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20.02.17

Big match preview: The Clinton vs Trump debate

No matter what happens to Labour under Jeremy Corbyn, no matter whether Brexit is soft or hard, no matter whether secondary modern schools return or not, these all pall next to the consequences of President Trump.

Nearly half of Trump’s supporters expect him to detonate a nuclear bomb. No one should sleep easily. Especially not in the Baltic states, where the closeness between Trump and Putin is particularly troubling.

As a Trump adviser, with extensive business interests in Russia, is suspected of holding clandestine talks with Putin officials, it is not hard to imagine President Trump failing to trigger a NATO response to a Russian invasion of the Baltics. This would be part of a broader drawing back of American troops from Europe and the shrivelling of the NATO.

The consequences in the Pacific are also likely to be dramatic. US trade war with China. Ending the military protection that the US provides Japan. Heightened tensions, both economic and militarily, between the historic rivals of China and Japan. After throwing oil on these fires, President Trump can hardly be expected to be an effective firefighter.

Nor, of course, does Trump appear likely to bring peace to the benighted Middle East. Its problems, already legion, would multiply. Driving more people into Europe from the south, while Putin causes more problems to the north. Both of which would encourage the rightward drift, from Marie Le Pen to Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), in much European politics.

Trump would rip up the underpinnings of the global order sustained by the liberal, rules-based system established in 1945. In the name of “putting America first again”. But this would be a game that we’d all lose, perhaps violently. Pouring a president with white supremacist sympathies onto the tinderbox of America’s already racially divided and gun owning society would also increase unrest within the US.

“In terms of our liberal democracy and constitutional order,” Andrew Sullivan wrote in New York Magazine in May, “Trump is an extinction-level event.” A month ago, I felt pretty confident that a Clinton victory would avert this. Now, looking at recent polls, I am not so sure. And nothing has happened – as the deplorable form of the Trump campaign becomes more evident each day – to dissuade me that Sullivan is overstating Trump’s graveness.

Kevin Meagher on Uncut has put the case against Clinton. While Clinton lacks the magnetism of Obama, she would bring a lifetime of public service and robust policy precision to his legacy. Obamacare is a progressive achievement to rival those of LBJ and FDR but all Obama’s achievements, including the fundamental decency that he returned to America, would be junked by a Trump victory.

The strongest case for Clinton is the unmitigated awfulness of the alternative. Obama recently put it powerfully:

“You may have heard Hillary’s opponent in this election say that there’s never been a worse time to be a black person. I mean, he missed that whole civics lesson about slavery and Jim Crow. He says we got nothing left to lose, so we might as well support somebody who has fought against civil rights, and fought against equality, and who has shown no regard for working people for most of his life. Well, we do have challenges, but we’re not stupid.”

Clinton, sadly, rarely lands such zingers. Indeed, she and Trump resemble two boxers with glass chins and no knockout punches. They are popular only with their core supporters and are seemingly unable to reach beyond these diehards to land a blow that would decisively win over swing voters.

They will both hope that this comes in their first presidential debate tonight. As Trump has deployed an unprecedented scale of untruths, anything is possible from him. In threatening to bring Gennifer Flowers, with whom Bill Clinton admitted to having a sexual relationship decades ago, Trump is being typically classy. Amid a campaign in which Republican attacks on Clinton have been compared to a witch trial, highly personalised attacks are likely.

We must hope that Clinton not only has the resilience to stay afloat but the strength to push back against an opponent who is too much even for George W Bush. With us or against us, Bush often said. This tended to be thought an over simplification of the attempt to combat Al-Qaeda. But it is no over simplification to say that American voters are now either #WithHer or for the destructive madness of him. 2016 has been a terrible year but it would be so much more so if they make the wrong call.

America – we believe in you, even if this dalliance with Trump suggests you no longer believe in yourself. President Trump would be a betrayal of all that America has rightly held sacred. Don’t do this to yourself, America, or us. You do have challenges, but you’re not stupid, are you?