With hindsight, the US election result seems evident, even if we hoped/prayed for something else. Unfortunately, viable alternatives were not on the cards. The cracks that have been appearing in representative democracy (including the sterile deadlock of a polarised two-party system in the US) and the related bureaucracy have generated so much dissatisfaction that there was a giant, but partly hidden, reservoir of votes up for the grabs. With the right people that might have been a chance for serious change. But Clinton, for all her experience and competence, was defending institutional continuity with a measured dose of change that was not enough to win the confidence of those conservative masses disappointed with existing structures and people. Forty-five* promised big changes. It was the hope those promises engendered and his out-spoken showmanship and buffoon-like character that seduced so many who didn’t want ‘more of the same’ but who welcomed a return to a ‘better past’.
But Forty-five’s promises were and still are without any real vision or plan for how to achieve them. Those changes were backward looking and conservative and not at all designed to address the crisis in representative democracy lest it be via the belief in a return to former glory and the elimination of all that is seen as different (using walls, war, trials, exclusion, violence,…).
Forty-five’s legitimacy springs not from being part of a party – he is not really a Republican, who more or less disowned him – but from direct popular support that sets him outside existing structures and concentrates power in the individual. He, as all populists, sees such ‘legitimacy’ as a licence to do whatever he personally thinks fit without the slightest need to refer back to those whom he claims ro represent. That is really bad news, because Forty-five’s campaign made it clear he was not bent on fixing the system, but rather on capitalising on its failings to satisfy his own egotistical, megalomaniac desires.
In electing ‘a chief entertainer’, to use the words of Republican supporter in London, the US may well have wasted an opportunity to rethink representative democracy. It has condemned us all to sink deeper into the decline of the system at the expense of all those who are seen as different (especially in terms of race, religion, gender, nationality,…) or less able to defend themselves.
Maybe that is the only road possible to achieve change, but it is a distressing prospect, especially from a wider perspective in which a number of key countries are governed by equally destructive individuals while China quietly swallows up the world.
* 45? Forty fifth president