This guest article was written by Evros Stylianou who is a freelance blogger and editor.
Once upon a time, a billionaire reality TV star attended the White House correspondents’ dinner and was publicly roasted by the President of the United States of America. Five years later, he replaced that same president as commander in chief. It remains to be seen whether we all lived happily ever after. Truth, my friends, is certainly stranger than fiction. Now more so than ever.
But why the shock? Why the outrage? It’s almost as if a certain B-movie actor never occupied the position of American premier. It’s almost as if another American head of state wasn’t filmed saying: “I did not have sex with that woman”, only to have a semen-stained blue dress turn up to prove otherwise. It’s almost as if the Terminator never became Governor of California. It’s almost as if a certain cognitively challenged, former president’s son didn’t have two turns at the helm, amidst all manner of electoral controversy and despite the fact that his first opponent won the popular vote by a margin of over half a million.
If you were willing to swallow any of the above events as they were unfolding, but now baulk at President Trump, I have to wonder what planet you’ve been living on.
And now the hysterical opinion pieces are flooding in with doomsday scenarios about it being the end of globalisation, the end of the USA, the end of the world as we know it. Post-game analysts from Los Angeles to Lebanon are scratching their heads, wondering how America’s right-on, uber-politically-correct, social-justice-warrior-laden population; comprising record numbers of single mothers, people of colour and all manner of good liberal folks, could end up with a President Trump.
Stranger still, the same markets that swore they’d never suffer another Brexit, totally failed to predict Trump becoming the 45th US president. I’ll admit that I got Brexit wrong myself, but not because I misjudged the sentiment of the British people. I got it wrong because I didn’t expect that they were actually going to have their way.
Brexit wasn’t a shock for anyone who’s grown up underprivileged in the UK. Who watched as the hope at the end of two decades of Conservative rule was transformed into the mini dark age of the early 2000s, as inaugurated by Tony Blair. Who has lived and gone to school with other working class people and understands the difference between being British and being English.
Brexit has been bubbling away beneath the surface of British culture for as long as there has been an EU. Similarly, you had to have been paying attention to the last few decades, not just the last few months, if you wanted to avoid being blind-sided by Trump’s victory.
The punks used to say that if voting truly made a difference, it would be made illegal. This idea is often used by liberals as a warning, that to abstain from the political process because you believe it to be futile, is to risk the far right coming to power.
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The final figures have yet to come in, but voter numbers were said to have been approaching record highs according to the data available on Wednesday afternoon, which means that Trump’s victory can’t be chalked up to something as convenient as voter apathy. On the contrary, his antics seem to have catalysed voter engagement. Which makes the reality far more troubling.
It wasn’t disenfranchised people abstaining that earned Trump the win. Trump is what happens in a post-political age when people are so fed up of business as usual, that they’d try anything for the sake of change. It’s the result of a widespread feeling that the political system is bankrupt, and a morbid fascination with what can really happen if we just pull the trigger and do the unthinkable.
It’s the ‘Hail Mary’ play of American football or the ‘spite call’ of poker. A vote for Clinton buys you everything you’d expect from a career politician, which we’ve already seen ad nauseam. A vote for Trump, on the other hand, may at least answer a question people have been asking forever. Does picking the one on the left or the one on the right actually make a difference? And with it looking like Clinton may have escalated tensions in the Middle-East, just how much higher were the stakes with a Trump victory?
You can’t expect me to believe that the majority of the American voting population are misogynist, isolationist, white supremacists, who are firing up their cement mixers as I type this to help him build that wall. The uproar surrounding Trump’s ridiculous pronouncements on the campaign trail was particularly hilarious because, like it or not, they ended up revealing far more about how much faith we still place in campaign promises, despite all having grown up watching politicians say one thing and do another.
Lyndon Johnson ran as the ‘peace candidate’, only to get the United States embroiled in Vietnam. Bush senior ran on a platform of ‘read my lips, no new taxes’, only to increase them when he was elected. Obama pledged to close Guantanamo Bay, and didn’t. According to Politifact (a kind of Snopes for politics), Obama only made good on 45% of his campaign promises, broke 22% of them and compromised on 26% (with 5% still being in the works and 1% having stalled). Do you mean to tell me that you seriously expect President Trump to follow through on more of the nonsense he spouted prior to being elected than Barack Obama did?
Of course, it’s a spurious argument, but its logic was played upon ingeniously by Trump, who managed to get enough of America’s extremists, right-wingers, anti-Clintons, as well as the devil-may-care vote of enough people somewhere in the middle to have pulled off this coup.
As the news came in, stock markets plummeted, trading curbs were introduced and safe haven assets like gold and bitcoin soared. Gradually, markets managed to pare their losses as Trump struck a more conciliatory tone in his first address as president, and it began to look like Armageddon would have to wait for another day. Far be it from me to conclude on some tepid cliché about Trump being the symptom, not the disease itself, the reality is far more complicated than that.
However, I do think that a vote for Trump did roughly translate to a vote against Washington and that’s what we’re talking about here. In any case, the fact remains that the current US President calls people names on Twitter and talks about grabbing women’s p*****s. Could it be that in our media-saturated age we’re coming to terms with even our political leaders ‘playing the heel’ and ‘selling the fight’?
It’s like we all woke up one morning and found ourselves in an episode of Black Mirror. God help us.