So, what almost all pundits assured us will never happen, has happened: Donald Trump is elected President of the United States. In any democracy an election is foremost a “selfie” of the nation, reflecting its mood at a particular moment. This “selfie” is no exception.
But what does it show? It shows an America that makes the two finger gesture at the status quo with five “nos”. The first “no” is to Barak Obama, the peddler of that “Yes-We can” bill of good that turned out to be ”No, we cannot!”
To many Americans, a Hillary Clinton presidency would have been a third term for Obama, something that the incumbent himself stressed by going full blast campaigning for her. That was something many Americans couldn’t stomach.
Trump managed to cast himself as the quintessential anti-Obama candidate, something that none of the other 15 initial Republic candidates were prepared to do. Americans don’t like allowing a party to hold the presidency for three successive terms, something that has happened only once since the end of the World War.
The second “no” of this “selfie” is to the establishment. There is no precise definition of the term but to most people it means a minority, maybe a couple of millions in the United States, who dominate the political, media, business, academic and entertainment fields and run them primarily in their own interest.
Clinton, a woman who has been in politics since she left college 40 years ago, having served as hatchet-girl in the McGovern presidential campaign of 1972, then as Frist Lady of Arkansas before moving to the White House with her husband, and not to mention stints as senator and Secretary of state, is the very symbol of the establishment.
The impression that Clinton was standard-bearer for the establishment was reinforced by the support she received from Republican Party grandees such as the former president George W Bush and former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. All that helped Trump cast himself as the anti-establishment candidate, the “outsider” trying to storm the castle.
The third “no” was to the current course of globalization, the dominant ideology of Western democracies since the 1990s. Initially, globalization bore immense fruits for the United States and other major industrial power by tripling world trade in two decades. However, while it made a generation of “new Americans”, people like Bill Gates, richer than Croesus, it also wiped out many well-paid jobs in traditional industries in the United States.
In fact, for 50 per cent of American workers, purchasing power has remained constant or fallen since 1999. Trump managed to play the anti-globalization card while linking it to immigration which, providing an endless flow of cheap labor, has often helped keep wages steady or low in many parts of the United States.
The fourth “no” is against the ideological divide in American politics as developed since the 1950s. In that divide, the Democrat Party was initially supposed to be the party of public service, emphasizing the role of the government in guiding, if not actually managing, the economy in a tradition established by President Franklin D Roosevelt’s “New Deal” and its Keynesian paradigm.
For its part, the Republican Party was cast as flag-bearer for neo-liberal capitalism with its emphasis on free trade and open markets, a pattern set under President Ronald Reagan.
Last week’s election, however, reversed the roles of the two parties as far as ideology is concerned. The Democrats were seen as champions of open markets and free trade. After all, it was President Bill Clinton who devised the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA) and President Obama who launched a similar scheme with the European Union albeit not yet concluded.
The campaign exposed Hillary Clinton’s close ties with the Wall Street with many bankers, not to mention currency speculators like George Soros, as major funders of her campaign. In contrast, Trump brushed aside the Republican Party’s pro-capitalist posture by promising to “regulate” the market, impose tariffs on imported goods to protect American jobs, and promote an “Americans first” policy in the job market.
The fifth “no” was to the “Rainbow Coalition” that brought Obama to the White House in the first place. Some have always seen that as a “Resentment Rainbow”, uniting the minorities around their respective grievances about real or imaginary “sufferings” inflicted on them by the majority.
Bringing together African-Americans, Latinos, Jews, Arabs, Muslims, Native Americans and gay-lesbian/trans-genders, Obama had an electoral launching pad of around 32 per cent, an immense advantage in a first-past-the-post system.
Clinton’s hope was to use the same launching pad and reach the White House by adding a further 18 to 20 per cent from the 68 per cent “majority” remaining in the game. That didn’t happen. The “Resentment Rainbow” may be disintegrating.
Fewer blacks voted for Clinton than they did for Obama. And more Latinos voted for Trump, the man who promised to build a wall on the Mexican border, than anyone expected. We don’t have the full details at time of writing, but it seems that even Jews and Muslims were less than solid in voting for Clinton.
With the “Resentment Rainbow” fracturing, Americans may have rejected Obama’s strategy of mobilizing the minorities against the majority thus undermining national unity. For all that, the election which has highlighted five “nos” to reject the current establishment’s policies, has not produced a resounding “yes” to any alternative strategy.
Americans have rejected division without massively endorsing unity. This election did not alter a pattern under which few have won the US presidency with a share of the popular votes significantly higher than 50 per cent.
Bill Clinton was elected twice with less than 50 per cent and George W Bush captured his first presidency with a smaller share of the popular vote than his Democrat rival Al Gore. In fact, the only convincing victories, in terms of percentage of votes, were those of Richard Nixon in 1972 and that of Ronald Reagan in 1984. The upshot is that America remains divided but is groping for unity on a new basis. That in itself is good news.