At least Don­ald Trump fright­ened po­lit­i­cal elites

Toronto Star - - OPINION - Thomas Walkom Thomas Walkom’s col­umn ap­pears Mon­day, Wed­nes­day and Fri­day.

Don­ald Trump’s real ac­com­plish­ment is this: He has ter­ri­fied the es­tab­lish­ment. And maybe that’s a good thing. Even be­fore the votes in the U.S. pres­i­den­tial race were counted Tues­day night, the ef­fects of Trump’s in­sur­gent can­di­dacy roiled the world.

A shame­less self-pro­moter best known for his ap­pear­ances on re­al­ity tele­vi­sion, the New York ty­coon was never sup­posed to make it this far — cer­tainly not against an ex­pe­ri­enced politi­cian like the Democrats’ Hil­lary Clin­ton.

His out­sized per­son­al­ity may have worked in Man­hat­tan, where money gave him en­trée to the po­lit­i­cal elite. In 2005, for in­stance, Clin­ton and her hus­band, Bill, were hon­oured guests at Trump’s third wed­ding.

But Trump was never sup­posed to do well in pol­i­tics. He was too bump­tious, too con­temp­tu­ous, too ex­treme.

When he en­tered the race for the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion last year, he was al­most uni­ver­sally dis­missed as a joke fig­ure — as some­one con­gen­i­tally un­able to mas­ter the art of get­ting elected.

He broke all the rules. He didn’t spend money ad­ver­tis­ing on tele­vi­sion; he didn’t hire sea­soned cam­paign con­sul­tants. In­stead, he re­lied on mass ral­lies, free tele­vi­sion cov­er­age and Twit­ter.

He didn’t make a habit of kiss­ing ba­bies. In­deed, he in­sulted en­tire cat­e­gories of vot­ers.

Af­ter win­ning the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion, he didn’t feint to the cen­tre in or­der to at­tract in­de­pen­dents and mod­er­ates.

In­stead, he dou­bled down on his core themes: deals like the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment (NAFTA) are de­stroy­ing jobs; il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion is out of con­trol; crime is ram­pant.

In Amer­i­can pol­i­tics, con­tenders of­ten play the out­sider card. In or­der to profit from voter dis­sat­is­fac­tion with the sta­tus quo, ex­pe­ri­enced pols rou­tinely present them­selves as brash new­com­ers.

But in a very odd way, this mon­eyed real es­tate de­vel­oper re­ally was an out­sider.

He de­fied the elite con­sen­sus on glob­al­iza­tion. He de­fied good taste. He told un­abashed whop­pers. He openly in­sulted and al­legedly as­saulted women.

By fo­cus­ing on the ills of the work­ing class, he brought back into play a group of vot­ers that both the Demo­cratic and Repub­li­can es­tab­lish­ments had ig­nored.

His pitch to this group was at best na­tivist and at worst racist. But it res­onated any­way. And for the po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment, that is what was so scary.

Tra­di­tion­ally in the U.S., the work­ing classes have tended to vote Demo­crat. There have been ex­cep­tions. Repub­li­can Ron­ald Rea­gan at­tracted blue-col­lar votes, as did Richard Nixon be­fore him.

Oth­er­wise, work­ing-class vot­ers in the north­ern states were viewed as be­long­ing to the Democrats. In 2008 and 2012, the north­ern, white work­ing class helped to pro­pel Barack Obama to vic­tory.

The Democrats ini­tially as­sumed it would do the same for Clin­ton. But this time, they were con­founded.

In part, the Democrats have only them­selves to blame. They haven’t ne­glected the labour unions, most of whom still back the party. But of­ten, they have ig­nored the peo­ple these unions rep­re­sent. Obama, for in­stance, promised to rene­go­ti­ate NAFTA dur­ing the 2008 elec­tion cam­paign. He never de­liv­ered.

The mod­ern Demo­cratic Party favours glob­al­iza­tion, tech­noc­racy, high fi­nance and well-to-do Hol­ly­wood celebri­ties. It takes lib­eral po­si­tions on im­mi­gra­tion and race. But most of the time, it is sin­gu­larly silent on the needs of the work­ing class.

Left-wing Demo­cratic politi­cians are so rare that those who do ex­ist, like Mas­sachusetts Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren, have be­come celebri­ties.

Bernie San­ders, the only per­son willing to chal­lenge Clin­ton for the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion, didn’t even join the party un­til he de­cided to run.

This elec­tion should de­liver a warn­ing to the Democrats. They can­not take the al­le­giance of the work­ing classes for granted.

For Repub­li­cans, the lessons are even starker. Their party, which has prided it­self on free trade and fam­ily val­ues, is so hol­low at the cen­tre that it was eas­ily hi­jacked by a pro­tec­tion­ist wo­man­izer.

And for the po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment gen­er­ally, this elec­tion should serve as a re­minder of the power of pop­ulism. The elites tend to dis­like pop­ulism. It is so un­tidy.

But it is also a real and pow­er­ful force. If the left and cen­tre don’t un­der­stand and har­ness it, the Don­ald Trumps of the world will.

This elec­tion should de­liver a warn­ing to the Democrats. They can­not take the al­le­giance of the work­ing classes for granted


When Don­ald Trump en­tered the race to be­come U.S. pres­i­dent, he broke all the rules, writes Thomas Walkom.

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