Last night, before I went to bed, I found myself flicking between Sky News and CNN, watching their respective political correspondents attempt to forecast, prognosticate, envision, imagine, conjecture and guess just what the outcome of the US Election 2016 would be. They offered what they termed to be “exit polls”, but which, in reality, were nothing more than statistics based on past elections. Around 12:30 a.m. I hauled my backside off the sofa and went to bed, wondering, or rather hoping, if America would do the right thing and that Hillary Clinton would be the next US President.
At around 3 a.m. I awoke with a strange, curious sense of foreboding. Shrugging it off as nothing more than mild indigestion caused by a piece of Brie I’d had not long before retiring to bed, I snuggled back down beneath the covers and tried to go back to sleep. “Tried” is the operative word here. Another word is “uhtceare” (pronounced oot-key-are-a). It’s an Old English noun, and means “lying awake before dawn and worrying”. And that’s exactly what I found myself doing; lying awake, in the wee small hours before dawn, worrying about whether or not America had been sensible, or whether, like some intractable child, they had gone ahead and done they very thing they were not supposed to, even though you had explained to them time and time again why they shouldn’t do it.
I suppose I must have fallen back to sleep at some point, because I was again awoken at around 7 a.m. by one of my cats walking over my face. I got up, ostensibly to give my clowder of 11 cats their breakfast, but happened to switch on the TV on my way to the kitchen. It was then that I heard the news. Donald Trump was well in the lead of Electoral College votes and was likely to win the presidency. I fed my cats and then, for the next hour or so, sat with bated breath and on the verge of tears as my worst fears were realised. Hillary Clinton had called Donald Trump and conceded. Donald Trump was now the 45th President of the United States.
How did this happen? What had America done?
Ultimately, those two questions are one and the same. It had happened because a percentage of American voters had believed what Donald Trump had to say. By recasting Ronald Reagan’s promise to “make America great again”, Trump captured both pessimism and optimism, fear and hope. The slogan harks back to a golden age of greatness, implies that it has been lost and then promises to get it back. It was an appeal to the heart, not the head. Then there is Trump’s celebrity, kindled by the fact that he was, in essence, a reality TV star. For ten years, millions of Americans were fed the image of him being the boss, the CEO hiring and firing people, being the guy who can fix it, the guy who knows everything. Not only did that imprint on a great many people that he was “trustworthy”, but that, combined with the reality TV phenomenon in which something which is not quite true is somehow legitimised, shifted impressionable people’s perception of what an acceptable version of reality truly is. In our age of media, social media, Trump had accumulated a vast wealth of both financial and celebrity capital. Last night, he cashed in.
Then there is the fact that Hillary Clinton, as the wife of a former president, was the quintessential face of the establishment in a year when many Americans wanted change. She struggled to beat Bernie Sanders in the primaries, something which should have waved red flags to any Democrat willing to see them. Bernie Sanders’ main theme was a rigged economy, with the rich working in the interests of the rich. It was this same anti-trade, anti-globalisation wave that Donald Trump rode in those areas of deindustrialisation and wage stagnation. There was Hillary Clinton’s baggage too, baggage containing, most notably, the fallout from the FBI investigation into her use of a private email server when she was Secretary of State. Also, something else which has come to mind as I write this, is the fact that had Hillary been elected last night, even if she had only served one term, it would have meant that for 24 years out of the past 32, Americans would have been governed by either a Clinton or Bush administration. Perhaps that was just too much to swallow.
All of what I have just written is the product of a day of cogitation and reasoning. Had I tried to write just after Donald Trump, having undergone one last primp, had given his victory speech, this article would have been far shorter and consisted of so many expletives that my dear readers would have deserted me in droves! On the subject of Trump’s victory speech, I can honestly say that I was about as impressed with it as I have been with his entire campaign. Half way through, I almost thought he was going to thank the Academy! When he said that “we will get along with all other nations willing to get along with us” a shiver ran down my spine. That, to me, sounded more like a veiled threat than a conciliatory statement.
I cannot knock the American people for wanting change. Hell, I wouldn’t now live in Belgium if 18 years ago I hadn’t looked at my life and thought “this is going nowhere. I need a change” However, I would offer this warning. While Donald Trump’s claim that “we will begin the urgent task of rebuilding our nation and renewing the American dream”, he neglected to tell you that nightmares are dreams too.