Thursday, 10 November 2016

'A sickening event in the history of the US’

Perhaps Donald Trump isn’t quite as popular with US voters as his victory might suggest. He won fewer votes than Hillary Clinton (blame the bizarre mechanism of the electoral college for the fact that he still won); he won fewer votes than the losing Republican party candidate in 2012, Mitt Romney, and he won far fewer votes than Barack Obama did four years ago.

As for the electoral college, who was it who complained on the eve of the election that it was ‘a disaster for democracy’? Yup – Donald J Trump. I wonder how he feels about it now.

Thought number 2: This was not a victory born out of the anger of white working class voters. It was among the country’s huge white middle class that he won his biggest margins, and white women voted for him in unexpectedly large numbers. If Mr Trump is a bigoted misogynist, which his comments and behaviour certainly suggest, then it seems that many women are prepared to forgive him his apparent boorishness.

Thought number 3: For journalists, commentators and pundits, Trump’s victory (I refuse to call it a triumph) was, in the words of the Washington Post’s media commentator Margaret Sullivan, ‘an epic fail’. She quoted the billionaire entrepreneur Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal: ‘The media is always taking Trump literally. It never takes him seriously, but it always takes him literally.’

Voters, on the other hand, did the opposite – they took him seriously without believing every word he said. Build a wall along the border with Mexico, and get the Mexicans to pay for it? We’ll see. (And by the way, there’s already a wall or fence along about a third of the border.) Lock up Hillary Clinton? Hmm. Deport 11 million undocumented immigrants? I wonder …

Thought number 4: Notwithstanding all the above, I agree with David Remnick, editor of the The New Yorker: ‘The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency is nothing less than a tragedy for the American republic, a tragedy for the Constitution, and a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism. Trump’s shocking victory, his ascension to the Presidency, is a sickening event in the history of the United States and liberal democracy ... It is impossible to react to this moment with anything less than revulsion and profound anxiety.’

And if you think this is an over-reaction, let me share with you a comment from a friend who lives in North Carolina: ‘My daughter came home from school yesterday upset because she had seen two kids crying in her class. They were apparently scared of being deported by Trump (the latter were her exact words). She also had a discussion with a friend on the bus home, and her friend told her that being gay was now going to be banned. They are 12 years old! This is having a real effect on kids - just the fact that I have to lie to my child and tell her that everyone will be safe is an abnormality after an election. It turned my stomach.’

What most worries my American friends is the long-term effect that a Trump presidency and a Republican-controlled Congress will have on the make-up and the future decisions of the US Supreme Court. You can kiss goodbye to any hopes of a change to the gun laws, and even abortion rights, as enshrined in the historic Roe v Wade judgment of 1973, could come under threat.

For those of us who don’t live in the US, the major worries are Trump’s views about NATO (the Baltic states will now be especially uneasy), and his threats to tear up most of the US’s foreign trade agreements. He seems to think he can reverse the process of globalisation single-handed; I suspect he’s wrong but he could do immense damage to the global economy while he tries.

And the lessons to be learnt? That the profound social and economic changes of the past 50 years have left millions of people feeling frightened and ignored. That the word ‘change’ is the most powerful word in the political lexicon – even if it might be a change for the worse, for many voters, it’s still worth the risk.

And that the liberal era with which my generation came of age – championing feminism, multi-culturalism, gay rights and internationalism – may be drawing to a close.

Authoritarians of the world – Trump, Putin, Farage, Xi Jinping, Erdogan – unite; you have nothing to lose but a decent, tolerant world in which parents don’t have to lie to their children about feeling safe.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

" He seems to think he can reverse the process of globalisation single-handed; I suspect he’s wrong but he could do immense damage to the global economy while he tries."

While we have been sold the global economy as a good thing for many years by many governments across the world, there are nevertheless many economists who have acknowledged the downside of this in both democratic terms and in the ever-widening split between the rich and poor. With profit being the only consideration of global companies, with no global tax rules, with revolving doors in most countries for politicians looking to serve themselves once out of office, with the Euro being seen as a disaster for some European countries ... I could go on and on. I agree with you that Trump is generally an utter disaster and also dread what the future might hold - but... If the constant march towards globalisation continues unabated then you will have growing inequality in all countries, and growing unrest. Brexit and Trump are warnings which should be addressed, not ignored.