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American nihilist

Donald Trump—the anti-candidate

Whatever the outcome on 8th November, this year’s presidential election has already been a major event in the life of the United States— an electoral crisis, as the candidacy of Donald Trump has lurched from the anomalous to the anarchic. Every presidential election is a test of “the system” by which a very large nation, now numbering some 320m people, with 130m likely to vote, decides who will fulfil the multiple roles of head of state, top administrator of the executive branch of government, commander-in-chief of the military, along with allpurpose television star and home entertainer. Trump, the Republican nominee, has spent most of his adult life perfecting the last requirement. It’s the rest of the job for which he seems historically ill-suited, “woefully unprepared” and “unfit to serve,” as President Barack Obama pronounced him on 2nd August, in one of the campaign’s many surreal moments. It’s not just Obama and the Democrats: 50 Republican national security experts, including Michael Hayden, former Director of the CIA, recently signed a letter stating that Trump “would be the most reckless President in US history.”

The strongest case against Trump has been made by the candidate himself in a dizzying cascade of tweets, intemperate outbursts, insults and defamations. In one 24-hour-span in early August, Trump perpetuated his attack on the Muslim parents of a decorated war hero, Humayun Khan, who was killed in Iraq in 2004; suggested Americans might withdraw their retirement accounts from the stock market; and declined to endorse several top Republicans up for re-election in November because they had not shown him proper deference. He capped this, on 9th August, with a speech in North Carolina in which he said that “Second Amendment people”—that is, advocates of gun rights—might be the last line of defence against his opponent, Hillary Clinton. This was read by the Clinton campaign and a good deal of the “mainstream media” as a threat of violence against Clinton, though one tinged with desperation since polls showed her steadily increasing her lead.

Meanwhile, establishment Republicans have been bracing themselves for a battering. Elections for the Senate and House of Representatives will take place on the same day as the presidential vote. “If we fail to protect our majority in Congress, we could be handing President Hillary Clinton a blank cheque,” House Speaker Paul Ryan warned Republicans in a fund-raising email sent 96 days before the election. This might have seemed premature. But the handful of campaign professionals on Trump’s staff had all but given up, and Ryan and other party officials seem to have decided that defeat is preferable to victory: President Trump might permanently wreck the Republican Party and perhaps the Republic too. In a chilling entry in the growing anti-Trump literature, the former journalist Tony Schwartz unburdened himself in an interview with the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer in which he described the hundreds of hours he spent with Trump in an intense 18-month collaboration that resulted in Trump’s 1987 bestseller The Art of the Deal. A better title for the memoir, Schwartz told Mayer, would have been The Sociopath. “If Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes,” he said, “there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilisation.” Two weeks later a report surfaced that in a meeting with foreign policy specialists, Trump had asked three times about nuclear weapons, “if we have them, why can’t we use them?”

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In Prospect’s September issue: Paul Johnson argues that there is no getting away from the fact our economic prospects have got worse post-Brexit. Paul Wallace attempts to outline how the government will try and deal with that situation, while Nicolas Véron suggests that The City of London will decline outside the European Union. On a brighter note, Clive James explores what we can learn from the television show Mad Men. Also in this issue: Patience Wheatcroft, the Conservative peer, suggests that Brexit might not be a done deal with a rebellion in the Lords possible. Thomas Chatterton Williams explores the work and Beyoncé and argues that black artists are failing to say anything profound and James Dyson outlines how he would rule the world.