Trump to run for president as Cruz pulls out

Trump triumphant: an unprecedented spectacle in modern US political history. © PA

After a beaten Ted Cruz resigned last night, Donald Trump will be Republican candidate for the US presidency. He is the first nominee since 1952 without any experience of elected office.

‘Tyranny is probably established out of no other regime than democracy.’

When the philosopher Plato wrote this in the fourth century BCE, he predicted that democracy could sow the seeds of its own destruction.

Democracy would bring unparalleled freedom. But as the power of elites faded, citizens would become less willing to defer to authority.

Then a man of the elite would take over an ‘obedient mob’, attack his wealthy peers and promise to overcome the frustrations inherent in an imperfect system.

Writer Andrew Sullivan says this story provides a metaphor for the rise of Donald Trump. Last night, Trump crushed his main rival Ted Cruz in the Republican primary in Indiana, effectively securing his party’s nomination for US president. Sullivan fears Trump could pose an ‘extinction-level’ threat to the liberal order in the world’s most significant democracy.

He calls the conditions Plato described ‘a murky reflection of our hyperdemocratic times’. In the 18th century, the founding fathers of the United States hoped to protect their nation from popular demagogues by separating power between the government’s branches. Now, the people have gained the whip hand over their rulers — but this has weakened the defences against tyranny.

The people also increasingly control information. In the age of the internet, Sullivan says the media chases traffic, rather than exercising judgement over a story’s merits. Political discourse is fuelled by ‘feeling, emotion and narcissism’.

Populism has grown in significance since the 2008 financial crash. And white blue-collar workers have become angry, amid rapid economic change, the decline of religion and a rise of identity politics.

This has created ideal conditions for Trump, who spent years creating a ‘cult of democratic aspiration’ as the man ordinary Americans wished they were. He fired people on The Apprentice and flaunted his wealth. Now his campaign evokes hatred and fear, and promises the impossible. Sullivan adds that ‘like all tyrants, he is utterly lacking in self-control’.

Trumped up?

‘Sheer liberal snobbery!’ say some. If the masses do not agree with you, you have to address their concerns, not blame them or try to restrict their power. Politicians are simply responding to the justified anger of the public. Why should the Andrew Sullivans of this world assume they know better than ordinary folk?

But it is not just America, others point out. Sullivan has a powerful argument. As people get more power, they are turning to amateurish politicians who offer impractical solutions. Consider the rise of the far right in Austria and France, or the rise of socialists such as Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders.

You Decide

  1. Are you concerned by the rise of Donald Trump?
  2. Is it possible for people to be given too much power for their own good?

Activities

  1. You have one minute. Write down as many words as possible which you associate with Donald Trump. Then discuss your list with a partner.
  2. Your class is in charge of creating a political system for a brand new country. Stage a ‘constitutional convention’, like the one which created the US constitution in the 1780s. How would you choose your leaders, divide power and keep leaders under control?

Some People Say...

“The people do not always know best.”

What do you think?

Q & A

I can’t vote in the USA. Isn’t this irrelevant to me?
Politicians like Trump are gaining ground in other democracies around the world. If Sullivan’s thesis is right, the USA is not the only country which needs to reassess its relationship with democracy. And the US president is the most powerful person in the world. If Trump wins, he will take charge of the world’s biggest economy and have control of the US armed forces — including the right to fire the country’s nuclear weapons.
Have I helped to cause the rise of Trump?
Sullivan’s argument does raise some awkward questions. For example, he says the current media climate rewards you for shouting provocative opinions — you may have been part of this. But the people who vote for politicians like Trump have the free will to do so.

Word Watch

Branches
In 1787, the US constitution created the executive (the president), legislature (Congress, which passes laws) and judiciary (the courts).
Whip hand
All now have the right to vote. Informal changes, such as party primaries and the increase in non-political candidates, have accelerated the process of democratisation.
2008
Sullivan cites the impact of Barack Obama and Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin in that year’s election as evidence of early revolutionary fervour. In 2009, the highly conservative tea party movement was founded; it soon gained significant support.
Angry
Suicide and mortality rates among the white working poor are also spiking dramatically.
Identity politics
Sullivan says politicians have attempted to address ethnic minority and LGBT voters’ concerns, while seeing ‘the white working class not as allies but primarily as bigots, misogynists, racists and homophobes’.
Impossible
Sullivan criticises Trump’s promises to find out if entrants to the USA are Muslim, build a wall on the Mexican border and begin a global trade war to pay off the US debt.