Donald Trump has this week secured the Republican presidential nomination in all but the ritual net-curtain formalities, which will take place on 18 July when he is given the official backing of the party at their National Convention in Cleveland. His nearest challenger Ted Cruz—having witnessed his tentative bid whimper its way to an uninspiring anti-climax in New York a fortnight ago—finally did the humane thing and euthanised his campaign after Tuesday’s primary in Indiana. The remaining pretender, John Kasich (who everyone pretty much thought had left the race months ago anyway) soon followed suit. Trump now stands unopposed for the nomination, with only the eventual Democratic Party nominee standing between him and the White House.
This is concerning, not just for the US, but also for the UK too, particularly with the forthcoming European Union referendum too close to call.
One likely effect of an Out vote will be to freeze Britain out of the world’s largest common market. This will leave the UK as an island nation perched on the shoulder of a supranational trading behemoth to which it is no longer party.
In this event, the UK being drawn into a closer alliance with the US seems like the most likely (and, regrettably, most desirable) outcome: the nostalgic British right long for either the creation of North Korean-style splendid isolation or a return to the glory days of empire. Both are equally as stupid, albeit in their own ways. Britain doesn’t have the agricultural capacity to support ourselves in isolation for a start. The idea that Britain could operate as a boutique finance centre like Singapore or Dubai neglects the fact that those countries have smaller populations than Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively. It simply isn’t a credible alternative for an economy of 70 million people.
The ‘Commonwealth bloc’ argument similarly fails to account for the realities of the modern world: when Britain had an empire, it was the world’s foremost (and, for a time, sole) industrial power and had a massive trade surplus. Nowadays India, with its low wages and improving infrastructure, is far better placed to export to Britain than the other way around. Gone are the days when Britain could redress a trade deficit by getting millions of Chinese citizens hooked on heroin, setting themselves up in monopoly as their drug dealer and twice declaring war when the ruling Qing dynasty (fairly reasonably one must concede) objected to the practice.
So the most likely outcome is therefore being drawn into the US’s sphere of influence, at precisely the wrong time in history. Trump is a proud megalomaniac. He is openly misogynistic. In his heart of hearts, he may not be a racist, but he courts the (sizeable) racist lobby and is more than happy to pander to them in return for votes. He is divisive, impulsive, capricious and unread, and he is an expression of the myriad crises currently facing the United States.
The US can no longer claim to be the world’s hegemon, as it did at the turn of the millennium: the Fukuyama doctrine preaching the inevitability of global free market capitalism has been confounded: attempts to forcibly democratise Afghanistan and Iraq in the 2000s failed, confounding; similarly, Russian democracy turned out to be a decade-long gap in an otherwise unbroken 500 year history of autocracy stretching from Ivan the Terrible all the way to Putin, via Stalin et al; the Chinese and Iranians, again similarly, show little appetite to move from their one-party political systems. In Europe, following the debt crisis, the US was too enfeebled by its own financial problems to ride to the rescue with a 21 century Marshall Plan. German—not US—hegemony reigns on the continent. The economic clout of China looks set to eclipse that of the US in the coming decades.
Only in the military sense can the US claim pre-eminence, but even this is a bit of a white elephant: the military-industrial complex is a recalcitrant and expensive dichotomy. It is resistant to change. The rise of ISIS and Islamic Terrorism suggest that the age of conventional warfare may have drawn to a close. Large armies are blunt instruments when it comes to combating more ethereal and nuanced enemies; the US dispatched the Afghan and Iraqi armies within weeks, but were left toiling against their militia for over a decade before skulking away in defeat.
Internally, the spectre of America’s once-proud industrial belt turning to rust continues to put a substantial dent on national pride. This culminated in the 2013 bankruptcy of Detroit, failing to make ends meet after the decline of its automotive industry. Race relations throughout the country (but particularly in the South) are as low as at any time since the civil rights movement. There is no consensus on gun control. 14,000 people are killed in the US every year, making it more deadly than many war zones.
The North-South divide, which has never really disappeared since the Civil War, has flared up again and it runs deep. Psychologists Nisbett and Cohen carried out a series of fascinating experiments in the 1990s that showed there were marked differences between how individuals in the North and in the South perceive questions of basic morality: the South is governed by the honour code and the belief n self-help remedies. In one experiment, Fake CVs were sent to employers in both the North and the South. A covering letter explained that the applicant had recently been released from jail for murder: he had been in a bar with his girlfriend and someone had insulted her; he lost his temper, got in a fight with his companion’s detractor and killed him. The study found employers in the South were four times as likely to respond to the applicant’s CV, perceiving the applicant’s resort to violence in order to avenge a slight to his honour as having been entirely justified.
Viewed in all these contexts, the US is a superpower in decline. Trump is gaining votes by exploiting the anger unleashed by such a decline. This will be dangerous to the UK whether we stay in the EU or leave, but the concern must surely be that without being part of a strong bloc of European countries working together, socially as well as economically, we will be susceptible to being drawn into Trump’s tractor beam of madness. A vote to stay in Europe is the best way to insulate ourselves from the coming bonkers society we might see emerging in America over the coming years in the increasingly likely event of a Trump presidency.
 Nisbett & Cohen, Southern Culture & Honour, 1996