Despite almost every poll predicting a relatively easy victory for Hillary Clinton in the United States Presidential Elections, closer reflection suggests that it was never that clear in the first place.
To start, the often nasty campaign between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Party nomination may have alienated some Democrat voters, particularly youth who saw Sanders as an alternative to mainstream politics. Clinton’s use of her considerable political and economic clout to win may have further alienated them, at a time in U.S. politics where many are angry about cosy relations between parties and big business. In contrast, though from business himself, Donald Trump (who has never held political office) is an outsider, a maverick and a populist who claims to want change.
Many US citizens, particularly the working class and lower middle class, are deeply unhappy. Whatever the accuracy of their analysis (and I think it’s faulty), they feel that Democrat policies have taken away jobs. They also fear that immigration, particularly illegal immigration from Mexico, is a threat to their economic well-being. Sadly, among some it is expressed in overt xenophobia and racism.
Trump played up on these fears brilliantly. He won in Democrat areas like Michigan and other states like Wisconsin which have been hard hit economically in recent years. He also won in Florida, possibly the result of sections of the Cuban American community’s anger at Obama opening diplomatic relations with Cuba.
This is borne out by what we can see in voting patterns on November 8th. Generally the more wealthy middle class voted for Clinton, while the poorer citizens voted for Trump, even though Clinton was promising higher taxes, as opposed to Trump promising lower taxes. Historically right wing populist leaders frequently get elected by taking an (apparently) anti-tax line.
The campaign of both candidates was marked by viciousness, personality and exposing each other’s ‘dirty washing’. Although there was much to expose, this perhaps had the unexpected effect of evoking popular sympathy for Trump, seen as being on the receiving end of major media outlets attempts to ‘dig out dirt’ on him.
Moreover, two weeks before the election Trump seems to have listened to his campaign advisors and moved out of the limelight, but Clinton was suddenly the subject again of FBI investigations. Both candidates had entered the election process under clouds, but at the last moment the cloud over Clinton deepened, and slightly dissipated over Trump.
If this analysis is correct, this most viciously-fought election in living US memory is a worrying sign of political polarisation in the world’s strongest democracy. It suggests a hardening of hearts to the Other, an unhealthy isolationism and an appeal to simplistic, as opposed to sophisticated thinking by politicians and citizens alike. The kind of political values I would associate with Catholic Social Thought – genuine dialogue, subtle social analysis, concern for the poor, openness to diversity, a global vision – were singularly absent. It bodes ill for the next four years.
One can only hope that the duties and dignity of the office will influence President-elect Trump to a more moderate exercise of his new role.