Thoughts on Trump

The morning after.

Donald Trump is President. He’s given an acceptance speech. Hillary has given a concession speech. The machinations of election day are over.

After 8 years of Barack Obama, 30 years of globalisation and migration, they’ve turned to the candidate who has promised to address their concerns about these issues, shake things up or as he likes to call it ‘drain the swamp’.

I can scarcely believe it.

I found myself walking around the house yesterday, in a state of imperfect equilibrium. Both excited and abhorred by the idea.

This was the biggest repudiation of the establishment since…well since Brexit. (The comparisons ought to end there).

He has beaten everybody. Everybody. The media, almost entirely against him, the political establishment of both the Democrats and his OWN party, many of whom despise him. International opinion, like British politicians debating a ban on him entering the UK, or our very own Leader of the Opposition and holder of Governments to ransom Bill Shorten, who claimed that Trump was ‘barking mad’. Economists and experts who predicted economic armageddon if he got elected. Celebrities who threatened to move to Canada (never Mexico of course).

Against them all, he has somehow managed to win more than 300 electoral college votes and will, next year, be sworn in as President. You can’t help but be impressed by it. Not having run for public office before, he was a natural campaigner. Getting his point across, often venomously, but across nonetheless. His campaign ripped up all the rule books. He said what he wanted to say. There was no script being read from. It didn’t always work, but it appealed to people. Especially when compared to his opponent Hillary Clinton.

I remember watching the First Debate and immediately being struck by the contrast. The candidates were asked a question about what their plan for America was. Clinton responded by saying that she had recently become a grandmother and therefore thought a lot about the future. I had heard months earlier that the Clinton campaign was encouraging her to mention her grandchild frequently in order to humanise her, and there it was, almost immediately. I remember thinking to myself ‘God she’s so scripted.’ It wasn’t just what she said, it was how she said it; slow and perfunctory. Eventually you would tune out, not exactly remembering what she had to say. Not exactly being inspired or excited by her.

The contrast with Trump was enormous. When he spoke, you were hooked. His face bent towards the microphone. His right hand constantly moving, changing between an open palm, to a fist, to a pointed finger. His eyes squinting. Changing topics repeatedly, being incoherent, his minding racing to settle on something he could rant about it, and then when he would find it, he would go.

The NAFTA was a disaster, the worst policy he had ever seen. The worst, the absolute worst.

Slowing his words down, leaning further into the microphone just to make his point even clearer. It was entertaining to watch. ‘If i’m elected I will bring jobs back to America and it’s going to be great. So great. The best economic recovery ever. Ever.’ There wasn’t much in the way of detail, but it was entertaining.

Here was a politician telling it like it is. When Clinton said it was ‘awfully good that somebody with the temperament of Donald Trump isn’t in charge of the Law in this country’, Trump responded by saying ‘Yeah, because you’d be in jail.’ There aren’t many politicians with the nerve to say that. ‘What a boss!’, cheered a Trump supporter friend of mine.

In her concession speech Hillary Clinton admitted that America was ‘more divided than they had thought’. To me seemed it seemed an almost unbelievable admission. Where had Clinton been the previous 18 months? The division was palatable from halfway across the globe, how could that be something ‘they’ had missed?

America is divided and this election highlighted that division. 58% of white voters voted from Trump, yet 65% of latinos and 88% of blacks voted for the Secretary. America remains a country divided on racial lines. It wasn’t just non-university educated white men who voted for him, but college educated men and almost half of all white women. As one commentator put, white people, especially white men, had voted like a minority.

Yet there was an even more obvious divide, that between the rural and urban areas. 31 of America’s 35 cities voted Democrat. This was a revolt of the rural classes. Very similar to Brexit, where every region in England except London voted to leave the European Union.

What was it about Trump that drew so many white voters to him? Well in the mid-west of America thousands of jobs have been lost as large corporations have packed up shop and moved overseas where the labor costs are cheaper. America’s wage growth has stagnated since the 80s.

My own father once lived in a small American town in Pennsylvania called Newcastle, it was a steel town with a population of close to 50,000. Today it is a shell of its former self. Its population now closer to 20,000. There are drug problems, and few jobs. This is the story of many other American towns. In fact Pennsylvania perfectly encapsulates the great American divide. Pennsylvania’s two cities Pittsburgh and Philadelphia voted for Hillary, where as the rural areas primarily stumped for Trump. It was enough for him to win this very important swing state.

What Trump has done is identify a problem. He claims that globalisation has lead to the loss of manufacturing jobs and that’s why America is suffering. He claims that migrants, both legal and illegal have come into America, taken their jobs and depressed their wages. He’s railed against the effects of globalisation on American jobs and has threatened to renegotiate many of America’s trade agreements claiming that America has been taken for a ride. No wonder the global markets are shuddering.

What Trump doesn’t do is admit to the benefits of free trade, like cheaper imports and exports, job opportunities in the services sector. Free trade and globalisation have done wonders for Australia’s economy and standard of living. To be fair, nobody in this election was making the case for free trade.

He also didn’t explain how he plans on bringing these jobs back? He has said he will cut taxes and regulation. Something right out of the Republican playbook. Then he takes a different tangent and threatens to increase tariffs. A potential return to the protectionism of the post-war era. The impact of a more economically isolationist America would be far reaching and has many nations who trade with the United States concerned.

I say ‘potentially’ because Trump is something of an unknown. Was he saying these things because he believed them or because he wanted to get elected? The details are vague and the global markets wait with bated breathe to see what exactly ‘Trumponomics’ will consist of. Not to mention the millions of people who voted for him in the hope he could improve their lives.

Economics was not the only thing Donald Trump focused on during the campaign. Immigration was another significant issue, especially two proposals that really caused shock and awe when they were announced. The first was his desire to build a wall on the border with Mexico and the second his proposed ban on Muslim immigration. I’ll deal with the Muslim ban first.

He announced it in the aftermath of the San Bernardino shootings. The theatrics of it all were brilliant. He, reading from a paper, glasses on, speaking in the third person about himself. “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” That was it. The details as always were vague.

He has altered his position slightly, claiming the ban would only target those from nations with a history of terrorism. So a Scottish Muslim? Well they’re fine. It exposed, to me anyway, a dark underbelly to his campaign. Targeting Muslims in their entirety just goes against the Liberalism the West claims to live by. We do not discriminate against an entire Religion because of the actions of its extremists. Islamic extremism is a problem, a big problem, but the majority should not be punished for the few. If we were to do so, how are we any different, how are we any better than them?

The furore it created was enormous, I couldn’t believe the backlash against it. J.K. Rowling, a little too self importantly for my liking, claimed he was worse than Voldemort. Many commentators predicted that he was finished. As usual they were wrong. He only became more popular. Fear of Islamic extremism is a real thing, and Trump took perfect advantage of it.

While he seems to have dialled down his rhetoric on Muslims, on the wall he has continued. He is adamant that he will build a wall in an attempt to keep out those who seek to get into the United States illegally. On top of all that, he plans on making Mexico pay for it, through an increase in Tariffs in the NAFTA and other fees!

I have to admit I find myself somewhat torn on this. The cost would be enormous, more than $25 billion dollars. Patrolling it would be expensive. Many experts question its effectiveness. Not to mention the symbolism of a ‘wall’.  However, as an Australian, I’ve seen an Australian government win an election promising to ‘Stop the Boats’, criticised widely for proposing to turn boats around, told they would be unable to do so, it would be too expensive, only for them to succeed and succeed with relative ease. It’s hard for me to oppose something that my own Government has done, something I and the majority of Australians have been very supportive of. If he can build the wall, and reduce Illegal immigration into the United States, in the long run the issue of illegal immigration will die down in American politics, and as we’ve seen in Australia, public support for immigration will rise. Besides, how is it fair to those who follow the rules, pay the fees and go through the arduous application process, when millions of people can come to the United States and just stay there? It isn’t.

We’ll to have wait and see if Trump can implement his agenda, but there is an elephant in the room that nobody is really addressing and that is Hillary Clinton. How can she have lost to somebody like Donald Trump?

She was the establishment candidate.

The experienced candidate.

Over a decade in the Senate, four years as secretary of state, the First Lady of a moderately popular former President. The first ever female nominee for any party, on the cusp on becoming the first women President. Yet she still lost.

Some have claimed it was sexism, America being unprepared for a female leader. Others have claimed she lost because of a ‘whitelash’ against the black Obama. Perhaps in those there is some truth, but they largely ignore that it was always going to be difficult for her to win. The Democrats were seeking a third term in the Oval Office at a time when they are not exactly popular.

Not two years ago the Republicans took control of both houses. Not since 1988 has a party won a third consecutive term in the Oval Office. However, if ever there was a time to capitalise on the disunity of your opponent it was now, against a candidate like Donald Trump. She couldn’t and that goes to the heart of her weakness as a candidate.

The American public wanted change and in the eyes of many, she was not the agent to bring it. She was associated with policy failures like the Iraq War, Libya and Benghazi. She gave $300,000 speeches to Goldman Sachs, while attempting to portray herself as the candidate on side with the downtrodden and left behind. She came to be perceived as the candidate too close to corporate interests, extraordinary when you consider her opponent was a billionaire businessman.

The Americans also didn’t trust her. The email server scandal a reminder of her liberties with the truth. Let’s pause a moment to consider just how shady the whole email server business was. Why would you, as Secretary of State, set up your own email server, rather than use the one assigned to you by the Government? Why would you then, when discovered, delete thousands of email before handing them over to the FBI? First she claimed there were no classified emails. Then when that was proven untrue, claimed she was unaware that the C marked on some emails meant classified. Perhaps there are perfectly innocent explanations for these actions, but to many Americans it looked and sounded wrong and boy was Trump good at exploiting her faults.

In the end, the campaign became a referendum on Clinton, not on Trump and that was always going to be a concern for the Democrats. In perhaps the most embarrassing statistic of the election, an exit poll found 61% of voters thought Trump was unfit for the presidency, yet he still managed 47% of the vote, meaning many of those who thought him unfit for the presidency, still voted for him. That is an indictment on the Clinton campaign.

In the end this election has not showered America in any glory. It has been crude and divisive. With it finally over, now is their chance for some national healing and unity. Trump’s acceptance speech was wonderful and conciliatory. He may surprise us yet. For the sake of world, I do hope he does.

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