The unthinkable is only unthinkable until it happens. Then, like the sack of Rome, it can seem historically inevitable. So it is with the global political earthquake that is the election of Donald Trump as the next president of the United States. If he is true to his campaign pledges, which were many and reckless, Mr Trump’s win will herald America’s most stunning reversal of political and economic orthodoxy since the New Deal in the 1930s, but with the opposite intention and effect. It halts the ailing progressive narrative about modern America and the 21st-century world in its tracks. It signals a seismic rupture in the American-dominated global liberal economic and political order that had seemed to command the 21st century after communism collapsed and China’s economy soared.
In that sense, the Trump triumph has echoes of the increasingly alarming general rightward shift in the politics of other post-industrial western democracies, to which progressives have again produced inadequate responses. The parallel with Britain’s Brexit vote is obvious and real. So, perhaps, is the further boost that the Trump triumph may hand to nationalists in many parts of Europe – Marine Le Pen jumped quickly on that bandwagon. The result will be lamented by liberals across America and beyond. But it will be cheered in Moscow and Damascus, which will feel emboldened. This is not a good week to be a Latvian or a Ukrainian, and another dire one to be a Syrian oppositionist. The result is also a generational challenge to progressive politics to find the radical and credible message that eludes them in so many countries, not just in America.