At work, we tend to avoid US politics. I think partly that’s a reaction to the obsession of the rest of the British media with the US as the imperial centre and their tendency to see commonalities with our own (political) culture that aren’t really there.
But, I’m not at work yet, so why not? The Trump victory is being portrayed as an upset here but I think it’s unhelpful to see it as massively unexpected (though I did think the result would come out the other way).
That the polls were close was a real sign of trouble given Trump’s extreme statements. They, and the eventual result, show just how weak a candidate Hillary Clinton was. Head-to-head polls in May put Clinton 3 percentage points ahead of Trump on average, but her left-wing primary challenger Bernie Sanders 10 points ahead. There’s no way to say if that lead would have held up: Clinton once held a similar lead that evaporated.
Whatever you think of Trump, a filthy-rich racist demagogue, he at the very least engaged with some of the real concerns of voters. Clinton’s ideological position meant that she was incapable of doing so. She couldn’t talk seriously — or be taken seriously — about, say, jobs and industry because her position is one of support for the capitalist forces that are putting people out of work and wrecking entire sectors.
It’s not that Trump is truly different on that score, but his campaign has used the tactics of the far right of taking real concerns and appearing to address them using hatred against marginalised groups. There are clear historical parallels to be drawn but I won’t here.
Clinton couldn’t do that. She was clearly the Establishment candidate, repeating in the way that they have for decades that you can’t challenge the supremacy of the market but, trust me, I’ll manage it better than the other guy. At this point, people have rejected that forcefully and publicly.
But the Democrats didn’t acknowledge that’s where their challenge lied. If they had, Clinton would not have been their choice coming out of the primaries. Sanders occupied some of the same ground as Trump but his answers were honest, decent ones instead of Trump’s hate.
After complaining of people drawing dodgy parallels between Britain and the US, I’ll make one to close. If the Labour Party hadn’t chosen a solid left platform with the election of Jeremy Corbyn in 2015 I would not have been surprised if we saw a similar far-right force gain quickly in popularity. While we’ve got our usual collection of nasty types, that hasn’t happened.
But there needs to be a recognition that modern liberalism — in its two differing forms on both sides of the Atlantic — does not and cannot address people’s real concerns as it is often complicit in making matters worse, and that if you don’t come up with a serious left-wing challenge then the fascists have all to gain.