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.

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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.

American election debates are even more contentious than their British counterparts

NEW YORK — The advent of American-style TV debates as part of the British electoral landscape proved hugely popular during the 2010 and 2015 general election campaigns. Yet for broadcasters, organising an event that can have such a decisive impact on the result (the 2010 success of the Liberal Democrats started with a strong debate performance by Nick Clegg) is a difficult exercise, balancing fairness to the candidates while providing a service to the electorate — all while creating a watchable spectacle.

Witness David Cameron’s machinations before the 2015 election in which the prime minister laboured to participate in the fewest debates with the most possible candidates. As the incumbent, he had the most to lose by either making a mistake or inadvertently bestowing statesmanlike parity on his rivals. The opposite ran true for the non-incumbents, whose natural inclination was to target the prime minister in the hope of gaining an imprimatur of legitimacy.

If dragging Cameron into a studio to face his adversaries was a testing task for the British broadcasters, that obstacle seems trite compared to the brouhaha engulfing the first Republican primary debate of the 2016 presidential election, scheduled for Cleveland, Ohio on August 6th.

The debate is being produced by a partnership of Fox News, Facebook and the Republican Party with the broadcaster deciding the best format would be to limit the number of candidates to 10. A second debate organised by CNN with the same format is scheduled for September. Unfortunately, there are currently 17 Republicans vying for the nomination, the largest presidential primary field in the history of the Party. So who makes the cut?

Fox News and CNN plan to use an average from five major national polls ahead of the debates. Unfortunately, polls are often wrong, particularly with some candidates polling similarly low numbers. Also, early polls tend to favour candidates with better name recognition. As such, the 10 candidates on stage in Ohio may not be the best 10 candidates in the Republican field.

Some are guaranteed a place on stage due to their consistent high polling. Businessman Donald Trump, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee will, short of a meltdown in the next two weeks, be at the debate.

Ted Cruz, who has suffered most from the Kraken-like emergence of Trump, is still likely safe. Trump’s nativist siren song has enchanted the party’s populist wing, a role formerly occupied by the Texas senator. Yet Cruz is polling high enough to not miss out. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former Texas Governor Rick Perry, however, are in peril should a rival candidate surge.

Even if those 10 are the final selection, some heavyweight candidates will miss out, including former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who came second to Mitt Romney in the 2012 primary race, winning 11 states. Ohio Governor John Kasich (whose state hosts the debate) would also sit on the bench, alongside Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, businesswoman Carly Fiorina, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham and former New York Governor George Pataki.

Critics, including Santorum, have complained about the “arbitrary” nature of the 10-person cut off, which could have far-reaching consequences for the nomination and even the Presidency. Those candidates who do make the cut will benefit from huge national exposure not only to prospective donors but also to voters in states the elect the Republican nominee early. Exclusion from the first two debates will, in effect, smother candidacies in their crib.

This has pushed some candidates to spend precious campaign dollars trying to secure enough support just to appear at the debate. Other aspirants – Graham and Perry – have turned on frontrunner Trump, hoping to build their profile by attacking the playground bully. Some have used the media to call for a rethink of the format, including Jindal, who argued in the Wall Street Journal that “all 16 candidates” should debate. Or as Graham brusquely reflected on the selection criteria, “It sucks.

The Republican National Committee hatched a plan to limit the 2016 primary race to just nine televised events hoping of avoid the exhaustive 2012 schedule in which candidates bloodied each other over 22 debates. The longer debate schedule gave Democrats time to organise, while leaving little more than a Romney Husk by the time he emerged the eventual Republican nominee.

As RNC Chairman Reince Priebus reflected after the 2012 defeat, “While we were playing footsie debating each other 22 times, they [the Democrats] were spending $100 million on technology.”

The move to limit the debates was designed to help Republican candidates with the aim of recapturing the presidency. However, by handing control of the debate mechanics to the broadcasters who, for production reasons have limited the number of participants, the RNC may well have distorted the democratic process, while inadvertently intensifying the internecine bloodshed.

Having reality TV star Trump and conservative author Carson on the stage makes for great TV. Yet having them ahead of senators and governors dilutes the Republican field. Also, unlike the British debates in April, which boasted three female participants, American voters will not be given a chance to hear the only woman in the Republican race, former Hewlett Packard Chief Executive Fiorina. As one of the lesser-known and lesser-funded candidates, a good debate performance could help the impressive Texan break out into the mainstream, while giving the field at least a whiff of diversity. That is unlikely to happen.

Yet despite the criticism, Fox News and CNN have shown no inclination to adjust the format. As Fox News Executive Vice President of News Michael Clemente told Bloomberg earlier this month: “National polls are the traditional, time-tested yardstick by which presidential hopefuls have long been measured and remain the fairest, most objective and most straight-forward metric for gauging the viability of these candidates.”

And why should they adjust the format? They are in the ratings business not the democracy business and will do whatever creates the most compelling TV. The problem rests with the RNC, which has done nothing to force a compromise. As Curt Anderson, a consultant to Jindal’s campaign, recently noted: “The Republican Party should be looking forward instead of backward — and seeking every opportunity to feature its roster of excellent candidates, rather than trying to find ways to constrict the field.”

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