For many people, the unthinkable has happened and Donald Trump is the next President of the United States.
When this whole saga started eighteen months ago, I thought it was a bit of fun to boost his growing popularity as a reality star and to build his brand. Then, when he saw off all his Republican challengers to become the nominee, I realised that he was dead serious. Finally, when all the outrageous things he said and did didn’t seem to hurt his poll numbers, I began to tell friends that we might end up with President Trump. Hillary Clinton fought every step of the way, landing telling punches during the debates and the campaign at large. Trump staggered occasionally but he would always regain his footing before going on the offensive.
How could this happen? How could he insult women, war veterans, the disabled, Hispanics, Muslims and African-Americans, and still be only slightly behind in the polls? In the early hours of Wednesday morning, just as the full realisation of a probable Trump victory was dawning on us, it suddenly became very clear to me. Van Jones, the CNN analyst, was explaining how various underdogs had won the US presidency in the last century – Kennedy by mastering television; Obama, the Internet; and now Trump, with social media and reality television, the main influencers of our generation. I believe that Donald Trump fooled everybody by playing a reality character – real enough to be believable and staged enough to be convincing for the perfect audience; the average American worker.
Cleverly, he ignored the educated, big city-dwelling liberals and the media that serves them, and focused on the downtrodden, disaffected White voters. He talked like them and talked to them about their fears, real or imagined. Politically correct or not, he knew that they were worried about a browner population, speaking foreign languages and worshipping strange gods. Many of these voters didn’t want to be led by a president who didn’t look like them or by other establishment politicians who had lost touch with their concerns, as they pandered to big business interests to secure campaign funding and lucrative lobbying dollars.
They saw Hillary Clinton as one of the cosy club of Washington ‘elites’, managing to make lots of money from speaking abroad and running a wealthy foundation with her husband. Meanwhile Trump, for all his billions, was still seen by average American workers as one of them – hardworking, down to earth, tough and smart enough to be successful. It’s easy to see how comfortable the average White American voter would be, going for a beer with ‘The Donald’, rather than tea with Hillary. One has spent most of his working life on construction sites talking to workers, while the other would be more at home debating nuances of policy with other wonks. Not surprisingly, Republicans and independents who voted for a likeable Obama in 2008 and 2012, opted for Trump rather than Clinton.
During the campaign, I struggled to imagine Trump as president but I still found him more likeable as a person. It was easy to picture Hillary in the Oval Office, sitting with world leaders or descending the steps of Air Force One, but I doubt it would be much fun to hang out with her. Simple as it may seem, I think that this was a major factor in the election; I don’t think voters were comparing both candidates, policy for policy. Even when Trump said the wrong things, he was seen to be real and making ‘honest’ mistakes. The reality is that he was rarely truthful, yet appeared to be more open and honest than she was. Hillary, with her passion for public service and lifelong dedication to working on behalf of women and children, was seen as deceitful and untrustworthy. Go figure.
The other major factor was that Trump’s supporters understood exactly what he was promising, even though he gave little or no detail – a wall to keep out Mexicans; better international trade deals; more jobs; no Muslims and an end to ISIS. With Clinton, I’m not sure what she was promising, except that she was experienced, qualified and tested. Okay, fairness, equality, improved Obamacare and a steadier finger on the nuclear trigger – but it was hard for anyone to get really excited by that.
Well, what’s done is done, so we had better get used to it before Inauguration Day. Although I didn’t believe Donald Trump would be a great choice for president, I’m not a great believer in the doom and gloom scenarios being whipped up. When my friends in London were getting scared and depressed about Brexit, I had to remind them that life would go on and that solutions would be found to counter the worst consequences being predicted for the UK leaving the European Union.
I feel the same way about a Trump presidency. Trump will change into a presidential character, albeit with traces of the old Trump appearing from time to time. He will have advisors, a cabinet, military strategists, speech writers and policy experts to curb his excesses. He will feel the weight of the office and he won’t be able to shrug it off as easily as his unpaid creditors and taxes. Staff will manage his Twitter account. He won’t have time to sue anybody. And he will learn.
If you doubted Trump would gain the Republican nomination, or that he would succeed Barack Obama as President of the United States, you would be very foolish to doubt him again. Stay tuned for the next season of the Trump reality show – you won’t want to miss a minute.
“I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose voters.” – Donald Trump, 23rd January 2016