I have been in the United States for more than two weeks, covering the presidential elections for my show The Road to the White House, on Kuwait TV. The expectations were stacked up in favour of the status quo-establishment and experienced candidate (Hillary Clinton), against the feisty, anti-establishment, corruption fighter, populist advocate, who has been able to touch a raw nerve channelling the pent-up frustration of the White working class, in rural America! After a nail-biting night and into the wee hours of the morning last Wednesday, the US map started turning red ...
The upset was in the making. The result was a humiliating failure for the pundits, a whole industry of polls, think tanks and those who endorsed the Clinton candidacy, whom Trump accused of corruption in a “rigged” system that needed to be reformed. Now that is a narrative never heard in the American political scene. It has never been this crazy, where a rank outsider upsets the status quo and challenges the set rules and rank-and-file establishment, who rallies against the status quo and the establishment.
The anger of the white man was all obvious. The minorities from women, Hispanics, Arabs and Muslim voters who have been targeted by much of Trump rhetoric and provocative statements, simply did not have the power to prevent a weak and unlikeable candidate.
On the one hand was Hillary Clinton, the first woman presidential candidate to be nominated by a major party in the US — the Democratic Party. On the other hand was a real estate tycoon, reality TV star and the author of the Art of the Deal, who was able to steal the nomination from the other major American political party — Republican. Despite coming from outside the establishment, Trump fought against 16 competitors in the primaries and secured his nomination, thereby causing much consternation and embarrassment to the Republican Party. Some observers even described it as a civil war!
The stunning upset by Trump, the candidate of change, with no political, military or foreign-policy experience, against Clinton, the candidate with experience and knowledge of domestic and world affairs, was a deja vu.
History books will point out to Trump as a unique political phenomenon in US politics, who defied the traditional path to reaching the White House. An outsider, who made it to the top office in the US and prevented the first woman candidate from shattering the glass ceiling.
There are many losers in this bruising and wild journey. After the Brexit stunner, now Trumpism is adding more pain and unpredictability, turning Europe and the US to the Right and towards more populism. This scares a lot of people across the world and the variant of religious, ethnic and racial minorities in the West — especially in the US — which could lose its hallmark of integration. There is a fear today of an intolerant West that is more nationalistic and less embracing.
Although, president-elect Trump lost the popular vote, his campaign still claims he has a mandate. What is clear after the dirtiest campaign in memory, America as a nation is bruised. A famous saying has now emerged that Americans and the rest of the world will never forget two dates. 9-11-2001 and 11-9-2016 — when the US was shaken to its core.
The Economist, which endorsed Clinton as “the last hope”, summed up the bitter mood, with a lot of anxiety and uncertainty over Trump’s victory, saying it “threatens old certainties about America and its role in the world. What will take their place? The fact that Mr Trump’s victory and the way it came about are hammer blows both to the norms that underpin politics in the US and also to America’s role as the world’s pre-eminent power”.
Trump has taken aim at the belief, embraced by every post-War president, that America gains from the often thankless task of being the global hegemon. If Trump now disengages from the world, who knows what will storm through the breach?
The real fear today with the Republicans is the party’s domination and majority in the US Congress, the White House and the impending composition of the US Supreme Court, keeping in mind the importance of the checks and balances in the US political system.
The enigmatic and hard to pin president-elect Trump is hard to predict. How will he deal with the promises he has made on the campaign trial over various domestic and foreign-policy issues?
Trump pledged he would: “Cancel every executive action, memorandum and order issued by President Obama, on his first day in office ...” But how will he do that? What is the procedure and, more importantly, what is the alternative to repealing Obamacare, the hallmark of Obama’s domestic achievement? Or for that matter, tearing up the Iran nuclear deal, which is another hallmark of Obama’s foreign-policy achievement. How about Daesh (the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), the allies in the Gulf Cooperation Council and Nato, the US policy on Cuba, the use of drones and waterboarding and the deployment of America’s military power? Obviously this will lead to dismantling the major achievements of Obama over the last eight years, thus tarnishing his legacy.
With angry crowds taking to the streets in major US cities from coast to coast, chanting “Trump is not our president”, and some even resorting to rioting, and from the names that we hear of potential members in the Trump Cabinet and other branches of the administration that will take over in January, things do not look promising! Hawkish hardliners are in ascendance. No wonder America is in a state of uncertainty, so is the rest of the world.
Will Trump the president be any different from Trump the candidate? More importantly, what is worrying is that 93 per cent of Americans said in an opinion poll that they believed Trump couldn’t unify America!
Clearly, Trump won’t be able to heal the wounds of a divided nation. Equally clear is the fact that the jitters and the ripple-effect of a stunned world won’t be calmed so easily. Allies and foes of the US are scrambling now to decipher the enigma of the Trump administration and to acquaint themselves with the new ball game.
Professor Abdullah Al Shayji is a professor of Political Science and the former chairman of the Political Science Department, Kuwait University. You can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@docshayji.