As Sri Lanka reads this today, America will be in silent slumber. A Monday night usually is not the day Americans indulge in late nights, especially not so when many across the country expect to stay up the next night. The election cycle which commenced over a year ago, has culminated in two candidates vying for the top slot in the self-described ‘Free World’. Who would be at the helm of it would be known within the next few hours. Hillary Rodham Clinton, former Secretary of State is the Democratic party’s choice, while maverick-turned juggernaut movement head Donald J. Trump is the nominee for the Republicans. The political divide is apparent. One candidate represents the establishment, and the other, Donald Trump, represents a vote that is completely at odds with the establishment. It explains why, the media, the corporates, the usually conservative Republicans have all but opposed his candidacy. Clinton on the other hand is viewed by the Democrats as a safe candidate. A candidate with a proven track record, with a history of progressive values, a seasoned politician both in domestic and foreign policy. That is as far as the two narratives go.
However, this election is beyond all of this.
When Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the Congress said the two bases of support - Clintons and Trumps - lived in two different dimensions he was right. While what is considered a liberal and more progressive polity supports Clinton and predicts a Clinton victory, the movement that is Trump is certain of an overthrow of the traditional system. The Clinton support base, mainly draws upon the feminist and more conservative establishment (to be read together) voter while Trump draws the enraged, the dejected and the disappointed. Every independent pollster therefore has been proven wrong in the run up to the nominations, but if we are to use them as a yardstick this election is going to be as close, if not closer than the infamous Al Gore, George W. Bush election in 2000.
Even in what is considered more progressive New York, Trump draws a massive voter base. Bernie Sanders and Trump represent the same enraged citizen. The middle and lower classes who were alienated by their governments, and who were sick and tired of a foreign policy that caused death and destruction across the globe. While Sanders was, as expected shot down by his establishment, he shot down his movement by betraying everything he ‘symbolised’. As famed Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek notes the move to support Hillary Clinton was akin to “an occupy Wall Street protestor joining the Lehman Brothers”. The two are noted as ‘symbols’ because political movements are never individualist. The individuals best suited provide leadership. Yes. But the undercurrents that propel the movements are not dependent on individuals. If one is to understand Trump the person, he is everything any polity would despise. Crude, crass and a demagogue in his own right. But the movement that is Trump is different. During a recent subway ride, I met a few Trump supporters. They are silent, and in full knowledge of how, the man, that is Trump is despised. But as soon as I identified myself as a journalist, who wasn’t writing for an American publication, they opened up.“ This system has always been the cradle of the rich and powerful lobbyists. We want someone without any of that”. The irony, being that Trump himself is a product of the system is lost among them. However, Trumps rhetoric of ‘not being sold out to the lobbyists and corporations’ has struck a chord. A very strong one. Mainly because it is the movement and not the individual that has cemented their conviction: No evangelical Christian believes Donald Trump is a committed Christian, but he draws their support. Many of his supporters are from the lower and middle class populace; mainly white, and had it not been for Trumps initial supremacist rants, there was potential of other ethnic groups siding with him too. What needs to be understood however, is that this movement that Trump symbolizes, has turned the Republican party on its head.
His recent shouting out of Paul Ryan, the highest elected Republican representative was telling. The movement is in full swing despite the continual alienation by the Republicans who were formerly considered to be strong voices of the party. He has galvanized a force that shook the very core of the party and therein the American establishment. The most interesting fact in this movement though is the unification of the Bernie Sanders support base with either Trump, a third party or the ‘no vote’ populace. Many former staunch Sanders supporters resigned themselves to either vote for Jill Stein the third party candidate or stay at home. Most importantly though there is a section that intends voting for the “devil” himself - Donald. J. Trump.
For anyone who has been following this election and United States politics in general they will be aware that- the threat of pressing the nuclear buttons, or banning the Muslims from entering the country, or building a wall- all issues which the liberal media seem to harp on, is as naïve a promise as that of Obama’s campaign promises. To have believed that the ‘First Black Man’ to be elected President would have solved all ills of the African American population, the closing of Guantanamo Bay (not as big an issue as the rest of the promises - but he promised to close it in the first 100 days), or the heralding of world peace among many others-is as naïve as to think that Trump would do the exact opposite. What is interesting however, is the galvanizing of a largely dejected, apathetic, and enraged polity who have never been heard before, resonating with someone who they believe would lead them to salvation. The key being – that he is fighting the establishment. The traditional mode in which things were done before- with a smile, is what he seems to be fighting. The smile, which over the last few decades cost Americans lives, money and financial security, and internationally caused death and destruction across regions. The smile which was the smokescreen to all ills that was America, is what he purports to be fighting, and his supporters are convinced he is. The rhetoric of liberal America, has not paid its dividends and the supporters of the Trump movement understand it. That remains the significance of the movement. The emboldening of fascist tendencies has and would be a cause for concern but the underlying ideal behind both- the Trump and Sanders base is complete dejection.
The polls, as I write this have predicted a close election with a victory for Hillary. During the primaries, however, these same polls predicted many a victory over Bernie Sanders - Michigan being the most glaring example - for Hillary Clinton. The main issue with Clinton is that her supporters don’t wholeheartedly believe her rhetoric. Her shifting on domestic policy issues such as equality marriage, and her vote for the Iraq war has resulted in the campaign continuously being scuttled. The recent ‘ Wikileaks’ email scandal were no revelation to the average Clinton supporter. They understand that she is flawed. But they are motivated by factors above policy. Rather, as stated before the support is based on notions. “ She is the first woman to be President, she knows what she is doing, she has been doing this all along, if nothing else she will appoint liberal judges to the Supreme Court” etc are the stock justifications of any Clinton supporter - as opposed to comprehensive and solid justification of the position. However and most importantly, most Clinton supporters are terrified by the image of “ President” Trump. This also includes former Sanders supporters - who although unenthusiastic about a Clinton presidency would vote for her. They rather leave all prejudice aside and vote for her, if not for any reason, the only one who has been thwarting Trump. The run up to the election did no good for her cause, with Bernie Sanders continually striking a chord by bringing up her close ties to the corporates. Therefore she has failed in creating a ‘movement’ akin to that of Trump. Many of the Clinton supporters are aware of her follies in foreign policy, mainly her role in the Libyan crisis and her alleged instigation of the Honduran coup and her vote in favour of the invasion of Iraq - the single most catastrophic decision of recent history which left millions dead and an entire region destabilised, among others. For an observer it is only natural that she would have her judgments called into question given her long reign within the establishment, a burden her opponent does not carry. However, despite these, the African- American and the minority voter base which includes Muslims who have been vociferous supporters of Clinton could tilt the race in favour of her, if they get to the polling booth.
Many of the States have already been decided in favour of either candidate and the most crucial decision making will be that of what is known as the ‘swing’ States, the States in which both parties have an equal footing. Again, these are traditional methods of polling, which can be rendered to naught in such a non-traditional election. Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin have been identified to be the most crucial swing States and any candidate who tilts the scale in favour of his/her candidacy is assumed will notch the Presidency. What is clear is that this election has not been based on policy, or politics, rather it is an election that has been based on either preserving the status quo- or getting rid of it. The ‘preservers’ are intent on full scale reform, while the rest- the Trumpsters intend on dismantling it entirely.
A look back at history, however, would inform the reader that both are not possible, given the strong institutional structures of the ‘establishment’ that is America. However, there is hope either way, and it is hope which I am told, was not evident prior to the current election cycle. There has not been such fervour directed against the system, viewed by the larger polity which include both sides of the spectrum, within the political realms of America. The Clinton supporter and the Trump supporter and the apathetic voter all understand that there is something wrong. It is unfortunate that the system prevailed and brought these two candidates to the fore. However the fact that there is such understanding is progress. It should give us hope. That the superpower will face its demons, and the American people will rise at some point in the future and take control of a government which was intended to be theirs. It wont be this time, but the zeal created, would hopefully last, for a true leader of the people to emerge in the near future. A leader who the rest of the world would be convinced, was in fact the ‘leader of the free world’.