The Trump Triumph – United (or Unfortunate) States of America? By Simi Mehta

That the office of the US Presidency implies great power and responsibility in the realm of international politics, the US election season is usually watched with great interest around the world. The Presidential election of 2016 was regarded as unprecedented and highly consequential that was a testimony to a highly polarized campaign spread throughout the nomination process until the presidential debates that ended in the electorates choosing the Republican candidate Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States of America.

There was a near unity in the media, political experts and scholars in the country and abroad that predicted the victory of the Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. A major reason for this was based upon Donald Trump’s derogatory remarks on women, Muslims, Latinos, immigrants and persons with disabilities. Michael Moore, the noted American filmmaker, had described him as a “wretched, ignorant, dangerous part-time clown and full-time sociopath” and was expected that the American society would unite against the dread that could be unleashed, should Donald Trump be elected as the US President.

That his victory has exposed some of the worst nightmares for a large section of the population, some of the pressing reasons that shocked the psephologists despite his widely acknowledged misdemeanours are:

In the words of Noam Chomsky, “Trump’s victory points to the moribund state of the US political system”, that was propelled in part by rural and Rust Belt voters, especially former blue states of the mid-west: Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, who bore the brunt of the neglect of the political establishment. He clinched victory because he hit the bull’s eye when he accused Bill Clinton (and indirectly Hillary Clinton) as the reason for destroying these industrial states by their support of NAFTA, which led to the closure of several industries and retrenchment of the local workforce there. Taking cue from this, Trump espoused a rejection of open global trade, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and promised to nullify American association with NAFTA. He vociferously attacked Hillary for her stance on the TPP (which itself kept changing during several campaigns and Presidential debates).

While the Trump phenomenon has been largely characterized by his unpredictability, his victory was a glimpse of the accumulated insecurities deep distress and resentment of the white-American men mostly without a college education. It revealed that the passionate support for Trump was inspired primarily by the belief that he represented change, while Clinton was perceived as the candidate who would perpetuate their distress that had been accumulating over the years against the centrist political order, where the previous governments tended to ignore the middle-class and the working class, and those without college education. These grievances have been a response to been in response to an economic system that favors the rich, fear of losing jobs to new immigrants, and exhausted with the slow growth, stubborn inequality, long-term stress on the federal budget. The rapid emergence of women-power in the US and around the world and their recognition as an equal in all domains of life, the legalization of gay marriage by the Obama administration, enhanced the frustration of the white-American men, who were annoyed for the past 8 years of being ruled by a Black man and felt endangered at the very thought of being ruled by a female for the next 4 or probably 8 years.

The 30 years of public service that Hillary Clinton harped upon was understood to have generated distrust amongst the voters. When she was running for Democratic nomination against Obama in 2008, she vociferously opposed same sex marriage and in readying herself as the 2016 candidate, she altered her stance and welcomed the Supreme Court ruling that legalized gay marriage throughout the continental US. Her fickle stand like this one became an instance of the narrative that reinforced the old way of politics that concentrated solely on getting elected, and hence was seen to being dishonest and untrustworthy.

Many electorate voted for Trump not because they agreed with him, or liked his bigotry or ego, but just because they had the power to vote. They wanted to simply witness what voting for Trump might lead to. Pew Research in July 2016 data shows that women and men prioritized many of the same issues during the election, including concerns over the economy, terrorism, and health care.

A Trump Presidency Implications

Over the course of his campaign, Trump spoke about imprisoning Ms. Clinton for the hefty email error she goofed up when she was the Secretary of State, suing women who accused him of unwanted sexual advances and revoking the freedom of the press. He has promised to deport millions of illegal and undocumented immigrants, nullify trade agreements like NAFTA, called for rapid increase in the use of fossil fuels, including coal; rejection of help to developing countries that are seeking to move to sustainable energy; and in general, and sabotage international efforts to fight climate change. This comes in sharp contrast with the findings of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) (2016), which reported that the past five years were the hottest on record, with noticeable rise in the sea-levels, rapid melting of glaciers and thereby reducing the cooling effect of polar ice reflection of solar rays, and accelerating the grim effects of global warming.

Trump has denigrated US allies and condemned international alliances, such as NATO, that makes it spend billions of dollars to secure other countries’ sovereignty. In the debates and campaigns, Trump fiercely condemned “open borders,” which have allowed immigrants to take jobs away from US workers and lowered their living standards. As the Republican nominee, he had specifically mentioned Mexicans and Muslims creating major problems for the US. He accused Mexicans of bringing crime, drugs, and rape to an otherwise peaceful, law-abiding nation and Muslim immigrants of favoring “horrendous attacks by people believing in jihad”. It is not surprising that right- and far-right wing political parties across the world, including India, have voiced jubilation at Trump’s elections. It is apprehended that Trump’s election would promote hate, and racism and be ethnically restrictive across the vast sections of the population- American and foreign.

The consistency in his set of ideas is imminent from a core set of foreign policy instincts that date back to the 1980s. He has been opposed to America’s alliance arrangements as well as to globalization. Trump’s appreciation of the authoritarian Russian President Vladimir Putin has raised the eyebrows of the people subscribing to the liberal school of thought. Vis-à-vis the candidate Trump, President Trump would be faced with the options to withdraw the US from NATO, his perceived futility of the most multinational international organizations, including the United Nations, as well as withdrawal from the WTO. He could dangerously escalate reactions to North Korea’s aggression and intensify tensions with China.

The fact that he would pivot away from the impulsive and detrimental statements of the campaign and embrace sounder policies once he assumes office, could be a mistake on the part of the analysts to discount the possibility that he would govern as he has campaigned. This is because he has subscribed to these beliefs for nearly three decades and expecting a 70-year old chauvinist having to abandon them would not justify his promise to make “America Great Again”.

While Trump’s victory has sent shock waves around the US and the world, and the credibility of the US as a country committed to pluralism, multiculturalism, inclusiveness and human rights has appeared to have a suffered a serious blow, historian C. Vann Woodward wrote in 1960 that “One must expect and even hope that there will be future upheavals to shock the seats of power and privilege and furnish the periodic therapy that seems necessary to the health of our democracy”.

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