America: Old Sun on New Soil

A Chinese newspaper is on sale, with the headline that reads Outsider strikes back, featuring Donald Trump, in Beijing yesterday. Greg Baker/AFP
A Chinese newspaper is on sale, with the headline that reads Outsider strikes back, featuring Donald Trump, in Beijing yesterday. Greg Baker/AFP

America: Old Sun on New Soil

It is easy for people to talk about Donald Trump’s stunning victory in very personal terms that relate to his personalities and statements throughout his campaign. but, in fact, people don’t care much about his personalities or his statements. Indeed, Trump as he is did not win the election.

The victory was brought about by a number of factors so much bigger than any one individual. The first factor is that a lot of the American people now call themselves poor, or at least they have become poorer than before. Although the economy had consistently shown signs of progress with so many new jobs created, in the end, that was just not enough. People are financially hurting across the country. Decent and well-paid jobs of the American Dream such as those traditionally offered in the manufacturing industry aren’t there anymore. Most American people live paycheck to paycheck, and given the harsh reality caused by globalisation, people certainly want a better financial safety net.

That is why the idea of having a business-made billionaire in the White House somehow gave them a reason to feel hopeful.

The second factor of this political awakening is the undeniable fact that American voters are simply sick and tired of politicians in general and, in particular, of the so-called establishment politics that is severely broken and deeply corrupt. To borrow the term from Francis Fukuyama, the people had enough with this sort of “political decay” that has left them behind. To be fair, they have taken chances with President Obama, not once but twice, and yet the institutions haven’t worked the way they should. The establishment politics in Washington as exemplified by the broken congressional politics proved too much for Obama to overcome.

This sad fact was clearly reaffirmed by Speaker of US House of Representatives Paul Ryan when he talked following the election night about the fact that the American people “have lost hope in [the] core institutions”. Unfortunately, the Clinton brand name is inseparable from the political decay of Washington’s core institutions. Most voters neither love Trump nor hate Clinton, they simply rejected the establishment.

Had Bernie Sanders, who ran as an antiestablishment candidate, won the Democratic nomination, the outcome might have been different.

This brings us to the third factor – the internal party divisions. Senator Bernie Sanders had during the primaries energised a great number of people, especially young voters. But after Hillary Clinton became the Democratic nominee, he was not seen very often for her cause. We will remember the scandal occurring inside the Democratic Party which ended up forcing the chairwoman, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, to resign from her position. Sanders’s supporters angrily accused the chairwoman of being very biased in favour of Clinton. Did Sanders’s supporters vote for Clinton? Of course. All of them? No.

Repudiation of President Obama’s policies might have been a fourth factor, and Clinton was seen as a continuation of those policies. Americans rarely give the same party three presidential mandate in a row and perhaps Obama’s single dearest achievement – ObamaCare – did not sell very well. Meant to become the first-ever universal coverage offered to Americans and in spite of having gone through the US Supreme Court successfully, ObamaCare had not delivered as expected. In the international arena, the Middle East certainly does not seem safer. The US has been unable to deal with China’s growing influence in Asia, a very crucial economic hub.

The fifth argument is that people don’t like being told what is important to them. They already know what is important to them. The Clinton campaign often sounded like a lecture, telling people that the opponent was unqualified, that he had bad temperament, that he is unAmerican or even dangerous. The list went on and on. But that was not what people needed to hear or deeply cared about. What voters were longing for was the unique ability to shake Washington from an ordinary citizen’s point of view and they just couldn’t see that coming with Hillary Clinton.

Since Clinton won the popular votes, President Obama tried to console those downhearted saying that the sun will rise the next day. And it did, but it rose on a different soil, excited but scared and deeply divided. And pretty dysfunctional too. It is anybody’s guess whether the new president will ever be able to make Congress work despite the fact that Republicans now control both the House of Representatives and the Senate. But what we may guess is that Trump won’t pursue prosecuting Clinton as he said he would, won’t build the wall to fence off the US from Mexico and won’t be able to ban Muslims from entering the US. As we heard in his victory speech, he already sounded very presidential, seeking partnerships not conflicts. Tolerance, good faith and peaceful transition of power must and will remain the hallmarks of the American Sun, regardless of the conditions on the ground.

Dr Virak Prum, LLB, LLM, received PhD in international development from Nagoya University in 2006.

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