You wake up and realize that a dystopian vision has become reality: America just became Trump University. There is no termination clause in the contract, and the sale is final. 1
What went wrong?
- Hillary won in terms of absolute numbers, but lost the election. She received 48% against his 46.5%, or around 3 million votes more than Trump, out of 120 million votes cast. This is a replay of Gore versus Bush in the year 2000, when Gore won the vote count, but Bush won the Presidency due to the Electoral College system. Americans love their Constitution, but it has some serious flaws: The Democratic Party won the popular vote twice in recent years, but finds itself again shut out of power in every direction: No presidency, no majority in the House or the Senate, the Supreme Court in the hands of conservatives for the next 20 years. Democracy is disabled in favor of a skewed Constitutional system that was created 240 years ago, while slavery still existed. 2 Rules that were initially made to protect minorities from being overruled by majorities, and to create stability, are now being used to prevent the majority party from governing. The result is a political trauma on the left, as if we are caught in a political coup.
- The Feminism problem: Hillary is the first woman who was nominated by a major party to run for the Presidency. The results show that Americans have difficulties electing a woman to the highest office. As Michael Moore puts it in a brilliant analysis, the endangered Great White Male had enough. And sadly, women, as a group, did not come to the rescue: She only got 54% of the total woman vote, 1% less than Obama did four years ago.
- Political mood swings: It has been historically very hard for one party to keep the presidency for three consecutive election cycles. In addition, different regions move economically at different speeds, and this leaves many people behind. A closer look at the election map also shows that there is an urban-rural divide that deepened considerably since the last election in 2012. 3
- Demagoguery wins in the media age. Information travels with lightning speed, and people consume it in five second twitter-bite sizes. Trump is a man who basically lives in the moment and has a distorted relationship to past events. He discovered early on that Twitter is an ideal tool for him, and sure enough, a journalistic feeding frenzy developed quickly around his twitter feed. He promised what people wanted to hear, while Hillary published lengthy position papers on policy questions that nobody wanted to discuss. We learn that political rationalism is naive. Americans strive for moral goodness and aim for civility, but they like sensationalism even more. “When they go low, we go high.” This did not work, Michelle.
- Trump’s appeal lies in his imperfections. He is the blundering racist and sexist bully with a serious attention-deficit problem, who occasionally makes fun of himself. Lies and distortions come to him so naturally that he does not even recognize them any more. He is enjoying himself in front of crowds and cameras, and he pleases them with outbursts of verbal aggression and macho behavior. It’s incendiary performance art, and the actual content becomes meaningless. Millions of invisible and disempowered people were drawn to this narcissistic display of superiority, and they disregarded the lack of concrete proposals and plans for the day after the elections. He channels the frustration of millions of (mostly white) under-informed and under-educated people who feel they lost their entitlements.
- Hillary stood for continuity, not change. She could not separate herself enough from her public persona, and struggled in vain against grossly overblown accusations of corruption. 4 She likes to be a team player, and promises continuity with Obama, but Obama appears to be the President who is “too nice.” His motive is restraint, and he seems to have difficulties with the symbolism of power. He gives good speeches, but the follow-through is weak. The world may like him, but many voters felt that he does not further the interests of the American people enough. We have seen how other countries began to disrespect the United States, because Obama almost disengaged: Crimea, Ukraine, Syria, Iran, Radical Islamic terrorism, Chinese provocations, hacking attacks, open borders, trade agreements that make economic sense, but move millions of jobs out of the country. 5 Hillary, following Obama, stood for a neutralized, liberalized, and family-friendly version of the state as a service provider, and she is seen as a moderate feminist and motherly spirit. This role does not easily reconcile with the task to be the Commander-in-Chief. Could she stand up to the real crooks of this world? How much autonomy does she really have, if she arrived at this place sailing on the coattails of Obama, and her own husband Bill Clinton?
What are the consequences?
- More conservatism and infighting. The Supreme Court changes will ensure that America remains a very conservative country for the next decades. The US will fall back into endless and wasteful debates about gun control, campaign financing, abortion, and corporate freedoms. Obama’s achievements (health care reform, improvements in economic equality and social justice, environmental protections) will be dismantled, and he will become history very fast.
- Weaker US Government. Despite the strong-man rhetoric of Trump, the US Government will actually become weaker. Trump has to deliver at least on some of his promises, but he has no real plan, and does not seem to understand the governing process. His own contradictions will quickly catch up with him: If he cancels Obamacare, 30 million people will lose their insurance, many of them Trump supporters. If he lowers the taxes for rich people, the deficit will go up, and subsidies of the poor and the elderly will have to be cut. The US Government will become even more underfunded, and much less functional. The internal opposition (the outraged majority that voted against him and feels now offended) will mobilize quickly and will not go away. He ran on a platform of divisiveness, and is not capable to integrate the country.
- America’s basic commitment to nuclear non-proliferation is now in question. An unreliable US president will weaken the US nuclear deterrent, which is based on trust in the American resolve to defend its allies. This affects Japan, South Korea, Europe, Saudi Arabia, and others. The solution for them would be to build their own nuclear weapons. The world will become much more dangerous.
- The future of NATO is in doubt. The tensions with China will rise, with the possibility of trade wars rather than trade zones in the Pacific. Europe is in a state of shock over the election outcome, because Trump likes Putin’s model of a simplistic and coercive pseudo-democracy. The Western alliance, forged after the Second World War and based on shared values of democracy and human rights, could fade away quickly. Europe will have to be more responsible for its own survival and cohesiveness. The Pax Americana may have come to an end.
- A global political power-vacuum will open up. A nationalist America will become more self-centered and narcissistic, and lose the interest to act as an agent for global justice and stability. A Trump Administration will see the world more in terms of opportunities for themselves, and divided into winners and losers, rather than as an ecosystem where countries fall and rise together. Other countries will look for opportunities in the spectacle of American self-deconstruction, and it will become more clear that the US is not a superpower. In fact, the whole idea was a fiction anyway. Every 4 or 8 years American politics changes, sometimes drastically. In the process, the US alienates allies (Mexico, Philippines, South Korea, Saudi-Arabia, Israel, etc.) America starts wars and then pulls out or loses interest. US Administrations sometimes support economic globalization, sometimes they fight it. The official position on environmental protection changes like ocean tides. America will again engage in a politics of class warfare, and abandon its traditional support for universal human rights and women’s rights. Who will step into this vacuum created by US foreign policy?
- This is worse than Brexit, because Brexit was just a referendum that needs a political process. The election of Trump is irrevocable. ↩
- Supreme Court Justices, Senators, and House members have no term limits. The Senate has strange filibuster rules and requires two-third majorities to pass certain laws. Voter registration laws have been used to prevent minorities from participating in elections. Clever redistricting of voting districts (gerrymandering) by the Republicans keeps them in power longer and solidifies the status quo for them. ↩
- Democrats hold the large population centers along both coasts, and in the north. The rest of the country is conservative.See David Plouffe’s analysis – he was Obama’s campaign manager. ↩
- The FBI Director, a Republican, may have had a strong hand in her loss. He re-opened an investigation against her a few days before the elections, clearly a politically-motivated action. Why did the US Attorney General not intervene? ↩
- Just take Aleppo as an example: First the US negotiates a cease-fire, then the UN aid convoy gets bombed by the Russians. The US protests, but pulls out, and mass slaughter ensues. What kind of leadership is this? ↩