News of Donald Trump’s victory prompted hundreds of boisterous young Americans to gather outside the White House. But they were there not to celebrate. Instead, the overwhelming majority were carrying protest posters: ‘Welcome to Hell’, ‘We stand with the Muslims’, ‘We are for the Immigrants’. Some university students expressed disappointment with tears, other climbed atop trees waving ‘We hate Trump’ posters.
Trump supporters were just a handful, and there were heated debates between them and Clinton supporters. This is the beginning of a deepening and potentially terrifying divide within the US.
So who is Donald Trump, now to be sworn-in as US’ 45th president? In 1998, on the Oprah Winfrey show a successful businessman, Donald Trump, had said he was a pretty conservative guy, critical of the Democrat far-left approach as well as the Republicans too-far-right ways. But he had also ruled out his own role in politics.
Eighteen years later Trump flips and declares he will run for presidency. He won his fiercely fought battle for the Republican nomination, laced with abuse and acrimony targeting a sizeable portion of those who make America’s ‘melting pot’ – the Latinos, the Hispanics, the Muslims and other immigrants. The unconventional Trump gave a shock treatment to US’ Nato allies, insisting they pay up their security bills, and to other key allies including Japan and South Korea by declaring that the US needed to spend at home, ‘to fix’ America instead of doling out security to friends abroad. He promised to tear all trade agreements that hurt the US industry and left Americans jobless.
In his neighbourhood, he promised that the US would literally be walled secure from illegal immigrants by constructing a wall at the border. He called some of them rapists, some killers, and Muslims terrorists. His promise was to throw out illegal immigrants.
Russia’s Putin is Trump’s great friend and with him Trump had announced he would go after Daesh more decisively than Obama did. According to him, Hillary Clinton was going to be worse than Obama, whose foreign policy in the Middle East had been weak. Muslim immigrants from terrorism-inflicted countries, including Pakistan, would be stopped. The deal with Iran would be repealed. ‘America first’ and reclaiming America from the ‘other’ from within was also Trump’s declared resolve.
Once in the race, Trump’s aggressive and abusive political attacks extended beyond his opponent Hillary Clinton. He began attacking the media; the media was partisan, the media was lying, the media hated him. Don’t believe the polls, he insisted in his last rally. The media is trying to demonise me, he implied. He began saying the unthinkable in American politics: the institutions are partisan, he insisted; the Washington establishment is against me, he yelled Trump yelled. Indeed, former CIA officials had said that if Trump had his finger on the nuclear trigger the world would be in danger.
The more Trump’s words and actions, including his tax evasion etc, became public, the angrier it made this Rambo-sounding Republican candidate. He insisted conspiracies had been made to prevent him from becoming president. And, finally, when the FBI’s Comey almost retracted, within three days of his earlier statement on new emails-related problems for Hillary Clinton, Trump was livid.
Almost an outsider Republican, Trump failed to get support from several key Republicans including the Bush family. In unprecedented ways, the Republicans broke rank. Colin Powell too announced his support for Hillary Clinton. Trump, he said, insulted “us daily with his actions”.
The stock markets, Wall Street and many in the business community did not support Trump. His words spelt unpredictability, which businesses dislike. Trump was to US allies what Brexit was to the UK’s EU partners. The diplomatic buzz was completely convinced that the Trump card would spell disaster in their relations with the US.
While Trump insisted the Washington establishment was conspiring against him because they wanted the status quo of vested interests to remain intact, his detractors saw him as ‘a political hand-grenade’. One of his supporters explained to me that “He’s like a matador; he will bring down the structure of this belt-way politics that all mainstream politicians play”.
But no one, not the polls, not the media and nor the analysts’ saw that this political hand grenade would actually land in the White House. However, the people have spoken, the vote has been cast and the grenade has been lobbed on the White House. And he will be in actual control because the Republicans have gained control of the House and the Senate too. So, while the Democrats shed tears over having pushed Bernie Sanders – politically less liked and morally less controversial than Hillary Clinton – outside the presidential race, Donald Trump will have his own Republican nominee in the prized position of a Supreme Court judge.
Why did Trump win? His words of fear, insecurity, divisiveness and of re-taking America back from the ‘other’ within America resonated with Middle America, the Bible Belt and others who are not heard so often. It’s the voices and the experiences of those on the cosmopolitan east and west coasts of America that we hear and who form the narrative.
While the media, the political pundits and outsiders like us rallied forward multiple reasons, through agile mental gymnastics, of why only Hillary Clinton would win, the US voters, of whom 70 percent are White Americans, 14 percent Black American, 11 percent Hispanics and 2 percent Muslims, asked a man with no experience of politics to come lead their country.
They are banking on him for a ‘new America’. But whose new America? If the post-9/11 America has created deep insecurities for Muslims, this result – on 11/9 – has widened the net of America’s insecure population roping in the Blacks, Hispanics, Latinos. The hand-grenade can only destroy and so Trump must now reconstruct himself.
The writer is a senior journalist.