Democracy is no guarantee against dictatorship or the rule of the mob. Hitler rode to power through the ballot box, exploiting economic challenges by offering seemingly simple solutions to complex problems.
Donald Trump is no Hitler, but he was an insurrectionist president who whipped his supporters into a frenzy on January 6 2021 in a vain attempt to steal the presidency. Twice impeached, Trump represents all that is worst about populist politicians.
He has been dogged by scandal in his private life, in his financial affairs, and his exploitation of high office for personal gain. Shockingly, none of that appears to have impacted on his core base which includes members of the Christian right and the Catholic hierarchy who see him as a vehicle for their own causes.
Trump’s defeat in 2020 at the hands of Joe Biden was one of those moments when history calls time on a reprobate leader. But Trump’s ego has refused to accept that Biden won fair and square. That’s not surprising, given his history and the testimony of those who know him well – family and those who have worked for him.
His vice-president, Mike Pence, this week called Trump “reckless”, and accused him of endangering Pence and his family by inciting the Capitol rioters.
And speaking just before Trump announced he was planning to run for the presidency in 2024, his niece Mary Trump said: “Donald will burn everything down if he feels like he is going down – we cannot discount that, we ignore him at our peril.”
This is indeed a moment of peril. While Trump-anointed candidates failed to breakthrough in the midterm elections, and the Democrats narrowly retained control of the Senate, it would be wrong to write Trump off.
The mid-terms offer hope that enough Americans have had enough of Trump to stymie his ambitions.
But the country remains deeply divided, split down the middle politically; with an alarming number of people remaining under Trump’s spell – believing every lie he tells, subscribing to more and more outlandish conspiracy theories, and convinced that the electoral system is corrupt.
The next two years will be bloody politically as Trump injects his toxins into the presidential race. He thrives in a polarised world; and too many believe his guff that he made America great again, and will make it greater still if he is returned to office.
Biden has yet to declare he will run for a second term, but the mid-terms have given him encouragement that he could win in 2024. By then he will be in his early eighties, Trump in his late seventies.
While I would not want to be ageist, I wonder whether gerontocracy is the best way of governing a global superpower in an increasingly complex world.
Biden will be on the back foot.
Front and centre of the election campaign will be the economy, and the US economy is not in great shape. The same toxic mix that exists here – inflation, high interest rates, and the cost of fuel – is impacting on the US electorate, with those on middle-incomes coming under increasing pressure.
No matter that much of the responsibility for current woes lies at the feet of Biden’s predecessor, he will get the blame. And he has limited control over the global factors which are magnifying economic difficulties – not least a Russia which has gone rogue, and an increasingly belligerent China which is staking its claim to be a superpower.
Announcing his candidacy, Trump once again played the populist card and started marshalling his army. “This is not a task for a politician or an conventional candidate. This is a task for a great movement,” he said.
And he once again he exploited people’s fears of immigration and a breakdown in law and order, talking of an ‘invasion’ from the south, and summoning up images of “blood-soaked” streets – oblivious to the fact that his people were responsible for the bloodshed on Capitol Hill as he struggled to hold onto the reins of power.
Chillingly he promised to change US voting laws – another action familiar from the dictator’s handbook.
There are those in the Republican Party who no longer believe that Trump is a winner for them. But such is the ferocity of his mob, and fear over what he and they might do, that they are reluctant to challenge him.
Challenge him they must. If American democracy is to survive, the Trump strain of demagoguery must be cauterised, otherwise America will never be great again.