We all thought it was gonna be fine. We expected the United States to get its first female President. I went to bed early on Wednesday morning thinking all was going to plan. My cautious prediction was that Hillary Clinton would win by a narrower margin than pundits anticipated after a bumpy ride through the rust belt.
And I was right.
At least in terms of the popular vote.
But those mid-western bumps knocked her out of the game in terms of the electoral college.
There were warning signs in the run up to voting. Bill Clinton surfacing unexpectedly in Detroit days before voting suggested something might be up in reliably blue Michigan- there was.
Several polling experts voiced uneasiness about the massive lack of polling interviews being conducted in Spanish suggesting that the Latino vote may potentially not be as strong for the Democrats as we thought – it wasn’t.
Minor issues but It cannot be underestimated how close it was. Had about 1 in 100 Americans switched sides we’d be looking at a Clinton landslide. That said, given the massive weight of expectation on Secretary Clinton’s shoulders as a candidate there is still plenty of blame to go around.
I blame the policy malaise amongst Western Progressives in general. For the second time this year, we found ourselves defending the status quo to those it had let down. We cannot be surprised that it all fell on deaf ears.
The centre and centre left does not trade in big ideas any more. It seems like the standard election campaign from any given mainstream party since the start of the century has consisted of reheating or rebranding existing ideas leaving many orthodoxies unchallenged. When an unknown option comes along such as brexit or Trump, even if it is vaguely menacing, people, the marginalised will want to push the button.
When you give a man with nothing to lose the chance to take a risk, he’ll take it- sure wouldn’t he be a fool not to?
The shame is there are big ideas out there. Climate change, automation and the internet revolution are all threats but they also offer a dizzying array of opportunity. There is an open possibility to move ideas such as universal basic income and large scale investment in green infrastructure from the fringes into concrete costed policy documents.
We hear a lot about not letting “populist” claims go unchallenged and while I agree, we must also be more active in putting big ideas into the ether. This election was all about challenging the populist and ended up as a referendum on Trump. The Democrats seemed unable or unwilling to get their policies fully on the agenda.
But far more important than this is the need for engagement. By far the most nauseating aspect of this result was the attitude of middle class educated folk on social media who deemed working class people in the “brexit states” as Michael Moore deemed to be “feeling left behind”- the word “feel” here subtly implies that this may be wrong. The people in question are often experiencing mass unemployment on a generational scale.
It might be more than a feeling.
They cannot be won back by leaders making decisions in their favour from on high. Nor can they be won back just by being listened to. They must be actively engaged with. They must be at the heart of any kind of rebuilding of the centre ground with their own input.
It was truly shocking to watch a campaign in large nation still very much in rapid relative economic decline have so little reference to policy. This has long been the case in the US as their system emphasises personality ahead of policy but it is particularly comment worthy after the election of Trump.
Despite endless claims to the contrary, the current US constitution with it’s strong executive and strong legislature is highly unwieldy and prone to deadlock. It’s a model that was exported multiple times to South America in the 19th century and often failed.
A strong recent example of this deadlock was the career of Barrack Obama who came on to the national political stage expressing a desire to move forward in bipartisan unity. He’s about to leave the White House without even being able to get Congress to consider a Supreme court nominee. Trump, the most divisive candidate in history, is similarly unlikely to make progress despite a GOP congressional majority.
Historically, if the Spanish-American war marked the beginning of American hegemony this election may very well mark it’s end. There is a genuine need for those of us in Europe to prepare for this. For starters, and for purely optical reasons, the Irish would do well to ensure the Taoiseach doesn’t insist on humiliating himself in front of the US president every March 17th. More importantly, Europe as a whole needs to organise and streamline it’s defence capabilities. This does not mean a defence union per-se and may almost certainly mean net savings in defence spending if done correctly. We also need to turn our general attention more towards other parts of the world such as the BRICS economies.
Whose interests does it serve if we continue to fawn over the fading American political melodrama?