Thinking about the Trump Presidency

A few weeks a go I went to the LSE to listen to a lecture on 'Thinking about the Trump Presidency'. It delivered on that title. Professor Will Howell posed some very difficult questions about what President Trump means for American politics drawing on a blog post he wrote on how ‘a Trump presidency will be a Stress test for American Democracy’. The full event has been released as a podcast by the LSE and is well worth a listen.

What frightened me most about the talk was not these huge questions about the challenges that President Trump poses to the American Democratic system. Although they are numerous and huge. It was the audiences and my own reaction to his victory. Trump shakes our belief in Democracy.

This was obvious in the Q and A session at the end of Professor Howell’s talk. One person questioned the wisdom of those voters who chose Trump over Clinton. The other asked if losing the popular vote made Trump an illegitimate president.

The realities of a Trump Presidency

In his first month as President, Donald Trump has passed executive orders that have broken up families who have members holding dual citizenship. His national security advisor Michael Flynn was forced to resign over improper contact with the Russian state and he was been engaged in open conflict with the American establishment press. He has not divested himself of his business interests only the day to day running which he has passed to his Children. Trump is a clear threat to democratic norms.

The threat to democracy

The realities of what Trump is and what he represents are so shocking those on the democratic left that it is hard to rationalise. Worse is the thought that even in a stable, free and representative democracy he can win. We reject it, we begin apportioning blame. It was Director Comey's intervention, the Russians hacked democracy, American voters are racist. There is evidence to support all three of these as factors in Trumps victory. Some on the liberal left have been openly calling for the intelligence communities to remove the President, that would be the end of Democracy in the United States.

There are big questions for America to answer. The electoral college for the second time in a quarter of a century has delivered a President who the majority of American citizens did not vote for. Unlike Gore this time the margins were huge. Three million more people voted for Clinton than Trump. The tragedy here is that the electoral college system was created to prevent democracy giving rise to tyranny. To be a buffer between despots who would exploit an ‘unenlightened electorate’ and executive power. On those terms it has been a complete failure.

A better democracy

And yet despite it all I think America can take this and become stronger. What I hope people do when thinking about the Trump Presidency is to look again about how democracy should work and to think about how to make it better. To look at the liberal and illiberal democracies of the world and to understand what creates free, just and happy societies. To not throw our hands up at the rising tide of reaction and regression, but to think how can we overcome this challenge and, when it's over, build better democracies.

It may well be that this a challenge to far and that the last half century of rising democracy was just a historical abnormality. But I still believe in what President Barack H Obama called "The Audacity of Hope". I'd like to end with a quote from him from his editorial for the American edition of Wired Magazine on why he loved Star Trek.

"What I loved about it was its optimism, the fundamental belief at its core that the people on this planet, for all our varied backgrounds and outward differences, could come together to build a better tomorrow."


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