Donald Trump’s rise to become the Republican presidential nominee in the United States this week presents the world with one of its greatest potential challenges. All of a sudden, the businessman of questionable ethics and one no political analyst considered a credible candidate a year ago appears to stand an even chance of occupying the White House in January 2017. Till recently, Hillary Clinton’s victory seemed assured but polls ahead of the Republican convention showed her neck and neck at 46 to 45 per cent. This is cause for concern because Mr Trump fought a campaign on the lowest common denominator available in public life: xenophobic, sexist, racist and mostly undeterred by the need for verifiable facts. It says much for his ability to animate the very worst instincts in American society that his serial obnoxious statements against Mexicans, Muslims and women did not prevent his nomination.
Tellingly, the extremist nature of Mr Trump’s campaign alienated the more right-wing elements of the conservative Republican Party. But the fact that party leaders, including the influential House Speaker Paul Ryan, eventually overcame their aversion in endorsing Mr Trump at Cleveland is surely a new low point in American politics. In doing so, leaders of the Grand Old Party have handed over to a bunch of people who have shown no political understanding of the nuances of governing a dynamic, multi-cultural society.
The Trump campaign’s new tagline, “Make America Safe Again” – presumably, it lacked the ballast to sustain the original promise to “Make America Great Again” – disingenuously taps into the wellspring of public insecurity following the rise in deaths via shootouts around the country. It is well known that the Republican Party has long wilfully ignored the urgent need for a gun control law since that would impact the fortunes of one of its biggest donors, the National Rifle Association. Mr Trump pitches the issue differently: ignoring the fact that the bulk of the shootouts have been by deranged gun-owning Americans – white and black – he has chosen instead to play on the fear of the Muslim terrorists to amplify the breakdown in public security.
It is possible that Mr Trump will learn the limits of his so-called ideology should he attain office. But at a time when Europe and West Asia are being riven by xenophobia, terror and racism, the possibility of a deal-making entrepreneur of fundamentalist persuasion holding the world’s most powerful office is something the world should watch carefully.