As previously laughable populist right wing movements such as the Leave campaign and One Nation have seen success in 2016, the attention now falls on America. It is official that when America goes to the polls in November, their choice is now between ultra-establishment Democrat Hillary Clinton – a seemingly radical choice for all reasons except for policy – and the anti-establishment, loosely Republican candidate Donald Trump.
How we got here is a bizarre tale. The reality TV show star who consistently admits that he is not a politician, who has literally no experience in political leadership, is making his debut. Not in a local council, or a mayoral or state election, but in the bid to become the leader of the free world. Viewing this from the context of Australia where our prime ministerial candidates are chosen from within the Labor or Liberal parties, from a pool of individuals that already have a mandate in their electorate, this prospect is ridiculous. Since declaring that he’d contest the election last year, through the many sexist, ableist, racist, and homophobic gaffes we’ve laughed at him. We’ve found him amusing, we’ve found his entourage amusing and we’ve found the very original speech from his wife, Melania Trump amusing. We all laughed, as if the problem of Donald Trump would vanish by merely discrediting him. If anything our laughter and relentless judgment of him, his policies, and his neon orange skin and hair made him and his followers stronger. America has laughed its way to the Republican national convention. Then they laughed a bit more. However, with Trump becoming the Republican Party candidate, he has a very real chance of getting those nuclear codes. The Grand Old Party ultimately brought the force of Donald Trump, a force akin to the worst Facebook comment thread ever, upon itself. As explained in his article, ‘Britain allowed its populist right to rise. America should heed the warning’, Richard Wolffe claims that “the rise of charismatic, far-right leaders can only happen when the weak leaders of the centre-right surrender to them”.
Charismatic Trump certainly is surrounded by his ragtag supporters. The “Twinks for Trump” group, including alt-right commentator and self-proclaimed “most fabulous supervillain on the internet”, Milo Yiannopoulos, are calling Trump ‘daddy’; Sarah Palin is stumping for Trump, and KKK figures such as David Duke are in support.
Is the rise of right wing populism the defeat of the ordinary, uninteresting centre? And if so, why aren’t we seeing a reaction in the left wing? The Democratic establishment was able to pull down the radical left wing of the party, hence nominating Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders as its candidate. Is the left rushing to the centre in fear of what the right will bring? With big name republicans such as Doug Elmets coming out in public support for Clinton, have the democrats alienated their faithful for a safer choice? Has the disintegration of the Republican Party’s norms seeped into the Democrats’ campaign?
Trump, like One Nation and Brexit, is a serious challenge to America’s political system, and could destroy any form of stability in the country. No one should be laughing now.