A year ago, the prospect of Donald Trump narrowly winning the presidency from Hillary Clinton would have seemed preposterous. Yet, come November 2016, Trump and Clinton were almost equally matched, and what previously seemed impossible came true. What aspect of Trump’s campaign allowed his radical views to upstage Clinton’s more moderate stance? What could have been so appealing about Trump’s vitriolic rhetoric and abrasive attitude that allowed him to gather so much support for what initially started out as a joke?
This year has been one marked by drastic change in America’s political landscape. What initially seemed like a straightforward election, with Hillary Clinton expected to prevail over a traditional Republican candidate, soon grew unpredictable as Clinton became embroiled in two devastating scandals and Donald Trump emerged as an unconventional and formidable threat to the Democratic candidate’s bid for the presidency. Although most American media outlets predicted that Trump would face an overwhelming defeat and, in an unexpected turn of events, Trump triumphed and took control of the White House.
▲ Trump on his podium. Provided by cnn.com
An Outsider’s Revolution
The 2016 election was largely led by the political outsiders Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, both of whom refused to conform to their party’s traditional approach to politics. So how were they able to gain influence over their respective parties, and how was Trump ultimately able to snatch the White House away from Clinton?
Trump gained so much popularity thanks to his shrewd exploitation of working class citizens’ aversion to political correctness and the neo-liberal economic order. Neo-liberalism praises the virtue of free competition in a free market and rejects government intervention via economic policies. Over the past few years, neo-liberalism has been accused of servicing only the interests of the political and economic elite. The economic crisis in 2008 testifies to this downside of neoliberalism, as the U.S. government was forced to bail out banks on the brink of bankruptcy, even though it was caused by their own irresponsibility.
Trump denounced the Obama administration, of which Clinton was an integral part, as complicit in perpetuating neo-liberalism and defrauding U.S. citizens of their wealth and liberty. In the process, he painted himself as an anti-establishment champion fighting against the nefarious forces of neoliberalism, and was subsequently able to garner the support of all those who were marginalized by the status quo but willing to overlook his crassness. “Trump’s supporters feel alienated by the current system,” Kathleen Stephens, a former U.S. ambassador to South Korea, noted during the Election Watch hosted by the U.S. embassy. “They are hesitant to vote for Clinton because of her position as a key member of the establishment.”
Fatigue with political correctness also played a significant role in turning working class U.S. citizens away from Clinton and toward Trump. Political correctness, a form of rhetoric that avoids expressing racial, sexual, or economic prejudices, has found its way into virtually every facet of American life. For instance, the term Merry Christmas, along with all its Christian connotations, is censured in some areas for being inconsiderate toward those of Jewish and Muslim faith. Due to the over-saturation of political correctness, political insensitivity and xenophobia have been seeping into public consciousness, with Trump finally giving them a voice. “We’re just tired of standing back and letting everyone else dictate what we’re supposed to think and do,” a Trump supporter told the Washington Post.
Trump may have identified some of the iniquities of the status quo such as the overzealous enforcement of political correctness and the ills of neo-liberalism. Nevertheless, the way he has used them to foment violence and discrimination across the U.S. has marred his entire campaign. “To put it euphemistically, Donald Trump ran a rather unconventional presidential campaign, in terms of scandals, race, gender, provocative language, and in terms of disorganization.” Professor LeifEric Easley (Ewha Women’s University, Division of International Studies) said during the Election Watch. “Many have suggested his policies were incoherent, counterproductive, un-American and perhaps against the law.”
▲ Clinton responding to Trump’s victory on Fox News. Provided by naplesherald.com
Lessons for 2017
With Trump named the next president of the U.S., many are expecting a bleak future. Social networking sites in particular were deluged with infuriated and exasperated comments on the day of the election. It is not difficult to see why; if Trump’s many promises come to fruition, the U.S. will likely alienate other nations and America’s wealth will be depleted. Trump’s unbridled hatefueled rhetoric also presents a problem in his role as President, as mentioned above. The U.S. has traditionally been a nation that was unafraid to engage with the international sector and willing to embrace diversity; Trump would see to it that the U.S. is transformed into a country that is closed off and parochial.
Although less than thrilled by Trump’s victory, some people are still holding out hopes that a Trump-led U.S. could become something other than an unmitigated disaster. “I think Trump needs good advisers; his lack of knowledge in foreign policy might not be a bad thing if he has good advisers,” said Professor Wenwen Shen (Division of International Studies). She also mentioned that Trump’s ascension could remind the current establishment that the people crave change. “Trump’s win is an indication that the political elite really needs to know what the public is thinking and use that knowledge to improve political discourse.” Professor Shen pointed out.
There are those who are less optimistic about the prospect of the U.S. under Trump’s government, however. “Unless Trump acts differently than he talks, the U.S. will need to look for continuity and stability elsewhere,” a senior diplomat of the European Union (EU) embassy lamented. Indeed, the news of Trump’s victory was met with despondent responses; online users expressed their grievances over the result by mockingly calling Trump the last President of the U.S. and actor Mark Ruffalo even called for another vote.
Like Brexit, Trump’s election lends credence to the idea that the world is ready to embrace a new economic and political order based on isolation and exclusivity. Yet people need to accept that it is impossible to reverse what has already happened, again like Brexit. There is no time to bemoan the current state of affairs; the U.S. needs to find a way to move forward despite the potential setback of President Trump. Now is not the time for resignation, but rather action.