Trump’s election: a bigger picture

In the closing stages of the US presidential election, Trump was describing his advance as “like Brexit but more”. That catches my sense of shock when it happened — though I wouldn’t want to take the parallel as far as he does. Shocked messages from friends in the US sound uncomfortably familiar.

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Perhaps the system will right itself. Perhaps he won’t be as bad as I fear. Perhaps he will be as bad as I fear, and be forced from office (the civil case for rape that should have been heard in December was withdrawn shortly before the election, with the claimant citing threats against her). As I write this, attempts are in progress to persuade the Electoral College not to chose him.

People are right to say that the American political system looks pretty broken, and that it is really hard to see how it might right itself. There’s a striking parallel with the voices who have suggested that voting reform in the UK might have led to a different result on Brexit, because of people voting Leave out of frustration at the sense that their votes don’t count in elections.

But in the fug of initial reactions, two things are screaming at me:

  • The choice of forcefulness over wisdom, and stories over facts, seem to have been big things in this US election and in the referendum. It feels like people who feel disaffected and alienated grasping at something that looks safe and solid — and is actually the opposite. That feels scarily like what happened in Europe in the 1930s.
  • Trump’s sexual predation (and the horrid photo of Farage trying to kiss Diane Evans when she briefly succeeded him as UKIP leader), calls to mind Christina Wieland’s book The fascist state of mind and the manufacturing of masculinity. Both seem like a last asp of an unsavoury and dated masculinity. It may be inevitable that his opponent had to be a woman, and should be terrifying that she didn’t win.

Like fascism in the 1930s, what we are now seeing is shaking the foundations. An interim answer is to hold to Liberal values, but this feels like a moment of change. I don’t know what new geopolitical way of being is being born, but this birthing needs to be engaged with.

Quietly the balance of power has been shifting, from the US to the world’s two most populous nations — China and India. Enough people are in poverty in both countries to mean that they have yet to reach their full potential. Wise leadership in the US and EU could enable us to make an orderly transition that works for everyone. “Wise” is not a word I would use for Donald Trump. A UK outside the EU would be irrelevant to this, except that Brexit too seems to be undermining the EU and its capacity to engage with this. I fear we are in for a much bumpier world re-configuration than people realise.

And Hilary Clinton? Ouch. I dread to think how she is feeling, and will feel in the coming years. Not only the pain of defeat, but the prospect of watching and knowing that she would have made a much, much better President.

Based in an article for Liberal Democrat Voice, 9 November 2016.

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