What did the Trump ascendancy reveal?
Donald Trump is now the world’s most powerful man, put there willingly by the world’s most successful nation.
There were people who saw this coming, but I wasn’t one of them. I did not believe that a majority of voters would install this man as their leader. Consider what has just happened.
Americans have voted for the grandson of immigrants who is married to an immigrant to put an end to immigration as we have known it. America’s very power is founded on open immigration for centuries.
Working-class Americans who live on the periphery of poverty came out in large numbers to elect a man whose core business strategy has been the systematic avoidance of tax.
The country whose very existence today depends on the free flow of funding from the rest of the world has just chosen to stick its finger up at foreigners.
Red-blooded, rabidly anti-communist rednecks took delight in supporting Russia’s preferred candidate, a man who unabashedly expressed his admiration for Vladimir Putin during the election campaign.
The country with the world’s leading educational institutions gave us a man who has no time for knowledge, expertise, decorum or truth, whose winning campaign strategy was to insult his opponents with outright lies and schoolboy put-downs.
Libertarians who want small government and free markets promoted a man who speaks forcefully about putting up trade barriers, increasing spending and extols authoritarianism.
Devout Christians from the heartland of family values thumped their bibles for a man who brags about the ease of his sexual conquests. Women ululated at the words of an evident misogynist.
Those who regarded Trump with fear and horror needed to turn out to vote in unprecedented numbers if they were to stop him. They failed to do that.
All this happened before our eyes. No matter how implausible, how ridiculous and how comedic it seemed, it turned out to be real. It wasn’t a bad dream; it was what Americans, in their wisdom and in their electoral majority, wanted. Go figure. I know I’m struggling.
As I wrote above, some people called this. They understood better than most the primal feelings that drives this kind of visceral response. They caught the vibes of frustration and anger and delusion that drove this particular crowd. Like Brexit before it, this vote was a rejection of values we mistakenly thought were universal: tolerance, openness of mind and compassion.
Anyone who thinks about this world while sipping wine with similarly educated minds just received a cold bath. Enough people revel in racism and suspicion and rancour to hold sway over our collective decisions. Trump understood this better than anyone. Every time his opponents tried to go high in response to his low taunts, he went even lower. And it worked, just like he knew it would.
I wrote here after Brexit: “This is a common trend across the world: the poor get left out of growth, and they respond by voting for candidates and policies the elite find incomprehensible…people who are poor, fed-up and desperate will vote for change – any change.”
Even, it turns out, a Trump-shaped change.
Well, America now has Donald Trump. I hope, to use H. L. Mencken’s turn of phrase, it gets him good and hard. Now we need to see whether his policies actually work; now we need to see what so many of us may have been missing.
Perhaps we should take a longer view. Perhaps the era of Trumpism is just the beginning of a whole new world order. Perhaps societies need to encounter extremes before they achieve any degree of enlightenment. Perhaps, as Abba Eban said, “History teaches us that men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives.”
Now that this historically rancorous election is over, we all need to take several chill pills. As I write this, loud protests are happening in America protesting the vote. This is misguided. Unless you have specific evidence of electoral fraud, you have no business protesting an outcome you did not like. The essence of democracy, if an election is free and fair, is the acceptance of the will of the majority of those who turned out to vote.
Team Trump trumped the odds. Now let’s see what they have in store for the world. Meanwhile, get on with your own life. There’s always plenty to do there.
(Sunday Nation, 20 November 2016)