Gordon Campbell on the US election outcome   10 Nov 2016

Column - Gordon Campbell

 

Gordon Campbell on the US election outcome

Well um.. on the bright side, there (probably) won’t be a TPP. In fact, you could argue that the cheerleaders of free trade have now succeeded in delivering the planet into the hands of someone who believes in the unlimited use of American military power, and who has called climate change a fraud invented by the Chinese.

Thanks, guys. Ultimately, voters in the Rust Belt states didn’t accept that the destruction of their jobs and communities really was the inevitable price of progress. Mind you, as Jonathan Freedland has noted, not all of the people who voted for Trump were the victims of free trade.

He won 63% of white men and 52% of white women. Not all of those were the left behind. A lot of them were people drawn to a message that was, in part and however thinly coded, about reinstating white privilege.

How bad is this outcome? Forget the dulcet tones of his victory speech last night – Trump was trying to project a sweet Reaganite ‘morning in America” tone – and nor should ewe be lulled by the generosity he extended to the woman he had vilified and has threatened to imprison. Donald Trump has never had a problem with women who concede to him. (It's the bitches who don’t that make him so mad.) There’s no getting away from the fact that Trump’s victory makes the world a more dangerous place. Particularly so for the 11 million undocumented migrants he has threatened to deport. Trump has vowed to roll back Obamacare. He has promised massive tariffs on China’s exports. He has threatened to “punish” women who seek an abortion. His Vice-President Mike Pence had already passed draconian restrictions on reproductive rights while governor of Indiana, and these should probably be taken as a sign of what a Trump presidency has in store for all American women, who can expect to see abortion rights dialled back to the 1950s.

On that score, look at the list of terrible nominees Trump has flagged to fill the current and upcoming vacancies on the Supreme Court.

Who can be blamed? The pollsters have had a bad year. They got this one wrong, they got Brexit wrong and that peace referendum in Colombia as well. Dumping on the pollsters though, would be unfair. Nate Silver did warn us on election eve that the 4% lead Clinton enjoyed was occurring in the popular vote, and that things weren’t looking so good for her in the Electoral College. It panned out exactly that way. More people voted for Clinton than for Trump; but unfortunately, too many of them were located in California and New York, and not enough in the rural parts of the swing states. In the end, Trump won the presidency with the lowest share of the popular vote – only 47% - since Bill Clinton won the White House in 1992. Fun fact: no Democratic President has passed on power to another Democratic President (assassinations aside) since 1856.

Some observers are saying that Joe Biden would have done better in the Rust Belt (hardly; he would have been seen as the acme of Washington insiderism) or that Bernie Sanders would have won in a head to head with Trump. (To believe that, you’d have to believe that Sanders’ caucusing with the Obama administration, his “socialist” tag, his patent lack of support in black communities and his expensive holiday home wouldn’t have been fodder for Trump.)

More fairly, Clinton can be criticized for avoiding the media. Between the Democratic Convention in August and election day, she shunned the media and went into what Fox anchor Megyn Kelly has memorably called a virtual “Presidential Protection Programme”. Trump by contrast was always media available, always on Twitter, always making his case. Unwisely, Clinton relied on massive spending on TV ads, endorsements by celebrities and her vaunted “get out the vote” machine. By refusing to engage day by day, week by week, with the campaign, Clinton allowed Trump to bounce back from his many gaffes and several low points. He held rallies, she placed TV ads. He won.

In the process, the Trump methodology told us quite a bit about what it takes to motivate people who normally don’t vote. In 2013/2014, Labour talked a lot about mobilizing the 800,000 who don’t vote in this country. Subsequently though, Labour acted as if simple variations on policy-as-usual and a bit of energetic door-knocking could get hitherto alienated people to the polls. Trump showed what it really takes. Mass rallies with uncomfortable echoes of the 1930s, rampant stigmatising of minority groups, the monopolizing of the media discourse… if the populist likes of Gareth Morgan think they can emulate Trump’s success, they're dreaming. The conventional politics of competing policy ideas won’t deliver the outcome that we saw yesterday.

From here on of course, Trump has to deliver. Yet compared to the obstructions that Obama faced, he’s on easy street. The Republicans now have a clean sweep: majorities in the House and the Senate and with an imminent Supreme Court majority that’s likely to increase if and when Ruth Bader Ginsburg and/or Anthony Kennedy retires. All Trump has to do now is switch his rhetoric on the economy and the war in Iraq. Economic and military situations that were never as bad as he has painted them will soon be rebranded, as personal Trump successes.

More worryingly, there will now be no check whatsoever on Donald Trump’s appetites and id. There isn’t any reason at all to assume that Trump will become more moderate, once he’s in the White House. As Freedland says:

….Surely he will see this victory as proof that he was always right, that his instincts are perfect and never to be challenged. There is no reason for him to moderate at all. The office of Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt and John F Kennedy is now his playpen. He can do what he likes.

This will be America’s ordeal primarily. But it will affect all of us. A reality TV star with no experience of either politics or the military will have the nuclear button as his toy. This, remember, is the man who reportedly asked several times, during a military briefing, why the US didn’t use nuclear weapons since it had them. This is the man who has said “I love war”. Whose proposed solution to Isis is “to bomb the shit out of them” and steal the oil.

No doubt, Trump will try to use the unpredictable aspects of his personality to his tactical advantage. Richard Nixon used to call it the “madman theory” of politics, and he explained it this way to his aides:

I call it the Madman Theory, Bob….We'll just slip the word to them that, "for God's sake, you know Nixon is obsessed about communism. We can't restrain him when he's angry—and he has his hand on the nuclear button" and Ho Chi Minh himself will be in Paris in two days begging for peace.

Nixon though, was intelligent enough to treat that perception purely as a pragmatic tool. Right now, the world should be justifiably worried that Trump isn’t that smart. He may not see the way – or the need –to back down when the time comes – and it will, inevitably- that his threats are challenged.

Footnote : Where do the Dems go now? Good riddance to the Clintons. Biden, Sanders and Elizabeth Warren (she would be 71 in 2020) will be too old to be contenders for the nomination in four years time. Russ Feingold, who was the only senator to oppose the Patriot Act, got defeated in his Senate comeback race in Wisconsin. Jason Kander almost won against the odds in Missouri but didn’t. Too bad. In the age of Trump, he seemed to be a Democrat with the right qualifications:

Kander is a military veteran who was viewed as a long shot…..But he surged in the polls after releasing an ad in which he put together an assault rifle while wearing a blindfold, trumpeting his support for a background check law and taunting his opponent over who really knew their way around firearms in this gun-loving state.


Footnote Two. Trump may well be the death knell of the TPP. But that shouldn’t be taken for granted. After all, New Zealand would swallow any amendments that the US will now demand, but other countries (Japan, Malaysia, Singapore) would probably baulk at the extension of medical patent terms, the axing of tobacco exemptions, and the imposing of currency manipulation restrictions. A few months ago, Canada trade expert Peter Clark wrote a somewhat upbeat article on global trade under a President Trump.

As Clark says, candidate Obama once painted a bullseye on NAFTA but went on as President to become its champion, and has been a staunch supporter of the TPP. On this, as on everything else, Trump is entirely unpredictable. He’s been given fast track powers on trade; would he really choose not to use them ? Trust me, he could well say to his supporters. It was a bad deal. I fixed it. I made all those foreign leaders – and some of them you’ll notice, are Asians - line up and swallow it. All part of Making America Great Again.

And the song for today….

President-elect Trump promises to heal wounds, bridge divisions, fulfill dreams etc etc. With that in mind, here’s a possible contender for his inauguration song:

I think you're gonna like it
I think you're gonna feel you belong

A nocturnal vacation
Unnecessary sedation
You want to feel at home
Cause you belong

Welcome to my nightmare, yeah
Welcome to my breakdown
I hope I didn't scare you
That's just the way we are
When we come down

 

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