In this week’s edition of the Radio Times, there is an interview with everyone’s favourite misery guts, Charlie Brooker, in which he recounts his 1970s childhood fear that he was going to be ‘incinerated in a nuclear war.’ Brooker recalls the first time he realised ‘that stuff on the TV’ about nuclear bombs was not just made up. Why, wondered a youthful Brooker, wasn’t everyone running around shouting ‘aaarrgghh’ all the time? Why were people still buying banal items such as bicycle clips when (as the embryonic satirist believed) they were all imminently going to be killed?
Up until now, we millennials have been fortunate enough to belong to a generation who haven’t had to worry about such things. In 1989, the year I was born, the historian Francis Fukuyama infamously declared ‘the end of history.’ Even as a statement about the evolution of ideas (and not merely the course of events) that was somewhat absurd. But the end of the Cold War between East and West did produce a more comforting backdrop for the childhood and adolescence of many of us born since that time. It was punctured slightly by 9/11 and the subsequent ‘War on Terror,’ but even that wasn’t anywhere near as horrific as the prospect of a nuclear holocaust that might affect every person on the planet. There’s nothing like a mushroom cloud to keep you up at night.
So, for many of us, this year’s US Presidential Election campaign has been a novel experience. Granted, Russia’s increased military aggression in 2014 did seem to dial up the nuclear threat a few notches, but in 2016, the idea of a demonstrably unstable, narcissistic individual clasping the nuclear button with his wandering hands has truly introduced us millennials to the kind of cold sweat experienced by a pre-pubescent Charlie Brooker.
Fortunately, Hillary Clinton does now seem to be establishing a clear and genuine lead in the opinion polls, but when someone like Trump is on a major party’s ticket, the danger is never going to feel like it’s truly over until Clinton has actually won her electoral college majority. Added to this, it is still terrifying that a ‘non-politician’ as dangerous as Trump even came this close to winning – don’t forget he was level-pegging in the polls prior to the leaked tape containing his ‘locker room banter.’ It is also mildly disconcerting to say the least that Trump is already making noises about the election being rigged. We have little idea what kind of impact it would have for a losing presidential candidate supported by a significant minority of the population to refuse to concede defeat in a modern US election. An election-truther movement would hardly be a positive development in the current climate of US politics.
But the scariest aspect of all this is not any of these things, but the risk that someone with more intelligence and less hubris may rise from the ashes of the Trump campaign.
The voter base that put him on the Republican ticket isn’t going to disappear just because Clinton wins the White House. Nor is the putrid climate of racism and Islamophobia currently enveloping the western world. Admittedly, the Republican Party is going to be in disarray following its collision with the ‘Trump train,’ and that may make it an uphill battle for any Republican to seize the presidency from Clinton in 2020. But US politics is in flux right now, with independent and third party candidates gaining support. If Clinton wins, she will already begin her stretch in the White House as one of the most unpopular presidents in history. And, as Trump has proved, any individual in America with bucket loads of cash has the ability to turn politics in the country on its head at any time. Being a celebrity beforehand probably helps, but the impact of big cash stateside remains undeniable.
All of these things make the near future in US politics highly unpredictable, and that means the near future in global politics is highly unpredictable too. In a world where nuclear weapons exist, we are reliant on relatively benign superpowers to keep us all safe at night. Political instability within those superpowers threatens our peace of mind. Let us hope Hillary Clinton closes out this battle decisively in a few weeks’ time, but let’s also not get cosy and complacent when an ashen-faced Trump starts reeling out his excuses for defeat. It’s not the Donald we should really be worried about, it’s what comes after the Donald.
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