By Luis Durani*
With the elections over and a new president elected, half of the electorate is still reeling from the surprise upset created by Donald Trump. Due to the mechanisms behind the American democratic system, Donald Trump has managed to assume the highest office in the US and perhaps the world.
Trump managed to break all electoral rules and surprised the media and pollsters by the different electoral demographics he won. Trump’s victory is not so much a testament to his campaigning ability but more of the people’s ennui and wearisome of politicians, both parties, and the system. Trump represents the repudiation of the system. Trump managed to tap into the distress among people of all ages, color, creeds, and education level. Despite what he may have said about certain groups, the majority of the country had reached a boiling point with the status quo and decided to elect him to change things up.
After 8 years of George Bush and his failed adventurist foreign policy in the Middle East as well as enlarging the leviathan that is government by skirting constitutional restraints, Barack Obama swept into the presidency with the promise of hope and change for a new generation of voters and those looking beyond failed wars and a languishing economy. Unfortunately to the chagrin of many supporters, Obama became a wolf in sheep’s clothing, as Oliver Stone put it. Obama dismayed, disappointed and pushed many voters away from the Democratic Party.
After decades of hoping either Democrats or Republicans would help remedy the concerns of the American voters, people became exhausted, hoping that a new kind of candidate, even one not fully qualified, would bring the change and hope they yearned for. But in a larger picture, the world is undergoing a rise in populism once again. Countries are beginning to turn away from the so-called establishments that have ruled their countries to populist candidates. Trump may have begun the domino the effect that will see a rise in populism Trump-style or Trumpism.
Why Trump Won
As the media continues to scramble to explain the major surprise of why Trump won, most of the mainstream media that had blatantly opposed Trump in favor of Clinton characterized the victory as “Whitelash”. The media did what it was best at, sensationalized the election as a reflection of identity politics. White America was sick and tired of a black president and vociferous minorities; at least this is how the media was able to explain their failure in not being remotely close to predicting the victory of Donald Trump. As a result, a large group of voters have begun to protest the presidency of Donald Trump by chanting, “Not my President.” Yet these same voters claimed bigotry about those who protested against Obama as not my president. The media characterized the Trump campaign as racist and sexist. While the campaign did, without a doubt, engage in questionable and downright unsavory actions, the victory of Trump isn’t due to a racist or sexist America, but a failed America due to decades of neglect by America’s elite.
It’s the economy again, stupid. Despite claims of the sexism, almost 45% of all women voted for Trump. Trump managed to outperform previous Republican presidential candidates in winning the minority votes. Finally, Trump’s key to victory was being able to demolish the “Blue Wall” as it was labelled. These rustbelt voters in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, etc. tilted to Trump and his promise of bringing jobs back. The white working class here that voted for Trump was the same voters who had elected Obama in the previous two elections. Nobody can deny that certain racist voters came to show their support for Donald Trump due to the nationalist tone he took during the campaign, but the preponderance of his white working class voters came from those who had formerly supported an African-American Democratic president in the previous elections. So despite casting this election as a repudiation of a Black president by white voters as the media is doing, it is perhaps a refutation of his predecessor and his policies, especially the failure in his ability to revive the economy as he promised in the past 8 years.
The main reason Trump won was due to the economy and the failure by the Obama administration to resuscitate it in the past 8 years despite what the President claimed. Despite the administration asserting that the unemployment rate dropping to new lows, in reality for those who do not understand, the job reports is an example of accounting voodoo that goes back several administrations. A more realistic indicator is the participation rate, which is still stagnating at 63%. The unemployment rate that is conveyed is one value of many. It doesn’t include those who have given up for work and trapped in part-time jobs wanting full-time. Accounting for those, the unemployment rate climbs up to at least twice as much it is now, 10%, if not more. Some economic experts believe it hovers even higher around 15-20%, reflecting recessionary and even depression-like numbers.
In addition, the quality of jobs is not accounted for. Most jobs that are created are service type jobs rather than high-skill high-paying jobs that many Americans are nostalgic for. The country has become a 1099 economy focused on service jobs such as uber. In addition, the so-called utopia that globalization promised to produce has failed instead resulting in more outsourcing of low and high-skill jobs abroad while corporations amass wealth.
The economy is key to any leader’s longevity. Not only has the American economic recovery failed but the global economy is flailing as well. The European Union is on the brink of collapse and with Brexit, it needs just an additional domino to bring that whole entity down. China, the second largest economy, may end up being the black swan for bringing the entire global economy into another depression. China is currently buried under a series of bubbles, whether it is the stock market or real estate, one market or another will trigger its meltdown.
The media is another medium that has turned off many voters. The mainstream media who has been trusted as the fourth estate to check the overreach of the government has turned into the fifth column. The failure of the mainstream media is abundantly clear in its overall dropping of viewership whether it is Fox, CNN, or MSNBC. The incestuous relationship between the media and politicians is explicit and recognized by many. The media has created a bubble around themselves that is absent of reality and this was perfectly displayed by the election results in claiming a landslide victory for Clinton by all media outlets. Nontraditional outlets on the internet as well as WikiLeaks helped show the aristocratic system that has been in play for a long time between the media and political institutions. Despite their many attempts to hide Hilary’s failing, Trump with his many faults won. This election has begun to reveal the dislike of the voters, on both sides, for the establishment class.
Clinton – The Weak Candidate
One thing that many voters are continuing to overlook in their distaste for Trump is that the flaws that Hilary Clinton possessed overshadowed Donald Trumps. Despite Trump’s lack of depth in certain subjects as well as flip flopping on others, Clinton epitomized the pinnacle of the establishment class. She represented everything wrong with the system and the voters used that as a target for their rage. Clinton lacked credibility and trust with the voters; despite her credentials, her shortcomings dwarfed her strengths. While Trump stated certain statements that brought fear to many rightfully so, Clinton demonstrated through actions her hypocrisy and failures as a president to be. Even though the economy was the overriding factor in the elections for many, for more educated voters, Clinton’s actions demonstrated a failed to be president versus the unknown that a Trump presidency would be. Clinton not only supported the Iraq War, which resulted in at least 1-2 million people dying, but continued to endorse the neoconservative agenda for war. She was deemed the hawk candidate between the two major party’s candidates. Clinton not only supported trading treaties that would have further enhanced globalization such as the TransPacific Partnership (TPP), but she helped orchestrate the myriad of wars that continue to plague and destroy nations in the Middle East and the world such as Libya, Syria, Ukraine, Yemen, Somalia, etc. along with Obama. In addition, she continued to support the growing government security apparatus with Obama by helping craft the NDAA or Patriot Act 2.0. Clinton created a veneer of progressivism to appease the Democratic base but in reality she was more of the same. This façade of being genuine is what perhaps hurt her more so than anything else.
The Rise of Trumpism
With the economic downturn in America and the rest of the world, people are turning to populist leaders to help give that last iota of hope; first was Brexit and now Trump. As the economy of the world continues to languish, the marching victory of populism will continue with the Italian referendum. Italy will vote on amending the constitution in a big way since the end of its monarchy. If the vote does not go in the direction Prime Minster Renzi expects he will resign, which is most likely the case. Italy will probably be the next major country to depart from the EU as well, perhaps initiating the end of the economic union altogether. In France, President Hollande sits on single digit approval ratings with Marine Le Pen’s national front in the lead in recent polls. Once again, a populist candidate/platform appears to be heading to victory. The tide appears to turning against Merkel in Germany as well. Other nations are undergoing this trend as well with the recent ushering of President Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, the Filipino Trump.
One by one countries around the world are turning towards strong leaders that are populist in nature rather than the establishment. As the global economy slides towards recession once again, more Trump-like leaders will begin to rise. It has been said that good times lead to weak leaders and weak leaders lead to bad times, perhaps society is undergoing such a phase.
About the author:
*Luis Durani is currently employed in the oil and gas industry. He previously worked in the nuclear energy industry. He has a M.A. in international affairs with a focus on Chinese foreign policy and the South China Sea, MBA, M.S. in nuclear engineering, B.S. in mechanical engineering and B.A. in political science. He is also author of “Afghanistan: It’s No Nebraska – How to do Deal with a Tribal State” and “China and the South China Sea: The Emergence of the Huaqing Doctrine.” Follow him for other articles on Instagram: @Luis_Durani
This article was published at Modern Diplomacy.