I never imagined this would happen; I honestly believed he'd lose good and hard, causing the GOP (Republican Party) to implode and let the designated driver types take over from the loons. I also believed that a near-miss in which the experienced politician and stateswoman Hillary Clinton wiped the floor with him would open up the political process and let third parties in. I was wrong. But why? How could America do this? Why would America do this?
The Establishment went all Ayn Rand...
America loves capitalism, which it treats as a venerated religion, infallible and unquestionable. As Ronald Wright claims John Steinbeck once said,
Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat, but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires. - Wikiquote
Therefore, while there is in fact a Socialist presence in the United States it's not particularly big. Whenever Americans flip out about Socialism, it's about people who express positions that are basically not calling for total war on Islam or the eradication of all social programs. As some of my American friends are prone to saying, "When all you have is a hammer, everything else looks like a nail." Most of the flipper-out-ers don't actually know what "socialism" means, they just use it as a catch-all dog whistle to describe people who disagree with them.
...and took the country with it
The word "Establishment" is generally considered to mean "the powers that be." This consists of elected and unelected people who have power and influence over society and the economy. They can control the flow of information and hold most of the wealth. Due to the prevalence of echo chambers it can be hard for many Americans to work out exactly what "the Establishment" actually means, and, like "socialism" it becomes a catch-all dog whistle and boogeyman scapegoat word, interchangeable with the word "elite." This is what it actually looks like in a disaffected American's head:
“We will never have the elite smart people on our side, because they believe they should have the power to tell you what to do,” said Santorum, adding, “So our colleges and universities, they’re not going to be on our side. The conservative movement will always be – and that’s why we founded Patriot Voices – the basic premise of America and American values will always be sustained through two institutions, the church and the family.” - Rick Santorum: ‘Smart people’ will never side with conservatives, by Allen McDuffee for the Washington Post
Those comments rang so true with his audience he had a realistic shot at the Presidency in 2012. The GOP has been pushing an anti-government line since the days of Ronald Reagan. Over and over again right wingers have told the faithful that government ruins everything it touches (which begs the question: if that's true, why put it in charge of protection of property? Surely to goodness it'd make a mess of that, too.) till ordinary people began to believe it. So, then, just like Ayn Rand many Americans believe that the government shouldn't be involved in anything more than protecting property rights and let private enterprise take over everything, especially healthcare, despite the mountain of evidence that private enterprise exists to either make a profit or push an agenda, particularly where health is concerned.
Enter Trump, stage right. Far right
Donald Trump burst on to the political scene pushing the "birther" conspiracy theories about President Obama, which brought him to national attention. It was on the back of the popularity engendered thereby that he began his run for office. People had been introduced to the idea of running a country like a business by a businessman by the Mitt Romney campaign in 2012 but Mitt flopped because he has the personality of a cardboard cutout — he's basically a stuffed suit. Trump roared in like a bat out of hell, the perfect antithesis of Romney. Where Mitt was urbane and sophisticated, Trump is loud and crass; trailer trash with lots of cash. He personifies Randian morality in which selfishness is supreme and altruism is a sign of weakness and his supporters believe he is John Galt, come to save them as Rand foretold, kind of thing. Well, as they say, be careful what you wish for; people are social creatures and community cohesion is not created and maintained when everyone believes that the world is theirs to shape as they see fit; there's never really enough room for more than one such person and the struggles that result usually end in tears when they realise that the world is bigger than they thought it was and that they can't control their own destiny after all. Bummer!
About Hope and Change...
President Barack Obama swept to victory in 2008 on the slogan "Hope and change." People who voted for him honestly believed he would make their lives better. Well he's brought healthcare to millions who weren't covered by it before but because it was an insurance boondoggle many people are now finding that because people with pre-existing conditions can't be turned away, their premiums have risen because the risks of claims being made has increased. The economy has improved but America is still mired in debt. While it's true that obstructionist Republicans did their best to stop him doing as much as he wanted to, it's also true that he kept on many of the neocons who infested the Bush administration that preceded his. And his policies, while they throw some red meat to the Progressive base, don't differ all that much from Dubya's. Surveillance, persecution of whistleblowers, drone strikes, sneaky FTAs, etc., all tarnish his reputation and will follow him through history. There was plenty of hope when he began his presidency but the only real change was Obamacare, gay marriage, and the rise of the Far Right.
...it never happened for most Americans
I've explained the attraction of Trump to a large section of the American people a few times here in On t'Internet.
He says what dissatisfied, anxious people are thinking. He gives voice to their hopes and fears and addresses them directly. He also stands out from the crowd of identikit career politicians, who spout the party line without fail while bringing their own brand of right-wing flavoured lunacy to the table. Whether his claims of self-funding are true or not the perception is that he can't be bought. He may be an idiot, people seem to think, but he's our idiot. - Donald Trump: What's The Appeal?
I've been telling those liberals I'm friendly with that it's this, not racism or ignorance per se that's the problem, but they're too busy wibbling on about what a massive success NAFTA, which drove many Trump voters out of work and increased immigration from Mexico, was.
...so, understandably, they're hacked off
These forgotten people, the ones written off as deplorables and trailer trash, are pretty damn furious with the liberal elite who claim to be their champions, who insist that they're voting against their own best interests when they fail to elect a Progressive, but who only seem to have political correctness, increased immigration, and fluffy idealism to offer them. Americans would rather have jobs than be parked on welfare. From the cradle, Americans are taught that they ought to be self-sufficient and capable. The idea of relying on social programs to get through life appalls them. That the liberal/progressives don't get this is an indictment of their utter uselessness in general political discourse; they're great at effecting change for their pet projects and worthy causes but have little time for meeting the needs of ordinary Americans. Conservatives believe that working gives you dignity and purpose; liberals believe that work should be an option. That's why liberal/progressive social programs tend to chuck benefits at people instead of targeting their actual problems. However, right-wingers who hate public assistance programs set them up to fail in order to push people off them; you can't buy soap or toothpaste using food stamps but it's hard to get a job if you smell bad and have gross teeth. It's this nit-picking paternalism on both sides that have turned people against the Establishment. They're hoping Trump will put an end to the petty humiliations they suffer every day as a result of partisan ping-pong where they are the ball.
He's the daddy
Many people see Trump as a strongman, a father figure for the nation. America loves winners, remember; it's not the taking part that counts, it's the medal tally at the end. But if America loves anything else, it's good old Uncle Sam. The idea that America is anything less than the greatest of all nations irks the people; that's why "Make America great again" was such a winning slogan; Trump dared to suggest that America was failing it live up to its potential, that Uncle Sam was looking a little podgy and over the hill "...but fear not, citizens! For I, your fearless leader, will whip him into shape at Trump boot camp." And the people cried out as one, "Amen!" Paul Ryan joined in.
People want to be winners, too
I'm not under any illusion that Trump can deliver on his promises but he has been sufficiently convincing that people believe that he can. His supporters aren't the only ones paying attention to this, though; liberals trying to learn the lessons are not really getting it.
Oh, dear. America 101: the Yanks abhor collectivism. Anything that smacks of unions, socialism, or anything like that will be dismissed unless it appeals to their pride as individuals or in their nation. Anyone who therefore tries to organise people who are inherently suspicious of them is absolutely doomed to failure. This is not due to ignorance on the part of the intended audience, but to ignorant paternalism on the part of the would-be organisers. Unless they can frame it in terms of enabling self-sufficiency or bashing the bad guys the scheme will fall flat. It's the essential failure to understand why their underlying philosophy is such utter pants that limits its appeal to social justice warriors, slackers, and well-meaning rich people who haven't got a clue.Working class whites are a potential juggernaut. We can organize them or be destroyed by them. https://t.co/8Nfds8PISq pic.twitter.com/1hL1cbZIDm— Connor Kilpatrick (@ckilpatrick) November 9, 2016
He's made a big list, he's checking it twice...
Populists win people over by appealing to their perceptions. This is why people who defend political correctness as an effort to be sensitive to other people's needs don't understand the gagging effect it has on public discourse and the paralysing effect it has on dealing effectively with social problems. Here, take a look at The Donald's to-do list for the first day of his presidency. Here's something to note:
For Trump, the “art of the deal” – the sheer commercial excitement – is not striking the best original bargain, but the later haggling and manouvering once contract begins. - Donald Trump and the Art of the Political Deal, by David Allen Green for Jack of Kent
Or, as Darth Vader would say...
"I am altering the deal. Pray that I don't alter it any further."
If that's the kind of man we're dealing with as President, the next two years should be fun; Americans like to give their president a bit of a running start and Trump owns both Houses as well as the White House... for now. Two years hence, if he hasn't kept his promises to the base, they will punish him in the mid-term elections and he'll be a lame duck president. That will make it very hard for him to get anything done and I'm already seeing what that could look like as #notmypresident is already trending on Twitter. "Flow my tears," cried the liberals, entirely forgetting that their best interests are not as prosaic as those of the Trump voters. So now the people who decried the obstruction of Obama are planning to do the same to Trump first chance they get. It won't be pretty but it should be worth an ironic laugh or two.
Trump's shifting policy positions have made it hard for analysts to pin him down; my money's on an obnoxious version of Dubya but I've already been proven wrong about whether Trump could actually win or not. What if the shock of winning the White House sobers him up, makes him realise how far out of his depth he is, and causes him to work with others as part of a team instead of attempting to bestride the globe like a colossus?
Fascism is gaining ground
The degradation of public institutions and the rule of law that defines the rise of fascism is happening in an America where due process is increasingly seen as an impediment to justice. Against this backdrop a thin-skinned autocrat has been elected to the highest office in the land. Will he use his position for personal gain while his political cronies manipulate and flatter him to get their own agendas enacted? Right-wingers are in the ascendancy; how much will they be able to get done, and how much damage to democracy itself will they do?
Promises and policies
He promised to derail AT&T's merger with Time Warner but will he? His views on IPR have left my fellow Pirates feeling uneasy; net neutrality may well be on the chopping block. Foreign policy experts are concerned about the state the world will be in when he gets his hands on the reins of power; his admiration for strongmen could well create more instability and conflict. LBGT campaigners are worried that the protections conferred on them by Obama will end. Zionists believe he will help them to obliterate the Palestinians. Yay genocide! Ethnic cleansing for the win, etc. The surveillance state is unlikely to be rolled back and we can expect more secret prosecutions unless he suddenly decides that's a bad idea. Yeah, right. And while he says he is against TPP, I doubt he even knows about RECP, a new trade deal that now includes China — and the dreaded ISDS. As a populist, I doubt he'll even care until someone brings it to his attention as an issue that might threaten his position.
Nobody knows what is going to happen next; the man is seventy, he might croak it just before or shortly after the inauguration. His own party might hamstring him to get what they want and the Democrats might take advantage of this to push for what they want. They might even get into the obstructionism they used to complain about Republicans doing. He might run a right-wing regime for two years, run the good ship USA into the rocks and get hammered in the mid-term elections, then wiped out in 2020 in an event that resets the GOP, but that might put the reformicon lipstick-on-a-pig agenda front and centre as the moderate option because the party has gone so far to the right. That would mean an endless cycle of same old, same old, with the two parties taking it in turns to screw the country and line their own pockets while partisan numb-nuttery ensures that nothing really changes.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: if Americans want real hope and change they're going to have to bin neoliberalism. There's no other way to make it happen.
Trump was the ultimate protest vote: Trumpy McTrumpface, if you will. It's what the people wanted, so that's what they got, but will the powers that be prevail in the end, after all? If they do, what will the people do to make their voices heard next time around? This is America's wake up call. Let's all pray they don't just roll over and go back to sleep.