What we have witnessed tonight in the United States is a political earthquake more profound than any seen in the western world since the Second World War. Commentators are busy trying to downplay the full scale of what has happened, because if Trump is indeed the next president, there is a huge incentive for mainstream media outlets to present his presidency in as respectable a light as possible. But let us be absolutely honest about what has happened here: a man who has spent more than a year turning crowds into mobs, viciously attacking people because of their racial and religious heritage and denigrating women for their appearance is now the most powerful person on Earth.
He was elected not despite these positions but, for at least part of his electorate, because of his bigotry. He has spoken to an economic discontent that has been decades in the making, but has used that discontent to forge a neo-fascist movement with violence at its core. The open society that America has historically championed is in catastrophic trouble today. A country that has long prided itself on its willingness to welcome strangers, on its open heartedness, and on its ability to make and remake communities through immigration has turned in on itself.
The immediate economic impact is already apparent, with stock markets all over the world plummeting. People who voted for a man who promised to better their economic standing will find within a matter of months that the economy created during the Obama years looks rosy. We could potentially see huge spikes in unemployment, crashes in various financial and housing markets, and an unprecedented international unravelling as people try to work out what the new global order will look like. We know from Trump’s previous statements that international agreements around climate, trade and security are now possibly up for renegotiation. We also know from historical experience that when a major power on the world stage implodes, secondary powers start scrambling for power and influence. We should expect to see in the coming months extraordinary international instability as other countries seek to adopt advantageous positions.
Is there any way to minimise the extent of this calamity? It’s hard to see how, since a Republican Party that increasingly bears more resemblance to European fascist parties than to mainstream conservative parties, now controls all branches of the US government. The abilities of this government to use its national security apparatus against internal dissent will be huge, and the potential for civic unrest followed by clampdowns on that unrest is profound. We are, I feel, teetering over a historical precipice that threatens not just the US, which has made its bed and must now sleep in it, but the entire world. America appears to have handed supreme power to a man who promises to play the role of president as part clown, part bigot and all authoritarian.