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The Straits Times says

Trump a symbol of polarising politics

If it had been anyone else but Mr Donald Trump, the results of Super Tuesday's primaries would have shown that the Republican Party's presidential nomination was all but sewn up in his favour. After all, he's been called racist, misogynistic and coarse. Yet Mr Trump carried his message effectively enough in South, West and North-east America to prevail over a slate of other candidates. On the other side, Mrs Hillary Clinton had a similarly impressive showing in the Democrat camp.

The long US election process would have been entertaining theatre if it were not for the fact that Mr Trump has an even shot at becoming the world's most powerful person next January. After Mr Obama's dignified and steadfast years at the helm, America, and indeed Asia and the rest of the world, might have a bumpy ride with Mr Trump in the Oval Office. He rails publicly against China, bemoans the jobs lost to India, and wants to know why US forces are protecting economic powerhouses like Japan and South Korea. As one would expect, the business mogul has toned down some of his rhetoric, after Super Tuesday's victories, in favour of what he calls "diplomacy". Ironically, that makes him even less appealing for appearing mercurial, when a reassuring presence is needed in the White House.

If the grandees of the Republican Party have been slow to speak up against Mr Trump, as critics say, perhaps it's because they recognise his appeal among the white working class who have languished economically. Mr John McCain, a war hero and voice of Republican conscience, now says Mr Trump's views on national security and foreign policy are "uninformed and dangerous". That is the world's chief concern, too. Belatedly, there's a worry that Mr Trump's brand of right-wing populism heralds an "authoritarian" trend in American politics. That is defined as the pushback by "some people (who) never live comfortably in a modern liberal democracy", as described by political psychologist Karen Stenner in The Authoritarian Dynamic.

One might wonder how it was possible for Mr Trump, who seems so at odds with Republican Party leaders, to emerge as a front runner to be the party's flag bearer. In a sense, he's a proxy for the mood of discontent and distrust shaped by the party, particularly during the seven years of Mr Obama's presidency. Take its reckless obstructionism which paralysed the government and led to Mr Obama missing an Asean summit to fight fires at home. The disrespect it showed the President, its policy positions and its contempt of institutions might have primed supporters to reflect that anger and lose faith in the politics of compromise and moderation. Tapping that mood to get into office might look enticing to Mr Trump, but containing it later to govern effectively could prove to be his worst nightmare.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 05, 2016, with the headline 'Trump a symbol of polarising politics'. Print Edition | Subscribe