My eyes are red, head heavy from wine and a political earthquake. This is the final chapter of 2016. What a year. FFS.
I recount how it went down from my own perspective. I had a long argument with a friend about the election in January. He, a fan of wrestling and a smarter man than I, was firm in his belief that Trump could do it. I disagreed. He argued that there was historical precedent. Nixon was a rough man of cunning and hard against outsiders. While Reagan was a Hollywood celebrity who swept in with a triumphant smile. America loves a winner: but more than that, it loves a narrative. He ran that point home with me, it stuck but didn’t sink in. The feeling of “The Bern” (Bernie Sanders), was a distraction from the race that would define a new era in American politics.
The year continued and Trump got stronger. Republicans fell beneath the sword of his blunt verbal cruelty and malice. Americans wanted a big man, a champion. He became it. Then Brexit happened. Polls called it for ‘Remain’ and the consensus was that people would come to their senses and vote for European unity. They were wrong. I went to bed that night around 1am after seeing Gibraltar back ‘Remain’ by a landslide, Farage was half conceding. I felt calm. I slept. That morning I had a trip to the Court of Justice in Luxembourg and as I woke at half five, my phone was a buzz. I scrolled down, it was worse… and worse. Reality. The establishment was punched in the political ribs and wheezing. Half an hour later I found my fellow EU trainees huddled in a circle outside our building around the corner from the European Parliament. Tears. Paranoia reigned supreme. This was a new world. Nothing could be trusted in the same way. It was exciting to see the pot stirred for a moment. Then an English trainee told me how his friends all asked each other that morning “so… now what?” It hit me: lives forever changed, a pain a generation would undergo. 2016 hadn’t even gotten started. Thus, I placed a fiver on a Trump victory.
The race continued. Months past. Debates made great TV and supposedly they made a difference in polls. The first time in decades. It was a game. A wrestling game. From the news alert I received the evening before the final debate stating that Trump was appearing with women who had been assaulted by Bill Clinton, to all the constant talk of ‘The Wall’, it was too hard to believe that it was real. Nuclear codes: beware. Politics as a child for me was a largely boring affair of select statements and hollow photo-calls, Trump made it feel like the Apprentice sometimes. Fun, over the top and full of swagger. As the last few weeks of the campaign lurched on, it felt boring again. Unbelievable that Trump could do it. He had ticked all the wrong boxes. The polls continued to separate and it appeared to be a ‘fait accompli.’
Still, a couple of voices, like my friend in January and Michael Moore ran strong in the back of my mind. Within the final days, the betting odds even began to mirror those of the Brexit campaign. Small but numerous bets on the outside challenger and a few big bets on the favourite. October 23rd became somewhat of his pivot point, as his words suddenly lost their bluster and it became about his promise of a contract with America. While at the same time he threatened legal action against his accusers of sexual assault. He hopped about in his plane and visited vast crowds in stadiums, airport hangers; at times visiting several states in a day.
Then the night finally arrived.
I stayed up late watching the results until 7am unable to believe it. Excited at first with the knife-edge, then sad. Sad that a country had chosen to accept ‘the big man’ as its leader to uphold America hegemony. Sad that suddenly everything safe about a progressive legacy of Obama was up in doubt with political control of the House, Senate and Supreme Court given to the Republicans. It reminded me of the reality that it is wrong to believe in a consistent forward development of human rights and liberalism across the world. History does and has repeated itself.
What Trump means to the American dream?
Donald Trump is the embodiment of the American dream. Some call him anathema to it but it’s true. He loves winning, he loves the idea of winner takes all. Make it big in America, take what you want.
America holds itself as the example for all. An exceptional land of freedom and opportunity. A place that says, you can be who you want, be what you want. Achieve. That’s what the place is supposedly about. Moreover, it is the place that holds itself on moral high ground. That other countries around the world should follow its example. The rule of law, not rule BY law for one. Diversity as a strength and unity under one flag, one leader deriving power from a robust constitution of accountability. Those values matter. The government and politics derived from that, matters, as billions conflate the idea of democracy with economic growth and peace.
Yes, they are related in statistics but while having a strong rule of law doesn’t automatically mean economic wealth, it is a chicken or the egg problem. You need one to get the other. Point being, democracy isn’t a silver bullet to a disenfranchised populace. America holds itself as an example of virtuous democracy that delivers: jobs, hope for your children’s future, religious freedom and a life that fosters ambition. That idea and the exceptionalism of America has changed the world. It is not enough to have a humble life, a safe life with your white picket fenced house; you want more. That is the American dream to me. Trump is the embodiment of aspects of the nasty side of the American dream. The individualism, the ego, oh … and yellow hair.
In this campaign, Trump spoke a lot about America’s role in the world. Other NATO member states not pulling their weight in military spending, the danger America feels it has gotten into by being the world police and a public tired of not winning. He had a point. Ron Paul himself even brought up the same rhetoric.
Where to next?
So what will happen? I’m not an expert, everyone feels like they know something right now. It’s idle speculation for the moment. With Trump, you simply don’t know what will happen categorically. There is the rhetoric of campaigning that may not meet the realities of governance. Yet I feel with confidence, that the wall will somehow be built. It’s a simple ambition that feels like a joke gone too far, but it’s an understandable ambition for blue-collar America eager for simple answers.
In terms of sliver-lining, if he fails to deliver over the next four years he may open up space for liberal America to crawl back. Indeed if you believe that, decades of neoliberalism and a failed experiment of ‘third way‘ politics under Bill Clinton have destroyed the chance at the American dream, then Trump is your man. It is a considerable victory for those marginalised by an economic system that fails to deliver. No doubt. However, the honesty of Trump’s agenda to do that is iffy. He’s a rich man with even richer friends to boot who somehow managed to play his biggest weakness; his wealth, into his greatest strength. Genius. Moreover, the more he bombasted, lied and scrambled about in a pantomime fashion, the more honest wholesome he appeared. That’s how far gone things have become.
Watch this space.