Donald Trump’s victory in the US election testifies to a more potent political force than superficially evidenced by the tally of votes; a socio-economic reality of the populace that most well-respected political pundits did not perceive, but more significantly, did not, or could not, even contemplate. It was as if they were living in another country, another world, a separatist social milieu totally divorced from millions of real people living real lives in a real country they were oblivious to. It has been suggested those voting for Trump were just ‘ignorant’, but what of these so-called expert analysts who predicted a Clinton victory? And what of Clinton and her own Democrats’ team that apparently were so convinced of victory their campaign efforts were ‘complacent’ as one American commentator alleged. Ignorance, no less, too. Billions of dollars were invested by both Republicans and Democrats in this election, but while they both played politics, a game predictably negative, nasty and nefarious about the other, it was Trump who was politic as the dictionary defines it: sagacious, prudent, shrewd, artful, expedient and judicious. I’d go even further by declaring Trump insightful into a psychology of the people that others didn’t postulate, so enamoured with, and/or blinded by, their own beliefs, opinions and attitudes as right, just and moral they could not even conjecture the people might choose to take a chance on Trump; albeit for change.
That only 57.6 per cent, 133,331,500 of the 231,556,622 million eligible Americans made it to the ballot box, with about four million not even registered as voters, is interesting in itself, though historically, a low voter turnout, compared to other developed countries, is a traditional feature of presidential elections where voting is not mandatory. The electoral college voting system in America, designed by the founding fathers in the twelfth amendment in its Constitution in 1787, has the potential to gerrymander the concept of representative democracy in so far as the most popular candidate is not guaranteed residence in The White House. Similarly to Al Gore in 2000 who garnered more votes per person than George W. Bush, Clinton lost out in electoral college votes in four key states, Florida, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Much discourse has ensued about how she won the popular vote, only by 280,000 votes however, but in the context of the country’s political history, is this popularity meaningless and irrelevant?
I believe that focusing on Clinton’s popular vote, particularly as narrow as it was, is but a digression from the realpolitik in America, yet just another example of ignorance even illusion writ large. About a month before election day, I believed Trump was a ‘deluded demagogue’ but I was wrong as it’s others, including Clinton and her fellow Democrats as well as many leading Republicans who denounced Trump, who were deluded about people in their own country as well as themselves. This delusion manifested as a Trump victory.
It may be that millions of Americans didn’t bother to vote-42.4 per cent-out of mistrust and disillusionment with politicians and the system complemented by disenchantment with both Clinton and Trump as unworthy candidates. But Trump’s proclamation of being sick of ‘political correctness’, resonating loud and clear with millions who voted for him, were also deluded by Trump’s individual sense of another kind of political correctness; that embracing an anti-establishment and anti-elite fervour that Bernie Sanders also articulated as I interpreted his words. It is ironic that the so-called left and right or liberal and conservative factions in the country were unified in their contempt for the prevailing system, both agreeing that protectionism should be integral in a new order. Moreover, that political cynicism was pervasive undermines another reality that a majority of Americans did vote illustrating that in some intangible and indiscernible way people still had ‘faith’ in the system, however problematic it presented. The issue is what was that faith based on? And was it an ignorant or illusory faith in democracy per se?
According to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has seemingly made co-operation with the incoming Trump administration conditional on decency and compassion, said: -“(We) are connected by values of democracy, freedom and respect for the law and the dignity of man, independent of origin, skin colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political views…” If you accept the concept of representative democracy as ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’ as Lincoln articulated in his Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863, this does not intrinsically imply values about anything other than a majority of people have voted for a person to represent them who will supposedly govern not just for them, but for all. There is nothing implicit in Lincoln’s address that embodies tolerance, respect and dignity of anyone, by anyone, for anyone.
Given that Clinton did win the popular vote, what does that say about democracy in the US? Was the outcome genuinely democratic and is a Trump a man whose attitudes and values contradict the democratic ideal?
Trump has been labelled with many derogatory and ‘deplorable’ appellations including racist, sexist, misogynist and fascist among others and these demand a critique. I contend that millions of American people, including the millions of Clinton voters, believe and act in racist, sexist and misogynist ways that betray their lip service adherence to equity and justice. It may not be socially acceptable to highlight this anomaly in the psyche of most people, but it’s a reality nonetheless. Indeed, this reality underpins why there are still so many barriers to achieving genuine equality of opportunity and fair outcomes for millions of people. A black American President has not eradicated racism in his own country as Merkel has not eroded sexism in hers. Trump’s attitudes highlight the attitudes of millions of his countrymen and women both; he might have lied on a plethora of issues, and what politician hasn’t, but I believe he has a plausible honesty in owning attitudes others simply deny they believe. Their pretentious facade is not always transparent for millions of people who choose to look away. They might talk the talk, but they are caught out as liars in all sorts of ways in the laws they enact and we need no further validation of that than our own country with Gillard’s legislation that slashed the single parent pension, affecting mostly women, which reflected she was no less ‘sexist’ than her male counterparts. Calling herself a feminist mere spurious spin. Moreover, Trump’s supposedly sexist attitudes to women are actually sexual; not discrimination per se. It is very facile to confuse sexual references to women as being sexist and while Trump may be accused of perceiving many women as sex objects, he is not alone in this on an international spectrum. Too many men espouse how ‘equal’ they believe women to be, but I’ve yet to see and/or read many of them putting their money where their mouth is. Indeed, women’s second-class status around the world is all too glaringly obvious if you just glance beneath the glass ceilings that shroud the destiny of millions of women worldwide. Trump’s been pilloried for entertaining attitudes most men around the world share but they just don’t announce it so publicly. The fact that more women voted for Trump than Clinton as was reported on Q & A this week, only indicates that obviously, millions of women really do want to have sex with famous men. Just ask some of the male sporting celebrities in our own country. Or am I just missing the point? Maybe the salient fact is they just didn’t care about his sexual antics. Moreover, two of the Trump Organisation vice-presidents are women, neither of them young or nubile, but portly and plump. Be it conscious or unconscious bias, it is a racist and sexist world and too many political leaders naively believe they can change people’s mindset by simply hoping these discriminatory attitudes will go away with the right political leader who superficially at least speaks the right spin. Too often, these ‘right’ leaders are just mouthing nothing more than convenient and fashionable platitudes without substance or sincerity. Many people are glibly conned by them without thinking and examining the real underpinnings of the society in which they live.
If Trump is a ‘fascist’, this is not necessarily incompatible with a democratic vote, the terms are not mutually exclusive and moreover, Trump’s avowal to reduce regulations in banks and economic practices indicates he may be less of a fascist than people understand. Fascism focuses on control and perhaps the focus should be on America’s electoral college system which may be so warped as to need reform. Indeed, The American Bar Association has deemed the system “archaic” and over more than 200 years since its inception, there have been 700 proposals to reform or abolish the system, more proposals for this constitutional amendment than any other. Considering Clinton’s popular vote was just 280,000, it does indicate a divide of sorts in the American electorate, millions massing for both Trump and Clinton. Maybe the popular vote is significant in revealing that it was indeed a ‘close’ contest, but the final vote tally suggests there are two very distinct and different real worlds in America, riven further apart, I can only ponder, by the increasing gap between the haves and have-nots in the country. The perspective of Trump’s tirade against the elite establishment and growing immigrant numbers alludes to the have-nots adopting a scapegoat’ mentality for their malaise as manifested in their vote for him. Furthermore, other historic democratic elections have involved politicians ascending to power with inflammatory language and actions of hatred, fear and prejudice that people vote for. It is not a 21st century phenomenon. Germany’s Hitler is but one example, but recent developments in other western so-called democracies such as Turkey and Japan with their censorship, intimidation and imprisonment of journalists, South Korea and its corruption allegations, Australia with the election of One Nation’s four senators, Britain and its Brexit vote and the increasing popular vote for anti-immigrant and ultra-conservative parties espousing hate and fear in other western European countries such as France, Germany and Austria, highlights that democracy is but one aspect in a very complex political landscape. As American journalist, novelist, essayist and poet, Christopher Morley wrote in 1923 “America is still a government of the naive, for the naive, and by the naive. He who does not know this, nor relish it, has no inkling of the nature of his country”.
I suggest that while many erudite journalists and academics have lamented the demise of democracy over the past few years, it is not democracy per se that is under threat, but values that are not quintessentially related to its ideology. These values of justice, morality, compassion and tolerance among others, of all people, by all people, for all people are no more than a western presumption, misleading and mistaken. It is ignorance and/or misunderstanding of democracy by many pundits who believe that as a political ideology democracy implicitly enshrines liberal values and that these values are inextricably linked to it. Merkel and many others express this ad nauseum, yet continually fail to acknowledge they are not always comfortable bedfellows.
Australia and its inhumane treatment of asylum seekers for example attests to my contention that democracy does not guarantee human dignity to all people within the country. Indigenous Australians are but another group who are regarded ‘differently’; albeit inferior, to white residents, also reflecting the anomaly of democracy and liberal values. The dearth of women as powerful leaders, politically, socially and economically in this country and inequalities in pay are but other examples where liberal values are not part of our reality. A political system can be democratic and each person can vote for a representative, but there’s no implicit guarantee that representative will adhere to the values I’ve just detailed.
A letter from a writer in regional Victoria wrote in a quality Melbourne newspaper that if Americans and Australians “make political space for the values held by Trump and his supporters (as Abbott, Abetz, Bernardi and Hanson trumpet)…. our education system has completely failed to instil clear thinking skills and social responsibility. It is important to encourage analysis of different political and economic ideologies…” I can only refer once again to the issue of ‘ignorance’ as politics is not compulsory at senior high school level anywhere in Australia and moreover in some states, not even an elective on the curriculum eg NSW. At least in America voting is not mandatory, but in Australia where it is, how many people actually have any factual knowledge about the complex nature of politics, let alone any appreciation about fascism, communism and totalitarianism and the economic theories of Keynes, Marx or Friedman? How many are sadly even interested, yet they are ‘forced’ to vote by law.
I do not believe it is a lack of people’s clear thinking skills but rather, an inability to think anything other than what panders to their already ingrained attitudes, be they of prejudice and bigotry, in matters of race, religion, gender and sexual diversity, a manifestation of confirmation bias as Trump’s rhetoric encapsulated He was, is, a ‘shrewd’ man as well as an astute one who tapped into the pervasive attitudes of millions of people and their socio-political and economic self-interest as well as understanding their need to blame others for their problems. It is a psychological strategy used often throughout world history in the Protocols of Zion about an international Jewish conspiracy, the aristocracy in Russia that engendered its revolution and royalty and the bourgeoisie in France that catapulted that country into revolution too. Just a couple of examples where accepting individual responsibility for your own life, albeit in a social context, is transcended by a less disturbing and confronting sociology of apportioning culpability to others. America may not be in a revolutionary mode, but it is in some ways experiencing another civil war which is at its essence about the same old issue of money and the sequent of power and control. The chant of ‘we want our country back’ is from whom, other Americans or the world? Nationalistic isolationism or unfettered globalisation as articulated in the Trump rhetoric are both at the dark, extreme end of a spectrum that herald only oppression for the majority of people including those who voted for him and those who didn’t. Indeed, he is President with just 25 per cent of American people’s approval, albeit those who bothered to vote. Maybe the election outcome represents the complex confusions, conflicts and contradictions inherent in politics, not just in America but worldwide.
This conundrum has been convoluted even more in Australia since the election by the Obama administration agreement to resettle asylum seekers now on Manus Island and Nauru as the Australian Government and the Opposition don’t want to let them reside in Australia. Their justification being that to permit them residency here would only inspire people smugglers once more. These asylum seekers are fortunate perhaps as maybe America, as a multicultural melting-pot, however problematic for millions of Americans, will welcome them while Australia has turned its back on them. I can only hope the resettlement is a fait accompli before Trump’s inauguration as President on January 20 next year. Maybe as but a drop in the ocean, they are not worth worrying about in a refugee perspective.
What may ensue during Trump’s presidency is presently anyone’s guess, but one lesson from the election is the imperative demand for political education to become compulsory in Australia lest we descend into the same political quicksand as it seems America is sinking, or has already sunk, into. In this American election, common sense, knowledge and understanding were the real losers and despite its imperfections, democracy won.