The seemingly impossible has happened. The next President of the USA will be Donald Trump, who has edged out Hilary Clinton in a hard fought race. The remarkable thing is that Hilary Clinton lost. She actually won the popular vote, but lost in the electoral college, making Trump the second consecutive Republican win this way.
While she would have been the first woman to have been elected President, she was also one of the best prepared persons to run. Before having served as Secretary of State, she was also a Senator from New York, and thus combined the tradition of the holding of appointive office and the holding of an elective office. On the other hand, Trump has become the first person to have held neither, to be elected President. Indeed, neither major party has put up a candidate who has never served in government, nor been elected, apart from Wendell Wilkie, the Republican presidential candidate, who went down to defeat in the general election, when Franklin Roosevelt won a fourth term.
Trump seems to have a vague association with that era, for he was predicted as losing, just as Harry Truman was in 1948. Truman had been elected Vice-President in 1944, and became President when Roosevelt died in office soon after his inauguration in March 1945. 1948 was his first presidential election. He was heading for defeat, but managed to score one of the great upsets of electoral history. He beat Thomas E. Dewey, the Republican candidate, and a former Governor of New York state. Like him, Trump is from New York. So, by the way, is Ms Clinton.
Clinton was perhaps the ultimate insider; not only had she been herself a former member of Cabinet and of Congress, but she was the wife of a former President, who had been a Governor, and thus had been a former First Lady of first Arkansas and then the USA itself.
The new President-elect has won even though he has been shown publicly as one who uses celebrity status as a path to abuse women, to the extent of groping them, and then boasting coarsely about it. It should not be forgotten that he was the Republican candidate because he had won the nomination through a primary process which had allowed him to impose himself on the party. Trump’s White House is an unsafe place for women, it is known in advance, but it would have been an unsafe place if Hillary Clinton had been elected, because it would have brought back Bill Clinton, whose Presidency remains only the second in US history to have been one in which the incumbent had been impeached, and that over a White House intern.
The husband may have been impeached as President, but the wife is also possibly going to face prosecution, over her personal email server while she was Secretary of State. Trump answered her charge that he was unfit to be commander-in-chief by the charge that she had shown herself unfit by her inability to maintain proper security.
Paradoxically, his lack of experience was shown as proof that he was not part of the Washington establishment he railed against, and which he pointed out that she was. Just as Barack Obama in 2008 had made change his slogan, so did Trump. Apparently, that resonates with the American voter. Trump’s wins in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan indicated that he had reached out to the working-class blue-collar voter.
Trump represents a backlash. He is the embodiment of the prejudices that these voters have. He is demonstrably misogynistic, but he has also shown off his dislike of African-Americans, Muslims and Latinos. Such xenophobia has only resonated with that witnessed in Europe, of which Brexit is only the most powerful symbol, not the only one. Trump’s win means that anti-EU, anti-immigrant parties in France, Germany and the Netherlands will gain traction in spreading their already popular message. He also sheds a lurid light on what the USA actually stands for. The USA is divided between the bicoastal elites that Hilary Clinton represented, which still stands for political correctness, and the prejudiced, redneck people inland, which Trump tapped.
Trump is anti-immigrant in a nation of immigrants, with the current President the son of one, and he himself the grandson of others. Indeed, in the USA, there are very few people who cannot identify migrant ancestors. In Europe, there are as many migrations, but some are so ancient that the memory of the original migrants is forgotten, and their descendants are called sons of the soil. Is the USA a nation of migrants, or is it WASP? Trump may be white and Protestant, but he is not Anglo-Saxon, at least not in the way 42 of his 44 predecessors have been. However, his ancestry is German, which is close enough to Anglo-Saxon (which itself has roots in Germany), to allow him to fit within the tradition.
However, in the so-called Rust Belt, this anti-immigrant message seems to have resonated, along with the other set of prejudices he showed. His slogan, ‘Making America Great Again’, makes the assumption that the USA has somehow lost its pre-eminence in the world. The message is thus one of xenophobia. The declining towns in the Rust Belt are not because of any failings of the inhabitants, but of the rest of the world. That is not necessarily a view of the USA recognized by the rest of the world, which complains so hard about the poor way in which the USA is exercising its power as the sole superpower.
Pakistan has reason to be jittery. It is not just itself the source of the Muslim immigrants that Trump is so concerned about, it is also supposed to be an exporter of terrorism. Then there is the Trump message about the need to make US allies pay the cost of their security. This harks back to the way Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states found themselves paying the USA for the first Iraq war. This should give an indication of where the USA will operate in India, where Trump will probably show less concern about Indian occupation forces’ abuses in Kashmir than a Democrat administration, but also ask more questions about how the civilian nuclear accord had led to greater exports of US nuclear technology. That the Indo-US nuclear accord was between the previous Republican Administration and a Congress government, should reflect the fact that the US swing towards India is not partisan, but institutional. The traditional Democrat tilt towards a supposedly more ‘democratic’ India should be expected to continue.
Another phenomenon that needs notice is the Republican Party’s move away from lawyers to MBAs. The last two Republican Presidents have been MBAs, though both have been from Ivy League schools (Bush from Yale, Trump from the University of Pennsylvania). Hilary is a lawyer, like her husband and Obama, by training. Lawyers have a natural affinity to politics, because they are concerned with the law, and the processes by which it is mace. Even though the previous Republican from the corporate world, Wilkie, was a lawyer by training. Republicans, it seems, are more focused on the bottom line.