The Amer­i­can earth­quake

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - John Rap­ley

LET’S START with the ob­vi­ous. We have no idea what to ex­pect, be­cause noth­ing re­motely like this has ever hap­pened. There are no prece­dents for a Trump pres­i­dency: An­drew Jack­son was a pop­ulist who up­ended the po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment, but he’d held pub­lic of­fice. No­body has en­tered the White House from so far out­side the es­tab­lish­ment.

It’s equally hard to pre­dict what Pres­i­dent-elect Trump will do once in of­fice. He re­vealed lit­tle of his plans be­yond out­landish claims and hy­per­bolic prom­ises. We don’t yet know who will make up his tran­si­tion team, and the pick­ings for his cabi­net look slim at the mo­ment.

We also can’t say if Amer­ica’s in­sti­tu­tional and con­sti­tu­tional frame­work will prove suf­fi­ciently re­silient to with­stand the ar­bi­trary and dic­ta­to­rial ten­den­cies Mr Trump evinced on the cam­paign trail. The sys­tem is de­signed with checks and bal­ances and has proven it­self up to the task of rein­ing in overly abu­sive politi­cians in the past. But then, if Mr Trump tried to im­ple­ment half the things he said he’d do, it would still make all pre­vi­ous abuses of of­fice pale in com­par­i­son. Ei­ther the coun­try will face a con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis at some point in the next four years, or Trump will scrap cam­paign prom­ises, an­ger­ing many of his sup­port­ers. Ei­ther way, things could get ugly.


Are there any sil­ver linings to this grey cloud? It’s hard to feel hope­ful, but it’s worth look­ing at some of the deeper trends. To judge both from the cam­paign and exit polls, this may not have been so much a vote for Trump as it was a vote against the sta­tus quo. Anger at Amer­ica’s neo-lib­eral drift has been build­ing for two decades and picked up in­ten­sity amid the Great Re­ces­sion. But at ev­ery turn, both Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic es­tab­lish­ments shored up their ne­olib­eral cre­den­tials and more or less told the mil­lions of Americans un­happy about this state of af­fairs to suck it up.

The Trump in­sur­gency blew the doors off the Repub­li­can es­tab­lish­ment. Bernie San­ders nearly did the same to the Democrats. It bears not­ing now that back dur­ing the pri­maries, headto-head polls con­sis­tently said that Hil­lary Clin­ton would strug­gle against Don­ald Trump, whereas San­ders would blow him away. We shouldn’t have ig­nored them.

Clin­ton, who cam­paigned on her ex­pe­ri­ence, con­nec­tions and abil­ity to se­cure re­al­is­tic and in­cre­men­tal change, seemed to be the liv­ing em­bod­i­ment of the es­tab­lish­ment. But as much as pun­dits have fo­cused on her fail­ings as a can­di­date, it seems highly un­likely that any­one from the Clin­ton camp would have fared bet­ter. For all the nos­tal­gia about Bill Clin­ton among lib­eral jour­nal­ists, on the cam­paign trail, he re­peat­edly re­vealed him­self to be out of touch with con­tem­po­rary Amer­ica, es­pe­cially younger vot­ers.

The Clin­ton ma­chine that San­ders railed against, and which has a stran­gle­hold on the lead­er­ship of the Demo­cratic Party, will prob­a­bly now col­lapse. That will free the Left to or­gan­ise around new lead­er­ship, like that of El­iz­a­beth War­ren. That may her­ald a brighter fu­ture for pro­gres­sive pol­i­tics in Amer­ica.

But, in the short term, as has hap­pened in Bri­tain since the Brexit vote, the racists, misog­y­nists and ho­mo­phobes on the Amer­i­can Right will prob­a­bly feel le­git­imised and em­bold­ened by a Trump pres­i­dency. Even if he were now to dial back his rhetoric, as his vic­tory speech sug­gested he might do; and even if a ma­jor­ity of his sup­port­ers took him se­ri­ously but not lit­er­ally – as the wis­dom now has it – but prove more con­cil­ia­tory now that they have power, Trump may still have opened a Pan­dora’s Box that even he can’t close.

It’s go­ing to be a dif­fi­cult time in the United States. For the rest of the world, the fu­ture looks un­cer­tain. A Trump pres­i­dency will prob­a­bly turn against trade, with­draw from in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion and un­set­tle the West­ern al­liance. In global terms, this might not be as alarm­ing as it would have been a gen­er­a­tion or two ago. With the rise of new global pow­ers, par­tic­u­larly in Asia, glob­al­i­sa­tion will con­tinue, even as the tide turns against it in the West. But for coun­tries like Ja­maica, closely tied to the US, we now en­ter un­charted wa­ters and will have to nav­i­gate by in­stinct.

The US Left will or­gan­ise, and may even be re-en­er­gised now that it shakes off the weight of the Clin­ton ma­chine. But let’s not kid our­selves, the com­ing years will be chal­leng­ing as we watch the Amer­ica we thought we knew morph into some­thing we thought we had long ago left be­hind.

John Rap­ley is a writer and aca­demic based in Lon­don, and au­thor of ‘The Money Cult’ (Si­mon and Schus­ter, 2016). A long-time Gleaner cor­re­spon­dent, you can fol­low him on Twit­ter @jara­p­ley and at https://brix­ton­sub­ver­sity.word­ Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­

Rain­drops sit on a rose next to a sign put up in re­ac­tion to the out­come of the United States pres­i­den­tial elec­tion at the US con­sulate in Am­s­ter­dam, Nether­lands, yes­ter­day.

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