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Rediscovering America

  • Published at 12:01 am November 12th, 2016
Rediscovering America

The unthinkable has happened.

On November 9, the US elected and presented to the world not only a new president but also a new America. An America that was midwifed at birth by a band of gifted constitutionalists and statesmen of the calibre of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson, just gifted to the country in the third century of its birth a president who had not been exactly a follower of these great people in his campaign speeches.

Even hours before the elections, all polls had pointed to a Hillary Clinton victory and a sounding defeat of the business tycoon turned politician Donald Trump. But all polls were shredded to bits when Donald Trump got the electoral votes necessary to claim the presidency. Was his victory a revenge of the silent white majority of the country, or was it rejection by America of a female as president?

The next few days and months, analysts and pundits will parse the election results in a hundred ways and offer different explanations for this seismic shift from prognosis of elections to actual results.

Popularity of Donald Trump versus negativity about Hillary Clinton, minority and female votes for and against the candidates, battle ground states, all of these will come into discussion. But the most important element of this election, the resurgence of the white middle class, may get underplayed in this analysis.

Donald Trump’s stunning victory was as unpredictable as was his winning the Republican primaries earlier this year where he trounced 17 contestants. No polls had him within their radar let alone forecasted his ability to snatch the nomination since his bombastic and boisterous entry into the race 18 months before.

He had been always known as a playboy millionaire who made his fortune building hotels and casinos, marrying models and actresses, hosting TV shows, and occasionally publishing ghost-written books.

Unfortunately, the choice that America made was not for Hillary Clinton, but for Donald Trump. Knowledge, political experience, and competency gave away to resentment, fear, and the feeling of dispossession

In the political world he was relatively unknown except when he launched his famous birther conspiracy against President Obama (claiming Obama was foreign born) for reasons not fully grasped.

When this self-described multi-millionaire made his foray into the presidential campaign, many took this as another Trump publicity stunt. But he got fair a amount of print space and air time in the media because of his unique status, a maverick who had never held public office.

Soon the media attention became more focused on Trump because of his utterances which disregarded conventional practice for political correctness and respect for mainstream politics. He attacked mainstream politics and politicians as dishonest, corrupt, and removed from ordinary people.

He attacked the current government and its policies, blaming Obama for what he described as the cause for the economic ills of the country. He blamed the government for the flight of jobs overseas, terrorism, illegal immigration, and started to attract throngs of people to his rallies with these accusations.

His labelling of Mexico as the exporter of drugs, smugglers, murderers, and rapists drew loud cheers in his rallies, as did his calls for a ban on Muslim travel later after terrorist attacks in Europe, and in the US.

Never before in the history of presidential elections in the US has a more brazen publicity seeker who looked at politics as another business venture been able to manipulate the populace to supporting his candidacy, outmanoeuvre his opponents and literally hijack a traditional political party so successfully.

He was a crowd gatherer because of his antics and theatrical bombasts against perceived enemies of the country that would include racial stereotypes, minorities, and immigrants.

He appealed to the base instincts of people by creating a fear of an impending economic doom caused by rising unemployment, free trade, rapid change in demographics, and by “invasion” of the country by illegal immigrants from across the border.   

The paradox of the surreal presidential campaign of Donald Trump is that the more inflammatory his speeches became, the more cheers he received. His populist rhetoric appealed to a large section of the white majority who had been feeling constrained by political correctness to express their alarm at changing demographics of the country.

Trump brought into surface their fears, and found scape goats for their woes. They found in him a spokesman who could relate to their concerns and perhaps fix them. He promised them a future of greater economic prosperity, national security, and internal stability. He broke ranks with his own party with his reckless the comments and earned their criticism.

But his followings grew with support ranging from a wide spectrum of the Republican base, from moderates to Alt-Rights, from the jobless working class to the disenchanted middle class. Trump presented them a new Republican face. He became the party.

But the November elections were not simply between two parties; this was also an election between two different choices of leadership for the US. One was a knowledge-free candidate with no political experience in stock but business experience that he hoped to parlay into presidency.

He capitalised on the fear and anxiety of a people who felt threatened by fast diversifying populace and a globalised economy, and manipulated these fears into anger to take action against the status quo.

The other was an intelligent and politically mature leader who had decades of political experience at national and international level. A candidate who would bring years of knowledge and political skill working as a senator, secretary of state, and as First Lady.

Unfortunately, the choice that America made was not for Hillary Clinton, but for Donald Trump. Knowledge, political experience, and competency gave away to resentment, fear, and the feeling of dispossession in the white dominated Republican Party that rose up in revolt against eight years of Obama.

It was also a choice that seemed to say that it was not yet ready for a female president.

For now, the election has brought to closure an intense fight between the two parties, and their candidates that brought into surface various elements who were not seen or heard before.

They all do not carry or believe in the values on which this country was founded. Equality, liberty, and freedom for all. Nor do they believe or welcome a diversified America.

As the country goes through the motions of a new cycle, it will be a challenge to the new president and his party to see that not only the wounds inflicted in this election are healed, the core values of the nation are respected and upheld. This is a nation of equals, no single group or section has priority over another. Individuals matter in making a country stronger.

Ziauddin Choudhury has worked in the higher civil service of Bangladesh early in his career, and later for the World Bank in the USA.

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