US election

The world is falling apart

There has never been a worse moment to proclaim the merits of democracy

BY Bruce Anderson   /  20 October 2016

It now seems bizarre, yet twenty five years ago, there was a lot of talk of a ‘new world order’ and ‘the end of history’. Admittedly, the first phrase is only one syllable away from being right: a ‘dis’ in front of the ‘order’. As for the second, history had other ideas. There is wry amusement to be had in contemplating the delusions of yesteryear, which is just as well. Where geopolitics is concerned, it is the sole source of amusement currently available.

The world is in a mess. There is now a significant danger of war, inviting comparisons with Berlin in 1948 and Cuba in 1962. But – allowing for retrospective complacency – those crises were easier to manage. As they were limited in scope and location, diplomacy could be brought to bear. Now, there are many potential sources of disorder, plus a chronic weakness. In 1948, 1962 and indeed throughout the Cold War, there was a balance of power. No one doubted American strength and resolve. Dr Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle applied to sub-atomic particles. Now, it has taken over the White House, the State Department, the Western Alliance and the American electoral system.

Most of my American friends are ashamed about the Presidential choice. They are right to be. It is not the lowest moment in the history of democracy. The German Election of 1933 deserves that bad eminence. That said, German voters had some excuse. The storm-troopers were monitoring the polling stations. Even Donald Trump has not gone that far. But what a stain on the land of the free.

It is said that Joe Biden wishes that he had run. In normal circumstances, that would have aroused enthusiasm among partisan Democrats, and nowhere else. Mr Biden is a dunderhead. But he is at least a decent and honest dunderhead. America could do worse. And it will.

There were also the third party possibles. Michael Bloomberg considered standing in 2008. He then backed, or chickened, out: not, presumably for lack of funds. This could have been his year: another chance, then another chickening. There is also William Weld, the Veep nominee on the libertarian ticket. A former Governor of Massachusetts, Bill Weld is a liberal Republican. In his case, that does not mean a wet Republican. Wise and balanced, he is an attractive human being, Wisdom, balance, attractiveness: that is not asking much from a presidential candidate – but this year, it is asking for the moon. At the head of the ticket, Mr Weld would certainly have had an impact.

Hillary Clinton has one ground for grievance. Being married to Bill Clinton must have been even worse than debating against Donald Trump. She is entitled to seek reparations. But that does not entitle her to the Presidency. A decent divorce lawyer would suffice. Mrs Clinton is unpleasant, dishonest and corrupt. Although he shares many of her character defects, Bill Clinton was preferable. An adolescent radical who evolved into a charismatic narcissist, he was more interested in being than in doing and had no settled convictions. His wife does, and they are far more left-wing than she has ever admitted. She does not like her country or many of its inhabitants. She would use the Oval office as a PC pulpit to incite culture wars against American values. If she became President, America would be a house divided against itself.

Yet she is preferable to Donald Trump, for one simple reason. Who is more likely to blow up the world? The US could survive four years of Hillary. Could the world survive four years of Donald Duck? The risk is too great. So, American friends, in these woebegone days, even though you loathe her, you should vote for her. Afterwards, ensure that she faces the maximum possible harassment in Congress. Inflict unrelenting disruption to her legislative programme, in the national interest. Work to rebuild the Republican party so that there will be a pulverising victory in the mid-terms – and lay in some serious champagne for late January 2021, to toast her departure from office.

There would be just one consolation. Underneath a lot of flim-flam, she would probably run an orthodox foreign policy. In that regard, she should be better than Barack Obama, another Leftie in disguise, who makes Jimmy Carter look like Theodore Roosevelt. Even so, there might be an argument for Mr Trump. His very unpredictability could be an asset. Vladimir Putin is cautious. If he and his advisors were considering a provocative venture, they would probably be unable to decide what President Trump would do. How could they? He would not know himself. If there were a Russian incursion into a Baltic state, he might say ‘I don’t give an expletive’ or he might say ‘bring me the nuclear codes.’ Which? Toss a coin. What a chilling prospect. You cannot leave an ape in charge of the nuclear deterrent.

Recent events have fully vindicated the Founding Fathers’ wish to constrain democracy. But they have also exposed a weakness in the Presidential arrangements. In the era before the imperial Presidency, it did not matter that there was a four-month gap between the election and the inauguration. Although that has been reduced, it is still far too long. We now have a weakling who has become a lame duck. It will be late January before the new President takes power. If you were Mr Putin, or the Chinese leadership, might this not seem a good moment for some self-assertion?

Assuming that this does not happen, there is an urgent priority, which is another reason for supporting Hillary. We need a new system of collective security in Europe. This should not be seen as an anti-Russian move. On the contrary: it would be an attempt to embrace the Russians in a concert of nations. The Cold War is over, and we won. The Iron Curtain was sent to the scrapyard. There is no insuperable strategic conflict between Russia and the West. Throughout history, the fall of Empires has been a hazardous process. The Romans were followed by a dark age. The aftermath of the Spanish Empire in Latin America hardly vindicated the high hopes of the liberators. The British, Austrian and Turkish empires: each left chaos and strife. Admittedly, the Russian Empire was easier to dismantle. In Europe, it consisted of nations which should never have been subjugated. The Soviets could hardly claim a civilising mission in Warsaw, Budapest or Prague. All the same, the Soviet Empire was dismantled far more peacefully than anyone could have envisaged. Let us now work to retain that peace.

It is possible that there could be a deal on the South China Sea. This would not involve evicting the Chinese. Anyone who thinks that it might be possible should get real (or join Donald Trump’s team). But what about a quid pro quo? China keeps her gains, but agrees to sort out North Korea. It could become a demilitarised part of China’s sphere of influence. Its inhabitants would probably be grateful, because they would at least get enough to eat. Is all that inconceivable?

It certainly sounds like a stroll in the park in comparison to the Middle East. The failure of that Arab Spring is a tragedy, but there is also an irony. In Egypt, crucial to the whole enterprise, it is as if Mubarak had never lost power. Perhaps that should influence our thinking on Syria. There are worse regimes than a stable police state. Nor has there ever been a worse moment to proclaim the merits of democracy. The Irish are good at extracting comedy from tragedy: they have had plenty of experience. At the end of Juno and the Paycock, Jack Boyle, who does not yet realise the extent to which his life has collapsed, declares that ‘the whole world’s in a terrible state of chassis.’ So it is: so it is likely to remain.