Vic­tor of bit­ter cam­paign faces ugly af­ter­math

Toronto Star - - OPINION - BOB RAE Bob Rae is a part­ner at Olthuis Kleer Town­shend LLP and teaches at the Univer­sity of Toronto.

It has been a truly tem­pes­tu­ous elec­tion, whose bit­ter­ness and bile will have reper­cus­sions for years. There is more than a lit­tle irony in what has hap­pened: A dif­fer­ent Repub­li­can can­di­date could have beaten Hil­lary Clin­ton and a dif­fer­ent Demo­cratic can­di­date could have had an eas­ier time with Don­ald Trump.

But it is, as they say, what it is. Cana­di­ans have watched events un­fold­ing with a sense of trep­i­da­tion that has no par­al­lel in our his­tory. As I write, be­fore the re­sults are known, I can only hope that Hil­lary Clin­ton is suc­cess­ful, but it is still im­por­tant to un­der­stand that Don­ald Trump has fun­da­men­tally changed pol­i­tics in Amer­ica and the world, and not for the bet­ter.

In her re­cent Massey Lec­tures, Jen­nifer Welsh rightly pointed out that the is­sue of in­equal­ity is now starkly at the cen­tre of demo­cratic pol­i­tics. The post-Sec­ond World War pros­per­ity that, in John Kennedy’s words, “lifted all boats” has in the last two decades failed to ad­dress the widen­ing gap be­tween those able to take ad­van­tage of the dig­i­tal econ­omy and those left to fend for them­selves in a world of pre­car­i­ous work and di­min­ished op­por­tu­nity. There is less mo­bil­ity than there once was, more di­vi­sion and a big­ger gap be­tween elites and “the peo­ple.”

When this hap­pened in the years be­tween 1920 and 1940, Euro­pean democ­racy was shat­tered by a grow­ing, an­gry pop­ulism that then led to war and de­struc­tion. In the United States, Franklin De­lano Roo­sevelt took pol­i­tics in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion — they took the path of hope and used the force of bet­ter pub­lic poli­cies to in­crease sol­i­dar­ity and op­por­tu­nity.

As with the Brexit vote in Bri­tain re­cently, it was ini­tially dif­fi­cult for “the chat­ter­ing classes” to ap­pre­ci­ate the full force of un­hap­pi­ness with what had hap­pened to their econ­omy and so­ci­ety.

Trump broke through a field of Repub­li­can can­di­dates with his force of per­son­al­ity, his rhetoric and with ar­gu­ments on im­mi­gra­tion, se­cu­rity, the econ­omy, trade deals and “elite cor­rup­tion” that over­pow­ered his op­po­nents. His tac­tics were crude, his lan­guage was in­cen­di­ary and the emo­tions he aroused were of­ten dark and deeply di­vi­sive.

On the Demo­cratic side, Clin­ton’s race for the nom­i­na­tion was not the walk in the park she and her sup­port­ers had been hop­ing for. Bernie San­ders ini­tially seemed an im­plau­si­ble chal­lenger, but he also tapped into a pro­found sense in the Demo­cratic base that its world was not un­fold­ing as it should.

The suc­cess of his cam­paign, the deep en­thu­si­asm it aroused among his sup­port­ers and the force of his crit­i­cism of Clin­ton did not help her cam­paign get into gear and it also meant that the “anti-trade” mes­sage drove some of his for­mer sup­port­ers to the Trump camp when he was de­feated.

In my book, What’s Hap­pened to Pol­i­tics, I de­scribed how the world of po­lit­i­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tion and or­ga­ni­za­tion has changed over the last decades. In her pre­pared speeches, the care­fully crafted and of­ten re­peated mes­sages and the metic­u­lous at­ten­tion to de­tail of her cam­paign or­ga­ni­za­tion, Clin­ton has been the ul­ti­mate pro­fes­sional. There is not an ounce of pop­ulism in her. But as dan­ger­ous as an ex­plo­sion of pop­ulism can be, a healthy dose of it is an es­sen­tial as­set to any suc­cess­ful politi­cian.

As Justin Trudeau has shown, lik­ing peo­ple and show­ing it brings with it a huge ad­van­tage. The pri­vate Clin­ton is far warmer and more spon­ta­neous than what’s on of­fer to the gen­eral pub­lic, but her in­abil­ity to break through has not helped her make the emo­tional con­nec­tion to the elec­torate that is so es­sen­tial to last­ing suc­cess.

Trump’s use of mes­sag­ing has taken pop­ulist pol­i­tics to the dark side. He has be­come the con­spir­acy the­o­rist with­out match, with all the ug­li­ness this al­ways brings.

A cab driver told me he liked Trump be­cause “he tells us what he thinks and feels,” to which I replied, “Yeah, and there’s the prob­lem — what he’s think­ing and feel­ing.”

He speaks to in­se­cu­ri­ties and fears about work, op­por­tu­nity, race and gen­der. The mess he ran into with the in­fa­mous tapes about his at­ti­tudes and be­hav­iour with women has cre­ated a deeper di­vide on the is­sue of re­spect and equal­ity for women that has for too long been un­der the sur­face of pub­lic dis­course, and is now ex­posed for all to see and talk about.

He is also a phoney pop­ulist — if he were to win, he would im­me­di­ately dis­ap­point and would only end up cre­at­ing more fury from those who feel the in­sti­tu­tions and pro­grams of govern­ment have let them down.

So, it’s been pol­i­tics in the raw, un­var­nished, harsh and un­for­giv­ing. It will take ex­tra­or­di­nary skill and imag­i­na­tion to bind these wounds. Pres­i­dent Clin­ton will have bro­ken through a glass ceil­ing, but it will take ev­ery ounce of ef­fort to bridge the chasm be­tween the red and the blue.

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