Donald Trump is behind Hillary Clinton for now, but his populist tide hardly seems to disappear. While this might seem a moody prospect for many a sensible Briton, it could come with its fair share of silver linings.
Donald Trump frequently doesn’t make sense. He is also incredibly misleading and he changes his mind more often than Michael Gove in a leadership contest. He makes racist demands, he doesn’t believe in climate change, and his success can be in no small part accounted for by “a small loan of a million dollars”. In this respect, he is a divisive figure worldwide as well as a derided figure south of the Rio Grande. The thought of a Trump presidency can seem deeply perilous, and this is a sound assessment. An America being run by a man who consistently makes poor business decisions, who will likely require permanent coddling from a Republican elite to run the country, who makes flagrant and quite often distressing right-wing statements about various races and creeds—perilous indeed.
However, there is an omnipresent counter to the insanity risked by a Trump presidency, and this counter is the straightforward statement that most people do not live in the United States of America. It might well be the country with the highest military spending, the highest GDP, and the most Olympic medals, but that doesn’t make it the political baseline in the slightest. Whatever Trump can do for America, he could teach the rest of the world much about populism by how he fares.
Donald Trump wants to build a wall on the border between the United States and Mexico, and he wants the latter to pay for it. While this promise has faded from view recently (Trump will no doubt deny it ever existing if he gets into office), the likely inability of him to achieve this lofty claim, or pass some of his more distinctive proposed legislation (banning all Muslim immigration, just in case) could have a serious impact on how the world perceives populist politicians.
We can see less hyperbolised versions of Trump’s crazed pseudo-policy in Ukip’s most recent manifestos. They are populist, and not necessarily wholly executable, but that’s what works. Populist forces work best when they are not in government because that is where they are best placed to have an impact, showing the incumbent what they’d do so much better, without actually having to cash any of their extraordinarily flashy metaphorical cheques. Trump is the same. Putting him in the driver’s seat could indeed prove that populism doesn’t work. This could prove to those who got invested in politics for the sake of a populist that politics is more serious and complex than it may at first seem, and that you cannot simply show the boot to those you aren’t keen on.
On the other hand, should Trump be elected and then proceed to politically fall on his face, this could prove that voting for him might have been, in principle, unwise. It could play out like the aftermath of Brexit, with common people who voted Leave exclaiming that they “didn’t think that was going to happen”. This is called “maturing”. It helps people learn from their mistakes. It helps people take politics more seriously. Shockingly, this is tantamount to claiming that Donald Trump could make everyone take politics more seriously.
Seriousness, in fact, is not a prospect often associated with “The Donald” in the United Kingdom. He is derided by national papers left and right, literally and politically speaking. Papers that agree on little, such as the Telegraph and the Guardian, coincide on attitudes to Trump – implying their readers, too, feel the same. Therefore, the election of Trump, although softened in prospect by David Cameron, could result in terse relations with the May administration. This might blow the casket on the post-Brexit initiative of looking beyond Europe for trade, if the country with the largest economy in the world is being run by a blonde enigma. The best-case scenario for a post-fallout Remainer, then, might be that a Trump victory could cause the UK to come running back to Europe in a rupture of the “special relationship”.
In reality, then, whether or not you support Donald Trump, he has something to teach everyone. When those expecting “The Donald” to outdo Barack Obama and “make America great again” recognise that many of his goals lie out of reach, America – along with the rest of the world – could be knocked back to political normality for some time.