I had an all-too-familiar sinking feeling when I scanned the internet headlines yesterday morning. It felt like Brexit all over again: a political lurch so surprising, so emotive and so ill-advised that it made me fear about the viability of Western society as a place of diversity, tolerance and acceptance.
Britons woke up to the news that Donald Trump was in the final stages of a victory in the race for the American presidency. By late morning, it was official. Donald Trump will be the next American president. Let that sink in for a minute.
The New York Times dubbed it a ‘Stunning Repudiation of the Establishment‘, which makes me feel queasy for several reasons (not least because of that weird word ‘repudiation’, not one of the English language’s finest). But the idea of an anti-establishment revolution is really dangerous, because Trump may not be part of the political elite, but he’s not not part of the ‘establishment’, if that makes sense. He is a multi-billionaire, a symbol of Regan and Thatcher’s late-twentieth century rampant capitalism and he enjoys close (and largely hidden) relationships with American industry, politics and trade. He is anti-establishment only in terms of his political inexperience or presence on political debates in the years leading up to his election this year, and that’s hardly a kind of establishment he should be boasting his inexperience in. Being anti-establishment because you’re not politically experienced is quite different to being in some way revolutionary or different or a fresh voice for the people. How many anti-establishment figures do you know with a net worth of $3.7bn and a property portfolio spanning the world?
In case you missed it, George Monbiot wrote a powerful piece about neoliberalism this summer for The Guardian, and in a time when people are throwing the word around like it’s going out of fashion, reading the article is one of the best things you can do today. It asks some uncomfortable questions about why the political Left have been so rubbish at making a fairer alternative. It also explains to an extent how we got to where we are today in terms of Brexit and Trump’s election. It’s perplexing to me that Hilary Clinton was targeted time and time again for her Wall Street relationships and ties to the neoliberal elite whilst Trump is interpreted by the American working and middle class as some sort of straight-talking outsider. He’s not: he’s the opposite, and he’s not even very good at it.
Where he does differ from the usual slick politician like Hillary Clinton (and lest we forget, there are worst things to be – diplomacy is quite a bonus in a world leader) is in his attitudes and ambition. Like Boris Johnson in the UK, Trump has gotten far with the American electorate by seeming like the ‘real’ face of politics – someone who offers a different way of doing things to a population who are sick of personality-denuded figureheads. Unfortunately, it’s people like Barack Obama and Nick Clegg, who are more real than most but also more fallibly human, who lose out – and who are also likely to be judged most kindly by history in years to come.
As for the situation right now, I’m trying really hard to separate the man from the policies and deal with each separately. It is proving difficult, not least because there is so much tied up with the man and his views, and so little in the way of concrete policies. Nevertheless, I’ve done some research so you don’t have to. Depressingly, there was so much to choose from I could have filled a book. Here’s a taste of the political ambitions of the man who (some) Americans have elected to be the next President:
– He is anti-abortion, and has suggested that if abortion were made illegal, women should be punished for obtaining them.
– He says that Mexicans coming to the US are ‘rapists’. He wants to build a wall between the U.S and Mexico, and he thinks Mexico should pay for it (where they’ll find the predicted $2.2 – $13bn(!) funds for this is as yet unexplained)
– He wants Japan and South Korea to build up arsenals of nuclear weapons, and claims that they currently rely too much on the US.
– He supports waterboarding as an interrogation practice, commenting “I like it a lot. I don’t think it’s tough enough”.
His personal views are even worse (and when is the personal ever not political, especially for a public figure and supposed political inspiration?) You can take your pick of any one of the many stories surrounding his treatment of women, migrants and muslims. The way he peered over his wife’s electoral ballot at the polling booth to check she was voting for him yesterday produces its own unique revulsion (you can see it here; still, we can always rely on Twitter to provide some light relief, in the form of these memes).
What surprises me most about his victory is that quite aside from sexual harassment and assault allegations against him – and the list is dizzying – there is documented video evidence of at least two occasions where he has made inappropriate sexual comments – one about a young girl who he’ll be ‘dating in ten years’ and the other boasting that he’d grabbed a woman ‘by the pussy’. This is the new leader of the United States of America. Voters read all about the allegations, were well aware of his previous indiscretions, saw video evidence of his character…and still voted him in.
More unusual still is that he must be the first US president to appear in court for wrongdoing in the interim between election and taking office. In a surprise to absolutely no-one, the court case for sexual assault has been dropped. Well, can you imagine going up against the American President-elect with your allegations of abuse? Your life would become hell, no matter which way the judge ruled. Trump’s court case involving fraud on the real estate program at his Trump University is due later this month, and how his PR staff manage to spin that will make for interesting viewing.
Aside from these toxic elements, his success came as something of a surprise given that public opinion, exit polls and the media had all predicted a modest but probable majority for his Democrat competitor Hilary Clinton. His election was a shock, too, for anyone outside of America’s social system (and for many within it), but it just goes to show that, like Brexit, we have little idea of the political emotions of anyone other than those who think like us, especially in our (comparatively) comfortable middle class lives. In reality, voters must have been so angry with the political status quo that despite being aware of Trump’s character they either didn’t care enough to not vote for him, or they would still rather vote for him than for Hilary Clinton. There has been much talk of whether Bernie Sanders would have fared better than Clinton, based on his gender as much as his policy, but we’ll never know. He has however given his own suggestions for the shock election, hot off the press today.
Think of Barack Obama’s 7 year term, and his almost continuous struggle to pass bills through senate against a strong Republican opposition determined to prevaricate at every step. Think of Michelle Obama, who in the last year alone has worked on healthy eating initiatives, child literacy and voter registration. She vacates her position as First lady to Melania Trump, who could shape her role to replicate some of Michelle Obama’s influential policy work…or, you know, just try to survive Trump’s mood swings. And let’s not forget Donald Trump’s elected Vice-President, who argues that gay marriage represents the “deterioration of the family” and voted to allow businesses to discriminate against LGBT citizens. It’s the worst episode of House of Cards ever.
It’s depressing stuff, but there’s interesting thinking to do about the swing from Obama to Trump in the ‘rust belt’ states, and the political voting system which, like the UK, would be better equipped by proportional representation. Those debates will have to wait for another time. For now, remember to care for yourselves and each other. When the news gets too much, you could always check out the new John Lewis christmas advert: it’s not as good as some years, but it’s an antidote for when love doesn’t Trump hate.