The 2016 US Election

No doubt you’ve read masses of think-pieces, polemics and rallying war-cries over the past couple of days in reaction to the news that Donald Trump is to become the 45th President of the United States. I can’t promise to add anything new to the debate, but here are my thoughts regardless…

Bleary, and somewhat teary-eyed on Wednesday morning, I, like most of the world, digested the result of the US election. Republican candidate Donald Trump had surpassed expectation and secured the necessary 270 electoral votes required to make him President-elect, beating Democratic nominee, and predicted winner Hillary Clinton. After a farcical, grotesque and malicious campaign, this was the outcome many of us had dreaded most. It did not make the past 18 months worthwhile. It did not allow us to breathe a collective sigh of relief, comforted by the fact that logic and decency had prevailed. Instead, it inspired fear in the hearts of those whom have been the target of his bigoted rhetoric, those who have been appalled and frightened by his misogynist behaviour and those who saw in him the worst of humankind.

It inspired fear in the hearts of those whom have been the target of his bigoted rhetoric

Donald Trump is greed and ignorance and prejudice combined and now we must look to him as the voice of reason and guidance. I’m not one for melodrama, but this is a tragedy of catastrophic proportions. Here’s why:

Watching Hillary Clinton’s unbelievably composed and gracious concession speech on Wednesday afternoon really brought home the sadness of this election. Not just because Trump wasn’t defeated, but because Hillary wasn’t elected, and therefore her career has been ended prematurely.

I haven’t always been her biggest fan, and somewhat erred on the side of Bernie Sanders during the race to choose a Democratic candidate. His left-leaning policies felt like an extension, and progression of Obama’s legacy, and his grassroots campaign seemed to be the spark that was needed to revitalise American politics. What’s more, his tough and informed climate change agenda – viewing it as very much an existential crisis that needs to be tackled – felt genuine rather than strategic. As a senator for Vermont he’s sponsored bills to promote clean energy, reduce carbon emissions, and end fossil fuel subsidies. Both candidates had their flaws – Sanders’ experience in the foreign policy arena was lacking, and his ability to discuss the issue never extended beyond articulating a belief in military restraint. Furthermore, his statement that organisations such as Planned Parenthood formed part of the establishment he was so vehemently attacking felt troublesome. But he seemed like a candidate much more likely to ignite aggressive change.

Hillary, likewise, had her foibles. I thought her foreign policy stance to be too aggressive, her relationship with Wall Street unsettling, and the whole email scandal, well, an overblown misstep. And goodness knows she’s made errors in judgement – we all have, hers have just happened on a bigger stage –  from supporting welfare reform to voting for the Iraq war. However it can’t be denied that Hillary was an incredibly experienced candidate, and a candidate of whom I came to be increasingly supportive of, and blown away by. 

Hillary could have been a conduit for change… The idea that that opportunity to make history has been fluffed is unforgivable.

Her position as Secretary of State in the Obama administration solidified her pragmatism and her preparedness to work as a global strategist and to find viable solutions to international problems. Oh, and then there’s the small matter of her being an ardent feminist. Hillary was a candidate who was willing to have conversations about abortion, equal pay and women’s rights, and someone who understood the sheer urgency of that dialogue. She was a voice for those who have been hitherto under-represented, disqualified and patronised. She could’ve been a conduit for change, and a milestone for the gender equality movement. The idea that that opportunity to make history has been fluffed is unforgivable.

Ultimately she had SO much more to give; possessive of a skill-set and a perspective that now won’t be put to use, or at least to use in the highest position of political power. And frankly, it’s disgusting and horrendous that a man without that experience, who has bulldozed his way to candidacy with money and delusions and scare-mongering tactics has proved the successor.

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Before the result, I believed that if Hillary lost, she’d have to disappear for the shame of it. Her political career would be in ruins, and tail between her legs, she’d be forced to retreat somewhere remote and live out the rest of her days as a red-faced recluse. I cringe at how horrible this assumption is. It hasn’t been especially embarrassing for any of the male nominees who concede to their opponent. It’s simply par for the course. Hell even Al Gore survived. If anything, it’s more necessary than ever to see her continued presence in politics and campaigning for the causes she believes in. Not only because she’s a hugely inspirational agent for change, but because it reminds us of the injustice that happened and how terribly misguided America was to bestow their nation’s path for the next four years in Trump’s grabby hands.

***

On a political level, as well as a personal one, the election was an abject failure, with the Electoral College once again rearing its ugly head, and proving itself the archaic institution that it is.

At best, the American voting system is a massively flawed one, masquerading as a democracy. At worst, it’s an insidious beast that fuels the wants of the few at the expense of the many. Via this system, a country purporting to uphold the highest democratic values, enabling freedoms, rights and opportunity for all, has elected a man whose opinions are flagrantly antithetical to these tenets. Essentially the Electoral College is a sieve, where people who have been systematically and historically ignored and disenfranchised – African-Americans, Jews, Muslims, the LGBT community, women – continue to be sifted out of relevancy.

At best, the American voting system is a massively flawed one, masquerading as a democracy.

If you were watching the election on Tuesday night you would’ve heard the term ‘battleground’ or ‘swing’ state, defining that particular state as hotly-contested and decisive, possessive of the power to win or lose the election for a candidate. Ohio, Florida, North Carolina and Iowa are the ‘Big 4’, with the former two being where the result has been decided in the last few elections. In simplistic terms, that means that 46 other states are considered of lesser importance. Indeed, when Clinton won Oregon, we effectively shrugged our shoulders because it ‘didn’t matter’. Imagining living in a state where your vote is irrelevant to the outcome of the election. The Electoral College system facilitates that injustice.

It’s also just plain ridiculous. Imagine playing a best of three game of football. The Blues vs. The Reds. In the first match, the Blues win 7 – 2. In the second match, the Reds win 2 – 1. And in the final deciding match the Reds secure a victory by the skin of their teeth by scoring a goal in the 90th minute, making it 1 – 0. Sure, they won the majority of the matches, but cumulatively the Blues scored more goals; 8, to the Reds’ 4. That’s double the amount of goals, and yet they’re deemed the losers. It kind of doesn’t seem fair. That’s the Electoral College for you.

Irrespective of the margin of victory, the electoral votes amount to the same. So it doesn’t matter if Clinton took New York or California by a landslide, but lost Pennsylvania by a fraction. If you lose a state, however marginally, with a defining amount of votes, such as Florida’s 29, you’ll stand to lose the election. Case in point, Al Gore acquired roughly 500,000 more votes than George W. Bush in the 2000 election. But Bush became President. That’s like the whole population of Tucson, Arizona being told that their votes don’t matter. Why? He managed to secure Florida’s electoral votes by a mere, paltry margin of 537.

Just as the Electoral College used to serve the interests of slave and landowners, so it has continued to bow to the whims of a southern, white, male (and female) elite. Nothing speaks to an outmoded, inherently biased and unrepresentative system more than the election of a candidate endorsed by the KKK.

What’s more worrying is how successfully the Republicans have gumshoed their way into power, now controlling both the House and the Senate, and therefore how quickly they might be able to push through regressive and potentially destructive legislation. At a bare minimum, the Republicans are going to halt progress in such areas as health care, climate change, immigration, economic inequality and unemployment, having already laid out their intentions to repeal and unravel much of the Obama administration’s accomplishments. The worst part is that Obama’s legacy – however patchy it is perceived to be – is going to be rounded off by the very person who undermined his right to the Presidency by initiating the birther movement. A bitter pill indeed.

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I’m not American. So there lies an argument that perhaps I’m taking this all too seriously. I couldn’t vote. I didn’t have a direct hand in the outcome of the election. I won’t feel the worst impact of the corrosive legislation a Republican government are likely to pass. However the reason for mine, and many other non-US people’s tears, are entirely justified. The United States is still one of – if not the, most powerful country in the world. It’s vast population, economy and influence marks it out as an instigator of change and a standard against which other countries are held up. Obama, and lest we forget Michelle, are a formidable duo. Together, they have shaken up the status quo and re-energised what it means to look and act like a President and First Lady. They are dignified, humorous, intelligent, poised, generous, level-headed and first and foremost, they are role models. They take their jobs very seriously, and they’ve proven very good at them. Barack and Michelle are about productivity rather than provocation, and their time in the White House has operated on a basis of inclusivity, access and advancement, however incremental it may have been. The deficit that’s going to felt in their absence is titanic. America is going to look weaker, more foolish and significantly less cool without the Obamas in the White House. It’s hard to believe that the rest of the world won’t falter slightly as result.

That’s the other thing that deeply perturbs me about Trump’s election; the complete U-turn he and his moronic persona represents. Hillary was often characterised as the ‘safe’ pair of hands, the person whom knew what she was doing and who – despite being a bit ‘vanilla’ – would effectively function as Obama’s third term. The Obama administration propelled the US out to sea with the promise of reaching an island, perhaps not a paradise, but an enticing destination nevertheless. Trump’s triumph has destroyed that ship entirely, and left America marooned, without a lifeboat in sight. It’s unsurprising that the Democrat party and their supporters are in a state of mourning.

Nothing speaks to an outmoded, inherently biased and unrepresentative system more than the election of a candidate endorsed by the KKK.

Donald Trump is the kind of person that wouldn’t do his homework, or his revision, and would only get the grade by cheating on the exam, or as his wife Melania is want to do, copying someone else’s answers. He’s the kind of person that won’t put in the time to understand the key issues, or weigh up his options. And it’s hard to imagine that he’ll spend any time speaking to lesser-heard communities about their predicaments and priorities. He is cavalier and worse than careless, he is callous. The only people he cares for are those like him, and it’s pretty obvious to state that America, and by extension, the world, is made up of a much, much larger and more diverse demographic than the one he represents.

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If nothing else, the result of the election is incredibly alienating. It’s never a good feeling to have your beliefs refuted, and now three times this year (the general election, Brexit and now the US election) that for which I have voted, or stood up for, has not been reflected in the wider political landscape. The causes that I hold closest to my heart – feminism, environmentalism, socialism – do not match up with those in power.  And I’m someone with very minimal experience of being a minority. I can’t imagine the despair and deprivation felt by those who have been so severely and repugnantly marginalised by Trump’s agenda.

There are a myriad more reasons I could give, in even greater, more granular detail for why a Trump presidency is one of the most devastating things to happen in my lifetime. The likelihood of our entering a period of cultural, social and economic backwardness, if not insanity, seems alarmingly conceivable. His plan for tax cuts and tariffs on imported goods alone could precipitate global economic insecurity, and I hardly want to give thought to the path towards planetary destruction he could set us on with his belief that climate change is “a Chinese hoax”.

In this atmosphere of discontent, many have spoken of the need to galvanise and organise. To speak out louder than ever before for what we care about. We can only hope that this becomes a teachable moment, rather than a trend or a continued downward spiral. And to use an old, but ever more relevant phrase, we must be the change we wish to see in the world.

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