Leader: The Disunited States of America

Trump holds up a baby at a campaign rally in Tampa, Florida, yesterday. Picture: Chris O'Meara/AP
Trump holds up a baby at a campaign rally in Tampa, Florida, yesterday. Picture: Chris O'Meara/AP
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We didn’t think it could ever happen when it was first mooted two years ago, because we had heard it all before. We didn’t think his bluster would turn into action, because we knew it was preposterous. We didn’t think he could possibly win the Republican nomination, because we knew they wouldn’t let him. But today we are only a matter of hours before the unthinkable, unrealistic and frankly unbelievable prospect of Donald Trump becoming President of the United States of America could actually happen.

If recent history has taught us nothing else in politics, one sure lesson is that we should assume nothing, question our instincts, and be prepared for the unexpected.

If we had to put the house on one candidate or the other, it would be Hillary Clinton, if only on the basis that the most recent opinion poll puts her three points ahead of her rival. But given Trump’s appalling conduct during the campaign, she should be out of sight, and instead she goes into Tuesday’s election with no reason to be confident of the outcome. Anything could happen.

When we consider that a man in bitter dispute with an Aberdeenshire farmer over cutting off his water stands on the brink of becoming President of the United States, we realise how laughable this could be, if it wasn’t so serious. And let’s not forget – this is the son of an economic migrant from the Isle of Lewis, who dislikes migrants so much he wants to build a wall on the Mexican border.

How has this happened? How has the greatest democracy in the world produced this impossible scenario? If we said that democracy was in decline, or no longer working, we would stand accused of denying the basic principle of the popular vote. But there is no doubt that faith in the political process has been shaken, on both sides of the Atlantic. And victory for Clinton is not going to convince anyone that all is well, after all.

What we have found is a serious disconnect between government and significant sections of society, which sees the disaffected choose whatever anti-establishment option is available in a two-way fight. The next danger – other than Trump’s finger being on the button – is that the seismic events of 2016 lead to further instability, at a time when the West’s enemies have rarely presented a bigger threat. Any diminishing of the “special relationship” between the UK and the US could leave us weaker at exactly the wrong time, both in terms of security and the economy.

Whoever wins has a daunting task to be an effective leader, because Trump has so successfully polarised the campaign that it is doubtful whether either candidate could placate the other side, never mind win 
them over.

Again, Clinton could be the lesser of two evils, but as the rest of the world waits, without a say in our future, here in Scotland we can only hope we do not rue the day Mary Macleod left the village of Tong to cross the Atlantic, 86 years ago – if we don’t already.