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President-Elect Trump: Unexpected, But Unsurprising

10/11/2016 12:52
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Going into Election Night, I expected - but did not relish the prospect of - a Clinton victory. The next morning, however, Donald Trump had been declared President-Elect. Frankly, this didn't surprise me either - the culmination of an election cycle which really did show the worst of both major parties, and one from which many of Clinton's most vocal supporters will need to learn if Americaqn liberalism is to have a future.

Going all the way back to the primaries, the Democratic field was far less contested than the Republican one; while the latter proved to be unpredictable with lots of candidates and stances battling it out, the Dem contest was ultimately Clinton vs Sanders (with a bit of Martin O'Malley on the side). The outcome also seemed far more predictable than for the GOP, and perhaps even preordained; a primary which, to me anyway, seemed to feel more like a coronation (delayed by 8 years due to that pesky President Obama) of the President Presumptive than anything.

On the Republican side, the nomination of a candidate whose reaction to the 2012 re-election of Obama was to spout Birther conspiracy theories would have been unthinkable. Yet, whether through opportunism at Trump's early surprising popularity, or a failure to realise that - unlike with candidates such as Rand Paul who had enjoyed early leads but then faltered - Trump's popularity would endure, or something else entirely, the RNC ended up stuck with him. Perhaps they could have prevented it, if they'd organised around Kasich or another candidate before most of the delegates were already being allocated, but they didn't - and the resulting divisions between Trump and leading figures in the conservative movement are unlikely to simply go away now that he's been elected - and nor should they, when we consider that Congress's job is to effectively scrutinise and check the President's Bills as much as those from anyone else.

So even going into the election campaign itself, both parties were left with their least popular candidates in recent memory, or perhaps at all - and indeed, polls on voter intention regularly found a sizeable number of both Clinton and Trump supporters backing their candidate mainly because of how much they disliked the other one. Importantly, however, we were also left with the choice between a status quo that large sections of the American public now rejected, and a candidate who promised to change that, even if he could barely seem to settle on what it would be changed to (touting and, thankfully, appearing to drop or sideline ideas such as making Mexico pay for a wall; banning Muslim immigration temporarily; and ordering the commission of war crimes). This set the stage for an acrimonious election, and both sides duly delivered.

While Trump, unsurprisingly, often made his campaign about attacks on Clinton or whichever group he thinks the audience dislikes the most, large numbers of Hillary supporters have did exactly the same, attacking not just Donald Trump himself, or even just Trump supporters, but any Americans who weren't supporting Hillary - whether due to enthusiasm for Trump, or simply dislike of Hillary and her policies (lest we forget that both Johnson and Stein were running on non-interventionist platforms by contrast to Clinton's open support for more intervention). And, rather than make a positive case for Hillary's policies, notable sections of her campaign seemed to believe they could simply advertise her as the first female President, and conversely brand Sanders supporters who won't fall into line behind Clinton as sexist. What this seemed to forget was that the platforms of both Trump and Sanders shared skepticism of globalisation and free trade, and wariness of her calls for intervention. Notably too, neither Trump nor Sanders backed Clinton's confrontational stance with Russia, which many feared would start a new Cold War (making it perhaps ironic that Trump was perceived as more likely to start a World War), and these factors are perfectly capable of driving a vote based on the respective candidates' visions. Clinton was not running for President to be a mascot for how "progressive" America was with a woman in the Oval Office, but to lead the country on the back of her policy platform - and when people find this platform to be wanting, it is a perfectly rational choice to vote for somebody else.

While the concerns articulated above may in the past have been heeded, considered, and assuaged with explanations, a vocal sect of American "liberalism" seems to consider this old hat. Said sect seems to believe that the answer to concerns about immigration is simply to accuse anyone raising such concerns of racism; and that when people distrust forecasts and predictions from commentators and professors, their scepticism isn't to be unpacked (still less the idea that nobody's right all the time to be explored), but instead you can simply invoke the buzz-phrase du jour of "post-truth politics" (as if politics hasn't always been, to some extent, a contest between different visions of both the present and future) and all will be well. And, of course, the best way to show people why they should vote for Clinton is to block people attending Trump rallies and attack (sometimes physically) anyone wearing a MAGA hat. Just because the hat comes off doesn't mean that the wearer has magically changed their mind, and moreover is all but certain to turn several swing voters away from the candidate backed by the attackers, a fact all the more important in an election characterised by large numbers of people voting for the candidate they dislike the least rather than because they actively support them.

In an election where the eventual winner opened his campaign promising to make Mexico pay for a border wall, and received the endorsement of the KKK, it would be idiotic to state that race didn't play a major role in the election, but attempts to reduce the election to "48% of America is racist" are also misguided. This is an election where, in spite of Trump's inflammatory comments about immigration, he did better than Romney with both black and Hispanic voters (and worse with white ones who also turned out in fewer numbers), and where Joe Arpaio - famous for immigration dawn raids; creating a "tent city" of migrants; and running jails so inhumane they breach constitutional rights - lost his re-election bid after 23 years, in a county that voted for Trump. Yet there appears a determination among some Trump opponents to reduce the result to the very identity politics which failed to elect Clinton. Whereas Trump attempted to reach out to black voters, however laughably, identity politicians simply seemed to assume that all black voters would dutifully cast their votes for the same Democrats that have come under increasing criticism for not delivering for their black voters. While "what have you got to lose?" is hardly persuasive, it's a good deal more persuasive than nothing - or, as happened with disturbing regularity - comparing groups like Hispanics for Trump to Jews voting for Hitler (because a border wall is obviously equivalent to gas chambers).

In these circumstances, it should be no wonder why polling for third party candidates has seen a massive upsurge this election, and yet even this drew the ire of the same vocal, intolerant "liberals" who did Clinton's campaign such a disservice. Voting for a third party candidate was derided as "white privilege" - and one article even attempted to "persuade" anyone not voting for Hillary - third party or otherwise - with a headline saying "f**k you if you don't". Ironically, Gary Johnson - the most successful third party candidate in some time - was taking far more votes from the Republicans than Democrats by election night, so an election without him would have only been even more decisive for Trump.

It was Hillary Clinton herself, in her concession speech, which set a far better example to her supporters than the self-appointed vanguard thereof. She wished Trump well; proclaimed that America would have a bright future; and encouraged her supporters to get ready for later electoral battles (which is likely to be far more effective than holding mourning vigils and rioting). Nor was alarmism about nuclear war (which remains very unlikely) or the "death of the republic" by calling Trump a "literal fascist" (an honour which, if used accurately, belongs instead to Kim Jong-Un) cut it; ironically, some claimed that the Clinton campaign was based on hope rather than Trump's campaign based on fear, when too many supporters of the former were all too keen to descend into the politics of fear themselves. And this was while running a candidate with considerable political experience - a former Secretary of State no less.

The vitriol described above also did a huge disservice to the many campaigners for Clinton - some of whom I know personally - who spent their time canvassing and working for her campaign offices, and genuinely trying to persuade people that they were backing the best candidate for the job. But those who share this attitude (including Clinton herself) will have to deal with an undercurrent in their own side that holds that everyone opposing them is evil - a message that will never persuade anyone since the first step to persuasion is listening to the other person before you can respond effectively. And it's a lesson which American liberalism needs to learn quickly, and not just for its own credibility. After all, if Trump can break the flimsy gate to which the intolerant "tolerant" have appointed themselves guardians, then it's only a matter of time before others who they consider even worse also manage to.

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