Friday 28 October 2016

The Donald, an unlikely voice of reason on law and order

The straight-talker embodies rough justice at a time when Western society is too tolerant, writes Tim Stanley

Tim Stanley

Published 17/07/2016 | 02:30

US Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks in New York during a press conference. AFP/Getty Images
US Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks in New York during a press conference. AFP/Getty Images

The world has to come to terms with the fact that Donald Trump might win the US presidential election. The world also has to take its share of blame.

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Images of terrorism in Nice confirm Trump's narrative that the West has lost its way and new management is needed. He is the law-and-order candidate in a time of grave disorder.

His poll numbers aren't too shabby, either. At the beginning of the summer Hillary Clinton enjoyed a double-digit lead. That's now shrunk to just one or two points. The view in the battleground states, where the election will be decided, is complicated. Objections to Trump - his remarks about Mexicans and umpteen business scandals - have helped Clinton pull ahead in normally Republican-leaning states such as Georgia and Florida.

But fascination with Trump - his growing appeal among the white working class - has elevated him in states that Democrats have won in the past, such as Indiana, Maine and Ohio. Every cloud over Trump comes with a silver lining. Insulting one ethnic group causes a bounce among another. It's a kind of right-wing yin and yang.

Trump knows that his best shot at winning is to be Trump. If at this stage he was to moderate and become - as he once threatened - "so presidential, you'll be bored", then it would come across as a loss of nerve. He has to make his original pitch work. So next week's nominating convention in Ohio promises to be unlike any convention before. Hitherto they'd been about rallying the party and showcasing its talent. This year it'll be about attacking Hillary Clinton and showcasing the Trump family. The entire clan is speaking, along with Trump's daughter's rabbi. Also on the preliminary list: soap opera actors, businessmen, an astronaut, border patrol agents, a pro-golfer and the general manager of Trump's winery.

It's also a chance to get to know Trump's vice-presidential pick, Mike Pence, the governor of Indiana. Pence is more conservative than the Donald on several issues. He backed the largest tax cuts in the history of his state, a restrictive abortion law and a religious liberty statute that would have empowered businesses to refuse services to gays and lesbians. Pence is a quieter, more establishment man than Trump. But his appointment only confirms the race to the Right. Any other year and it would probably cap a cycle of bad decisions that would leave Trump languishing behind Clinton. But this year - particularly this weekend - it's clever.

For, I say it again, Trump is the law-and-order candidate. I don't mean law and order in the sense of defending the constitution: even Mike Pence once observed that Trump's proposed ban on Muslim immigration contradicts that much misread document. But Democrats aren't too hot on constitutionality, either. Barack Obama has assassinated US citizens with drone strikes and Hillary Clinton has lied in office and probably endangered national security.

No, Trump embodies not legalistic niceties but rough justice - at a time when Western society seems, to many voters, far too tolerant and weak. "Another horrific attack," he tweeted in the aftermath of Nice. "When will we learn? It is only getting worse."

The appeal is three dimensional. First, Trump says it how it is. A grim tradition has emerged since 9/11 of treating every terrorist attack like a mystery: politicians seem to wonder who did it and why. Trump simply points the finger at radical Islamism.

And while every other statesman sends "thoughts and prayers", Trump talks about arming citizens and toughening up. In the aftermath of the Dallas shootings, he played down the race angle and put himself squarely behind the police.

Secondly, Trump's ego offers the hope of action. Obama has allowed his presidency to be cast as reactive - responding to crises in a cool way that is temporarily reassuring but begs the question "what was he doing to prevent this from happening in the first place?" Trump's constant tweeting about the need to smarten up suggests vigilance.

And, thirdly, Trump's policies contrast starkly with the suggestion that terrorism is something Americans just have to live with. He will build a wall to keep illegals out. He will stop Muslims from migrating to America. Never mind that there are plenty there already - roughly three million - and that they are law-abiding citizens with constitutional rights. The average non-Muslim American is watching the news in Europe and telling themselves that the more Muslims arrive in the US, the more like Europe their beloved country will become.

Europeans look at America through sophisticated eyes and laugh at its naivety. Americans look at Europeans and shudder. To them, Nice is a warning from history.

Will Trump win? I don't know. But the social conditions favour a swing to the right - a swing that will only be limited by Trump's own flaws.

Moreover, I advise you not to trust the polls. Brexit showed how flawed they are, as did the 2014 surveys that missed a big Republican swing in the midterm elections. Some folks are horrified by Trump. Some are enthused. Many may be secretly thinking that he is an alternative to chaos.


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