Explaining President Trump

Now the dust has started to settle on the US general election, what are the key takeaways from Trump’s historic victory?

By Osama Al Sharif

Donald Trump, the flamboyant real-estate billionaire and reality TV star who has never held a government post in his life, will be sworn in as the fourty-fifth President of the United States on January 20.

Trump’s bid to become president seemed frivolous at first. His conservative bona fides were in doubt and his attacks on his Republican opponents, the Washington establishment, women, ethnic and religious minorities, the mainstream media, President Obama and Hillary Clinton were all viewed as a detriment to his self-financed campaign. But he proved everybody wrong.

Trump’s message, which was often presented in crude, emotional, bellicose and extreme language, resonated with millions of largely white lower-middle class Americans who felt abandoned by mainstream politics.

His presidency is now a fact, and the world will watch with unease as he compiles his cabinet that will implement his hawkish agenda on free trade, immigration, environment, international aid, Muslims, terrorism, globalization, laissez faire economics, amongst others.

It goes without saying that America’s role and influence around the world will be redefined under his rule. And it is a fact that if such a seismic change had taken place in any other country, the world would go on with its business as usual. But America isn’t any other country.

So what are we to learn from Trump’s victory? First and foremost, it wasn’t an indictment of democracy. For those who tell us that certain nations are not yet ready to embrace democracy, the answer should be that the United States is one of the oldest surviving and well-established democracies. And so is Britain, whose people voted narrowly last summer to exit the European Union. Democracy may not be a perfect system, but it’s the only one that guarantees a regular, peaceful transfer of power, rule of law, personal liberties, free media, and has a working apparatus of checks and balances to prevent Trump or any other from becoming an autocrat.

Globalization is in trouble. More than 30 years after globalization became the norm, its social, cultural, political and economic aftershocks are finally here. We see this in the rise of the far right and its neo-fascist dogma that is rooted in nationalism and religion in countries like France, Germany, the Netherlands, India, Israel, and Turkey, to name a few.

Trump’s message has been endorsed by the likes of the KKK, the Alt-Right and other white supremacist movements, which are racist, anti-multiculturalism, isolationist, anti-immigrant, xenophobic, and religiously fundamentalist. While they have existed in democratic societies for decades,they are now making headways into the mainstream.

The backlash against globalization is affecting every society in different ways and is largely blamed for the demise of indigenous values, traditions, religious beliefs, and social norms. One can even attribute the rise of Daesh and like-wise fanatic groups to globalization. This backlash will last for a long time.

Understanding what people want is more difficult than ever. National polls got it wrong twice this year on Brexit and the US presidential elections. This should make governments extremely worried. Pundits and experts agree that traditional polling methods no longer work in the age of the information revolution and social media. Taking a random national sample of few thousands will not deliver you an approximate view of where people stand on issues. The reality is that people are empowered and are no longer reliant on mainstream media for the delivery of information. One study found that 45 percent of American adults get their news from Facebook. I believe this is becoming a global phenomenon.

This is why two polling companies, one in the UK and the other in South Africa, successfully predicted the outcome of Brexit and the US elections. They developed complex methods to canvass social media outlets to compile real data on where millions of people stood on issues. The main losers were “mainstream media” outlets like the New York Times and traditional polling centers. You can now imagine the treasure trove of information that Google, Facebook, and Twitter have in their possession and what some might pay to access to it.

Trump’s election will set many variables in motion and will eventually affect our lives. It is important that our leaders understand the driving forces behind this phenomenon and prepare to deal with them. Some of these elements, such as the rise of tribalism, religious fanaticism,and sectarianism, are already here. The question is: are we doing enough to confront them?