THIS is a sequel to last Thursday’s article on Trump winning. But instead of exploring the implications of what happened to Hillary and its consequences on Philippine politics (Nothing! Nada!), I will proceed to assess the US elections–from a purely subjective point of view. In fact, from a Filipino who has been taken advantage of by, but likewise has taken advantage of, America. In short, it’s a running “love-hate” relationship spanning the time I was a baby boomer to the time I had the privilege to study in America through a fellowship; to the time my siblings migrated to America and learned to twang their English; to the time my daughter decided to study, work and live in America; to the time she produced for me three fantastically healthy and wonderful American grandchildren (2 boys, I girl). I am not exactly an ‘Americophile’; on the other hand, how can I “hate” Max, Sylvie and Oliver (ages 4 years, 8 months; 2years, 6months, and 1year 2months?
But there are also things I don’t like about America, things which President Digongso succinctly expressed recently in language which America and the local Philippine elitist collaborators consider inappropriate; forgetting for a moment that the new American President can teach Digong a thing or two about “grabbing a p_ _ _ _”. But again, this article will not discuss juicy morsels of tasteless presidential behavior.
As a mere spectator of American politics, for me the recent US election is an interesting study of what not to expect. The shockwaves may have finally settled, and now, various media talking heads are mopping the election clean of questions and conundrums. Some would say that the election was a clear manifestation of a polarity and divisiveness now fragmenting the US politically, socially and ideologically. It was a clash between opposing but vague ideological perspectives, a populist within a conservative party and a liberal that has worked to entrench further the status quo. Trump represented the former and Clinton the latter. This was the tension manifested in this campaign, where Trump became its perfect harbinger, and Clinton’s presidential aspirations, collateral damage.
Tapping on racism
For a fact, nothing was accidental in Trump’s winning. It was a combination of decades-long seething white economic and cultural anxiety, racism, bigotry, and the instability from social change brought about perhaps by immigration and fear of importing terrorism and spawning a homegrown one. All these took center stage with the Donald feeding the hate and fear. Trump was perfect for the part. His entrance was impeccable, from the time he demolished his Republican opponents in the primaries. It wouldn’t have worked without the Donald.
Again, as an observer from America’s first colony, I could surmise a deep-seated historically laden resentment of the privileged white class in the US which surfaced inexorably in the election. According to the exit polls, the bulk of Trump voters was not just from the working-class whites, but a coalition of white Americans. Trump tapped on the prejudice of the new breed of voters, mostly Republicans and independents whose growing conservatism on matters of race and ethnicity has blinded away the cherished values of pluralism and multi-culturalism, which America was built on.
Trump successfully poked the fears of the mostly white rural voters as they take a more jaundiced view of the non-whites, their political perspective slowly changing as the US morphed into a more cosmopolitan society. And the fringes, the white nationalists and hate groups like the Klu Klux Klan pinned their hopes on the Trump candidacy.
His vaunted battlecry to make America great again and bring forth an American-first policy resonated among those who considered themselves “left behind” as he declared his skepticism over international trade, blaming globalization as the culprit that brought on the stagnation of domestic wages and loss of jobs. His insistent demand to put up strong borders, banning Islam and favoring massive deportation, is music to the ears of what Hillary described as Trump’s “baskets of deplorables”.
As some analysts would say, it was only a matter of time before the right-wing backlash would alter the course of modern American politics. Trump has convinced the white Americans of the injustices committed upon them by the immigrants, the non-whites and those that are different from them.
Though racism is a convenient explanation for Trump’s ascendancy, economic anxiety should also be a compelling angle to explore. This argument would show that the working-class white men who once dominated the economic and political circles in the US have now lost or are slowly losing their powers to women and other racial and ethnic groups, exacerbated by the establishment policies emanating from the center of political power, “the swamp–which needed to be drained”. An interesting study by Michael Tesler proposed that this economic anxiety, though brought about by racial resentment, has only a little significance to economic evaluation. Another study provided an opposite result: American whites have become more and more concerned with their identity and their valuation of economic security. In any case, this economic anxiety heavily impacted the election as those affected needed to look for someone to blame for their plight. And of course, the easiest scapegoats are the immigrants and minorities and those “different from us”.
The curious case of Clinton’s defeat
On the other end, if there’s a more compelling campaign problem in Clinton’s side, it would be the huge doubt and trust issues perhaps aggravated by a bungling FBI. It was a stain already associated with the Clintons and their Global Initiatives Foundation. She ran a “safe campaign” revolving around herself and projecting how she is every inch more qualified than Trump for the presidency. But the point was missed: experience was never a factor. Her message did not resonate and penetrate. Trump with his passion and audacity and facts-free perorations reverberated. He gambled all-in. His rhetoric, though crass, stirred the anxieties of the people and convinced them “he alone can fix it.”
Thus, we have a new player in the world stage. Whether we like it or not, Trump and America will influence, no less than the Earth itself. Would it be for the better or worse? I really don’t know. I am just happy my American grandchildren and their parents will be coming back to the Philippines –maybe for good!
The author served under four Philippine Presidentsin various capacities as a member of the Cabinet and several commissions. A Harvard-educated political technocrat,he was one of the prime movers of the Citizens Movement for Federal Philippines(CMFP); one of the founders of the CentristDemocraticParty of the Philippines (CDP);Ang Partido ng TunaynaDemokrasya; andthe Centrist Democracy Political Institute (CDPI).