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International Affairs - US Politics

Liberal values and rules based order facing a pounding

Apparently scientists have just discovered a new 1.5km sized asteroid, named 2022 AP7, whose orbit has until now lain hidden from earth by the sun. The comforting thought is that we are completely safe from an earth-strike, apparently, for at least a good few centuries by which time we hope that our earthling descendants will have found some technological means to deflect or destroy it before it destroys them.

That’s a comforting thought unless, that is, we haven’t destroyed ourselves in the meantime.

The simile with disastrous collision with space objects leaps to mind when we reflect on the narrow shave miss that the civilised world has had in the last week from a scenario in which President XI, Boris Johnson and Jair Bolsonaro were all re-elected in advance of the Trump-dominated Republicans capturing both houses in the US congress and Binyamin Netanyahu regaining office in Israel.

If that scenario had come to pass, the world’s fate would soon lie in the trigger-happy hands of six or seven autocrats and warmongers, including Trump, Putin and Iran’s Chief Ayatollah.

Nothing is to be taken for granted. America is fundamentally unstable. Little notice is being taken in Europe of Steve Bannon these days. But he is fighting much more than his conviction and four month prison sentence for contempt of Congress. He is busy leading a far-right campaign to win Republican control of two thirds of US state legislatures with a view to giving the Trump-dominated Republican party the right to redraw the American constitution itself. That is a really frightening political asteroid.

Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter is another potential calamity. If he makes it into a free-for-all source of disinformation and conspiracy theorists, the damage that could be done in the run-up to Trump’s re-election bid could be enormous.  

Musk’s retweet of the outrageous slur on Nancy Pelosi’s husband speaks to his character or lack of character. If it reflects his personal predilection for irresponsible use of social media, it augurs very badly for responsible use of free speech.

It may be that the EU will have to square up to its responsibility as lawmaker for social media operation.

Licensing of social media in the EU seems to be inevitable if Musk’s brand of wild libertarianism is not to be unleashed on us. It seems that immunity from liability for content on social media platforms is drinking in the last chance saloon.

Consider for a moment what Donald Trump might do with Putin to Ukraine if he is re-elected. Already a considerable chunk of the Republican right is questioning Biden’s support for Ukraine. If Trump in any way signals a willingness to pull the plug on Ukraine, Putin will persevere with his cruel war. If Trump signals weakness on the question of sanctions on Russia, he will hold out the real prospect of success for Putin.

The midterm congressional elections this month at federal and state level are at best finely balanced. More likely the Democrats face serious defeat and loss of control of both houses. Roe v Wade probably matters less to most Americans that inflations and higher home loan costs.

If that happens, Biden’s presidency will become a lame duck. The issue of whether Biden will seek re-election will become acute if the Democrats lose both houses on Capitol Hill. The question is whether they have a viable alternative candidate. Kamala Harris is certainly not a likely winner. Is there anyone else? Perhaps it would take the loss of both houses for any challenger to emerge on the Democrats’ side.

As I wrote here before, Florida governor Ron DeSantis now looks like a far better bet as Republican candidate from the perspective of world order, peace, and prosperity than a re-elected Trump.  And it may just be that Republicans in the House of Representatives, the Senate, and state governors’ mansions will feel much freer to distance themselves or disassociate themselves from Trump once the November elections are over. I sincerely hope so.

In the meantime, Trump is still very like a large political asteroid on a collision course with western democracy. Depending on his angle of approach, he may burn up and fragment or, alternatively, he may land intact with terrible consequences.

The January 6th hearings have not saved the Democrats. The reversal of Roe v Wade does not appear to hold out the prospect of a Democratic victory.

It is very hard to be optimistic or even hopeful about the planet’s political prospects these days. Economic turmoil is de-railing political plans and appetites for countering climate change. The forthcoming COP27 summit in Cairo seems unlikely to yield new ground for the radical change that scientists claim is increasing urgent. Cairo may be a wasted exercise of hot air and green washing.

We are entering a period of what will, at best, be a succession of narrow shaves.



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