Thursday 10 November 2016

The danger isn't just one man

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.

What worries me more than a particular result is that underlying sentiment amongst a substantial proportion of the electorate; that yearning for past glories.  It’s impossible to fulfil, and I suspect that those who’ve raised expectations for their own purposes know that as well as I.  But what happens when, not if, those expectations are dashed?  Will people understand why, or will they simply demand more and more of the same on the basis that it’s not the idea that’s wrong, but the implementation?  I hope for the former but fear for the latter.


Spirit of BME said...

I think your post spells out the difficulty one would have in dealing with these candidates. You would not invite either home to meet an aged aunt with a keen eye and vitriolic tongue, as you know they would not pass muster.
One candidate was identified as having no qualifications for the job and the other over qualified and too slippery by half, so what should you do.?
The answer is to vote for the one that plays golf as it is a game that demands high skill in strategy, with a consistent ability to apply detail in the execution of your decision. Throughout the game you have remain totally focused and relaxed. It is also certain that outside forces that you have no control over will come into play, like the weather and the skill of being adaptable is needed.
You might be playing with a person unknown to you and you do not like, but as you carry up to fourteen clubs that can be used to kill, mutual destruction is guaranteed if it gets physical, so you have to learn to co-exist fast or you will lose.
So, this time around the vote would go to Trump, last time Obama and before that Bush and so on all the way back to Eisenhower.
It is the only real test for the job ,that is why so many of them have played it.

Anonymous said...

Not a lot of difference then between Bush and Trump.They did not win the popular vote but did win the electoral college. Bush was famous for his short days, the number of holidays he took and the amount of golf he played. But he did get reelected and empowered a significant number of appointed officials to run the show for him. Same again?

Pete said...

It seems the old Chinese curse has come to pass. We do live in interesting times.
I finally returned home to Wales November 2nd. Before leaving, my wife and I mailed in our ballots, for Hillary as it happens.
I agree with the concept of the Electoral College. This is one of the remaining ways that a state can exercise it's sovereignty over the ever encroaching arm of the federal government. Perhaps it is my nationalist instincts, but I was a campaigner for states rights. Where I disagree is in the practice of a "winner takes all" policy. That effectively disenfranchises the Republican in California and the Democrat in Utah. A much more representative result would be if the delegates to the college were appointed proportionately to their percentage of the vote.
The current situation in America is that Hillary is expected to have received 1.8 million votes more than Donald while being defeated in the electoral college. This is because, in the states where she won, she won handily. In the states where she lost it was much closer. As you are probably aware this has led to riots and protests all over the states. A friend of mine pointed out the one silver lining. There would have been protests no matter who won. Fortunately it's the anti-gun people who are protesting.
This situation is taking place across an ocean but there are so many lessons to be learned here. In Wales in particular. There was no "Golden Age" for coal miners or Slate quarry workers. There never has been a good old time when "Taffy was a Welshman, Taffy was a thief"
Time to stop looking back, that is not the direction we are headed.