At first sight the suggestion it is important Donald Trump stay in the campaign to become the next President of the United States might seem crazy. Why might one want a bigoted, misogynistic, demagogue to remain a contender to become the most powerful person in the world. The first, and in truth the most important, reason is the fact that it looks now as if he will lose. The FT US Election 2016 graph of the latest polls shows Mrs Clinton with a 5% lead and describes support draining away from Trump as the revelations about his views on women continue to emerge. So it looks like a Clinton victory is becoming more and more likely which ought to be good news. However, I fear there is no good outcome for this election
It is clear that for many Mrs Clinton is just the least worst candidate. Pew Research in the States shows that for each candidate a third of those intending to vote for them are doing so simply to stop the other candidate getting elected. If Mrs Clinton wins it is going to be difficult to claim a ringing endorsement when the main reason 32% of her supporters give for voting for her is because she is not Donald Trump. This cannot be a good outcome for a process to identify the most powerful person in the world.
What has also become clear through the course of the campaign is the widening gulf between the supporters of the two main parties. Supporters for the two candidates not only disagree over policies, they cannot agree on basic facts. They appear to inhabit different worlds with little in common but everything contested. What is more, everything contested in a very aggressive, not to say vicious, way. Compromise is not possible nor even thinkable. It is this which creates stalemate in the American system.
Worst of all is the fact that for a majority their overwhelming attitude to the whole Election is one of frustration or disgust. This is worrying in the extreme. It is possible that people are going to start agreeing with the first part of Winston Churchill’s famous dictum on democracy being the worst form of government. Democracy can be remarkably robust when it rests upon a foundation of internal social cohesion. Then the electoral process is a pragmatic way of conferring legitimate authority for a period of time. Take away the foundation of social cohesion and democracy becomes an arid arithmetic formula for arriving at a decision about who gains the levers of state power. To be a successful democratic nation its citizens need to have a common understanding of some foundational issues and a high degree of tolerance. At the moment tolerance is in short supply in the States and the glue of the American dream seems to be dissolving.
All this brings me back to the issue of why I think Donald Trump needs to remain in the campaign. I fear that if he were to drop out then two things would happen. First, the die hard Trump supporters would develop a rhetoric of the stolen election blaming the liberal media for giving credence to false accusations, there is evidence of this already and worse it is emanating from Trump himself. Second, those now saying they will vote for Mrs Clinton in order to prevent Trump getting elected might simply walk away. This may result in a President being elected on an historically low popular turnout. In circumstances like this the real loser will be democracy as some will believe their man has been swindled and others will have but tepid support for the victorious candidate.
Let me be clear I think that Hilary Clinton is by far the preferable candidate and she is focused on the kind of liberal issues which need to be addressed in the States. However there are some more fundamental issues about growing inequality and the dominance of Wall Street over Main Street which are the issues which are exciting the citizens of the United States, her own supporters as much as those of Donald Trump. If these are not addressed it may be the US simply becomes ungovernable.
The grandees of the GOP seem to have calculated Trump is a lost cause and will lose the election they are therefore turning their attention to the race for the Senate, where 34 seats are up for grabs, aiming to increase their current majority. All this means 2017 may well be another year of paralysis on Capitol Hill further undermining support for the political system and by association democracy. Inequality will increase, the living standards of the majority will continue to stagnate and the grounds will be laid for a far more radical solution to be proposed by a demagogue with more traction. More Marine Le Penn than Nigel Farage. The fact that someone as obviously phoney and inappropriate as Donald Trump could get so far in the process is a clear sign that something fundamental is broken at the heart of American democracy. Radical change is needed which will mean a real shift in power. Those that have it are not likely to support this. They need to be careful however as the alternative may end up being worse, even for them.
We can only hope that some in the States remember the second part of Churchill’s dictum that democracy is the worst form of government… apart from all the others.