POLITICS /16 NOV 2016
The unexpected victory of Donald Trump has jolted both American society and the global order like a lightning bolt. As Trump initiates his transition into the White House, an atmosphere of uncertainty, dread and in some parts, hope, abound both domestically and internationally.
An unorthodox demagogue challenged all of the conventions of modern day politics and won. His unpredictability continues to cloud how his incoming administration will change the status quo and the world we live in.
The Year of Populist Rage
The consummate opportunist, Donald Trump, tapped into a deep reservoir of anger at the political establishment and fears in some demographics of a changing society which vaulted him into the presidency. The 2016 election was the year of populist rage, with both major parties facing an unprecedented revolt within their ranks.
On the Republican side, Donald Trump, a brash celebrity businessman, utilized language of demagoguery and plain unfiltered talk to defy all norms of political correctness and public civility which energized his loyal followers who helped him upend the Republican establishment, an establishment, that continued to defy and battle their own candidate up until they were tamed by Trump’s improbable victory on election day. His campaign was often characterized by outbursts of long repressed sentiments of misogyny, xenophobia and racial hostility, causing widespread feelings of disgust and revulsion from the left.
In the Democratic Party, the populist revolt was led by a 75 year old socialist senator from Vermont. Bernie Sanders’ campaign, fueled by anger over the disenfranchisement of the American middle class and the deep corruption that has pervaded Washington, mobilized a passionate base of supporters that nearly defeated the expected crowning of Hillary Clinton as the party’s nominee. Bernie Sanders’ rebellion eventually faced insurmountable hostility from the DNC elite who were dogged by allegations of corruption, and only subsided just in time for the Democratic convention.
However, the anger and alienation felt by the Sanders’ crowd eventually came back to haunt Hillary on election day as voter turnout in crucial states was embarrassingly low and working class Whites, who formed a significant part of the Sanders movement, came out largely in support of Trump. Defying the polls, Trump cruised to an Electoral College landslide despite winning far fewer popular votes.
Trump’s victory destroyed the entrenched establishment of both major parties, with the winner now commanding obedience and loyalty of the Republicans, and systematically exiling the leadership of the Democratic Party, which now stands marginalized in all three branches of government and is thrown into utter disarray.
Donald Trump will be inheriting a deeply divided nation, in the aftermath of one of the most divisive and poisonous elections in history. More than any other, this election has exposed a yawning gap in culture, in worldview, in values between Red and Blue, and at the personal level, has led to increasing alienation and animosity even between family and friends.
The reaction to Trump’s presidency has consisted of massive street protests throughout a large number of American cities, in numbers unseen since the anti-war protests leading up to Bush’s invasion of Iraq. A sense of fear and anger has pervaded the cosmopolitan centers of Blue America, afraid of the consequences of Trump’s presidency for minorities and LGBT rights and leading to the critical mobilization of activist groups determined to challenge him at every step.
It is yet unclear how different Donald Trump the president, will differ from Donald Trump the candidate. Having to now negotiate and govern from the corridors of power in Washington is a world removed from the campaign trail in the rural Midwest.
What is clear, however, is that the tone of his campaign rhetoric which essentially brought the brand of the Alt Right into the mainstream, and the opposition it provoked from the Left, has created a volatile and incendiary atmosphere with a heightened level of distrust and anger at the “other.” Unfortunately, much of this tension has been brewing for years, but the lack of civility of this campaign, and the palpable fear felt by both sides have now brought this yawning cultural divide to the fore.
In order for this deeply divided nation to begin the process of healing, Trump, who many have characterized as an egocentric narcissist, will need tools that he simply lacks, such as a deep understanding of others and the ability to convey a heartfelt assurance to those who are dreading his rise to power. His tweets in response to the protests have done little to allay the near hysteric anger towards his victory.
In addition, it is unclear whether the Republicans, who now dominate all three branches of government, will even need the acquiescence of the opposition to push through some of Trump’s more controversial policies, particularly with regards to immigration and law and order.