T he great spectre haunting 2024 is the threat of Donald Trump triumphing in November’s election. A second stint in the Oval Office would have grim repercussions for the US and the world. He dominates the Republican race for the presidential candidacy, while recent polls showed him beating Joe Biden in five of the six key battleground states, and besting the president on issues including the economy and national security. The Biden administration has overseen a striking economic recovery in tough global conditions, but voters don’t feel the improvement . The president’s handling of the war in Gaza is alienating core supporters . He inspires little enthusiasm. Democrats point out that there’s a long way to go and that November’s off-year election results point to a brighter picture . Mr Trump faces a dizzying array of legal cases, though the most significant may not move to a trial before the election. While they boost the belief of diehard admirers that he is being persecuted, some supporters say he should not stand if convicted. It’s not impossible that he might run from a prison cell. Mr Trump is already teeing voters up to declare a Biden victory fraudulent again. Election officials have been bombarded with death threats . Convictions for the January 6 storming of the Capitol were welcome and necessary, but his supporters remain armed and dangerous. What would Mr Trump’s return to the White House mean for America and the world? Nothing good. For all the volatility of his presidency, he delivered on key pledges for his followers: his supreme court appointments led to the overturning of Roe v Wade. Authoritarians don’t improve with power: quite the opposite. Mr Trump’s first term began with “alternative facts” about his inauguration and ended with the big lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him. His recent statements make 2016’s inflammatory rhetoric look almost mealy-mouthed. He declared that he would be a dictator , though only on “day one”, because “I want a wall and I want to drill, drill, drill”. His language is not merely racist but echoes the invective of Nazi Germany: immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our country” , while “communists, Marxists, fascists and the radical-left thugs” are “vermin”. Sycophantic state What is truly alarming this time is not merely that he has declared his intentions loud and clear, it is that his backers have drawn up action plans to implement his talking points, and that he faces fewer political, institutional or legal constraints. “You cannot count on those institutions to restrain him,” said former Republican congresswoman Liz Cheney, who fears that her country is “ sleepwalking into dictatorship ”. Ms Cheney is a rare exception to the rule that Republican politicians have ultimately fallen into line even when they briefly balked at his extremes. A re-elected President Trump would benefit from a more compliant Congress (though there’s speculation that Democrats might win back the House while the GOP takes the Senate). And having set out his stall, he could claim a mandate from the people. He would not appoint those who might thwart his will this time. “The lesson he learned was to hire sycophants,” his former chief of staff John Kelly observed . He boasts that he would “dismantle the deep state”, clearing out career employees and replacing them with appointees he could fire at will. Intimidation – siccing his base on those who impede him – would always be an option. He has suggested that Gen Mark Milley, the outgoing chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, deserved to be put to death . Legal challenges to his policies would face a harder path – the supreme court now has a conservative supermajority, with three Trump appointees, and he similarly stacked lower levels of the judiciary. He is preparing plans to turn the power of the state against opponents and critics, and boasting of “retribution” for those who hindered his attempt to steal the last election. He has warned that he would urge his attorney general to indict any political rival even without known grounds, saying: “I don’t know. Indict him on income tax evasion.” His associates have reportedly begun drafting plans to deploy the military against civil demonstrations – as he wanted to do against Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. One would hope that military leaders would oppose this. But it would be complacent to assume that. Politics of hate On the international front, the battle against global heating would be struck a catastrophic blow. A second Trump presidency would clearly be good for Vladimir Putin and bad for Ukraine and Nato, which the US could well leave. Mr Trump’s transactional approach to foreign policy puts himself first, and has only the most narrow and short-term conception of US interests. Allies such as South Korea are already contemplating their own nuclear deterrents. He would seek to hammer China on trade again, and Republicans would encourage him to go further on other fronts, but his admiration for autocrats might allow him to come to terms with Xi Jinping on some issues – notably, Taiwan’s future. Overall, his ignorance, arrogance and erratic nature could be as damaging as his pursuit of specific goals. The far right around the world would be emboldened by his victory. Mr Trump is in large part a symptom of our times, but he has encouraged and enabled others in his mould at home and abroad. The social fabric has been damaged by a style of politics in which hatred is the organising principle. Anti-Asian hate crime surged following his racist rhetoric about the “Chinese virus” and “kung flu”. A defeat for Mr Trump would not in itself be sufficient to defeat Trumpism. But it is necessary. The Democrats cannot campaign only on the threat that Mr Trump poses. They must speak to broader concerns too. But focusing on the likely consequences of his re-election is critical to ensuring that voters understand the choice they are making – including by not voting, or by backing a candidate other than Mr Biden. Think of the way that the voter backlash against the destruction of abortion rights was essential for Democrats in the 2022 midterms and has been evident in ballot measures more recently, with voters opting to preserve or expand access. Of course, Mr Trump might not be able to fully implement his nightmarish boasts in office. But he would do more than enough. Drive off a cliff and you might live to tell the tale. But you can’t count on survival – and you can be certain of damage. The US, and the world, cannot afford a second term for Mr Trump.

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