Trump Watch

The people of America have spoken, leaving the world with uncertainty

US vote.jpg

In a surprise result of epic proportions America elected a highly controversial man and a political novice to lead them for the next four years.

The American electorate made their choice between arguably the two most unpopular and uninspiring presidential candidates in American history.

It was a choice between bad and worse and, according to the media in particular, the worse candidate won.

It is said that 60% of the American electorate loathed both candidates.

Thomas Sowell expressed the sentiment of many American when he remarked, “Neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump has the qualifications, the track record or the personal character to be President of the United States.”

But the people of America have spoken and in what is described as the biggest surprise in recent times, following shortly after an equally surprising Brexit result, Donald Trump, an outsider with no political background, was elected the 45th president of the United States.

Like Brexit, the 2016 US presidential election has exposed a global trend of discontent with how democracy is functioning in a so-called globalised word.

Also read: US presidential race highlights democracy’s global crisis

                  Brexit exposes dangerous global fault lines

Bruising campaign

Even by American standards, both candidates fought an extremely dirty and hostile campaign, overshadowed by personal attacks and character assassination.

Both candidates were also glaringly low on substance, inducing The Independent to comment: “This election hasn’t been a battle of ideas – it’s been a narcissistic and self-damaging clash of personalities.”

It also reported: “Over the course of the last 11 months, broadcasters have spent a combined 32 minutes covering the substantive policies of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.”

In similar vein Jeffrey Engel, director of the Centre for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, wrote, “I cannot imagine or remember an election that has been less focused on any issue of any substance whatsoever.”

It is not only inconceivable, but also a very scary thought, that the country seen by many across the globe as the flag-bearer of democracy is so shallow and devoid of leader- and statesmanship.  

Reflecting on the election 

For some time now the writing was on the wall that disdain for a corrupt, self-serving US political establishment in general and the Washington elite in particular, was reaching breaking point.

Trump tapped into this discontent and enough Americans, feeling abandoned and betrayed by the ‘establishment’, responded by voting into power a man who promised to overhaul a political system he called corrupt and unworthy of trust – promising to “drain the swamp” of big money in American politics.

Washington feeds a staggering 30 000 lobbyists, people whose sole purpose is to influence lawmakers on behalf of vested interests – state capture of a different kind.

In one of his most popular campaign pitches he said he would “reduce the corrupting influence of special interests” and reinstate a government “of, by and for the people”.

He also promised to “make America great again” and halt America’s perceived financial, military, and cultural decline.

Clinton and the Democratic Party (DP), more than anyone else, totally misjudged the intense degree of widespread public hostility to the political, media and business establishments that lead the country.

Trust in institutions is at an all-time low. A majority of Americans believe the country was heading in the wrong direction.

Clinton was punished as symbol of the status quo and as Ranjeni Munusamy wrote in Daily Maverick, “The establishment Clinton relied on to carry her to the White House and values she thought was most prevalent in US society was precisely what was being rejected. And most of all, Clinton was not trusted”.

Contrarily to predictions that a ‘trumped’ Trump would leave a Republican Party (RP), which grudgingly endorsed him as candidate, in disarray, Hillary Clinton was the one leaving the DP in tatters.  

Now also the minority in both the Senate and House of Representatives, there could be a long, dark journey awaiting the DP before it re-emerges from the political wilderness.

Besides Clinton and her party, the biggest loser is the legion of polling companies and political ‘experts’. The question of why most of them got the most polled event in history so wrong will haunt the industry for some time to come.   

No explanation or excuses can hide the fact that the polling companies are much to blame and are the victims of self-inflicted blunders – they wanted and decided that Clinton would be victorious.

Consequently, the candidate with consistently the highest unfavourability rating of any major party nominee in US history, won the election and the pollsters’ credibility was shot.     

International reaction

International reaction alternated between absolute horror and unbridled jubilation, particularly among conservative and right-wing circles in Western Europe.

Marine Le Pen, of the far-right anti-immigration National Front (FN) and potential future French president, responded: “Congratulations to the new president of the US … and to the free American people.” Matteo Salvini, leader of Italy's far-right Northern League party, and like Trump anti-immigration, tweeted: “Now it’s our turn.”

There is consensus that Trump’s victory will be a big boost for populism all over the world. 

Hysteria

It is understandable that controversial, even obnoxious, Donald Trump would  provoke emotional responses, but the hysteria that gripped America is somewhat surprising.

America is a mature democracy, with Trump elected legally and democratically. He is not a dictator and there are enough checks and balances in the US political system to prevent him becoming one.   

Clinton and President Obama gave sound advice when they asked for time and space to give the new president an opportunity to prove himself. If he fails, there are democratic channels to remove him.

Already in his acceptance speech Trump came across as much more moderate and conciliatory, and should that filter through to the rest of his actions, the wide rift in America could close considerably.

Also, spare a thought for Trump’s supporters. As one commentator put it: “His supporters certainly are not altogether Hillary Clinton’s cynical basket of deplorables who will fully expect what many view as their worst nightmares.”

The remaining key issue is his selection of a team of cabinet members and important advisors to help him run the world’s only superpower.

Foreign policy

Predicting his foreign policy, particularly towards Africa, is difficult because indications barely exist. Until he formally announces his foreign policy, commentary will be speculative.

Trump’s foreign policy pronouncements to date lack both consistency and coherence and when he did venture into the terrain, his comments have been radical and ill-informed or contradictory – or all three.

But what can be predicted with fair certainty is that Africa is likely to slide down the list of foreign policy priorities of a Trump administration.

In a campaign low on substance, Sub-Saharan Africa barely merited a mention by both candidates, except when Clinton compared Trump’s economic policies to that of Zimbabwe.

Apart from praises for Mandela‚ Trump is on record criticising Africa and South Africa in particular‚ which according to him, is “crime-ridden and in a mess that is just waiting to explode”.

He also described all African politicians as corrupt.

Propagating his protectionist “America First” promise, Trump will probably be looking at cutting foreign aid programs to redirect money domestically and with his fierce opposition to trade deals he could tamper with the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) which has reached US$4.1 billion.

Against the backdrop of Trump’s fervent anti-immigration and anti-terror views it is an almost certainty that Africom (the US military command for Africa) will become a serious player in future US-Africa relation as bulwark against these potential threats from Africa.

What are the odds?

Donald Trump the businessman surprised America and the rest of the world by winning the race for the White House.

What surprises will Trump the politician spring on his country and the world over the next four years?

Only time will tell.

by Garth Cilliers

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