Following the result of the UK’s referendum to leave the EU, and the recent election of Donald Trump, 2016 has been branded the worst year for politics since Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in 1932. The order of both the UK and US establishments have been threatened, and they are left unsure of how to react. Millions across the world have expressed their shock and concern, social media erupting with people beseeching of each other, “How could this have happened?” “Why has America elected this madman?” “How can the UK leave the EU?” “Why has the whole world suddenly turned racist?”. It is, of course, easy to put this down to racism and hate, and harder to try and understand the deeper problems embedded in society, harder to try and understand why people may have voted the way that they did. 2016 has been the year that people finally had a chance to challenge the political establishment that has, for so many years, repeatedly let them down, lied to them and ignored them over, and over again. This liberal-left establishment turned toward elitism many years ago, and have since failed to address the concerns of ordinary people. Instead, they have ignored and humiliated them, banned them and labelled them as racist and stupid. The result is that people everywhere revolted through the ballot box, and (unfortunately) Donald Trump – who seemingly represents everything the elite doesn’t – is now President-elect of the United States.
First of all, it is regrettable that the American people had to choose for their President between the crooked Clinton and the tomfool Trump, and it is thus no surprise that voter turnout this year was lower than in 2012. So how did we get here? The truth is that people simply didn’t believe that Hillary would have addressed any of their current concerns; they’ve just had eight years of Hillary. Before that, they had Bush – another warmonger – and before him, another Clinton, who himself succeeded another Bush! And so it goes on. For years now, the same families, the same elite communities have been running America, and working-class American’s haven’t seen anything positive for them emerge from it. Whilst wages have gradually declined and overall quality of life stagnated over the last 15 years, the US has bloodied its hand in nearly every international conflict. The conclusion of every-day Americans was inevitable, if simple: policies are being made in favour of wealthy individuals, who form a chattering class who increasingly ignore and ridicule us, the disenfranchised masses.
Life for ordinary American citizens has not been improving, and there was no indication that it would have done so with Hillary as President. Therefore, people simply didn’t the point in electing her.
“Ok,”, the Clinton supporters responded to this ambivalence, “so how is it better to elect a racist misogynist?”
Well, sure, Trump said he’d build a wall, but under the Obama administration, 2.5 million people were deported from the US (more than any other previous administration). Sure, Trump said “I love war, I’m really good at war” but really, who is better at war than Hillary Clinton? Under Obama, more countries have been bombed in the Middle East than they were under Bush. Sure, Trump has said many unacceptable and disgusting things about women, but Hillary’s orders of intervention in the Middle East has resulted in unprecedented numbers of women dying as they attempted to escape the wreck Clinton left in her wake. In 1975 Hillary Clinton defended the rapist of a twelve-year-old girl, and argued that the girl was emotionally unstable and had, in fact, pried on the forty-year-old man she accused. Furthermore, numerous women have accused Hillary of threatening them after they had themselves alleged they were sexually assaulted by Bill.
So then, what really is the difference between Clinton and Trump? The answer is, probably not a lot. What little chink of light there may exist between them is found in that, from what we’ve already seen, Clinton is perhaps even worse. Maybe they would rather vote for someone who at least seems honest about his intentions, and doesn’t regard himself as above appealing for the support of the less engaged. Perhaps Trump’s provoking rhetoric may have been refreshing for people after years and years of listening to nothing but lies. Maybe, just maybe, while Trump said bad, Hillary did bad – and her strategy relied on people being too stupid to recognise this. Which they are not.
The elite classes have gotten so ahead of themselves that, throughout the entire election, they refused to even engage in discussion with Trump supporters, instead simply writing them off as racist and ignorant. There’s no doubt that some of these people are racist, some are ignorant, and a good few are deplorable. But, how do we expect to progress and open people to new ideas if we refuse to engage with them because we believe them to be morally inferior? You simply cannot. It is this extreme snobbery and elitism – characterised by safe-space culture at universities and the wider censorship of anything deemed “offensive” or “wrong” – that has further alienated and infuriated the frustrated masses. Did Hillary really expect to win people’s hearts and minds by calling Trump supporters a “basket of deplorables”? Hillary thought that she was too good for the vote of the less educated; she made it clear that she didn’t represent them, and this was utterly fatal. Whilst Hillary was lambasting the working classes, Trump was winning them over by accepting their concerns as legitimate, and championing himself as the saviour of the ordinary, forgotten people. If you want the support of the people, then you have to engage with them. You have to listen to them even if you regard their views as beneath contempt. You have to persuade them to come with you, instead of just leaving them behind
With the rise of Trump, the Democratic Party should have picked up on these increasing frustrations amongst the electorate – but they were far too disconnected from people. They have created a world where it is possible for someone like Donald Trump to win presidency; they had the option to offer people something new and exciting in Bernie Sanders, but instead, they disillusioned people further, by picking the candidate who was despised as the embodiment of everything that everyone hated in the American political system. Donald Trump won because the Democrats could not manage to mobilise and inspire voters. Hillary as president, would have been nothing new and nothing inspiring; she offered predictability, and it is should be no surprise that the election chose inspiration over stagnation. People knew exactly what she offered: more lies, more war and more corruption, and they concluded they would rather risk the unknown Trump than the failure-embodying Clinton, as the latter represented risking another four years of what they already have, which was simply not good enough. Sanders was by far the most exciting candidate to Democrat voters, but this was ignored by the political establishment; it was seen as Hillary’s “turn”. Ultimately, the Democrats could offer people the status quo and it was emphatically rejected by those whose votes swing elections. Trump’s victory must be seen to rest quite squarely on the DNC’s shoulders.
Trump is the symptom of a sickness, not the sickness himself
Where the left used to represent something radical in politics, it has now got into bed with the elite establishment. It has turned on the working class that it once fought for. And it here supported a candidate who wages wars that aid the growth of terrorist organisation like ISIS and Boko Haram, who supports large corporations over the people who buy their services, and whose convictions on issues of great import – such as gay marriage – seemed to change whenever expedient to her own career development. The liberals have failed the people for so long now, that people are no longer scared of a Trump presidency or an EU-less Britain: things are that bad, and seem unable to get any worse.
Finally, this is what we must understand: that Trump is the symptom of a sickness, not the sickness himself. He would not now be preparing to move into the most powerful office in the world, if the establishment hadn’t detached people from politics, through the willful imposition of a nauseating stasis. We must now create a world where the conditions for Donald Trump to emerge are not possible, where people don’t feel so disillusioned and ignored. And maybe, dare I say it, Trump is the exact kind of shocking change that we need that will unsettle the establishment to such a degree, that it will finally trigger the change that will benefit politics in the long run. Brexit and Trump – these political earthquakes of 2016 are shocking, but they are also extremely significant, and perhaps inevitable. They mark the year that people put the politicians in their place; the year that the people said no more and revolted with their vote; the year that voters reminded the establishment where the power really lies.
We don’t yet know what a Trump presidency holds. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that Trump himself will deliver the change that everyone is searching for – but his election itself may finally trigger an awakening amongst politicians that they can be replaced and challenged if they do not represent their people, in a democratic process that sees people understand and engage with each other, rather than writing each other off as too contemptible for debate. Riots and further divisions in society are not the way forward: instead, this is the time that people must unite to understand each other’s concerns in the hope of building a society not riven with such poisonous division. We can use his victory as an engine for change, and break dawn upon a world where Donald Trump can no longer exist as the only saviour of the people.
Deniz Karaman is a student of Politics & International Relations at the University of Sussex, who is currently evading the British winter on a year abroad in Perth, Australia.
Photo: Gage Skidmore