I don’t envy the choice which the US electorate faced this week. In the end, the one who wasn’t Trump got marginally more votes, but the electoral college system delivered victory to the one who wasn’t Clinton. Choosing between a not-Trump and a not-Clinton was not what I would see as a particularly inspiring option. However, it can be too easy to interpret the result through the prism of our own prejudices and preconceptions; whilst neither of them inspired me at all, that doesn’t mean that all of those who voted for them did so from that negative mindset of choosing the least worst. It’s clear that some – millions – of Americans were inspired by one or other candidate, and probably more by Trump than by Clinton.
It also seems fairly clear that the demographic which felt that way about Trump is similar to the demographic which felt that way about Brexit. There’s a danger of over-simplifying, of course; when 130 million people each individually decide how to cast a ballot, there will probably be 130 million different sets of reasons for their decisions, so the best we can do is extract some straws of commonality.
One of those is that both the Brexit result and the Trump result seem to show a yearning for a return to what people believe are the certainties of the past. Things weren’t actually as certain at the time as they appear to be looking back, of course; it’s just that there will always be a difference between looking back at what has happened and looking forward to what might happen. (Although, in saying that, I’m conscious of the Soviet historian who was reputed to have said “In my country only the future is certain – the past is always changing”). But a warped sense of nostalgia for the past – whether it’s making America great again, or visions of becoming once again a ‘plucky island nation’ both play to a certain audience.
I’m not sure how worried we should be about a Trump presidency (I’m not even sure he’ll last four years, but I felt much the same about his opponent as well). The famed ‘checks and balances’ of the US constitution are likely to be sorely tested while he lasts, and of course there will be losers just as there will be winners (but, again, that would also have been true for Clinton; it’s just that the winners and losers would not have been exactly the same groups). It’s also entirely possible that electoral rhetoric will be toned down now the election is over – it would hardly be the first time a politician said one thing to get elected and then did the opposite.