I will take a break this week from my series on the Middle East and return to it later in order to bring home the discussion to the Caribbean.
One week after what many have described as the most divisive presidential election in the modern history of America, millions of people in the United States and across the world are still trying to come to grips with the Donald Trump win.
Caribbean people pay close attention to what goes on in our giant neighbour to the north. It is argued that if the US sneezes, we catch the flu. It is important, therefore, that we keep a close eye on developments there.
Democracies pride themselves in allowing any citizen to run for public office in an election campaign against rival candidates. In huge countries like the USA, while the process is democratic and open to all to compete, the benchmarks set for persons to get involved often exclude many.
There is no doubt that millions, if not billions of dollars, are needed to effectively run a successful campaign capable of getting anyone’s attention to endorse your candidacy. Also, traditionally, elections in these countries have allowed political insiders, senators and seasoned politicians to have the upper hand in gaining their party’s favour to emerge as the candidate of choice.
For the 2016 US election, it appears that all the conventions and traditions were broken by Donald Trump. He gained the Republican nomination, against the wishes of the Republican elite, on the basis of mobilizing masses of Republican supporters to vote in his favour. And then he gained the most Electoral College votes in the national elections to become President-elect. And he didn’t miss the popular vote by too much either.
Should this win by Trump be an eye-opener as to how democracies and indeed elections will look as we go forward in the years to come? Many commentators have drawn a link between the US elections and what happened months earlier in the United Kingdom with the Brexit vote to leave the European Union.
Both instances saw the winners use aggressive campaigns based on fear and anxiety to sway voters in their favour. Trump stuck to a message of “making America great again”, condemning the ruling elite and blaming them, liberals, illegal immigrants, Muslims, and many others in his quest to reach the presidency. This message, as we recognize today, resonated with voters.
What is interesting is that Trump demeaned women, made racial comments, insulted President Obama, veterans, the differently-able, had questionable business dealings, and made it a point to boast that he didn’t pay taxes through finding loop-holes. Yet none of this seemed to matter to voters; Trump’s character was not up for election, it was his message.
This was one of the diversions from traditional elections in the US. Unlike us here in the Caribbean where the private lives of politicians are usually kept private, in the US everything is fair-game. The media will seek out every small detail of a politician and expose it. Trump, it seemed, gained more from such exposure than suffered. He benefitted immensely from the negative media reporting. He even boasted that he spent less on advertising than Hillary Clinton.
Is this the new modus operandi for upcoming politicians? Or is this just a blip on the screen, not to be repeated? Trump’s campaign lacked any substantive policies and programmes. He didn’t put forward any clear strategies for making America great again and much of his message was rhetoric interspersed with damaging accounts of his opponents, playing clearly to an audience that loved such talk.
There are those who will find favour in a Trump victory and those who will rightfully fear a Trump presidency. My contention is that what was said leading up to this point has been digested by Trump followers. Even if Trump doesn’t actually do what he said he will do –– and he is known to flip-flop and lie –– his followers, those who voted for him, will feel empowered.
They will feel that they themselves can do what he said needs to be done. He was the victor in this battle and to them must go the spoils of war. Already examples and situations are playing out in the US that give evidence to this. Trump’s recent appointments are also showing these elements will get support.
The US had eight years of the presidency of Barack Obama who came in on the premise of hope and humanity. What lies in store now is anyone’s guess. We in the Caribbean and here in Barbados have our own challenges to face so we can only hope and pray for a better world.
Sadly, the signs are not looking too promising of such a world. History is there for us to draw reference and lessons and so in reading as much as I can about what is taking place, I found an interesting article, History tells us what may happen next with Brexit & Trump by Tobias Stone. Some excerpts I would like to leave you.
“. . . Lead people to feel they have lost control of their country and destiny, people look for scapegoats, a charismatic leader captures the popular mood, and singles out that scapegoat. He talks in rhetoric that has no detail, and drums up anger and hatred. Soon the masses start to move as one, without any logic driving their actions, and the whole becomes unstoppable.
“That was Hitler, but it was also Mussolini, Stalin, Putin, Mugabe, and so many more . . . . But at the time people don’t realize they’re embarking on a route that will lead to a destruction period. They think they’re right, they’re cheered on by jeering angry mobs, their critics are mocked. This cycle, the one we saw for example from the Treaty of Versailles, to the rise of Hitler, to the Second World War, appears to be happening again. But as with before, most people cannot see it because:
“1. They are only looking at the present, not the past or future.
2. They are only looking immediately around them, not at how events connect globally.
3. Most people don’t read, think, challenge, or hear opposing views.
“Trump is doing this in America. Those of us with some oversight from history can see it happening . . . . He is using passion, anger, and rhetoric in the same way all his predecessors did a charismatic narcissist who feeds on the crowd to become ever stronger, creating a cult around himself. You can blame society, politicians, the media, for America getting to the point that it’s ready for Trump, but the bigger historical picture is that history generally plays out the same way each time someone like him becomes the boss . . . .
“We see Brexit, Trump, Putin in isolation. The world does not work that way all things are connected and affecting each other . . . . Brexit, a group of angry people winning a fight easily inspires other groups of angry people to start a similar fight, empowered with the idea that they may win. That alone can trigger chain reactions.
“What can we do? Well, again, looking back, probably not much. The people who see that open societies, being nice to other people, not being racist, not fighting wars, is a better way to live, they generally end up losing these fights. They don’t fight dirty. They are terrible at appealing to the populace. We need to find a way to bridge from our closed groups to other closed groups, try to cross the ever widening social divides.”
(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace, Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association and Muslim Chaplain at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)