Melanie Verwoerd

Eish, America!

2016-11-09 11:12

After about 18 months and hundreds of millions of dollars we finally know who the next president of the United States of America is. The man no one took seriously a year ago, is now the most powerful in the world.

Yet again, as with Brexit, the opinion polls were totally wrong and against all expectations Donald Trump has told Hillary Clinton that she is fired and he is the boss. 

So what happens now? 

Of course strictly speaking Donald Trump has not been elected president yet. That will officially happen on 19 December. Contrary to what one would expect, the president of America is not directly elected by popular vote, but by an electoral college. The founding fathers, did not quite trust the American voters to make the right decision and were concerned that they might act on emotion and passion and elect a demagogue as president. (They were clearly visionaries!) This means that an electoral college of 538 electors from the various states (depending on their population size) makes the final decision. In order to win a candidate has to get 270 electoral college votes.

But, don’t hold your breath. Despite the fact that the founding fathers worst fears just materialised, it does not mean that these electors can vote any way they want and thus “correct” the popular vote. With the exception of Maine and Nebraska all states have a winner-takes-all system where the candidate who wins the most popular votes in a state wins all of that state's electoral votes.

So Donald Trump will be inaugurated as 45th American President on 20 January 2017 with speech stealer, Melania, on his side. Even as I say that I shudder. 

Undoubtedly there will be a lot of introspection from the Democrats as to what happened. They should perhaps talk to the ANC who are still trying to figure out what happened in the August local government elections. Clearly, as with the ANC, voters in the USA wanted change. They were tired of the old establishment and Washington. They wanted change, any change. As David Axelrod, former Obama advisor, said this morning: “This was a primal scream on behalf of voters, who are disenchanted with the status quo.” 

As with Brexit in the UK and our own political scenario, the ruling  party clearly lost touch with the disenchantment of people on the ground. A good example of this was the fact that Hillary Clinton did not even visit Wisconsin after she got the nomination there, so sure was she that this was solidly Democrat. In the end Donald Trump won and it turned out to be a key state in the overall outcome.

It is also clear that Hillary was never a popular candidate, even amongst Democrats.  A New York Times poll found that 65% of those polled distinctly disliked both candidates. Hillary has always been a divisive figure in America – even with women voters. Her standing by her husband during the Monica Lewinsky (and many other scandals) did not go down well with feminists. She has also repeatedly been suspected of corruption, from the days of Whitewater and Travelgate to the more recent email drama. Americans clearly have had enough with corrupt politicians. (Jacob Zuma, take note!)

What is extraordinary is that despite the fact that Trump was consistently shown to be a liar, people still trusted him more or at least enough to vote for him. What it does seem to prove is that in a deeply divided society race, hatred, bigotry and xenophobia work. Throw a bit of showmanship (with or without a red beret ) in with it and people will follow. South Africa be warned. 

So what now? Donald Trump will have to deal with this deeply divided society. With previous elections we saw a swing either to the left or the right. This time round it was different. Voters moved both ways simultaneously, thus polarising the country even more.

The 2016 campaign, more than any other before it, laid bare the deep racist, classist and xenophobic fault lines in America. But more dangerously, through the vitriol of Donald Trump it also legitimised these feelings for many Americans. This does not bode well for America. CNN commentator, Van Jones, who is African American, called the result a white lash. “This is a white lash against a changing country and against a black president…That is the point where the pain comes,” he said close to tears.  Addressing Donald Trump directly, he said: “You say that you want to take the country back, but you can not do that by throwing away some of us, in order to appeal to others.”

Many commentators predict that we will see a growth in race riots, which in turn will see more police brutality, which will cause deep instability in the country.

The question of course for the rest of the world is, to what extend the Trump victory will see a change in foreign policy. It is very difficult to know. As Zachary Donnenfeld, an American researcher from the Institute for Security Studies’ (ISS) said to eNCA: “A Donald Trump presidency could range anywhere from a return to the isolationism of the pre-9/11 Bush years, to a full-on dismantling of a national, bipartisan foreign policy that has remained largely unchanged since the Eisenhower administration.”

And that is exactly the problem, it is very uncertain. What we do know is that Trump is anti-foreigners, anti- Muslim and pro-Russia. And in our world today, that does not bode well. Africa did not feature much during his campaign and perhaps ignorance is a good thing in this case. But if his racist and inward looking rhetoric during the election is anything to go by we might see some dramatic, negative changes in terms of Aid, trade deals and other bi-lateral agreements.

President Obama when asked once to describe his foreign policy in one sentence replied: “Don’t do stupid shit”. Wise words, which every politician should commit to. Even though we are at a very uncertain juncture, we can know for sure that a lot of stupid stuff will be done by Trump and his administration. 

This is not a good day for the world. It is one which we will have difficulty explaining to future generations. To quote Van Jones again: “You tell your kids, don’t be a bully. You tell them, don’t be a bigot. You tell them: Do your homework and be prepared. And then you have this outcome. And now you have people putting children to bed tonight and they are afraid of breakfast and how they will explain it to their children. Muslims wondering if they should leave the country. Immigrants who are terrified. Donald Trump has a responsibility tonight to reassure people that he will be the president of all the people that he insulted and offended and brushed aside.”

*Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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