DONALD Trump is the next president of America, and America and the world have to get used to that fact. However nauseating it is, Trump was elected by half of the electorate. Despite losing the popular vote, he won all the key white demographics — white women, white men with college degrees, and white working class men.
Clinton got less white votes than Obama did in 2008 and 2012. More white voters voted for a clearly racist and sexist platform than for its alternative. Those outcomes suggest that the majority white response to their economic frustrations and their disdain of Washington was constructed within the context of race. In other words, the majority of white Americans weaved together race, class and gender in a way that advanced the survival of White Privilege.
There are lessons to be learnt from this election of Donald Trump as the president of the USA. The first big lesson is that politicians and political strategists have to know the political pulse of their countries; or if they happen to know that, they need to be more honest about that reality.
America, like all societies, is multifaceted — a combination of various political and cultural tendencies, some backward and some progressive. Yet, when one listens to the leaders and commentators, more often than not, one gets the impression that the country is devoid of backward tendencies.
Americans and the world are fed constant doses of American exceptionalism, while very little emphasis is placed on the not-so-uplifting aspects of the society. Over a period of time, this illusion becomes reality, and citizens begin their analysis of the society with this assumption.
This is what is partly responsible for Trump’s election. As I observed in last week’s column, it is this illusion of what America is that allowed Donald Trump to rise to the top of the political ladder. The elites in both the Democratic and Republican parties dismissed him as an anomaly that would ultimately fade away before he got near to the presidency. What this election result showed is that he is far from being an anomaly.
In fact, Trump is very much part of the mainstream of American politics. It is not that all those who voted for Trump are racists and misogynists, but clearly they do not feel that racism and sexism are disqualifiers from high office.
My point is that the Democrats did not believe that American reality; they believed that that tendency represented a tiny minority of America. They chose to forget that the majority of white voters have not voted for the Democratic Party since 1964. They took for granted their core constituencies — young people of all races, African Americans, Latinos, and other minorities. There were no direct conversations and messages aimed at these groups. They dismissed as nonsense the idealism and radical critique that Bernie Sanders excited.
Republicans have long learned how to win elections with a white majority —the Southern Strategy. Obama showed Democrats how to win with a large minority of white voters and a super majority of non-white voters. The Clinton campaign appeared not to believe that reality. They engaged an America that was not the majority America. This is another stunning statistic that is worth noting: approximately 43% of eligible voters did not cast their ballot. The Democratic Party ran a candidate who was badly out of step with the party’s base.
LESSONS FOR GUYANA
What can we in Guyana learn from what happened in the USA? First, we have to accept that our country is sharply divided along ethnic lines, both among the elites and the masses. There is a tendency on all sides, including multiculturalists, to project a Guyana that is not ethnically divided. Well-meaning people speak about Gender, Class and Youth outside of that ethnic divide. Much emphasis is placed on the “douglarization” of the electorate and the “cross-over” vote, both of which do not represent any definitive shift from the larger architecture.
Second, the APNU+AFC coalition has to determine what is the coalition of voters that would give them another victory. While their core base cannot by itself deliver victory, to not aggressively court that constituency is suicidal. I am not convinced that the Coalition has paid enough attention to that constituency, either at the level of policy or political attention.
Black people all over the world tend to be more independent than other groups, on account of their history of resistance and because they are not invested in the status quo in the same way as others. For the Coalition to win the next election, it has to pay much more attention to its core base.
The USA election shows that an election campaign is not the time to begin to convince your base to vote for you.
Third, there is a tendency among the Coalition leaders and supporters to dismiss Mr. Jagdeo as a mad man whose politics is out of step with the PPP constituency. I have argued before that Jagdeo’s views and political attitude are not out of step with those of his followers. He speaks to, and for, that constituency, and he has struck an emotional relationship with them. The Trump election shows that what is perceived as racism by a candidate’s detractors is either endorsed or ignored by his or her supporters.
Finally, the Coalition has to quickly unveil an economic programme that addresses the economic stress among the working people of all races. The reliance on the IMF-like structural adjustment measures simply does not cut it. Economic praxis has to have outcomes, and those outcomes have to be felt by real people, especially the poor.