THE famous pollster John Zogby has nailed it.

His take on what today’s US midterm elections mean for America could be applied to a slew of western and developed nations, from Scotland and the UK to France, Italy, Poland, Brazil … in fact, it’s easier to list the countries which don’t suffer from Zogby’s diagnosis.

Here’s what he said: “In every election in the past, there’s a common set of issues that everybody agrees on, and one party says, ‘this is how we’ll attack these issues’, and the other party says, ‘no, this is how we’ll attack these issues’. The difference today: two different parties, two different sets of issues; two different realities, two different sets of facts to support those realities. It’s like planets revolving around the sun and on separate orbits.”

What Zogby means is that the middle ground has been carpet-bombed, there are no common principles upon which Americans, left or right, can agree anymore. Is the same not becoming true here? In Scotland with independence, across Britain with Brexit? Is the same not true of the harsh divisions within nations like France or Italy where supporters of the far right, and their opponents from the centre to the left, inhabit different worlds in terms of the news they consume, facts they believe, and values they hold?

What happens in America today has ramifications far beyond its borders. Of course, it’s Americans who’ll feel the full weight of the choices made at the ballot box. But the old maxim "America sneezes and the rest of the world catches a cold" holds true. We saw the ripple of hard-right populism which swept the world following Donald Trump’s election.

The ripple has now turned into a wave. Some imagine Trump’s defeat or the electoral failure of his Brazilian doppelgänger, Jair Bolsonaro, means the wave is waning. Tell that to Italian voters living under a Mussolini-inspired government. The far right, hard right, populist nativism – call it what you will – is in rude health. Populist authoritarianism is winning, it’s social democratic liberalism that’s in decline.

Today’s midterm elections could alter the face of America forever. Any hope of shoring up women’s abortion rights nationally may disappear. There’s a direct risk that many Republican candidates would deliberately undermine democracy if elected. They believe Trump’s "Big Lie" that the presidency was stolen, and some would actively seek to overturn future results that went against Republicans. That’s how democracy dies. Any chance of holding Trump accountable for the attempted Capitol insurrection – an act of treason – will be smothered if Democrats lose Congress.

There’s talk of this election being between "ballots and bullets" – in other words, it could lead to violent social disorder. In America, it’s now perfectly normal to hear respected thinkers talk of another civil war.

So America is the frontline of the crisis it created. But pause and consider the impact of what may flow to the rest of the world if the midterms herald just one term in the White House for Democrats. If Trump – or some heir to Trump, who’s more savvy and polished, and therefore more dangerous – takes power, what happens to the world?

We might not like living under America’s wing but that’s been the case for nearly 80 years. How would a hard-right White House treat Ukraine? Putin would, again, be delighted to see friends in power. And if America draws down support for Ukraine, what happens here in Europe? Do we face Russia in a proxy war in Ukraine alone, while Putin strokes the nuclear button?

What of the other side of the world? How might a hard-right White House respond to the threat of an increasingly dominant China? What if Xi Jinping invaded Taiwan?

The flood of misogyny, racism, and hatred of immigrants and LGBT+ folk which swept the world after the Trump presidency will be a mere appetiser compared to what might come with some iteration of Trump Mark II – especially as the global town square, Twitter, is now in the hands of Elon Musk, a man many believe is inclined to give succour to extremism and is happy for the social media giant to disseminate disinformation.

How might that wave of hate crash up against Britain’s shores? It’ll drive us further apart, that’s for sure. But here’s a truth about Scotland and the rest of the UK: we can’t allow ourselves to be driven further apart. We can’t risk it. We can’t become America. But it feels we’re inevitably heading there.

We’re already inhabiting different ecospheres: the Guardian on one hand, GB News on the other. The woke v the anti-woke in endless unwinnable culture wars. Brexit is itself Britain’s "big lie": half the country thinks it’s the path to paradise; the other half considers Brexit the most damaging wound to Britain in living memory. Both sides believe they have the best interests of the nation at heart, and see their opponents as ‘enemies’.

In Scotland, politics is hopelessly divided. The same illness affecting America affects us. Half of us want Scotland to leave the UK; half believe the Union must be preserved at all costs. There’s no middle ground, only polarisation.

We cannot simply blame politicians – whether in Washington, London, Paris, Edinburgh or Rome – for this collapse of all that unites us. We chose this, we voted in these divisive characters who use identity as a crowbar to separate us.

Everyone wants to be optimistic. But how do we put this genie back in the bottle? How do we rediscover the centre ground? That doesn’t mean we must all be centrist. You can come from the left or right, but still meet on safe middle ground as a place to discuss how we improve the country. However, that requires respect for political opponents: a short commodity. And we wonder why it feels like our nations are collapsing in the West. We spend all our time at war with each other, rather than trying to find solutions to the real crises ailing us.

We’re all guilty of this division: every politician, journalist, online poster, and voter. Somehow we just decided compromise was dead. If politics is war by other means, then heaven help us in a world where we’ve buried mutual respect. For proof, just watch America tonight.

Read more by Neil Mackay:

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