Trump may lose, but will that be the end of ‘Trumpism’? As I write this in late October 2016, Washington DC is a divided city in a divided country. I am struck by the imminent sense of disaster — and the clearest sign of this is what we DON’T see, just days before the election on 8th November.
Have you ever heard of a US election without countless placards in every neighbourhood? You might imagine ‘Clinton’ signs in the front yards of the affluent Northwest part of the city, interspersed with an occasional ‘Trump’ placard. In the less affluent white parts of Rockville, north of the city, I had expected a different mix, with more ‘Trumps’ and so on. Not so: I couldn’t count even five placards after having criss-crossed the city in five subsequent days. Asking around the answer is fear: you do not know what might happen to your house and to you with such a placard. Elections used to be a feast. In 2016 they have turned into a bitter event.
The greatest shock for many people, but in particular for Americans, is that the raging, uncivilised, Trump who rejects all evidence as crap or untrue or a lie, retains substantial support and may even win the election. They cannot believe it, and nor can I, when listening to public radio, when one after another military man or veteran says that they plan to vote for Trump as a way of rejuvenating US politics. This is a call-in radio show. It is highly unlikely that public radio (C-Span) would select callers in favour of those who would vote for Trump.
The callers do not mind his bad manners and are not offended by his divisive stereotyping — which is all so in contrast to traditional American values. Americans across the board will admonish their children if they say something which may seem to Europeans mild swearwords: “Go wash your mouth out with soap”. They will in public ask their children to let other people go first, to stand up in the bus for older people. Dutchmen could learn a lot from Americans on public civility.
But Trump has thrown this all to the wind. The callers do not mind. They do not care that Trump’s economic plan, according to all serious economists, is nothing less than ludicrous (Chris Wallace, the moderator of the last Clinton Trump debate said several times: “everyone agrees that the numbers do not add up”). No: the callers let out the pent-up rage of feeling mistreated, as Trump has urged them to do. It appears that Trump may be losing some States that traditionally vote Republican. The polls seem to go in the direction of a Clinton win. That would limit the damage of freeing the spirit of rage. But the damage is done, and the genie is not going back in the bottle.
Money talks and rage sells
There is debate on the role of the media. Rage sells on radio and TV. Trump gets free airtime, because the networks charge so much more for advertising around a raging Trump than at other times. The knife cuts on both sides: Trump didn’t have to buy air time, while the networks that aired him got rich.
The explanations for this boiling over rage are similar to those for Euro-scepticism and for anti- immigrant positions in European politics. It is the ‘losers of globalisation’ who are raising their voice. (And yet I have to admit that le Pen, Farage and Wilders seem more civilised than the raging Trump; there are shades of darkness.)
Losing in globalisation has a face: feeling uncertain or negative about one’s financial future. In fact, between 2000 and 2014 the majority of Americans changed their views from being optimistic to pessimistic about their future, according to the Pew Research Center. Also in Europe subjective financial uncertainty (measured in the Eurobarometer survey) is on the increase since the economic crisis.
Governments have barely addressed the economic background to this. Social cohesion makes a society ‘pleasant’ but is also effective for economic growth. More emphasis on reducing capital- and income inequality, while improving equality of opportunity, should be the way forward for promoting social cohesion. But such policies are not going to redress the uncertainty and pessimism about the future: that will take time and the margin of impact of such policies will be limited, at least in the short run. This means that Trumpism is sadly here to stay, even if Clinton wins the US Presidency. It means that ‘Rage-ism’ is here to stay.
Sadly, the same can be said for European politics. So why isn’t there more serious reflection on a European model for development: to take the sharpest edges off globalisation? For people with lower levels of education, for example? To work on full employment and a better distribution of income and capital? That could lead to a no-rage and no-regrets scenario.
The opinions expressed here are the author’s own; they do not necessarily reflect the views of UNU.
Flickr / Max Goldberg