the population besieged by paranoia and a fear of the hidden hand.

Their approaches, however, do differ. Whereas the billionaire property tycoon is peddling empty optimism, fawning to a sense of injustice that says a longstanding political cabal has robbed America of its God-given dominance of the world, Carson’s campaign has the hue of an Internet comment board, replete with Nazi analogies, hatred of the media, conflation of the welfare state and Stalin’s gulags… and yet more Nazis.

A fetish for Hitler references has contaminated Carson’s campaign, the MD given to likening the United States to the Third Reich or warning that Democratic policies are paving a path for the next Fuhrer. “Socialism” is discharged as a similar catchall for “bad.”

Although Trump recently denounced Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders as a “communist,” generally the businessman resists using McCarthyite slurs to attack his competitors. Evoking Herr Hitler or the Soviet Union is too thin a branch even for the rambunctious frontrunner. Not so Carson, who applies a heavy garnish of fascist fear mongering every time his feather-caked voice leaks towards a microphone.

Witness the recent gun debate following the Oregon shooting in which Carson shoehorned a Nazi analogy into the tragedy by suggesting the Holocaust would have been “greatly diminished” had the Jews been armed.

Likewise in 2013, Carson called Obamacare (that’s the provision of healthcare to millions of working class Americans), “the worst thing since slavery,” while noting that American citizens were living in a “Gestapo age.

In August this year, Planned Parenthood, a non-profit organization that provides reproductive health services, was decried by Carson as an agent of “population control” in black neighborhoods. “Read about Margaret Sanger, who founded this place [Planned Parenthood],” he told Fox News. “Look and see what many people in Nazi Germany thought about her.”

On evolution Carson forewent the Nazis, settling on that other bête noir the Devil, arguing “the adversary” had possessed Charles Darwin and was therefore responsible for the Victorian naturalist’s famous theory. At the same meeting in 2012, he claimed the Big Bang was a “fairy tale” cooked up by “highfalutin scientists.”

When the doctor is challenged on his historical parallels, he claims he has either been misrepresented or misquoted, opting not to defend his position but to blame the media.

Much of Carson’s twaddle appears to be inspired by the 1958 book ‘The Naked Communist,’ in which the author heralds a Red plot to take over the world. “It reads like it was written last year,” Carson told Newsmax in 2014, while suggesting viewers read ‘Mein Kampf,’ to find out the truth about President Obama.

The ’58 tome was written by W. Cleon Skousen, a far right conspiracy theorist who, when not crusading against hidden communists in society, was warning against a cabal of global bankers. Although written half a century ago, this paranoia has become the tone for much of the right wing Internet, a vernacular that Carson is gleefully corralling into a run for the White House.

Policies aside, Carson is an odd chap – and not just because his eyelids look like a half-closed blinds with weights tied to the trim. The delicate tenor of his voice jars with the savagery of his rhetoric. Red faces etched with mounting dander usually deliver right wing bluster. Hearing Carson quietly mumble his way through musings on Hitler’s manifesto is jumbled.

The 64-year-old attributes his slow and measured demeanor to the tranquility of his faith. This maybe so, but faith likely accounts for Carson’s conspiratorial bent too. This is, after all, an educated man from Detroit who followed a successful career in medicine by becoming the author of hugely popular books in which he employed his own life story as an aspirational metaphor for the United States. Yet he speaks in sentences that could be cut from the bottom end of a comment board on YouTube.

It could be that the bounds of rationality have long since been breached. Carson fluffs with abandon his Seventh Day Adventism, a protestant sect that eagerly awaits the Second Coming of Christ. Central to the faith’s doctrine is the belief that the Son of God was due to swing by in 1844. He did not, but adherents insist he remains en route. If Carson can swallow that conspiracy with a straight face, perhaps it’s not surprising to find him indulging in more sinister make-believe, including jackboots goose-stepping up Pennsylvania Avenue.

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.