Leader comment: Trump leaves democracy fighting for survival

The victory of President-elect Donald Trump has not just consigned Hillary Clinton to the political wilderness, but struck a blow against liberal democracy that may well prove fatal unless drastic action is taken.

Anti-Trump protesters march on Wisconsin Avenue in Milwaukee . Picture: Pat A. Robinson/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP

The outcome of the US election, still so raw for so many, has repercussions that extend beyond the two main candidates and their two parties. It may have plunged western systems of government into an existential crisis from which they may not recover.

Mr Trump’s triumph was rooted in his attacks on the ideals, laws, and institutions on which his country his based. His contempt for democracy is one shared by more than 60 million people.

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The outbreak of demonstrations that have followed across the US would probably have happened no matter the events of recent days, but their participants were doubtless emboldened by Mr Trump’s latest tweet – which contradicted the unifying tone of his victory speech – to blame the skirmishes on “professional protesters” who had been “incited by the media”.

Questioning a free press and the right to assembly goes against the first amendment of the constitution Mr Trump supposedly prizes so highly, but given the bilious nature of his campaign, it should not come as a surprise.

Although the protests have spread from state to state for a third night in a row, with isolated incidents of violence, describing them as revolutionary would be an overreaction, even in one of the most heated weeks in American political history. But the anger expressed in these demonstrations is indicative of a sizeable problem facing not just Mr Trump and his administration, but countries around the world who follow the same system of government.

Churchill famously said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others, but even he could not have foreseen the deep fault lines that are now being exposed in the model. If it can no longer prevent a scenario as unconscionable as a serial liar, misogynist and racist wresting control of the most powerful elected office in the world, is it not failing us?

The obvious consequence is that division will grow more pronounced as the political establishment drifts further apart from an angry and disenfranchised electorate.

The west has long cherished democratic ideals, to the extent that adoration mutated into an evangelical fervour to be dispensed the world over. But the Trump campaign rejected vast swathes of the supposed liberal order, railing against globalisation, international security conventions and worldwide trade deals, while questioning the impartiality of judges and the electoral process.

Enough people agreed with his stance to ensure the core institutions and norms that allow democracy to function are now very much under threat.

How democracy can fix itself, if at all, is a dilemma that will not be easily solved, but if it is to survive, it must find a way.