By Rajnish Wadehra and Armin Rosencranz
Donald Trump’s victory brings together a strain of factors that merit analysis. It is a surprise because the media did not expect it and the opinion polls led us to believe otherwise. The citizens of America, however, thought differently.
A Vote for Growth?
The very first factor is the rise of what intellectuals are calling populism. It is also being called a lurch to the protectionist right, with Brexit as an added example. But in reality, Trump’s win is the successful culmination of a business project. This involved alliances with unions, associations, caucuses, clubs, coteries, and a lot of money.
This is a cry of the common citizen against the harsh realities of life faced on the ground. With the economic downturn of 2008, jobs have allegedly been taken over by entry-level Mexican immigrants, causing lower employment among white working class Americans.
Despite the higher minimum wage and widespread health care, many white workers are hard-pressed. Many had to foreclose home mortgages, go on welfare and borrow money to live. Thus, this is a vote for gaining prosperity.
And, to the white voters, Trump seems to be a highly successful and prosperous man. He is the one who can turn things to gold.
Despite much evidence that has been published about his ruthless ways in business, his multiple bankruptcies and stifling his workers, many American citizens do not see that as wrong. In fact, they revere his capitalist ethos. Trump has not denied that he used the tax system to his advantage and he did not reveal his tax returns. Taking advantage of the law is respectable: It shows you’re smart and resourceful. And that’s how Trump became a rich, clever and successful entrepreneur.
Trump’s boast about touching women’s private parts should have taken away the entire women’s vote, but obviously, many women in America see him as a forthright and straight person. In a nation with few taboos on overt sexuality, moral virtues are obviously less important than just being able to earn and live well.
A Master of Propaganda
There is also the strain of his megalomania, his grand self-obsession. With no experience in running the government, this could prove dangerous. To the common man or woman, Trump’s narcissism could have come across as the confidence of a great charismatic leader. Gloria Steinem, the leading feminist, describes Trump’s tactics of maligning Hillary as ‘swift-boating’, attacking the opponent’s strengths rather than her weaknesses. This was done successfully against war hero John Kerry in 2004. Steinem calls Trump’s act a big lie which, if told often enough, begins to sound true. The Minister of Propaganda under Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, mastered this technique in Nazi Germany.
The Electoral College
The popular vote favored Hillary, who won two million more votes that Trump. But Trump won more Electoral College votes. The winner takes all when he or she wins – even by a tiny margin – in several populous “battleground” states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. This anomaly occurred recently in the Bush-Gore election of 2000. Similarly, when Indian voters choose their MLAs or MPs, it is possible that a party loses many of its seats despite a larger number of total individual votes.
We have the technology today to take direct votes on every issue, and Switzerland leads in seeking direct polls on provincial or municipal issues. But even Switzerland leaves the election of the government to five-yearly polls. Robert Dahl once proposed a Greek style mini populous and James Fishkin has developed methods for statistically correct referendum. But, America’s democracy has only the Electoral College in its foreseeable future.
Opinion polls favored Hillary consistently in the run-up to the election. The polls were wrong. This could be because of the inherent bias in selecting questions and sample groups. However, it’s more likely that they failed because of respondents who claimed they were undecided and didn’t admit their preference for Trump.
So where is Trump going to lead the nation? He seems to favor protectionist and “America first” policies. Trump might call for a direct ban on goods from countries he thinks are harming American interests in place of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Undocumented immigrants from Mexico and Central America will likely be sent back to their countries of origin. There are likely to be policies that bestow greater control in the hands of the industrialist employers. In the area of defense, we may expect the use of America’s global might to crush offenders like ISIS. Great Britain will look to gain mutual benefits. The EU, with its liberal and collaborative orientation, might falter and need to rethink its relationship with the U.S.
China and Russia
China has the most reason to be wary and watchful. Cheap Chinese imports aren’t expected to be banned, but America might now use its naval and air power more aggressively in the South China Sea. India might get used in the new aggressive stance against China, and might order more weapons from American companies.
The Russia-China nexus may emerge to confront these strategies. China has the might of a rising power and Russia has the talent of a trained commando leader. Putin has said many times about Ukraine and Syria that he should be granted a free hand to do what he needs to do. Trump may grant him this freedom and look the other way. Together, China and Russia could emerge as a formidable counter force against US hegemony.
America is going to get real and try to make profits at any cost.
And while we watch, we might have to coin a new phrase for this neo-liberal libertarian right turn towards a no-holds- barred path to riches and “greatness.”
Rajnish Wadehra is at the Jindal School of Government and Public Policy. Armin Rosencranz is a professor of law at Jindal Global Law School.
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