Saturday, November 12, 2016
How desperate were Americans for change?
About a year after Barack Obama’s election in 2008, Sarah Palin delivered a speech in which she had a cut at the new president. Palin had been on the ticket with the defeated John McCain in the election.
She laid out all that Obama was doing wrong, including a lack of transparency in governing.
“This was all part of that hope and change and transparency,” she said. “Now, a year later, I gotta ask the supporters of all that, how’s that hopey, changey stuff working out?”
On Tuesday, the American people voted for a new brand type of hopey, changey stuff. The election of Donald Trump was all about reaching for change, hoping against hope that this individual might be the vehicle to deliver it.
How desperate were half of the American people for change? Desperate enough to deposit all their hope with a man whose whole life, and in particular his recent campaign, rendered him unfit to be the leader of the free world.
Look at the huge number of blue collar workers in the rust belt of America who placed their faith in him. Trump has a record of stiffing blue collar workers in his own businesses. He has most likely paid no federal tax in the last 20 years, epitomising the worst of an elite which believes that taxes are for the little people. His threadbare economic policy is based on cutting taxes for the wealthy, relying on the kind of trickle-down economics first introduced 30 years ago in the States, which played a central role in ensuring the rich got richer, and the blue collar worker was left to whistle Dixie.
Yet those same disgruntled, disillusioned workers were so desperate that they were willing to parcel up their hope and hand it over to this man.
Look at the conservative Christians, angry at what they perceive to be the relegation of family values in today’s America. They choose as their bulwark a man who has been married three times and has shown contempt for women. During the campaign, Trump, who is 70, discovered that he is now anti-abortion after a lifetime in which he never expressed the slightest interest, not to mind support, for the values of these conservatives. Yet the conservative vote flocked to him, and all because the man simply urged them to buy his snake oil labelled change and disregard his record.
Trump told them they can have whomever they want for appointment to the Supreme Court and that was enough for them. How desperate were they for change?
Then there are those who identify with the Republican Party. Here was a man who had hijacked their party, belittled those who opposed him for the nomination, and abused people of colour, Muslims, and immigrants. When did Republicans stand for such values? Were they so desperate for a change after eight years of Obama that they were willing to throw their lot in with Trump?
Apparently so. The candidate’s instinct to plumb the lowest depths, appeal to the basest instincts, and repeatedly target the most vulnerable were all ignored because he promised to take everybody back to the future and make America great again.
He couldn’t have done it without Hillary Clinton. While Trump’s TV celebrity was a springboard, Clinton’s deficit of campaigning appeal laid her low. He portrayed himself as a strongman, intent on upending Washington. Her long career as a politician was a liability in a time of anti-politics.
No credit was given her for a commendable record of public service as a legislator. Instead, the billionaire managed to label her as “crooked Hillary”, a tribune of the elite, conspiring against the man and woman in the street.
She fit the bill perfectly. The email controversy fed right into the idea that she felt entitled to flout the law in pursuit of her own goals. Her love affair with Wall Street’s dollars was a glaring target.
And the fact that she was a woman exposed a lingering reluctance in many quarters of an allegedly enlightened society to disregard her gender.
Above all though, Clinton represented continuity in the face of a desperate thirst for change among all of those who feel left behind.
Now Trump has the platform to deliver. Notwithstanding the depths he plumbed, his personal achievement is quite amazing. He beat a centuries old, two-party system, had little recourse to professional strategists, and got elected with virtually no fundraising, a long-time staple of elections in the US.
And now he is Mr President Elect, sitting atop the world, soon to have the same access to the nuclear button as he has to his Twitter account.
Those who put him there are thrilled. They invested their desperation in him, and will await his response. The old saying that one “campaigns in poetry and governs in prose” will be put to the test. If he does deliver on his dangerous promises, Trumpland will be a cold place for minorities, immigrants, and much of the rest of the world. If he doesn’t deliver, his followers may turn on him. Form suggests that that is when self-styled strongmen target some minority, some Other, to sate the anger of those he has defrauded.
That’s when this brand of hopey changey stuff will turn really ugly.