The election of Donald Trump as the US President is an interesting event. It highlights the perceptions and prejudices that have influenced American people through this campaign. It hauls up their inherent fears and insecurities and points to a global trend of despair that has its roots in circumstances far beyond just a presidential campaign.
In recent times, nations have selected as leaders, individuals who promise change, action and a decisive management style. The Indian PM is repeatedly feted for his ability to walk the talk and take incisive decisions. In Russia, the president delivers with precision and unequivocal strength, both statements and actions that align with it’s distinct ethos. Strong elements of nationalism, of closed boundaries and protection of the home front are acutely apparent, in both the narratives by these national leaders, and the mood of the public at large.
Brexit signalled everything that was rotten in England. People responded to populism and paranoia, determined quite certainly by something more than just right-wing fanaticism. The global economic meltdown can also be seen as a tipping point in making individuals re-assess their goals, aspirations and priorities. Possibly, the concerns and outcomes of the economic meltdown, combined with continued financial hardship, spiralled into a general rancour against globalisation and liberal values. Repeated attacks on civilians, either by terror outfits or by mentally unstable, socially isolated individuals have disturbed the routine existence of the person on the street and tarnished the image of the ‘good life’ that seemed to be within grasp, just around the corner.
The Trump win, much like Obama’s, as ironic as it sounds, is a plea for social justice. As the US President, Obama’s method and approach may have appeared to be quite egalitarian, and certainly less disturbing, but Obama’s win was a victory for a community of people looking for change. The perception of ‘change’ can vary over time and circumstance. In 2008, The New York Times wrote that Obama’s “decisive victory was fueled by a fierce feeling of discontent over the nation’s direction and its place in the world.” America is still in a state of discontent and has chosen to demonstrate three preferences symbolic of its dystopia through the electoral ballot.
A commercial hardline has openly ousted any preference for intangible values. The bottom-line revolves around money and jobs. People have rejected higher human values of integration, cooperation, and other ideological frameworks in favour of basic economic security and a promise to keep America’s money with American people, within American coffers. The perception of instability, both financial and social, instigated by the rapid diversification of jobs, by changing hierarchies at work, by more colourful social structures is in direct contrast to the fantastical 1900s notion of North America as a ‘melting pot’. Trump has vent outrage at all the factors perceived by the layperson to impact his/her daily bread: Chinese trade, tax rates, immigration visas, climate change, and terrorism. Clearly, any needs of self-actualisation, achievement of common potential, respect for others and lack of prejudice have been overshadowed by baser drives in a perceived insecure environment.
Despite its history of feminism and vociferous lip service in favour of gender equality, a vast number of people have demonstrated their preference for misogynism, disinterest in altering a predominantly, aggressive male culture and general comfort level in maintaining the status quo. That the US has been unable to bring itself to elect a female president is telling, but not surprising, given that nearly 40% of Americans use the word ‘angry’ to describe the feminist movement, and ‘extreme’ to describe feminists. Americans appear to be looking for an authoritative, masculine warrior (à la George Bush) to deliver them of their ills, and this perception overshadows personality defects that can be neglected, including the approach towards women and minorities.
Finally, citizens of the US have preferred an unknown devil to a known one. The trust vacuum fuelled by controversies such as Clinton’s use of a private server for official emails and her corporate-friendly ties likely made citizens gravitate towards a non-political figure. The perception of a successful businessman with radical agendas and experience in surpassing financial expectations rode over the little knowledge people have about his style of working and other political and socio-cultural inclinations.
The discontent, hopelessness and reality of public needs could neither be captured by a media buoyant about Clinton’s candidature and projected win, nor by astute political pundits. People have given in to what they view as a beacon of hope, eager to dispel the despair sweeping the western world through a flux of altered socio-economic flows, uncontrollable natural and geographical upheavals and intensified inter-personal interactions.
The author is a fellow, Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration. Views are personal