by Sam Saunders
On Tuesday the 8th of November 2016, Donald Trump was elected to become the next president of the United States. These are words which I never expected to write this year, but it is indeed what happened; the crowning glory of an election campaign that has ripped America apart, and been quite unlike anything that any voter has ever seen before. It wasn’t just the scandals that seemed to engulf either candidate on an almost weekly basis, but that principally, the two main choices on the ballot paper were so completely different in almost every way.
Both hail, originally, from New York and if we’re honest, they’re both filthy stinking rich, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end. One was a misogynistic, racist, businessman who had never held elected office and whose wicked delivery and signature style won over millions of American voters. The other? A former senator, first lady and secretary of state who leaned so hard on her nearly thirty years’ worth of experience but could still not shatter the highest glass ceiling to become the first female president.
Clinton and Trump were very odd candidates for each party, as they both came with enormous character defects and flaws that ordinarily would’ve immediately handed victory to their closest rival. Clinton never quite managed to shake off the accusations that have followed her about a private email server she used for sensitive government documentation while she was secretary of state under Barack Obama, which wasn’t helped when the FBI announced a new investigation into this around a week before the election. Trump, on the other hand, well, what did he say that wasn’t inflammatory or scandalous? From promises to build a wall and stop all Muslims from entering the US after the Paris attacks, to insulting women and the now infamous comments he made during a conversation with Access Hollywood in 2005. Who could forget the furore when Marco Rubio talked about Donald Trump’s hands and made a reference to the inadequacy of his penis? And yet, Trump managed to shake off literally every single piece of bad press and insulting comment he made. As someone remarked to me yesterday, it appeared as if the more negative press he got, the more people popular he became.
It wasn’t just the candidates themselves who embodied the divisions felt within today’s America. During the long campaign trail of first the primaries and then the actual election, dissatisfaction and malcontent was rife. There were violent scenes at many Trump rallies around the country, voters from the so-called ‘Rust-belt’ felt left behind by forces such as globalisation, that were out of their control and, even though Hillary Clinton was the first female candidate for a major party, she seemed unable to engage the young, educated women that had flocked to Bernie Sanders during his attempt at securing the Democratic nomination. Whilst the Democrats did eventually select Clinton, the Republicans were tearing themselves apart over their candidate selection. Despite the clear support that was felt around the country for Donald Trump, many senior Republicans refused to back him or his candidacy and still have not to this day.
The campaign also never lost its toxic atmosphere, with Trump’s comments providing most of the drama due to his flamboyant debate style and tendency to interrupt and be rude to literally anyone that seemed to opposed to him. Clinton, debate chairs, other Republican candidates – Trump didn’t care, and to my mind, this is what endeared him to a lot of voters. The campaign Trump ran on was fundamentally and unequivocally anti-establishment, meant to attract the type of Americans that felt left behind by Washington and high-flung trade deals that they neither understood nor took the opinion that these deals benefited them. Much like in the EU referendum in June of this year, the voters who made the difference were ultimately not picked up by the polls and were voters who feel that they had been left behind and that their vote no longer carried any meaning. Well, they have shown twice, that it does, and that the politicians who run for office from now on will need to take heed.
This election felt incredibly similar to the EU referendum in the summer; the polls didn’t predict the final outcome and it became clear that the UK was more divided than anyone actually thought, as voters from London and Scotland overwhelmingly supported the EU whilst people in the rest of England rejected the opinion of David Cameron’s campaign. The dissatisfaction was clear to see in the presidential election when the famed Democratic ‘blue wall’ started to break down last week as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, states that had voted Democrat since 1992, switched to Trump, handing him the presidency despite Clinton taking some swing states. Even now, with the outcome in most states declared, Clinton has won the popular vote, yet Trump has the presidency. Not since the days of George W. Bush and Al Gore has this happened.
Ultimately, this election was a victory for the
blue-collar Americans who felt disenfranchised by Washington and the political
classes and were uplifted by Trump’s rhetoric of ‘make America great again’.
The new president seemed oddly conciliatory in his victory speech,
delivering it with of course the usual buoyant atmosphere that follows a win,
but also with a sincerity and respect towards his rival, (which has gone
missing for much of the campaign) there referred to as ‘Secretary Clinton’.
There are many unknowns to a Trump presidency, foremost among them is whether
his rhetoric and speeches will actually form a congruent set of policies during
his first term in the Oval Office. Will the wall be built? Will Mexico pay for
it? Will Muslims be subject to huge scrutiny at customs due to their religion?
Will Trump invade the UK and install Nigel Farage as our sovereign? Okay, that
last one may be a bit far, but these are serious questions worthy of
consideration. The one thing that is certain, however, is that the
repercussions of Trump’s victory here will be felt across the world, and for a
long time after he leaves office.