Donald Trumps The Odds

It’s had a few days to sink in, but there’s still a feeling of unreality about Donald Trump’s historic victory in the U.S. presidential election. How could the pundits and pollsters have got it so wrong? How could Hillary’s vote have crumbled so decisively in the key swing states? In a time of such global uncertainty, how could the U.S. electorate choose a president as divisive and controversial as Trump? So many questions. And in a sense it doesn’t matter what the answers are. Regardless of the consequences, Trump is what we’ve got. It’s happened. Not just America, but the entire world has to make this work.

In highlighting some of the more contentious utterances that have emanated from team Trump in the last couple of years, the western world  has been left genuinely aghast at how the ultimate maverick has come to power. “What has happened to American civilisation?”the masses yell. “How could anyone elect Donald Trump knowing his bizarre plans to build a border wall and his polarising attitude to immigration?” Apophenia is the human tendency so see patterns and trends where none exist. As a rule, the temptation to generalise should be studiously avoided. After all, every human experience is unique and the product of a very specific set of circumstances. That’s why I’m reticent to join the chorus linking Trump’s victory to the Brexit referendum and other recent events. Like any presidential election, 2016 was the result of a series of internal stimuli and catalysts that are unique to the vast north American continent.

However, while proceeding with caution, I think there’s a discernible connection between Trump’s election and June’s Brexit referendum. It’s hardly an original thought, but Brexit and the presidential election betray a western population that’s becoming increasingly disillusioned with political norms and conventions. It’s not so much that people are fed up with mainstream political parties and individuals, but disgusted with them. What we’re seeing isn’t a mere dismissal of political orthodoxy, but a complete and unapologetic disdain for it. Protest voting on a truly global scale. Ordinary people are giving a metaphorical two fingers to the political establishment. We saw it with Brexit and again in last week’s election results.

Political norms and conventions are being rejected en masse as hordes of people express their disillusionment and antipathy at the polls. In the modern era, there seems to be very little respect for institutions and establishments any more. Politicians, businessmen, bankers, lawyers, financiers. No-one is immune. “Why should we have respect for any of them, all they do is screw us and look after their own interests?” That seems to be the prevailing attitude.  And here’s the rub. In their apathy and disillusion, voters aren’t giving up on democracy and becoming beleaguered with submission. They’re turning to some very unorthodox and unconventional alternatives instead. Farage in Britain, Trump in the States. It’s all part of a similar and wholly related phenomenon.

When people are so fed up up with the political mainstream that they vote for a candidate like Trump, you know there’s a problem. So, this is your anti-establishment candidate. A billionaire property magnate who’s the very image of privilege; a man with a giant bank balance to match his inflated ego. Hardly my definition of working class. That’s the point. Ordinary people are so fed up with low wages, limited opportunities and economic disasters, they’re prepared to countenance anyone who sounds plausible enough as a solution. How else can you explain the meteoric rise of statesman Trump? Controversial businessman. Reality t.v. star. Trump is a perfect fit for all these roles. But President? It’s taken a unique and unprecedented set of conditions to bring the hitherto unthinkable scenario to pass.

In a way Donald Trump is a president for our times. You get the leaders you deserve and this generation has got the Donald. It’s not a coincidence. In a scene from the brilliant 1980s movie Back To the Future, time traveller Marty McFly finds himself in the unfamiliar terrain of 1955 and seeks out the younger version of his eccentric scientist friend, Doc Brown, the man who built his De Lorean time machine. Naturally enough, Brown is suspicious of the young visitor claiming to be from the future and sets about asking some questions to prove his identity. “Who’s the president in 1985?, inquires Brown. “Ronald Reagan”, replies McFly. “Ronald Reagan, the actor?” exclaims an incredulous Brown-I’m reciting from memory here, so excuse me if I’m not verbatim. Eventually, though, the doc is convinced of McFly’s bona fides and realises the error of his ways. The penny’s dropped. “Of course your president is an actor, he has to spend most of his time on t.v.!” Ditto Trump. The Donald is the president for the reality t.v. generation. This is a world where substance is sacrificed for big talk and banal promises. Trump is the personification of our modern false reality.

What about Hillary? Well, it was Clinton who suffered most from voter weariness and anger with mainstream politicians and parties. I must admit I don’t feel sorry for her at all. Yes, Hillary’s lost out on the job of her dreams for a last time, but this is a mess entirely of her own making. While Mrs Clinton’s innate shortage of charisma and charm is well-documented, voters were also put off by her obvious and unapologetic sense of entitlement. Last week’s election result was an emphatic rejection of the Bush/Clinton duopoly and presidential carve-up that’s dominated the most prestigious office in the world for the last 15 years.

Yes, perseverance and stubbornness are desirable traits, but sometimes it pays to heed the public’s message. It had been signposted for years that there was no appetite for a Hillary presidency and yet the indomitable Clinton kept on coming. Never mind that she’d been consistently rejected, Hillary refused to give up. This was her turn. Except it wasn’t. The U.S. electorate ensured that. Would it have worked anyway? It’s hard to imagine Bill as “First Man”. Which reminds me of a quote from an unnamed Clinton aide years ago opining why a Hillary presidency wouldn’t work. Re: Bill Clinton: “He’s Gladys Knight. He’s not a pip.” That just about sums it up.

The winds of change are blowing throughout the world. And that’s a good thing. We shouldn’t be too cynical. People are questioning orthodoxy, challenging authority, contesting preconceptions and refusing to do what they’re told. It doesn’t feel that way, but Brexit and the Trump victory are triumphs for democracy in their own idiosyncratic ways. These seemingly earth shattering and cataclysmic events show that populism works, that change can be effected if you want it badly enough. If you’re disaffected by economic turmoil, low wages, and foreign policy misadventures, 2016 affirms categorically that the one lever for change at your disposal-your vote-can still make a difference. And that is quite a heartening thought. It’s a pity that this popular will has only been used thus far to promote eccentric and dubious causes. It’ll get really interesting, though, when the penny drops that people can use their newly found voice to do some good in this troubled world.

File:Trump and Rodman 2009.jpg

Image Courtesy of Wikipedia By OPEN Sports [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Twitter: @rorymcgimpsey

Hillary’s Trump Card!

“Hobson’s Choice: A choice of taking what is available or nothing at all.”

In a nutshell, that is the dilemma facing American voters when they take to the polls on 8 November for the U.S. Presidential election that will choose their next leader. A choice that seems like no real option at all, between two candidates who inspire apathy at best, nausea at worst. To say it’s an unenviable prospect is an understatement of epic proportions. What’s the alternative to choosing between two distinctly unappealing candidates? Staying at home? For a nation that prides itself as a bastion of democracy, there must always be a compelling reason to exercise the democratic franchise previous generations struggled to attain. Alternatively, voters can plump for Gary Johnson. However, with the Libertarian candidate all but out of the contest, where is the merit in that action? When all’s said and done, no matter how it’s diced, the 2016 Presidential election boils down to a simple, inescapable choice: Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Hobson’s choice indeed.

The overriding narrative of the campaign thus far has been a seemingly obsessive determination to keep the controversial Trump out of the White House at all costs. Until last week, the Republican nominee’s chances of victory still seemed remote, but with only a week left to attract voters, all indications suggest that the maverick businessman is closing the gap on his more illustrious rival. An ABC News/Washington Post poll remarkably has Trump leading by a percentage point over the Democratic nominee. Indeed, Clinton’s aggregate lead (at the time of writing) could even be as low as two points, depending on which pollster you listen to. All of a sudden, the heretofore unthinkable scenario involving a Trump victory is looking more plausible by the day. While a Trump win remains pretty unlikely, the outcome dreaded by many citizens in the U.S. and beyond is far from impossible. Quite a remarkable turn of events. However, as the recent Brexit vote demonstrated, improbable outcomes should never be discounted in politics.

So, what’s going on? Although Trump is ostensibly a mainstream candidate, his journey to presidential nomination is that of the definitive political outsider. Despite his ratification as a candidate by the Grand Old Party, Trump is undoubtedly a maverick and eccentric; a candidate who’s the very antithesis of political orthodoxy. While it’s easy to characterise Trump’s ambitious march to the White House as the ultimate manifestation of an oversized ego that’s spiralling out of control, his nomination is symbolic of a wider trend that’s both global and increasingly prevalent. Mr Trump’s campaign is indicative of a deepening disillusionment with establishment politics and mainstream political faces. After all, you can’t get any more “establishment” than  the GOP and yet they’ve opted for the most unorthodox candidate imaginable to square off against Hillary for the presidency. Many commentators had earmarked 2016 as an election that was eminently winnable for the Republicans and yet they’ve staked their modern political reputation on a man that courts controversy like it’s going out of fashion. Allegations of misogyny, confusion over immigration and an allegedly reprehensible attitude to Islam. None of these excesses have derailed the Trump campaign in any significant way.

Cynicism with establishment politics is evident throughout the world at the moment. It’s one of the primary drivers of the UKIP expansion into British politics and is further evidenced by the plethora of independent candidates contesting Irish elections, for example. On a more local level, disenchantment with mainstream politics was seen in the last Stormont election, where Gerry Carroll topped the poll in West Belfast for People Before Profit. If the establishment parties aren’t listening to these outcries, they should be. Voters are becoming increasingly disillusioned with political norms and conventions, and they’re turning to some extremely unorthodox alternatives as a consequence. Global recessions, economic meltdowns and unjustifiable wars have all played their part. As has declining standards of living for millions of ordinary people who feel that traditional politicians no longer represent them or their interests. Political mavericks who previously wouldn’t have stood a chance of electoral success are reaping the rewards for voter apathy and disillusionment. The upcoming U.S. election has become the unlikely nexus of this popular disdain.

The success of Trump is just one manifestation of this crisis of political confidence. A victory that once seemed absurd and preposterous is now potentially only a week away. Clinton’s inherent lack of charm and warmth is only part of the problem. Many voters are utterly fed up with the obnoxious Bush/Clinton duopoly that’s dominated the most prestigious political office in the world for over 15 years. Only Obama’s underwhelming tenure has interrupted the relentless advancement of these wealthy familial dynasties. Perhaps this is why Republicans unexpectedly anointed Trump as their nominee. He wasn’t Jeb Bush. What applies to Republican grandees, is equally true of ordinary voters. Trump represents the ultimate outsider and maverick. This is the reason the Clinton camp must fear him. Trump can win on 8 November. Make no mistake about that.

Clinton, on the other hand, seems tired and battle weary in comparison. The unfortunate allusions to her health may be somewhat below the belt, but they’ve fuelled the perception of a candidate lacking a certain freshness and energy. Certainly, it seems a lifetime since Hillary’s old man announced himself as a “bridge to the future.” The entire Clinton project seems rather jaded from the halcyon days when Bill’s charisma and charm endeared all and sundry with its universal appeal. For all that, Hillary is still the devil we all know, if you excuse my clumsy turn of phrase. A safe pair of hands that is better trusted with an office that, although diminished, is still the most important in world politics. Will Clinton’s constancy and perceived reliability be enough to finally accede to the job of her dreams in what’s surely her last chance? Or will the ultimate outsider pull off one of the greatest electoral upsets of all time? History beckons for Mrs Clinton, but the polls are too close to permit anyone sleeping easy. Despite an unfortunate lack of box office appeal, Hillary has one last trump card. She is not Donald. That may be enough to see her home by a whisker and allow the rest of us to breathe a massive sigh of relief.

Twitter: @RoryMcGimpsey