Less than five months after the Brexit referendum resulted in a rather uncomfortable ‘Out’ vote in the United Kingdom, the United States of America, a fellow ‘model democracy’ also tested the elasticity of its democratic boundaries in its presidential electioneering of 2016. Again, like Brexit, Uncle Sam’s adventure has left a rather unpalatable taste in the mouth with the emergence of Republican party candidate Donald Trump as president-elect. For what a Trump presidency is perceived to portend, his election has been met with a potpourri of emotion across the globe. Matched by the revelry amongst his supporters, must be snide giggles within the political corridors in Russia, North Korea, Iran and the extremist corridors of ISIS, while gloom and shock, even apprehension is the overriding emotion in Mexico, amongst minorities in the US, and elsewhere across the globe. America has sneezed and everyone is catching cold of varying severity. Markets have been reacting in panic and even whole economies will be badly shaken in the immediate aftermath. Expect markets to become even more volatile In the weeks leading to Trump’s swearing-in as president in January next year. Even now, the “Not my President” protests continue across the US in what is one of the most unprecedented show of discontent at an electoral outcome in the West, especially among the leading democracies.
Such is the baggage that Trump carries with him – a chest-thumping, unhinged, divisive figure of unprecedented level of demagoguery and narcissism, whose next move or utterance is wrapped in as much flammable foil as the last. That much was apparent throughout his campaign. Unfortunately for those who fervently wished for a different outcome in the presidential race, that figure is what has now been planted in the most influential government office in the world. What might have been once dismissed as another vain exercise in his Trump-esque, to last only as long as he could amuse people before finding another toy to toss around, has ultimately culminated in an electoral upsetting of the applecart for the real estate magnate. Such license to thrill could only have been accorded to a political outsider like Trump by the vaunted American values of equal opportunities for all and of course, America’s large appetite for adventurism and putting up a show. Ironically, while freedom and equal opportunity, allied with a willingness to always demonstrate America’s progress to the world led to the embrace of Trump into the political circle in spite of his lack of ‘political manners,’ these same values – freedom, equality, inclusion, progress – were brought under siege in his campaign rhetoric high on nativist mantra, nihilism, intolerance, etc, while being very low on anything else of substance in 21st Century knowledge of governance. Repeatedly, on the campaign trail, we kept getting a “look at what they have done wrong, I will fix it,” from him. Whatever precise plan for ‘fixing it’ was always immaterial.
Yes, Hillary Clinton his opponent at the election had her flaws, but far more so did Trump. And whatever her flaws were, they seemed to have been basically reduced to what type of server was used to store emails and how many of these emails were deleted or not. Never was it established that any crime had been committed by using private servers or hiding any crime by deleting any mails; just that it was a careless mistake – one which even Hillary admitted as a naïve one. If she was the devil incarnate for this, what did that say of a candidate who, in addition to being trailed by series of scandals about his shabby treatment of his workers, also unabashedly admitted to wilfully cheating the same people he was gunning to lead by not remitting federal taxes? Any candidate who views governance in simplistic, black and white terms and thinks of governance in “I will” and “I can” terms instead of in “We” terms the way Trump did throughout the campaign, is an unready candidate for the office of president. Throw in also the downright pervasion that was unveiled about him from that infamous Access Hollywood tape and the trail of sexual harassment allegations in the aftermath, you get what ought to be an obnoxiously unelectable candidate by most cultures and standards, especially the accountability standards that America prides itself on.
All of this didn’t seem to matter in the end. Not even the fact that Hillary was more qualified than her opponent for the office. Trump is rightly considered as unprepared for president, only going as far as he did because of the American knack for ‘shows’ and his being a good showman who found a way to marry that with a sales pitch on fear, hate and underlying deep-rooted racial questions. Hillary, on the other hand, had been in public service for nearly all her adult life, serving in national and state capacities while establishing herself as a dogged fighter for a rainbow of public interests over the years. Fatefully, in addition to her public exploits – positive or negative – making her an object of suspicion and target of ridicule, she also approached the electorate as one more thing that Trump is not; a woman vying for a position that ‘best suits a man.’ So in a confident, if ill-advised nod to patriarchy, to sexism, and such primordial sentiments, to brainless sensationalism, her ambition, and with it, the hopes and aspirations of millions, came unstuck. Following the 11th hour reawakening of the e-mail issue, one could see Hillary as a real life McKenzie Allen (a character played by Gina Davis) in Commander-in-Chief, an American television political drama series. As with McKenzie, it seemed the American patriarchal hegemony was always going to leave no stone unturned in ensuring that the office went to the individual with the ‘appropriate’ phallic symbol. We may never know what exact impact those 10 days of ‘new investigation’ into emails had on Trump’s emergence as president-elect, but methinks the impact has been profound. What we do know for sure is that unlike McKenzie, Hillary could not make it past the hurdles.
Sad! It is an era when women being heads of government is becoming more fashionable and more entrenched. Amongst the leading democracies, Theresa May is Prime Minister of Britain while Angela Merkel holds the reins in Germany. Incidentally, Trump’s victory could give the aspirations of Marine Le Pen, a rank-outsider who is equally similar to Trump in her anti-establishment bent, a shot in the arm for the French presidency in 2017. Countries like South Korea, Norway, Liberia, Chile, Argentina, Mauritius, to name a few, are currently led by women. Ironically, it is the USA, the avowed leader of the Free World and epicenter of progress and equality that seems to have given a barely disguised thumbs down to the idea of a female commander-in-chief by rejecting Hillary Clinton at the polls.
At a campaign rally for Hillary prior to the election, Barack Obama told the crowd that with Trump as a candidate, “progress” and “freedom” were at stake due to Trump’s dangerously divisive rhetoric. Similarly, on election results morning on November, 9, illustrating how contra-American values Trump’s victory is given concerns about his moral and temperamental suitability as president, on its website, The Economist magazine titled an article “On the brink of the abyss,” in reference to the growing inevitability of a Trump win as the results were being announced. Van Jones, an analyst on CNN that morning, captured the mood even more poignantly when he, almost through tears, noted: “We bring up our kids to show respect, to be decent and treat the less privileged fairly. What now do we tell our children when they see this man take up the position of the most powerful man in the world?”
In many ways, the election outcome seems like the attack on and reversal in gains for freeedom and progress that Obama feared that, it seems, as a friend wrote on social media, America is “starting from the scratch again.” The silent Trumpists – bigots, sexists, racial supremacists and such chauvinists – people and issues that America, the global leader in the export of tolerance, diversity and love, loves to tell the world have nil impact or presence on affairs in ‘the Free World’, got the Union and us all here. It seems that America simply told the world: You may do as I say, not as I do.