External Affairs

Shock But Not Surprise as Trump Victory Replays Brexit All Over Again

Hillary Clinton promised more of the same to a nation that, after eight years of the Obama’s presidency, was more unequal and seething with discontent on Left and Right. The last thing it wanted was someone attached to the centre-ground.

Donald Trump after his victory speech in New York. Credit: Reuters

Donald Trump after his victory speech in New York. Credit: Reuters

Against the odds, and the predictions of expert pollsters, Republican contender Donald Trump has been elected the 45th president of the United States in what seems to many to be another ‘Brexit’ moment in this most tumultuous of years. With 95% of the votes counted, Trump won 279 electoral college votes against Hillary Clinton’s 218, but garnered  59.02 million votes – that’s 47.5% of the popular vote – as opposed to Clinton’s 47.6% (59.16 million votes)

There are 220 million eligible voters in the United States. About 25% of eligible American voters have thus chosen the leader of the United States, the most powerful political office-holder in the world.

The Republicans have held onto the US Senate and House of Representatives. A system famously wedded to divided government now has a clean shot at effecting a major reversal of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, cutting social security benefits for the poor, slashing taxes for the rich, abolishing corporate regulation, instituting immigration ‘reform;, among other things. And don’t even mention climate change. The fact that working class Americans who normally vote Democrat have helped usher in this new political configuration in the belief that they are taking back their country is one of the abiding ironies of this election.

Stock markets around the world reacted negatively to the news due to Donald Trump’s unpredictability and divisive rhetoric but will likely recover before long as the victor does not take office until January 2017. In any case, the markets have a way of taking care of themselves.

In the short term, if the analogy to Brexit is viable, abuse and even hate crimes against minorities and immigrants are likely to increase, as indeed they did after candidate Trump began branding Mexican immigrants as rapists and murderers early in his campaign. We should also expect more street protests.

What does Trump’s victory signify? It signifies nothing less than a rejection of the politics of the past, of politics itself, and of the leadership of the Republican party – and the political and moral bankruptcy of the Hilary Clinton-led Democratic party.

Trump has changed the face of US politics. He has never held elected public office. He has used language that has never been used by a main party candidate. He has legitimised the reduction of women into sex objects and of minorities as suspect and second-class. He has shown that racist appeals to white identity combined with promises of industrial jobs aplenty can still get a candidate elected to the highest office in a post-industrial, globalised nation like the United States. He has shown that Wall St money alone cannot buy an election.

Yet, Trump was fortunate with his opponent, Hillary Clinton. She was mired in Wall St slush and was the epitome of the establishment politician at a time when anti-elitism was the order of the day. That fact stared her campaign in the face right at the outset– literally, in the form of Bernie Sanders – but went unheeded.

It was clear from the moment that Clinton selected Tim Kaine as here vice-presidential running mate that the triumph of Wall St in the Democratic campaign was complete. They had, through numerous machinations, seen off Sanders and prepared Hillary for her long-hoped for coronation. Unlike Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton was not an outsider but the ultimate insider.

As an insider, however, she proved too cautious, too conservative, too timid to embrace what was a historic opportunity. What was meant to be a coronation turned into a civil war, one that Trump was better suited to waging.

Hillary Clinton promised more of the same to a nation that, after eight years of the Obama’s presidency, was more unequal and seething with discontent on Left and Right. The last thing it wanted was someone attached to the centre-ground. And, on top of that, who had already helped herself, and her family, to vast amounts of corporate funds – over $3 billion over 4 decades of ‘public’ service.

And outsourcing the State Department’s emails to herself, along with the role of the FBI in keeping the issue alive right up until polling day itself, proved the final nail in her political ambition, collapsing the Clinton house of cards.

Trump and Sanders each won 13 million votes in the primaries – 26 million in total – to Clinton’s 16 million, and that’s without accounting for Sanders’s victories in caucus states. The anti-establishment tsunami passed Clinton and her centrist strategists by, consigning them to the dustbin of history.

Donald Trump was lucky with his opponent. Had Bernie Sanders been the Democratic candidate, we might have seen a real challenge to Trump’s racist, misogynistic, right-wing campaign. Indeed, in that contest we might have seen the emergence of synergies that seem to have made nonsense out of the Left/Right divide. Perhaps Bernie Sanders’s Brand New Congress, Our Revolution and Sanders Institute, will show their mettle in the political struggles to come.

Looking ahead to the Trump presidency

So as president, what will Trump do? At home, he has a conservative House of Representatives and Senate. As he has rowed back on his promise to raise taxes on the rich and big corporations, Republican lawmakers will embrace him like one of their own. As Trump has relied heavily on the Heritage Foundation for his tax policy and his attitude to welfare and ‘entitlements’ like social security, we should expect a major attack from the Republican Right.

This would be contrary to promises made and implied on the campaign trail and will likely alienate his political base among workers. But many of them – inspired by Trump ‘giving them their country back’ – might not care, at least in the short run. The psychological wage of white male power has often proved seductive in a racial order based on divide and rule.

Trump will appoint a Supreme Court justice opposed to the landmark Roe vs Wade decision of 1973 which made abortion legal. This would set back women’s rights and is likely to generate massive resistance.

The Heritage Foundation has not only produced its Blueprint for Reform to which the Trump camp appears closely attached, but has also seen its former president, Ed Feulner, appointed several months ago to chair the Trump Transition Team – the group developing policy options and possible appointees to cabinet and other governmental positions.

America is in for four years of the most right-wing conservative government since Ronald Reagan; if anything, Trump may leave Reagan in the shade.

Overseas, Donald Trump questioned the whole edifice of the US-led world order since 1945, especially its military alliances and agreements – NATO, the treaties with Japan and South Korea, intervention in Syria, the war on Iraq, the rising confrontation with Russia in the Baltic States and eastern Europe. He has indicated rejection of the Iran nuclear agreement.He has promised to wipe out ISIS, re-introduce water-boarding and torture as policy against terror suspects, and to bomb and kill their wives and children. His election will strengthen the belief in some circles that the United States is at war with Islam.

Yet, again, Trump appears to have drawn his military policy from the Heritage Foundation. And the Republican party platform adopted at the convention notes the indispensability of American power, the necessity of “vast superiority” of military power over rivals, of maintaining America’s alliances and treaties, of checking Russian ‘expansionism’.

This is contrary to the rhetoric of the Trump campaign and may well be a source of tension with fellow Republicans in the House and Senate. It will test Trump’s deal-making skills in the months and years ahead.

Some analysts hope the growing confrontation between NATO and Russia might be defused by Trump’s personal equations with Putin. It is, after all, NATO that has expanded its operations all the way to the Russian border. On the other hand, most of the Republicans who moved to his camp early – and who are in line for key positions in the State Department and Pentagon – are traditional American hawks who stand fully implicated in many of the misadventures of the past that Trump sought to distance himself from. So will a Trump administration follow the maverick campaigner’s instincts and lead the United States to draw back from and reduce its military commitments around the world? Or will the US military establishment assert itself?

In sum, America has chosen a mercurial man of destiny to lead it for the next four years. His policies at home will re-ignite mass opposition that might regenerate the moribund politics of the Democratic party or simply lead to greater and greater social tension.

In his victory speech, Trump sought to draw a line under the campaign and indicate to both his opponents at home and the world at large that “while we will always put America’s interests first, we will deal fairly with everyone, with everyone — all people and all other nations. We will seek common ground, not hostility; partnership, not conflict.”

The United States (or at least the half which didn’t vote for him) and the rest of the world has a little over two months to figure out who the real Donald J. Trump is – and to learn how to deal with the one that finally takes charge of the White House.

Inderjeet Parmar is professor of international politics at City, University of London and a columnist at The Wire. Follow him on Twitter @USEmpire