By now it must be dawning on any careful observer of the American political scene that Donald Trump might actually win the presidency. This horrifying possibility seems increasingly plausible. Until recently, I was happily convinced that Trump’s nomination would be a gift to the Democrats. Now that his nomination looks inevitable, I am not so sure.
Trump couldn’t be winning the Republican primaries by the margins he is if his appeal wasn’t broader than the lunatic base. What could explain that broader appeal? One shouldn’t underestimate the power of the anti-establishment mood in the country. Bernie Sanders is by most measures the polar opposite of Trump, but he taps into to many of the same frustrations with the status quo. The Republican and Democratic establishments have lost all credibility with wide swaths of the electorate. The rise of anti-establishment populism has both establishments in a panic that they are losing control over the electoral process. Norman Finkelstein, perennial radical and enthusiastic supporter of Bernie Sanders, thinks that the Republican establishment really prefers Clinton to Trump, and the Democratic establishment prefers Trump to Sanders. (The entire interview with Finkelstein is well worth reading: http://mondoweiss.net/2016/04/norman-finkelstein-on-sanders-the-first-intifada-bds-and-ten-years-of-unemployment/)
Many Democrats believe that, despite national polls showing the opposite, Bernie Sanders would be a weaker candidate against Trump than Hillary Clinton because he has not stood up to the scrutiny and attacks that she has. Once the right-wing started zeroing in on his “socialism,” his appeal would quickly fade. But no politician in America reeks more of the establishment than Hillary. Who knows if Sanders’ rather more coherent populism would have greater appeal in the long run than Trump’s bombastic narcissism? Despite Trump’s lack of political experience, Sanders is arguably the only real anti-establishment candidate in the race.
But barring some miracle or catastrophe (a criminal indictment against Hillary Clinton over her lingering email scandal) Clinton will be the Democratic nominee. Suppose enough right-leaning independents, disaffected democrats, and loyal Republicans offset Trump’s deficit with Latinos, African Americans, and women?
Although Canada is not nearly as politically polarized as the U.S., Liberal Justin Trudeau’s triumph or the NDP’s Tom Mulcair may reflect an anti-establishment mood in Canada too. After all, Mulcair is a seasoned politician, while Trudeau, before recently being elected to parliament, had been a teacher, a snowboard instructor, and a bouncer in a bar. In the present moment, outsider status trumps (so to speak) political experience.
On the other hand, maybe fretting over the specter of Donald Trump in the White House is simply an avoidance tactic. What we should really be fretting about is the devastation of irreversible climate change and the coming magnitude 9 earthquake on the West Coast. No, actually President Trump seems much worse.