Sitting here atop a large rock in the middle of the Irish Sea, I have a similar feeling about the US election that the local Spanish fishermen probably felt in 1805 as they witnessed the Battle of Trafalgar taking place off their shore. They would have marvelled at the sound and fury of the British, French and Spanish navies duking it out, they might have had a vague feeling that they were witnessing some historically momentous event, the significance of which they didn’t fully understand, and they would probably have guessed that regardless of who won, it wouldn’t benefit them. Which it didn’t: the British won but Napoleon still invaded Spain. I didn’t get to vote in the recent US election (not being a US citizen), but as half the talking heads on the planet are now analysing the election result, I’m going to throw in my tuppence worth.
There are many similarities between Trump’s election victory and the recent vote for Brexit. In both cases, the ruling political and economic elites wanted a continuation of the status quo, the ordinary people wanted anything but that, and the will of the people prevailed over that of the elites. In both cases nobody is sure what happens next.
Immigration seems to have been a major factor in both results. The ruling political and economic elites want more immigration, because more immigrants means low wages which means cheap stuff which means higher profits which means higher share prices. The ordinary people, who mostly don’t have shares, stock options and profit related bonuses, can see that more immigrants means fewer jobs and lower wages for them, and that it has a distorting effect on local communities. You can easily assimilate a handful of Syrian, Mexican or Polish families. However, when hundreds or thousands of such families move in, this changes the nature of communities as mosques replace churches, halal supermarkets replace butchers’ shops, and Polish instead of English becomes the dominant language in the community centre. This isn’t what people want and it’s not what they signed up for when they moved into the community. Also, despite humanitarian concerns about people from war zones seeking asylum, it’s not physically possible to relocate all refugees from all war zones from the Middle East and North Africa into the West – the scale of the problem is just too big.
People have compared Trump to Hitler. It’s true that both men came to power on a wave of popular sentiment fuelled by adverse economic circumstances, but there the similarity ends. Hitler was a brilliant orator and he had a plan, even if it was an insane, perverted plan. Trump can’t seem to open his mouth without putting his foot in it, and I haven’t been able to discern any coherent plan so far. So I’d like to offer you my own historical comparisons.
Clinton I would compare to Henry the 7th of England. You know what you’re going to get: a member of the hereditary ruling aristocracy who is going to continue broadly similar policies to those of Henry the 1st though to 6th. That’s why the majority of people didn’t vote for her.
Trump is more difficult to place. I would liken him to a second-rank player who is swept to power on a wave of popular emotion, or who finds himself in the right place at the right time, but who doesn’t have the talent or intellectual capability to consolidate his grip on power in his own right. I would liken him to Mussolini (shot by communist partisans in 1945), Robespierre (guillotined on the order of the French National Convention in 1794) or the teenage Roman emperor Romulus Augustulus (appointed by his father and deposed at the age of 16 by the Roman general Odoacer just before the collapse of the Western Roman Empire). I wish Mr Trump well with his endeavours, I really do, but I have a deep foreboding about it, because as you can see from the historical examples I have cited, second rank political leaders in times of great change often come to a bad end.
I think the best outcome for this election would be if Trump can quickly assemble a group of competent, trusted advisors who can craft a coherent set of policies for him on immigration, foreign policy, the economy and women’s rights, out of the mess of incoherent speeches which he has made over the last few months. He could then act as a figurehead while the policies are implemented in the background by people who are more politically experienced than he is. If this is done I think he is more likely to bring about “hope and change” than Obama ever was. If this isn’t done, I have a bad feeling about where this whole thing is going.
Good luck – we’ll all need it.