Trump victory threatens gains of free trade era
WESTERN Europe’s political establishment has been shaken by Donald Trump’s populist victory in the United States — not exactly a populist one considering that the maverick tycoon did not win the popular vote. But the fear among Western Europe’s politicians now is that populism may start shaking the traditional establishment, threatening heavily the gains of the free trade era.
Politicians in the West have related Trump’s victory to the Brexit populist wave that shocked the world in June this year. Trump has never held political office or a government job in his life, and his victory is most certainly the biggest upset known in American history — overshadowing that of farmer Abraham Lincoln, or that of Dwight Eisenhower.
The world is generally just as stunned as most political commentators and analysts around the world, especially given that the polls gave Trump a ceiling of only 44 percent. Any analyst or commentator who wanted to be taken seriously predicted that Hillary Clinton would easily beat Trump, but now that turns out to have been mere pro-establishment correctness. Or was it a guised effort to try and stop the unavoidable?
Trump knew how to shake the establishment, from politics to business, and the media, and just about every major player in any of these fraternities was shaken, that way creating an anti-Trump bias across the spectrum, with the media taking the lead. He had no admirers in the mainstream media, and no admirers outside America either. He was portrayed as a sad joke, a clownish accident in the US presidential race, and even a plain idiot with no regard for human decency and common sense.
We heard the uproar over Trump’s lewd and offensive remarks on women and sex, combined with what appeared to be an escalating number of alleged women victims who lined up to crucify the man politically. His campaign seemed finished, and right up to the afternoon of that fateful Tuesday no sane political analyst wanted to be associated with a Trump victory prediction (with the notable exception of Nathaniel Manheru), not even one came out publicly. To many a comfortable Clinton victory was foregone and safe conclusion.
Tuesday came, and Trump triumphed emphatically. He had sweeping victories in Florida, North Carolina and Ohio – all decisive states in the history of US elections. By the time the Democrats lost Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa Clinton was staring defeat in the face – herself a highly distrusted political figure in the United States. By that time it was clear that Trump was heading for well over the 270 electoral votes needed to secure the presidency. There were rivers of tears among Clinton supporters as the results painfully kept coming in.
Many people including myself have in the past written that the media and other pro-establishment forces make up American presidents, and that the public vote is only there to ratify the wishes of the powerful few. Noam Chomsky even wrote a best-seller book titled Manufacturing Consent, and the whole book gives an in depth view of how the media helps to manufacture public consent in American politics.
Donald Trump’s victory seems to be a telling departure from this theory, and the question that needs a speedy answer is why?
It would appear like there were shy voters who were not detected by pollsters and political analysts and pundits. Trump must have benefited from a silent vote that everyone failed to pick up, a vote that included the educated class who silently agreed with some, if not most of Trump’s outrageous campaign rhetoric.
State by state polls predicted Hillary Clinton would win at least 300 electoral votes, and nationwide polls gave her an average 3-point lead. Political pundits endorsed the polls; but it turns out all was just terribly wrong.
Many people are of the view that the extraordinary role of the FBI Director James Comey played a huge part in Trump’s victory, or precisely in Clinton’s defeat. On October 28, the man just woke up with a letter to Congress, announcing that the FBI was reopening investigations into Clinton’s State Department emails, only to announce that there was nothing to investigate just two days before the election. That to most people changed the momentum of the race in favour of Trump.
The pollsters did not seem to think Comey’s letter mattered in the race, and they masked its effect, quickly restoring Clinton’s comfortable win prediction. Clinton least expected she would be giving a concession speech within 24 hours instead of an acceptance one.
It appears like Trump’s silent voters simply refused to cooperate with the pro-establishment pollsters, or to be part of the manufactured consent. No media could sway the voter from Trump’s vulgar and rogue rhetoric.
What this election has done is to put into tatters the image of the polling industry, and it will be hard in the foreseeable future for people to trust public opinion polls.
Politicians believe in political mobilisation, and this tradition made Trump an underrated underdog. Many people thought the man had no political history, and as such had no grassroots support, and that made a lot of conventional wisdom sense, but not after this election.
It turned out that Trump only needed himself to sell his ideas to the people. He did not need an organisation, not even the Republican Party, which also mutually did not need or want him, stuck as the party seems to be with him.
Trump had celebrity status to his name, and he entered the race with better name recognition than Barrack Obama did in 2008, perhaps with 100 percent name recognition across America. The man is a loud and pompous businessman and a former TV star personality.
As it is sometimes said, there is no such thing as negative publicity. Trump’s entry into politics attracted massive media attention, most of which was negative, but it turns out this ended up working in his favour. There is a study carried out by Market Watch in May that said Trump had received the equivalent of $3 billion in free advertising by that time. This came from the media coverage his campaign attracted.
Each time Trump got attacked for a controversial remark, he simply followed it up with a more controversial remark, and he knew that he was capturing the voters’ attention more than the polished policy speeches could ever do.
He said controversial things in very simple and comprehendible terms, like I will deport 11 million illegal immigrants, I will stop Muslims from coming into America, I will build a wall to stop Mexicans from coming into America, and so on and so forth. It was such crazy but popular rhetoric that endeared him to the voters that gave him victory.
Trump was just obsessed with his populist rhetoric and his open contempt for political correctness and common decency, and strangely that seems to have worked in his favour, connecting him dearly to the Republican support base. He derided the normal rules of the political game, and the more he did that the bigger the crowds at his campaign rallies became.
Perhaps Kanye West’s presidential dreams are not that delusional after all. Trump’s victory might as well have opened a new era of celebrity politicians. The man has just trumped on the tradition of politics with enormous ease, although it can be argued that his opponent was a highly disliked candidate from more than one angle, a dis-reputed liar of note.
Trump’s blunt rhetoric on immigration must have resonated well with most of the people that voted him, perhaps as much as his rhetoric on protectionism and bringing back American jobs was. The slogan “We will make America Great Again” was also highly endearing to the voters, whatever those words mean.
At all his rallies, Trump simply promoted popular hostility against immigrants and free trade policies, and that has propelled him to the White House, living the entire world searching for answers on how next to deal with the United States.
Simply put Trump has marched to White House chanting xenophobic and nationalistic slogans, and that alone made his campaign a success. The more critics hammered on Trump for his vicious and unprovoked attacks on Mexicans and Muslims, the more Trump emphasised how ruthlessly he intends to deal with these nuisance minority groups, and he knew exactly what he was doing. He knew that hostility towards immigration and globalisation was a deeply shared feeling among a critical mass of American voters.
The election result shows that Trump benefited a great deal from the white working class vote, even in traditional Democrats strongholds like Michigan and Pennsylvania.
Instead of being a liability, Trump’s lack of government experience became an asset. The man did his timing well. Bush lied and angered the people, and voters thought Obama would bring the change they wanted. Obama and Clinton lied too, selling a fake legacy of success when the people on the ground saw otherwise.
Donald Trump must have realised that the people had lost trust in political, business and media establishments, and he simply attacked all of these, endearing himself to a disenchanted population in the process.
Trump kept hammering on the fact that the United States is heading for diminishment and many voters believed him, even silently so for some.
Hillary Clinton’s cautious, polished and controlled utterances simply came across as the usual polished pack of lies from the lips of politicians; while Donald Trump’s vulgar, intemperate and unorthodox vitriol was welcomed as more genuine and truthful. He tells it as it is, they kept saying.
Somehow Donald Trump became the agent of change, while Clinton became the establishment’s candidate, even admired by some significant senior Republican figures. Trump kept telling the crowds that Hillary Clinton represented the status quo, and that she was not going to bring anything new to the White House.
This strategy was not a Trump invention at all. Bill Clinton used the anti-establishment gimmick to win the presidency 24 years ago, depicting George HW Bush as a clueless elitist incumbent. George W Bush employed the same tactic to gain his controversial win against Vice President Al Gore in 2000, and Barack Obama successfully tainted McCain as a tired old Senator with nothing new to offer in 2008.
Soon the culture of outsider candidates impressing the voter more than seasoned politicians will take root in American politics, and perhaps even wider across the world.
Although the acceptance speech by Trump was reconciliatory, one cannot dismiss the fact that the election itself was premised on deep divisions and polarity based on race, gender, class, and religious lines.
Trump was not a normal candidate, and he will surely not be a normal president. Trump backed by a Republican majority in the House and Senate is a scary thought for many people, even among the United States’ trusted long time allies.
Probably Trump is the first US President-elect to face protests immediately after electoral victory, and that only marks the beginning of a four year turbulent journey in America’s history.
What does Trump mean to Israel, to the Middle East, to Africa, to Russia, to China, and to the rest of the world?
It is safe to say at the moment nobody knows. For Africa a great America built on nationalistic protectionism and antiimmigration policies will not be good news. The United States is a strategic trading partner for many African countries, and also a big emigration destination for many Africans.
For Zimbabwe the question is will Trump ignore Zidera, repeal it, or enforce it even further?
Again nobody knows yet, not even Ambassador Thomas, despite what he has said in public.
It is, however, safe to say that Trump will not be too keen to perpetuate any of Obama’s policies or legacy, even inherited policies from George W Bush; whom Trump does not admire a bit either.
Zimbabwe we are one and together we will overcome. It is homeland or death.
Reason Wafawarova is a political writer based in SYDNEY, Australia.