Donald Trump is the most dangerous threat to western democracy this century…but not for the reasons you may think

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Donald Trump is a dangerous President.

That’s not an especially controversial statement to make outside of his own social media support bubble. In fact, Donald Trump is so obviously ineffective, anti-intellectual and corrupt that the fact he managed to get elected to the highest office in the democratic world is something of an impressive achievement.

Trusting someone who has so little diplomatic tact with the nuclear football is… undesirable – and it is indeed a scary prospect – but the reality is that the USA is fairly well-protected against a President so stupid that they accidentally start a nuclear war. Trump’s rule has been awful for the domestic good of the USA, but the chances of him directly being responsible for the apocalypse are, thankfully, fairly low.

To understand what makes Donald Trump quite so dangerous you have to look a long way past his own, partially-walled borders, as well as back in time. The Cold War is not ancient history. I’m lucky – I am 28, born soon after the Berlin Wall fell and at a time when hope for a peaceful future was high; but 28 (despite how it can feel in the company of the Young Liberals sometimes) is young, and the reality of those days is living memory for huge numbers of people across the globe.

Think about who the real adversaries to Western democracy are today, and you see they are the same authoritarian communist states as the threats of the 70s and 80s: Russia, China, North Korea. Aside from the latter they look remarkably different now on the surface, but the power-first philosophy is much the same. China is most likely behind the cyberattacks currently ongoing in Australia and Russia, only two years ago, launched an assassination with an illegal chemical weapon on the city where I live, with such disregard for the civilian population that a massive amount of it was found four months later, in a bin. A civilian, Dawn Sturgess from Amesbury, was killed. The BBC recently dramatised the incident.

Liberals in the West have two very different, but not mutually exclusive, reactions to Donald Trump: horror and humour. The things he says are awful, but they are also funny because it’s so objectively ridiculous to us that that man is President of the United States. He’s just. So. Wrong…

But stop and think for a second what Donald Trump looks like to someone your age, living in Russia. If you’re, say, over 45, that Russian version of you grew up being fed propaganda about a callous “democratic” capitalist world led by idiotic, offensive men with suitcases full of cash that looked an awful lot like Donald Trump. If you’re closer to my age, the Russian version of yourself grew up with a hope for a more peaceful future with the West, only to see that maybe what your parents were told all those years ago was right all along. And unlike us, those versions of us in Russia, or China, or North Korea, have no freedom to learn for themselves how unusual this time is in our history – their regimes control and censor any media they may consume. It only says about us what they want it to say. To these people Trump is not ridiculous, he is everything they were warned about.

Donald Trump isn’t scary because of anything about Donald Trump. Donald Trump is scary because of what Vladimir Putin will use him for within his own country. Defeating him in November’s election is just as much about beating The Vlad as beating The Donald.

* Paul Sayers is a long-standing party campaigner and was most recently an organiser in South Gloucestershire up to 2019.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Lorenzo Cherin 23rd Jun '20 - 11:03am

    This is in a sense an original take. Well done Paul.

    I interact online with the former Senator and presidential candidate Gary Hart, a great man. He deals with Trump in polemic brilliant, horrified mainly, ever a sense of humour, though on Trump he has less than he’d like!

    Your insightful comments would be appreciated by many in that country that was and is in many ways, great, yes, pre and despite Trump!

  • Paul Sayers 23rd Jun '20 - 2:15pm

    Thanks for your kind words, Lorenzo. Of course it it far too early to make any predictions but it certainly looks like more and more Americans are starting to feel exactly like Gary. Here’s hoping!

  • Lorenzo Cherin 23rd Jun '20 - 2:48pm

    Paul you are correct, though it is never true that Trump was ever really popular, Hillary one the vote!

    reckon though, more need to catch up with how divided that country of my in laws is, truly left vs right, black vs white, poor vs rich, too often, though most are united in merely being mainstream, and decent, its the descent, into the farther regions , both of the country and in ideology, that are an issue.

  • Paul Sayers makes a genuine point on the Trump effect outside the US of A. My fear and concern is that Trump will resort to some wild dangerous scheme to rescue his failing candidacy over the next five months.

    Equally, and I say it softly, I hope lessons have been learned in Lib Dem Towers about giving an unqualified and immediate ‘Yes’ answer to questions about willingness to press the nuclear button. There’s a difference between toughness and naivety.

  • Hilton Marlton 24th Jun '20 - 8:48am

    Excellent observation Paul. Thanks

  • Thank you Paul for this.
    My view has been that in fact the US President thinks that the present Russian model, or for that matter the Chinese are North Korean models, are preferable to the US model. He rather likes the idea of having a president for life, as long of course as it is him. The evidence seems to be that the Russian cyber activities have been helping rather than hindering him. He and the Russian leader are kindred spirits.
    The most dangerous time for the planet in my opinion is the next months up to the presidential election. In the end though people are given a choice of two, so we need to look at both of the candidates and their actions. It would be easier if they were simply asked if they were for or against Trump! To beat him the Democrats need to get their vote out, and do it in the right places.

  • Humphrey Hawksley 24th Jun '20 - 9:45am

    Thank you, Paul, and permit me to disagree and even argue that Trump has been Western democracy’s greatest help. He had forced us to recognize our own laziness and hubris. The biggest threat this century has been the administration of George W Bush. His invasion of Iraq ruined the reputation of Western democracy which was once a beacon for fairness and for being a system that delivered a more peaceful and higher standard of living. Iraq showed it doesn’t. Rather than take note back then, the West went on with its paralysis over Syria, pushing too far in Ukraine and failing to fix its own message, policies and electoral systems until Trump smashed through to get elected. Despite his bullying and rhetoric, Trump has done nothing nearly as catastrophic as George W Bush both in terms of lost lives and broken communities and in weakening the very political system Bush thought he could export off the shelf to other countries. Trump is a product of that and now acts as a flashing red warning light to us all to get off our butts and make sure politicians like him never make it into office again. To do that we have to repair the damage done to liberal democracy, its systems, its message and its values. Trump is prompting us to do that.

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