THE SATURDAY ESSAY: In a year full of Black Swan potential, the choice may yet prove to be between Trump and Sanders


As always, it’s all about choice. So who are you for – Fox or Trump? It’s a toughie, but some Devil in me is getting off on the fact that, no matter how outrageous Donald Clump is – and no matter what vilification he gets in return from the media Establishment – his ratings just keep on climbing.

The right-on-message US media love to portray Trump as a simpleton, but in truth he is a symptom. The malady is alienation, and in most Anglo-Saxon cultures now, I would estimate that a good 40-45% of adults suffer from it. There is too, I know, a very strong correlation between feeling alienated and not voting. And in a spooky way – although Donald Plump personifies the unbalanced, needy and privilege-seeking greed that is slowly eroding Western culture – he is getting widespread respect purely by having the balls to give selfstyled ‘progressives’ a good thrashing on a daily basis. This is something they’ve been short of for a long time, and I am enjoying the spectacle immensely: not because I sympathise with his rabble-rousing, but because the innate and insouciant fasism of pc has grown, is growing, and ought to be diminished.

It’s just a shame that Grump had to be the one sticking a truculent finger up Murdoch’s unpleasant hooter. Because he makes it easy for the unthinking, knee-jerk liberal fraternity to demonise him as this sort of thowback gargoyle elephant of bigotry. However, although Trump may be elephantine in build (the description goes rather well with his surname, and the GOP logo is an elephant) he most certainly is not the elephant in the room: about as discreet as a Dayglo dirigible, when you walk into this elephant’s room, there is an immediate and deafening Trump. And if that doesn’t get your attention, he’s quite likely to become Donald Dump….right on your head.

This somewhat buffoonish, ‘common-man’ bluntness puts one in mind of our own Boris Johnson, but whereas Trump seems to relish going Over the Top, BoJo is far more cunning in public (abeit crooked, greedy and violent in private) and therefore considerably more dangerous. However, Johnson operates in an English culture, and Donald Trump doesn’t. I have to say, I feel that many of the Americans writing Trump off are the same people who think Recovery is just around the corner. They are wrong on both counts.


Mr Thump is one of those unadvertised trains that somehow seem to turn up just when contemporary history and angst conspire to oil their ageing wheels. The Republican Party is a mess of Blues that has spent eight years failing to land a single telling punch on one of the most ineffectual and content-free Presidents in US history. There is nobody with even the remotest resemblance to a hero in the GOP’s own midst; those that have come forward seem formulaic (Cruz) or dynastic (Bush).

Thus, as Hillary Clinton began to distance herself from Obaman foreign policy two years ago (while retaining exactly the same ideas) it looked to most of us like she would have a clear run at the White House. An influential member of a successful political family with vast experience of government at the sharp end – and, as a woman, someone whose time had perhaps come – she looked unbeatable.

Not any more. As pauperisation among black and blue-collar Democrats has taken hold (and the more prosperous ‘middle’ class has come to suspect the reality of this golden economic future being spun at them) Bernie Sanders has emerged as someone quite capable of moving from the fringe outside lane to being an inside-track Decency candidate with real pulling power. Three weeks ago in Iowa he was 12 points adrift of Clinton; now he is 8 points clear. Under two days from the poll itself, he finds himself the hot favourite.

In short, a Richter 9 earthquake has destroyed Hillary’s freeway – and moved a mountain out of Trump’s way.

Today, whichever way you look at it, he is far and away favourite for the Republican nomination. But the Party bigwigs find it impossible to embrace him. At the minute, their main gripe is that he isn’t adding any value to the GOP’s appeal – specifically, they say he won’t attract the alienated white and jobless abstainer they need to win. As time goes on, this argument is looking wafer-thin: as Chris Sillizza writes at The Washington Post, ‘….based on polling data, Donald Trump is in as strong a position to get his party’s nomination as Hillary Clinton in 2016, George W. Bush in 2000, or Al Gore in 2000….Barring some sort of massive flub or campaign catastrophe — and it’s hard to imagine what would even fit that description when it comes to Trump — The Donald will be in the mix when the nomination gets decided.’

Further, I disagree with the idea that he can’t get abstainers to the booths: as both successful businessman and populist rhetoritician, if and when the reality of global slump comes to light, Trump the Stump could be exactly the inspiration they crave. Finally, as time goes on I suspect even the Convention movers and shakers will be forced to examine their position up-close, and ask themselves, “What’s the alternative”.


Naysayers will of course argue that, against Hillary, he will lack any credibility: that in an open Presidential Election, Clinton’s tough past on foreign policy will make it easy for Republican voters to cross Party lines and choose her as ‘safe and sound’: if you like, the triumph of Frump over Trump.

On balance, I think that is indeed a strong argument. But even here, there are two counter-arguments. First, Trump is a billionaire whose only possible saving grace is that he has the level of egomania and clout required to say “Shove it” to Wall Street. Were he smart enough to leverage and popularise that position – and cast the once Obamite Hillary as just another Democrat collaborator – then his appeal in a context of economic angst and resentment could be huge. Were I American, shame on me perhaps, even I woud be tempted to Plump for Trump in a Slump.

Second, who is any longer so sure that Clinton is a shoo-in as the nominee? The recent opinion-leader poll by suggested these six possibilities must turn into eventualities in order for Bernie Sanders to get the nomination:

  1. A strong showing in Iowa and New Hampshire: Winning or finishing a close second could spark a media frenzy for Sanders.
  2. A tarnished Hillary Clinton: To win, Bernie needs Hillary’s campaign to tank.
  3. Support from minorities: Sanders has struggled to win the black and Latino support he needs to stay competitive in the long term.
  4. Democratic superdelegates: Clinton has a dominating lead when it comes to the unelected delegates who hold about 30 percent of the votes needed to win the nomination.
  5. Turning enthusiasm into votes: Sanders needs to expand his get-out-the-vote campaign. Also, could one of his main campaign issues prove to be a liability?
  6. A “black swan” election: Will voter anger this year prove political forecasters wrong?

It looks formidable, and yet it isn’t. Sanders will probably take Iowa, and is already ahead in New Hampshire. The second is an unknown quantity in which Bernie himself could wind up being the catalyst: success, as they say, breeds success. Perhaps Sanders is a tad too Ivy League for the core black/hispanic vote….but Iowa has more than its fair share of that franchise, and so far they are for Bernie, not Hillary. Again, as the more openly anti neoliberal of the two candidates, any and all economic scares will help the outsider. It’s true that Hillary already has probably around 60% of the Convention votes required “sewn up” – she is very much the Establishment candidate. But such support can come apart at the seams in the face of economic change and proven vote-winning capability from a rival. And as for turning enthusiasm into votes and Black Swan possibilities, well – that’s my core contention: my guess is it is more probability than possibility.

Meanwhile, back on Planet Trump, anything from a crippled Clinton campaign through to a surging Sanders bandwagon is going to evoke, I would suggest, a dramatic change of heart among the GOP convention. I could sum this up as, “Sheeeyit fellas….with Donald, we can take this guy”. The advertising power of Republican money could easily balance the anti-Trump editorial bias once the main Presidential campaign gets under way. One can almost hear the doom-laden commercial’s voice-over: “When every economic certainty is gone, who would you want in the White House….a proven entrepreur or an intellectual radical? Don’t be a Chump, vote Trump”.

Further, while one would expect Obama to endorse Clinton, could he offer the same level of support for a bloke who – by definition – was likely to criticise his two-term collaboration with Wall Street?


It is, I wrote ironically at the start of this essay, all about choice. If there has been one major political trend in the last few years, then it is a growing – and accelerating – awareness of the fact that old ideologies aren’t working, creaking Establishments offer little in the way of creative solutions, and existing electoral formulae provide power and wealth for the few, but not relief for the many.

The biggest single factor impinging upon this mass change of heart is the utter failure of almost all institutions – bourses, central banks, economic models and legislatures – to square a tightening circle: that between unsustainable debt and unachievable growth.

Once debt liquidity runs out, élite options close down and the mass cannot consume. And once growth falters in the face of that, then capitalisation shrinks, investment stops,  banks fail, governments fall and radicalism prospers.

Because Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas, electorates vote for Black Swans. Timing is everything, but the era of Black Swans is almost upon us. Do not rule anything out.

Connected at The Slog: How the Truth is seeping out