11 Nov 2016 18:51 IST

The end of the American dream?

Trump’s promise of making America great again has an ominous ring to it

“May you live in interesting times,” goes the faux Chinese curse, which is meant to be taken ironically. The year 2016 is proving to be quite an interesting one for sure. The first was the UK’s exit from the European Union; then came the Uri army camp attacks and the subsequent surgical strikes; then came the real bombshell — Donald Trump winning the US election. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘surgical strike’ on black money by withdrawing ₹500 and ₹1,000 currency notes on Tuesday night almost stole Trump’s show.

No US Presidential election has been followed this closely around the world. The dread of a Trump victory was near universal. To make matters even more ‘interesting’ or bizarre, the Hindu Sena, a fringe Hindu Group, even celebrated Trump’s victory in Delhi with posters saying ‘Trump, our only hope’.

The opinion polls got it horribly wrong by predicting an easy victory for Hillary Clinton and almost every poll had predicted this. The press in the US also was unanimous in their support for Clinton. Even the traditional right wing press did not find it easy to support Trump, given his racist and misogynist rants, though because of his reality TV background, he found it very easy to gain access to TV studios and he used it very well to his advantage.

Internal divide

With both houses of Congress under Republican control and the Supreme Court most likely to get a 5-4 conservative majority, Trump’s promise of making America great again has an ominous ring to it.

In fact, Trump’s extreme ideas on deporting nearly 12 million undocumented people living in the US, building a wall on the US-Mexico border, not allowing Muslims to enter the US and erecting trade barriers hardly found any resonance even within the Republican party.

In fact, the Grand Old Party (GOP) was deeply divided about endorsing Trump’s candidature. Ex-President George Bush did not endorse him till the end — and Bush is no bleeding heart liberal. This shows how divisive Trump was even within the American Right.

The parallels

Some of the parallels between the Brexit vote and the recent US elections are hard to miss. The media in Britain was overwhelmingly in favour of remaining in the EU as was the US media in its support for Clinton, most aggressively exemplified by The New York Times and Washington Post.

More interestingly, in both Britain and the US, it is privileged upper-class, rich white men — Boris Johnson and Neil Farage in the UK, and Donald Trump in the US — who managed to connect with the disenchanted and insecure working class, and not the traditional Left.

Though it must be said that Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders, who calls himself a ‘Democratic Socialist’, did run a spirited campaign against Clinton during the primaries, winning 22 States, and explicitly spoke about the growing inequality and the greed of the Wall Street.

Establishment disenchantment

The East and the West Coast states were solidly behind Clinton but the vast swathe in between, known symbolically as the ‘rust belt’, stood by Trump. The very term ‘rust belt’ is a powerful symbol of how the once important manufacturing states of the US have now fallen on hard times. Clinton was seen as being too close to Wall Street and the world of corporate greed and was mistrusted by the working class.

The US election results can be seen as a reflection of the disenchantment with the political establishment, growing inequality over the years, and the squeezing of the American middle class. That a man like Trump has been entrusted with the job of addressing these serious issues is what is supremely ironical.

Trump impact

So how will Trump’s Presidency impact the world economy, which is yet to recover from the battering it received in 2008 from the financial meltdown? Simon Johnson, who was Chief Economist of the IMF and is now professor at MIT, says that Trump’s presidency is likely to push the world economy into a prolonged recession if he comes good on his promises of tearing up free trade agreements and erecting protectionist barriers.

This brings us to a more important question. Did the Democratic Party err in choosing Hillary Clinton as its Presidential candidate? Would Bernie Sanders have made a better candidate to beat Trump? That’s one of the big ‘what if’ questions we would never know the answer to.

Recommended for you