Debates in US and UK highlight Western political predicament

Last Friday, Donald Trump and Joe Biden participated in the first of two scheduled debates leading up to the American presidential election in early November. Meanwhile, in the UK, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Labor leader Keir Starmer faced off in the final election debate before British voters head to the polls this week. Neither debate was particularly edifying, revealing the absolute bankruptcy of politics in contemporary Western liberal democracies. They demonstrated that none of the political leaders involved are capable of solving the pressing problems that beset their countries, including the acute cost of living crisis, mass immigration, climate change policy, and ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza.

The corruption of liberal democracy has progressed much further in America than in the UK. Trump’s first presidency, his refusal to accept his subsequent election defeat, his incitement of the January 6 riots, and his blatant contempt for the basic conventions of liberal democracy have debased the American political system irreparably.

American politics, as the historian Richard Hofstadter pointed out in seminal works in the 1950s and 1960s, has always contained significant and influential illiberal movements. These movements originated in the American South with the defense of slavery and have always been tolerated, to some extent, by the power elites—a term coined by sociologist C. Wright Mills in the 1950s—that govern America. Hofstadter’s analysis, initially condemned during a period of liberal consensus, has been vindicated in recent years.

Illiberal movements gained increasing influence within the Republican Party during the 1990s with the emergence of the Tea Party movement and politicians like Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin, who were precursors to Trump. When Trump gained control of the Republican Party in the lead-up to the 2016 election, political illiberalism was on the verge of triumphing in America. Trump’s presidency in 2016, courtesy of Hillary Clinton’s elitism, arrogance, and gross political ineptitude, marked its first significant victory.

Friday’s Trump-Biden debate underlined that neither candidate is fit for office. Trump’s disdain for liberal democracy makes him unfit to be president. He has foreshadowed taking revenge on his political opponents and institutions he blames for his 2020 election defeat, promising a “bloodbath” should he not be elected. During the debate, Trump brushed aside these issues, with polls indicating that they do not matter to his supporters.

A Trump presidency would not improve the lot of his working-class and middle-class supporters, who are adversely affected by globalization. Like all populist leaders, Trump is incapable of delivering real social and economic change for his base. “Make America Great Again” is a puerile slogan, not a program for genuine reform. Instead, a Trump presidency would likely intensify the cultural and political divisions that have plagued America for decades. This week’s Supreme Court decision to grant Trump immunity for some of his illiberal actions makes this even more certain.

On foreign policy, a Trump presidency could herald significant changes. Trump claimed during the debate that he would end the conflict in Ukraine before being sworn in and accused Biden of wanting to drag America into “World War III.” He also stated that the war in Gaza has gone on too long. Despite this, the global elites supporting Biden and the Democrats will tolerate a Trump presidency without much difficulty. They are as little committed to liberal democracy as Trump and know that he will not fundamentally change the American economic order. They understand that the “culture wars” are an ideological smokescreen behind which they continue to exercise real power.

Biden’s cognitive decline was apparent during the debate, rendering him unfit for the presidency. The Democratic Party’s continued support for Biden, who has become the “diversity” candidate, shows their contempt for American voters. A crushing Trump victory in November seems inevitable.

In the UK, election debates and recent polls highlight the dramatic political realignments since Boris Johnson led the Conservative Party to an 80-seat victory in the 2019 election. The Conservative Party has since torn itself apart and lost electoral support, now poised to lose over 300 seats and be reduced to a rump opposition party.

This demise mirrors the decline of mainstream conservative parties in France, Germany, and other European countries over the past decade. Concurrently, the right-wing populist Reform Party in the UK, led by Brexit champion and Trump admirer Nigel Farage, has risen dramatically. Reform is polling around 20%, but due to Britain’s first-past-the-post voting system, it is expected to win few seats. Farage appears likely to be elected to parliament and may take over the decimated Conservative Party.

The major beneficiary of these realignments has been Keir Starmer’s reconstructed Labor Party. Having purged old-style socialists like Jeremy Corbyn after Labour’s 2019 election loss, Starmer’s party now represents the interests of global elites, much like Biden’s Democratic Party. Despite Starmer’s unpopularity, his Labor Party is on track to win over 400 seats and achieve the largest majority in British political history.

However, if Boris Johnson’s fate is any guide, Starmer’s Labor Party, regardless of its majority, cannot be certain of lasting more than one term. Western voters, understandably, have nothing but contempt for mainstream politicians. Recent UK debates reveal that none of the major party leaders can remedy the UK’s serious problems.

Sunak’s campaign has been disastrous, with policy initiatives like national service for teenagers being laughable. He has resorted to scaremongering about Labor’s tax policies, unable to run on his record of failing to curb mass migration, presiding over a declining economy, and managing an acute cost-of-living crisis.

Starmer’s Labor, like Biden’s Democrats, is committed to woke policies favoring global elites—net zero emissions, mass immigration, transgender rights, and support for proxy wars in Ukraine and Gaza. How a Labor government with such policies can solve the UK’s pressing problems is unclear, especially since successive Conservative governments have followed similar policies with dire consequences.

Farage and the Reform Party offer a populist program similar to Trump’s, with fundamental flaws. Farage attributes Britain’s ills to mass immigration, which is not a coherent program for serious reform. Reform will also not be in a position to address mass migration effectively. Farage’s recent speech questioning Britain’s support for Ukraine aligns with Trump’s position, drawing predictable condemnation from Starmer, Sunak, and mainstream media.

In both the US and UK, major election candidates are fourth-rate politicians. Audience reactions in recent debates, like asking if Sunak and Starmer are the best choices, reflect a widespread disillusionment. This incompetence extends to leaders like Emmanuel Macron in France, indicating a trend of ineffective political leadership in the West.

The US, UK, and France face further internal political division and decline. This instability could lead these countries to provoke a major foreign war, either in Ukraine or the Middle East. Independent UK MP George Galloway predicted that Starmer, if elected, would take the UK into a foreign war within six months. Trump warned that Biden would drag America into “World War III” if re-elected.

These fears are not groundless. Western democracies’ global elites are committed to a quasi-Cold War worldview, supporting the expansion of the American Empire through proxy wars. Political commentator Peter Hitchens warned about the inability of Western political classes to engage in intelligent foreign policy debate.

In Europe, centrist leaders like Macron and Olaf Scholz, committed to escalating the Ukraine conflict, are restrained only by far-right populist parties like Le Pen’s National Rally and the AfD, unwilling to tolerate the disastrous consequences of such foreign policies.

The most disturbing aspect of contemporary Western politics is that only right-wing populist parties, along with a few independent leaders and intellectuals, seem determined to prevent a near-future world war.

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