THERE is much more to the US elections than just Trumpism. The Republican nominee’s unstoppable, brazen statements may have set the media on fire, but the sheer frenzy around the elections has shifted focus from the real issue concerning the economy.
During a two-week trip across US cities and discussions with members of think tanks, bankers and diplomats, America presented a different picture than a decade ago. Creaking infrastructure, significant numbers of homeless people on the streets, the rise of slums in cities like Seattle, and above all, that sinking feeling in people’s mind — the only superpower in the world is experiencing a massive disruption. Donald Trump has lent his face to it.
The most striking feature of the current elections is the rise of protectionism, which is huge for a nation that epitomises capitalism and a free market economy. A large section of society believes the New Economy helped only a few who continue to thrive, irrespective of the regime in Washington DC. Ground reality supports the belief. According to official records, nearly five million American manufacturing jobs disappeared — a third of the entire manufacturing workforce — in the last one and a half decades. In the same period, as many as 60,000 factories, small and big, either shut or shifted operations to China or Mexico. People who’ve found themselves on the wrong side of these policies expect someone to protect them.
“Someone” is naturally the government. Two politicians who promised to bring back protectionism received huge response — Democrat Bernie Sanders and Republican Donald Trump. Bernie, a social democrat, struck a chord with his argument that, “This is a rigged economy which works only for the rich and powerful”. His consistent attack on Wall Street echoed in many minds. Sanders’ efforts to bring in legislation to break up “too-big-to-fail” financial institutions made him all the more popular among the middle and lower middle classes. Sanders also refused donations from large corporate houses. But even after winning 23 primaries, Sanders withdrew in favour of Hillary Clinton.
It hasn’t helped Clinton. Many held Big Money responsible for Bernie’s withdrawal and blamed Clinton for “forcing” him to give up the race. His withdrawal caused many Americans to criticise Clinton, whom they think is an “insider”, part of the establishment. For decades, the US has been ruled by Ivy League members and the rich and wealthy connected to Wall Street — Clinton is perceived as one of them, representing the policies of the last 28 years, and so, the status quo.
Globalisation converted the US into a “fly-over” economy. Development in the last few years has been confined to the East and West coasts, leaving mid-lands in the lurch. Formerly known as the Rust Belt, Philadelphia, Ohio, Wisconsin, parts of Illinois, etc., have been witnessing a slow death, thanks to the decline of US coal and steel. US leadership consistently ignored this region and the problems faced by its people. There is a palpable feeling that no one, including the media, is interested in listening to hard-working Americans.
This sets the stage for a character like Trump. More than a person, Trump represents a phenomenon that’s disrupting established political ecosystems world over.
A complete outsider, a la Kejriwal, Trump has no baggage, telling people how the rich are getting richer in the current environment. Trump’s success lies in his ability to tag Hillary to this “rich getting richer” syndrome. The poor view Trump as their weapon to get back at the system that robbed them. He sympathises with the poor and middle class by blaming the establishment for even war deaths.
Even Republicans find it difficult to cope with Trump. He represents the extremist viewpoint that is rising in many democracies across the world. Many, especially from the banking sector, view him as the Nigel Farage — the UK’s anti-Euro politician — of the US. Like Farage, Republican Trump too believes the US should walk out of all international commitments since those are affecting the American economy. Trump feels these international agreements are skewed against US interests. Peeved because of the ongoing economic crisis, many have started believing him.
This explains his vast support base, despite being in the news for all the wrong reasons. Every media expose helps him reach out to more people before whom he successfully portrays the media as “pro-establishment”. This is another interesting facet of the US elections — media is seen as a third player in the race.
It makes the US elections a case of one versus the rest. The situation is unique — there wasn’t an instance where one of the Presidential hopefuls refused to play by the rulebook. Trump has thrown caution to the wind by rattling the entire political establishment. Considering the upper hand Democrats have in the electoral college, it’s highly unlikely that Trump may emerge winner. But even in defeat, the issues raised by him will set the agenda for the winning candidate. He has aroused a large section of the population and pitted it against the establishment. This could well be America’s Brexit moment that marks the end of elitism.
Politics will not be the same again in the US.
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