Clinton Lost Because She Defined the Establishment, Trump Defied It
Sometime after the midnight of Oct. 8, Donald Trump became the 45th President of the United States. This was not what practically EVERY opinion poll had predicted, right till the voting began. The question was what would be the margin of Clinton’s victory, not whether it will happen. That was taken for granted by the mainstream US media, right from day one of the contest.
In fact, when CNN began the coverage of the polling on election day, it started with the assumption that Clinton would win 268 electoral votes while Trump would win 204. But within a couple of hours after the counting of votes began, it started becoming clear that there was something seriously wrong with this assumption.
By the third or fourth hour, it began to dawn on people that a major upset could be on the cards. That came as a shock because almost nobody, including many Trump supporters, believed he could win. The mainstream media and the opinion polls had successfully convinced virtually everyone that Clinton was invincible. By the time the counting was over, Trump had won 290 electoral votes while Clinton managed to win only 232.
It is now clear that Clinton and her supporters—and she had many, including all the influential lobbies—had completely missed some important clues about the real issues in this election. The most important amongst them was the anti-establishment sentiment, which was running high in the country. Hillary Clinton symbolized the “Establishment.” In a piece published by The Citizen entitled “US Presidential Polls: The Outcome Is Not Clear” published on Nov. 5 this writer had stated:
“Trump draws his support mainly from the working class male, white voter, who is not doing well economically, and who has seen job losses and increase in the cost of living during the last couple of decades. Things became particularly difficult for this class after the Financial Crisis of 2008. Not surprisingly, the anti-establishment sentiment is likely to benefit Trump who is seen as an outsider, in contrast to Clinton.
…there is still a significant percentage of undecided voters, around 5 percent, whose vote could swing the result. They will make up their minds very late, perhaps when they go to vote.
… there is considerable anti-establishment sentiment in the US at the moment. The last 15 years were not among America’s best. The country has been at war continuously, sometimes two at a time…Inevitably, the domestic economic repercussions of the wars have been negative, particularly when coupled with the impact of the 2008 Financial Crisis. Poverty has soared, the middle class has shrunk, real incomes of a significant percentage of Americans have gone down, unemployment has increased, and inequality has grown, to mention but a few parameters.
It remains to be seen if Trump can attract the anti-establishment vote and the undecided voters to a significant extent. Importantly, he has momentum on his side. Clinton had a lead over him in the opinion polls during the campaign and probably still does, though to a lesser degree. But she cannot take her victory for granted.
Anything can happen on election day.”
In retrospect, that is what seems to have happened. In the post-mortem of the results that is being conducted now, there is consensus on one issue—that a significant proportion of the vote for Trump was anti-establishment. According to some exit polls, more than 80 percent of those who voted for Trump wanted “change.”
Trump seems to have grasped this important reality early on in the campaign. In all three debates with Clinton, he emphasized that if she were elected, Americans would get more of the same— what they had been getting during the Obama administration, whereas he stood for change. This, in fact, was the same slogan Obama had used successfully eight years ago to get elected.
Hillary, on the other hand, did not have a simple or clear message for the American people that would respond to their concerns—which were mainly economic— such as jobs and unemployment. Her negative advertisements about Trump—that he lacked the temperament and judgement to be President—obviously did not cut much ice with the electorate.
Analysis of the voting patterns has also revealed that Trump won mainly because of the support of the white, non-college educated, male, blue-collar worker in the “Rust Belt,” or the industrial Midwest of the country, from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin. These included states such as Michigan, Iowa, North Carolina, and Ohio.
Ironically, these voters have traditionally supported the Democratic Party, from Roosevelt to Bill Clinton. Their rejection of Hillary, after almost 30 years, should cause some soul-searching amongst the Democrats. Surprisingly, Trump also did not do too badly amongst educated white women, Hispanics, and Blacks, contrary to expectations.
The US mainstream media, which was a cheerleader for Clinton, has still not come to terms with Trump’s victory. An editorial in the New York Times today, entitled “A heedless desire for change puts America on a precipice” states:
“We don’t know if he has any idea what it means to control the largest nuclear arsenal in the world…[Trump] has shown himself to be temperamentally unfit to lead a diverse nation of 320 million people…We know he lies without compunction…his allies [are] a dark combination of racists, white supremacists, and anti-Semites…[There is] no check on Trump’s vengeful impulses.”
The NYT, however, has grudgingly acknowledged that Trump’s victory means a “rejection of the establishment forces” and “repudiation not only of Clinton but also of Obama.” It goes on to say that, “Trump’s campaign fused unstable identity politics with economic populism.”
The foreign policy implications of Trump’s victory would be interesting to watch as they unfold. One big loser could be the neocon lobby, which has been running US foreign policy for almost two decades. The neocons, along with the Jewish lobby, have plunged America into many disastrous wars including Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Ukraine.
Trump has signalled that he wants to cooperate with Russia to resolve international issues, in contrast to Clinton. He seems to favour less interventionism abroad and a greater focus on domestic matters. President Putin has said that Russia is ready to work with the US to restore “full-fledged” relations.
It is important to note that Trump is not beholden to any particular lobby for winning the Presidency of the US. He should, therefore, have more elbow room to do what he wants. One early indicator would be the US policy in Syria, wherein Trump has said that the US and Russia should jointly fight ISIS.
As far as India is concerned, there is bipartisan consensus over good bilateral relations. During his campaign, Trump has made positive statements about good relations with India, including borrowing a slogan from PM Modi’s electoral campaign: “Ab Ki Baar, Trump Sarkar!” Reportedly, it required 15 attempts for Trump to get it right, but in the end, he finally managed to speak Hindi.
This advertisement was carried on all local Indian TV channels 20 times a day. Trump also wished the viewers “Happy Diwali” and said he looked forward to working with PM Modi.
Trump’s victory marks the beginning of a new era in US politics and signals the end of two dynasties—the Bushes and the Clintons. Republicans currently also control the Senate and the House, bolstering Trump’s ability to repeal or pass new legislation. After his win, Trump has made conciliatory statements and spoken about the need to heal the sharp divisions that exist in America today.
Trump probably understands that to govern successfully he will have to carry the whole country with him. That means abandonment of some of his more extreme rhetoric and positions. Campaigning during elections is one thing but governing is another. The coming months will indicate the direction in which he takes America and its impact on the rest of the world.
(The writer is a retired Indian Foreign Service officer. He is writing from Berkeley, California)