Comment: Victory for Dangerous Donald Trump threatens to trigger Brexit-like racial violence in US

Dr Joshua Forstenzer, Vice-Chancellor's Research Fellow for the Public Benefit of Higher Education at the University of Sheffield, argues that victory for Donald Trump in the US election could trigger racial violence.

Victory for Dangerous Donald Trump threatens to trigger Brexit-like racial violence in US

By Joshua Forstenzer, published on 7.11.16

We find ourselves just a few days away from yet another momentous election. Long gone are the days where the result of elections was merely a question of which policies and priorities you might prefer. Heck, if you have only been listening to the candidates themselves you might be forgiven for thinking that the choice is between a racist, sexist, alleged sexual-assaulter who is unfit to be president, and a nasty woman who ought to be in jail, or worse still who is actually “the devil”.

Focusing on the personal is natural in politics. Politics is inherently personal. You vote for a name on a ballot, not just a party. The person with the most votes then goes on to do the job and wield the power in the name of the people of whom she or he was elected. But sometimes focusing on the personal dimension of politics detracts from the systemic stakes of an election.

Tuesday will not really be about voting for Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Jill Stein, Gary Johnson or Evan McMullin. Nor will it be about voting Democrat, Republican or otherwise. No, it will be about voting for liberal democracy, the Constitution, and relative freedom from unaccountable state power or risking losing democracy itself by entrusting the greatest military, as well as surveillance and police apparatus in the history of the world to a single man who has never held public office and has threatened journalists, called for his supporters to physically assault protesters, promised to jail his main contestant (regularly leading “lock her up” chants at rallies), publically insulted and demeaned women and vilified ethnic and religious minorities (Mexicans and Muslims in particular).

This is not a uniquely American phenomenon. The rise of neo-nationalist populism in the guise of Trump in the US, Marine Le Pen in France, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, Norbert Hofer in Austria, Nigel Farage in the UK has grown off the back of a desire to reconfigure the political system such that it excludes perceived “outsiders” and give preference to those who “belong”. The danger in this is dual - the risk posed by a far-right political head of government and the signal it will send to his or her followers.

First, to those who, to this day, believe that Trump is just a showman, a buffoon, putting on an act that pleases the crowd, but that in fact when entrusted with real responsibility would settle down into a “normal” presidency, I say that this is no more a gamble worth taking than betting on the outcome of a game of Russian roulette involving one of your own children. Sometimes the stakes are so high that the slimmest chance of a negative outcome make it a gamble not worth taking. And with Dangerous Donald, the chances are far from slim.

Second, the repercussions of political events are not reducible to who gets what institutional role. Ultimately, the meaning of a political event has the potential to reverberate in a part of the public which is even less controllable than the formal exercise of power. After the Brexit vote last June, Britain saw an unprecedented spike in hate crimes because racists felt vindicated by the vote and thus acted out their hateful ideology on a public stage. In fact, many people who had voted for Brexit were horrified that their vote was understood as legitimising such behaviour. And yet, the dominos had already fallen, the result of their action was out of their control. Trump has already had a significant negative impact on race relations in the USA. What scale of racial hatred would his victory release in a country where racialized police violence is already rife and where segregation laws and lynch mobs are within living memory? I do not fully know, but the threat is real.

Having lived through a grim post-Brexit summer in Britain, I can only call on my fellow Americans to do everything they can to avoid living through a blustering post-Trump winter across the pond – for it may be more than our democracy can weather.