Trump’s (and the media’s) destruction of the Social Contract

Phil Smith at RNZ had a think about Trump and the way his rule breaking could get out of hand.

Civilisation is a thin veneer over the roiling anarchy of our human frailties. When it breaks down, the results are ugly. Society holds together because we all agree that it does; pretending together that we are all rational, responsible grown-ups.

This is the social contract.

In a fit of ‘If I can’t have this society, no one can’, US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is chipping away at America’s fragile veneer, as if to remake American life in Hobbes’ uncivilised image: solitary, nasty, brutish and short … with small hands.

This is serious though. America has a tumultuous history, and a long memory for rancour. There are places where people are still emotionally re-litigating the civil war. It is important for America’s internal peace, security and stability that the social contract is protected by its leaders and role models.

In functioning democracies, election losers concede, winners don’t exact revenge on their opponents and people do not take up arms against their elected representatives.

Mr Trump is ignoring all of that.

Is he?  Aren’t we just a little over-excited about Trump?  

He predicts a stolen election, claiming ballot stuffing, registration fraud, trucked-in Mexicans and co-ordinated multiple voting.

He has encouraged pre-emptive vigilantism at the polling booth, to ensure minorities and foreigners don’t vote illegally (or indeed vote). In some states this is legal.

He has walked back an assurance that he will respect the election outcome. Mike Pence, his running mate, is trying to assure everyone on Mr Trump’s behalf.

But the Donald is having none of it.

He has repeatedly ignored the rule of law, promising to imprison his opponent.

He has suggested the disarming of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s Secret Service detail “and see what happens to her”, and suggested “Second Amendment people” (gun owners) might find other methods (wink, wink) to stop Mrs Clinton.

He has blamed his woes on his own party leadership, shadowy elites, the media and foreigners, all in collusion with international bankers (common anti-Semitic code for Jewish people).

It’s classic New World Order conspiracy theory stuff.

Any one of these actions marks a dangerous step away from a stable democratic society. Together they are deeply troubling, and represent at least four layers of societal threat:

  • The threat of violence
  • Delegitimising governance
  • Belonging
  • The normalisation of hate

When society enables a leader to espouse all manner of hateful prejudices from the highest public pulpit, those opinions gain legitimacy in the national debate. The locus of appropriate debate has moved down the spectrum towards hate.

Given Mr Trump’s behaviour in the first two presidential debates, the very existence of a third debate will help legitimise his views as appropriate to the mainstream.

As David Duke, the former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, has said: “The fact that Donald Trump’s doing so well, it proves that I’m winning. I am winning.”


– Abridged.  Read Phil’s full article here.