The US presidential elections carry potent lessons for us locally.
The elected must have a profound culture of service to the nation rather than enjoy the trappings of power. They must remember that if they do not live up to this cardinal principle of political ethics, the people hold the ultimate trump card to thwart their election
The polls got it all wrong. Again. The astounding victory of Donald Trump in this week’s US presidential elections is another major political upset after the Brexit vote in June 2016. The surprising result has caused consternation across the world. Reactions from world leaders have been mixed as they come to terms with the reality of having to deal with a US President elect holding very controversial and radical views but who is also very much unknown to the outside world.
The vote of the people in favour of Donald Trump was above all an anti-Establishment vote. Too many people feel left behind and forgotten by the prevailing economic system. There is therefore a growing clamour among the people from across the world for a new socio-economic order which is first and foremost at the service of the people. There were already potent signs of an increasing ras le bol of the people against the existing political establishment with the emergence and growing weight of populist parties in Europe. In France, Germany, Holland, Greece, Spain and Italy, the traditional parties are being challenged and are losing ground to the far-right and the far-left parties. The United Kingdom and the European Union are still reeling under the adverse impact of the Brexit vote.
In the United States, the success of Bernie Sanders during the Democratic Party primaries was another sign of the deep alienation of the people against policies of the ruling Establishment which fail to address their concerns and adversely affect their lives. Donald Trump’s rhetoric has therefore echoed the angst and deep anger of the people against government policies which they perceive as undermining their livelihoods, quality of life and their society. Globalisation and trade liberalisation have delocalised industries abroad causing unemployment locally. It has also exacerbated inequalities as the rich have become richer and the poor poorer.
Foreign policy and military interventions abroad have caused millions of refugees to flee war-torn areas, some of them seeking and obtaining asylum in the US. Illegal immigration and terrorist attacks by people of refugee descent have caused a rise of xenophobia. Reading the signs of the people’s anger in the context of the prevailing socio-economic system, Donald Trump deftly capitalised on these anxieties and promised radical policies to resolve them. He pledged to review trade agreements with other countries, stop illegal immigration and invest heavily in infrastructure to create jobs.
During the US presidential campaign, in a reversal of roles, the concerns of the working classes were thus vigorously championed by Donald Trump, the Republican candidate. Democrats had turned their back on the working classes. Their electoral campaign was being lavishly financed by big capital. The silent majority therefore cast its vote in favour of Donald Trump and delivered its stunning verdict. The backlash was such that Donald Trump not only won the key battleground states of Florida, Ohio, North Carolina or Iowa, but also won traditionally Democrat voting states such as Wisconsin or Pennsylvania.
Donald Trump’s surprise victory has caused jitters across the world stock and futures markets before they bounced back amid uncertainty and concern over Trump’s trade, diplomatic and economic policies. The Mexican peso plummeted. No one really knows what the Trump Presidency will entail. During the campaign, Trump had pledged to revoke the landmark nuclear deal with Iran, cancel the COP 21 Paris climate deal, revisit the US trade agreements such as NAFTA, impose tariffs, cut taxes and repeal Obama’s health care law. The momentum of support for Trump has also benefitted the Republican Party which kept control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Donald Trump will therefore have tremendous leeway as President when he takes office in January 2017 with Congress fully under Republican control. In a way, the present low standing of the Democratic Party will also be part of Barack Obama’s legacy as President.
The nasty, bitter and acrimonious presidential campaign has left a profoundly divided nation. In his victory speech, Trump now urged the US to ‘come together as one united people’. After all the rancour, this will be a very challenging task. Donald Trump basically remains the outsider who won the presidential elections against all odds. In his victory speech, he spoke of the people who voted for him as a movement instead of the Republican Party. A movement that wants government to serve the people. He assured Americans that he will ensure that his government serves the people and that forgotten people are no longer forgotten. He assured that their concerns will always be taken on board and addressed. He pledged to unite ‘our great nation’, double growth, get along with all countries and deal fairly with everyone. However, such platitudes carry little weight in the caucus of nations. He was conscious that the victory was a historic event which requires that he does a good job as President.
An elusive goal
Donald Trump’s victory also means that the US is yet to vote a woman as President of the United States despite an important proportion of the women vote being cast in favour of Hillary Clinton. Despite winning the popular vote, she failed to obtain the majority of the electoral votes. An analysis of the results shows that she inter alia underperformed among the young electors, women and African American voters.
56 years after the election of Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike as Prime Minister of Sri Lanka in July 1960 and decades after the election of Indira Gandhi as Prime Minister of India in January 1966, Golda Meir as Prime Minister of Israel in March 1969, Margaret Thatcher as British Prime Minister in May 1979 or Benazir Bhutto, as Prime Minister of Pakistan in December 1988, the US, one of the oldest and largest democracies of the world is yet to elect a woman as President. This is the more disconcerting as there have since been scores of women Prime Ministers who have been elected to lead their respective countries from across the world in Norway, Bangladesh, Turkey, Canada, New Zealand, Germany, South Korea, Mozambique, Trinidad & Tobago, Jamaica, Australia, Thailand or Myanmar. This remains an elusive goal.
The election of Donald Trump opens a new chapter in the history of the United States and its international relations. He will have to chose a capable and efficient team and use his business savviness to aptly manage the affairs of the State. His election has triggered great expectations among the people and he will have to live up to them. However, his disquieting and radical stances have raised numerous apprehensions among trading parties and the international community. Republicans are free traders averse to protectionism. It will be a challenging balancing act to keep everybody happy. Will he have to give up on lots of the things he ran on? Donald Trump will be judged not by what he says but on what he does.
The US presidential elections also carry potent lessons for us locally. The elected must have a profound culture of service to the nation rather than enjoy the trappings of power. They must remember that if they do not live up to this cardinal principle of political ethics, the people hold the ultimate trump card to thwart their election.