The shock of the American Presidential election has worn off. It took a long while as I was blindsided by the outcome. Like so many others, I fully expected to be celebrating Hillary Clinton’s victory. (The first woman – champagne in the fridge!) Her long record of public service, activism, and political experience had to prevail against an opponent so obviously unsuited to the presidency. How wrong.
There is a natural best before date for every democratic party leader in power, and in the United States, Obama’s two term Presidency might naturally be followed by a Republican; however, surely there were so many factors against that outcome. Trump’s absurd bombast, political inexperience, appeal to racist, sexist, xenophobic, religious, homophobic hysteria, and litany of falsehoods had to be recognized as disqualifying him. Not so.
In fact, the very personality weaknesses and policy absurdities (build a wall!) that I found likely to disqualify Trump from electoral victory were his attraction. Many Americans pointed to the failure of globalization to benefit the “rust belt” regions, desired a strident “decider” to kick start the economy and “drain the swamp” of reviled politicians, and embraced the deep-seated nativist appeal of Trump. Here was a political outsider and serious businessman who would “Make America Great Again” – a simple slogan to rouse the masses. Law and order would be restored, manufacturing jobs returned, and the influx of dangerous outsiders halted. That the economy in the United States is enjoying high employment rates and declining crime rates overall is beside the point. That unemployment for many is related to automation and a shifting post-industrial workplace is ignored. Turn back the clock.
Trump’s success has to do with his appeal to those who hark back to the 1950s when decent paying industrial jobs were plentiful, the economy was booming, and America’s enemy was clear – Communism. It was also a time when white males enjoyed hegemony in every sphere. For all women, people of colour, and indigenous peoples, the post-war decade was one in which inequality continued to be the norm. Gender roles held firm, segregation continued, and patriarchy prevailed.
What is deeply disturbing is the extent to which America’s 45th President epitomizes the 1950s’ Zeitgeist. An aging white man, privileged and entitled, though with no political or military experience, he is nonetheless touted as the “businessman” and “strongman” needed to set the nation back to rights. “Back” is the operative word. I was struck by one of the many executive orders recently signed by the President which ends federal funding to international organizations that mention or provide abortions. The President and the group of white men surrounding him looked so very pleased. It’s as if the 1950s coughed, and up came the new administration. And what a hairball it is.