I woke this morning with mild uneasiness knowing that Americans had finally decided whether their 45th President would be one of the most divisive, outrageous, derided and written-off candidates in history. I had also predicted the night before that Trump against all the odds (and polls) may be victorious because the polls were too close and silent Trump supporters, much like Tory voters in 2015 and Brexiters in 2016, would sway the vote.
While my brain blocks and tries not to envisage the disaster that a Trump Presidency will be for Americans and the world, serious questions have to be asked as to what led us here and the social insights it provides for our respective societies.
The silver lining is that I am proud of Britain, our democracy and society of not being capable of sinking as low. We may have voted for Brexit and handed Nigel Farage his dream legacy, but we did not hand him the keys to 10 Downing Street, nor even any political office. Americans, in my living memory, have already elected someone stupid twice over (Bush Jr) and now someone malicious and incompetent. For as much as I take issue with Blair and Cameron, I would not level either of those accusations against them.
The shifting political landscape both sides of the Atlantic indicates a flight from the centre of politics towards its extremes. People are seriously politically disaffected and disillusioned. They feel that politicians are dishonest and do not represent or speak to their everyday concerns. Hence it matters less which side of the centre ground politicians position themselves, as long as they do not come across as professional career politicians, seldom answering questions and talking in establishment monotone. The left has seen gains in Spain and unexpected surges of support for Corbyn and Sanders. The examples of successes on the right are more numerous, such as with Le Pen in France and UKIP here.
The veneer of xenophobia, racism and Islamophobia that have become part and parcel of right-wing movements actually conceals a more substantial concern around further fragmented societies, increasingly more insular and ghetoissed, including white communities. Corbyn has referred to this phenomenon in his response to Trump’s victory and Mathew Goodwin summed it up succinctly, when he tweeted:
“we have collectively failed to grasp the depths of frustration & anger among white, less well educated & often w.class voters, who feel cut adrift from mainstream politics, under threat from the global market & profoundly uncomfortable with rapid ethnic change”.
Until we concertedly and frankly address problems of social integration as well as economic decline detrimental predominantly to working classes, such hateful narratives will continue to appeal or be easy to ignore in the rubric of the wider message of change. Chuka Umunna’s initiative in leading the APPG on Social Integration is one example of the right approach.
The immediate reactions as to who voted for Trump and his appeal are accurate. But that conceals the fact that this election, despite obvious hurdles, was Clinton’s to win. However her strategy at times reflected an echo chamber that provided a self-fulfilling prophecy in relation to Trump’s accusation that she represented Washington and the elite who had failed ordinary (in particular white) Americans. His chief allegation was that the media was complicit in the maintenance of the status quo and even that the election may be rigged against him. However the media, almost across the board, did try to handicap and weaken Trump from the onset, even the staunchly pro-Republican Fox News. What voters were desperate for were domestic policies and promises, and while not precise or thought out, Trump’s focus remained on jobs, infrastructure, economy and security.
I laughed hysterically at the Daily Show’ Trevor Noah and the Late Show’s Stephen Colbert, when they ripped Trump apart. But who were we actually laughing at, Trump or the masses of Americans who were supporting him? We should not be under any impression that while many despise Trump in the UK, those in the US live in a parallel universe and saw him that differently from us. However what was missing from our picture was the level of antipathy there was against Clinton as to her lying, corruption, accumulation of wealth, dishonesty and a lecherous husband while President. We were also not exposed to the negative campaigns run by Clinton against Trump, especially following being caught bragging and then being subsequently accused of sexual assault by numerous women. For many Americans this stank of rank hypocrisy given her husband’s affair and the Anthony Weiner controversy, who was married to her Chief of Staff, Huma Abedin.
But many were confused as to why such depictions of her could stick, but seemingly worse charges against Trump of racism, Islamophobia, misogyny, perpetually lying and bullying could be brushed aside. The crucial distinction which was not grasped was that her alleged lying, speeches to Goldman Sachs for copious fees and jeopardising national security by using a personal email account as Secretary of State were all done while in power. All of Trump’s shortcomings were not while in public office and were seen at times as unwarranted attacks on his human infallibilities.
In choosing to bad character Trump, when she herself carried so much baggage and ran a negative campaign, rather than appeal to the same issues and the same demographic Trump was making inroads with, Clinton sowed the seeds of her own demise. For the media and her to attack Trump’s simplistic slogan of ‘Make America Great Again’, they affirmed his point and chose to mock those who it resonated with – those who felt they were left behind and betrayed by the ‘establishment’.