By James O'Malley
We're now less than 100 days away from the US election and the stakes couldn’t be higher. Will America choose dull-but-stable continuity, or destroy western power and create unimaginable chaos? If you haven't gone into the woods to look for a cave to hide out in when the missiles start flying, perhaps now is a good time.
But imagine if while you were rustling through the undergrowth, you discovered a magic lamp. Out of the magic lamp pops a genie. No, he's not going to grant you three wishes - but instead he's offering one specific wish. All you have to do is say, and he will make Donald Trump disappear.
What happens next? Who knows. After they give up on the search, another more mainstream Republican would probably replace him as presidential candidate. But you can forget democracy, forget rule of law and forget the will of the voters. You just single-handedly and extra-legally removed Trump from the presidential race.
It might sound fantastical, but is this so different from Turkish armed forces trying to take over in Ankara, or David Lammy suggesting parliament ignores the vote for Brexit, or anti-Corbyn rebels trying to restrict Labour members' voting rights in the leadership contest?
Don't give up. This is too important. Ask yr MP to sign EDM 243 on a second referendum with a plan before Article 50 pic.twitter.com/MptUkDhdAP— David Lammy (@DavidLammy) June 29, 2016
These are all, like the genie's magic disappearance powers, efforts to subvert the democratic will.
So would you do it?
For society to function smoothly, the majority of people need to believe in our institutions. Democracy works well, compared to other systems, because most people believe that the results it delivers are fair and are legitimate. Even if we believe parts of various democratic systems are flawed, advocates for change nearly always couch their proposed improvements in terms of making the system more democratic, or in improving the quality of our democracy.
Most people would probably agree with me if I were to argue that the principles underlying democracy are so important they trump everything else, that democracy is worth defending to the death if it is threatened. The Chinese system might deliver faster economic growth - but our democratic principles are so important that we're happy to sacrifice those material gains for them. North Korea might not have any terrorist attacks, but we value freedom, so we accept an increased risk of terrorism to live the way we do.
But the question of Trump and the Magic Lamp reveals just how fragile these seemingly immutable institutions actually are. When the going gets tough, we start contemplating anti-democratic measures.
I don't think I would make the wish. I believe that Trump is the most dangerous presidential candidate of my lifetime, someone who'll herald a new era of global instability if he takes office, but I don’t think I could bring myself to make the wish. I'm too wedded to the belief that the ballot box is the only legitimate means of affecting change.
But that's not to say that I wouldn't agonise for a few moments over it.
It turns out though that not everyone thinks like I do. I put the same question to some of my friends - a completely unrepresentative selection of well educated urbanites who are interested in politics and relatively well served by the status quo. Angry, disenfranchised Ukip voters they are not. And yet their responses surprised me.
Rather than chastise me for questioning the sanctity of democracy, about half of them said they would enthusiastically make the wish and remove Trump from the race. And their thinking wasn’t too different to my own: that Trump poses an almost existential threat. Better that we magic him away than let Trump get his tiny hands on the nuclear button.
Because of the threat posed by Trump, it really isn't an easy question. The same goes for any other demagogue. Substitute Marine Le Pen, Norbert Hofer or a BNP with a credible chance of victory, and suddenly anti-democratic tactics can't be so easily dismissed.
If a minority of people can see everyone else marching towards disaster, is it more responsible to overrule the collective wisdom of voters? Should we back the Remainers trying to quietly kill off the Brexit vote to avoid economic catastrophe? Or the Turkish coup plotters, whose one undemocratic act would restore many of the rights slowly eroded by Erdogan? There's even historical precedent for it working. Abraham Lincoln suspended Habeas Corpus for the greater good of the North winning the civil war.
This is what extremism does. It makes sensible people think the unthinkable. It's a powerful reminder of how quickly our assumptions about how society should function can change. And that should terrify us all.
Like me, you might not want to wish Donald away - but I bet you'd be surprised by how many of your friends would.
James O'Malley is a freelance writer. He tweets as @Psythor.
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