A Republic, If You Can Keep It

By Mark Narusov

The 2nd presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was to a large extent focused on their respective personality traits. It was anything but surprising given that last week saw the public release of now-infamous footage from 2005 of Donald Trump’s sexual machismo and – putting it as fairly as possible – inconsiderate seduction techniques. It would not be unfair to state as a matter of fact, however, that the Republican candidate has a history of abusing his power to sexually assault the opposite sex. Trying to counterattack Clinton by talking about and giving a platform to women who are allegedly victims of the same offense perpetrated by Bill Clinton, does not seem to have been effective — the Democratic nominee is now leading by 14% nationally, according to a poll released on Monday. Moreover, a number of prominent Republicans have rescinded their support of Trump.

But the important issue here is not the tape itself, or even Trump’s misogyny. It’s that the mentioned Republicans and heretofore undecided voters had not been appalled by previous statements Trump has made, which are made even more heinous and worrying considering the office the person in question is aspiring to occupy. Apparently it is not against the deeply held beliefs of Republican officials and electorate alike to support a man who has explicitly called perpetrating war crimes “going after [terrorists’] families”, has  aligned his foreign policy positions with the interests of the enemy in the new Cold War the United States got pulled into through no fault of its own, has shown no concern whatsoever about nuclear proliferation, and has promised to not respect the United States’ commitments to its allies. If not constrained by the traditional members within the GOP, President Trump would halt a tradition of American internationalism that has manifested itself since at least James Monroe. It’s always good to be reminded that more than half of the American electorate has some basic human decency and is outraged about the tapes, but at the same time, it is profoundly disturbing that a significant minority within the hegemonic superpower doesn’t know or — perhaps even worse — doesn’t care about the basic facts of the current situation on the world stage, much less acknowledges the responsibility bestowed upon the U.S. before the international community due to its military and economic might, as well as the privilege of prosperity and political freedom.

If there was one utterance from the second debate that had to be recognized as the most important and indicative, it would have almost certainly been the following, conveyed by Trump: “And I’ll tell you what. I didn’t think I’d say this, but I’m going to say it, and I hate to say it. But if I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation, because there has never been so many lies, so much deception. There has never been anything like it, and we’re going to have a special prosecutor”.

If such a proposal were put forward by any other candidate, we could’ve given the person the benefit of the doubt, but since it’s coming from Donald Trump, one is obliged to acknowledge the authoritarian nature of this suggestion, in light of what we know about Trump’s attitude towards critique. “I love the old days, do you know what they used to do to the guys like that when they were at a place like this? They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks”, “I’d like to punch him in the face, I tell you” — said Trump at a campaign rally in Las Vegas with regards to a protester. “I’ll pay for the legal fees, I promise” — he uttered on another occasion, talking about how he’d protect those who would physically assault people coming to his rallies to display discontent. That Trump has an appetite for violence against dissenters is a safe conclusion to derive.

The de-facto two-party system in the United States was for a long time a solid insurance against electing extremist elements that would jeopardize domestic stability, but apparently even this setup could not prevent the country from succumbing to the rise of authoritarian populist movements across the West on the basis of anxiety, insecurity and both real and perceived grievances of the working class in response to globalisation.

As was recently illustrated in Russia, Turkey and Poland, the constitutional order can be threatened or broken down completely by a party or a leader with a mandate from the people. The American president is, by the constitution and its legal interpretation, one of the most institutionally powerful among liberal democracies, as well as the most powerful in practice because of the power of the American state. Be it due to realization of his incompetence and authoritarianism or disgust at a petty tape from 2005, everyone should be glad that Trump is getting further away from holding the highest office of the land day by day. A challenge to the democratic regime at home or the world order abroad is not exactly what the United States or the international community needs at this moment in history, if ever.

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