Five things we can learn from the US election

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So Donald Trump has won. The shock, the horror. Beating Clinton in key swing states such as Florida and Ohio, the real estate mogul and reality TV star has gone on to win the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the race. This presidential election has caused controversy from the start, with much of the issues coming from the now President-elect, whether it’s about building a wall along the Mexican border or proudly sexually assaulting women. But whether you like it or not, Donald Trump will become the 45th President of the United States in January. With such a shocking result to many it is important to consider what we can learn from this rather bizarre contest. So here are five things this election has taught us:

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Image credits: donkeyHotey

  1. Democracy is voting for the person you dislike least: This election is a prime example of one of democracy’s greatest flaws. I think it’s fair to say that for many, voting for Trump was seen as voting for the lesser of two evils. Whilst to many people, particularly in Europe, the obvious choice here would be the devil you know i.e. Clinton, for Americans the choice isn’t so simple. Comparing a man who has never held political office to a woman who has been in the limelight of US politics since the 1990s was naturally going to cause problems for Hilary. There was no track record of Trump’s to pick holes into, whereas the FBI investigation into Clinton’s emails and her support of the war in Iraq didn’t exactly help her campaign. So hey, why not vote for the guy who has no political experience whatsoever instead?
    Funnily enough, from a British perspective this would be understandable – the public don’t really have a direct say in the candidates for Prime Minister in the UK as they are selected by the parties themselves. But in the US the electorate did have the power to choose the presidential nominees, so why choose an unlikeable Clinton when you could have had the alternative, non-traditional option of Bernie Sanders? Why choose Trump when you could have had a mildly less extreme Republican as your President?
  1. The political establishment as we know it is dead: Clinton was a symbol of old politics – she was First Lady, a New York senator and then Secretary of State. Plus, she has voted pretty religiously in line with Democratic policy throughout her political career (for example, she only changed her position on gay marriage in 2013 when it became the party’s position). Whilst her experience in itself doesn’t necessarily deter voters from electing her, there has been a growing trend of anti-establishment sentiment in the Western world. Perhaps this has come about from a general sense of dissatisfaction, disappointment and distrust with traditional politics as a result of economic turmoil and military interventions. Hence the failure of Jeb Bush in the Republican race and the mild success of Sanders. Though Trump may be a member of the elite, he hardly represents traditional American politics with his unconventional und often politically incorrect rhetoric on immigration, free trade, women and much more. With Trump as President perhaps the nature of the establishment will change.
  2. The mainstream media doesn’t reflect the American electorate: If you woke up on the morning of the election as shocked by Trump’s success as you were by Brexit, maybe you should look beyond the European, liberal, university-educated bubble you live in online. The mainstream media has fallen into the same trap, continuously assuming that the public agrees with their coverage of presidential race. Throughout the election Trump continuously accused the mainstream media of misleading tactics: spinning stories from his past in an attempt to get Clinton to the White House. But if the election result reveals anything, it’s that the media didn’t gauge public opinion on the candidates well at all really. Just as with Brexit, opinion polls leading up to the election were simply inaccurate and unreliable – the polls had implied, for example, that Clinton would easily win the state of Virginia; that turned out to be a very close race which Clinton just about scraped through. Whether the methodology or the sample used in these polls need tweaking is sure to be considered after this upset. Furthermore, the news media just didn’t see the success of Trump coming. Whilst liberals like myself may instinctively shudder at the thought of Donald Trump groping women, the media didn’t see the complex nature of his supporters. If you’re a blue-collared white man struggling with work or finding yourself in what feels like a different country to that of your parents, Trump’s lewd comments may not deter you in the same way. In fact, Trump’s rhetoric on issues such as free trade and, perhaps misleadingly, immigration reached a part of society that perhaps didn’t feel heard in the past. This is something the mainstream media may want to consider in future.
  1. Women still have a long way to go: Whilst Hilary may not have been everyone’s ideal choice for President, her loss is a setback for gender equality in America. For many it will be shocking that a man portrayed as sexist, misogynistic, racist and whatever else was seen as a better choice than a woman who far exceeds his political experience. Did Hilary’s gender have a role in her downfall? Perhaps. Whilst the majority of women voted for Clinton, her weakest demographic was white men. Trump’s constant portrayal of her as a “nasty woman” and by continuously revisiting her husband’s infidelity seems to have had more of an impact on voters than the accusations of sexism he has faced. However, we can’t really measure how big of a role her gender played in her lack of success amongst male voters quite yet. Regardless, it’s 2016 and there is yet to be a female President in the White House.
  1. A new era of populism in the West? 2016 may seem like quite a scary year to the liberal minded. With both Brexit and a Trump presidency, is it possible that we have entered a new era of populist politics? Has the extreme right now become the mainstream? Critique of immigration has now become commonplace in Europe; the media, particularly in Europe, has increasingly sensationalised issues relating to migrants; the mild success of fringe parties has pretty much become the norm. With both a French presidential election and the German general election in 2017, next year could mark an even more right wing era in politics. This doesn’t necessarily mean Marine Le Pen will become President of France or that the Alternative for Germany party will suddenly be a governing party, but rather that their extreme ideology may be adopted by the mainstream parties in these countries. Trump’s success is a sign of hope for far right groups such as these, and they can aspire to reach similar if not the same level of success across the West.

Regardless of your view on the result, it’s clear this election denotes the changing nature of politics today. This presidential race has not just shook a nation, but the entire world. The 2016 election will definitely be one for the history books.

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Ramiye Thavabalasingam is a former News & Comment Editor at bathimpact (2014/15). She writes about a number of University of Bath issues, as well as local Bath politics.

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