Donald Trump is president-elect of the United States. It is only fair to say that his unexpected win—even his closest advisers found it difficult to dispute the overwhelming number of polls that predicted a victory for Hillary Clinton—stunned the world.
It is staggering news, because it is possibly the biggest election upset in US history, with serious implications for both American domestic policy and world affairs. It is almost certain that he will do everything he can to repeal US President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare initiative. Obamacare has helped place a safety net under the feet of millions of previously uninsured Americans; Trump will seek to replace this safety net with something inchoate within his first 100 days in office. It is also almost certain that, within several months, or perhaps a year, Trump will precipitate an international crisis, either by rejecting the Iran nuclear deal or forcing a confrontation with Mexico or, possibly the worst of the worst-case scenarios, inviting Russian adventurism in Europe by signaling a strategic refusal to come to the aid of a Nato ally in Vladimir Putin’s crosshairs. As someone who thinks global warming is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, he will preside over an economy that is the second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases; it is almost certain that his assumption into office in January will mean the Paris Agreement on climate change will be unable to meet the urgent need to slow down the rate of increase in global surface temperatures.
But his election victory is also stunning because of who Trump is: a deeply flawed, indeed abnormal, candidate. It is for this second reason, rather than the first, that many people remain in shock at the result.
Trump ran a vile campaign: He called Mexicans rapists and promised to build a wall to keep more Mexicans out (and to make Mexico pay for it); he proposed to ban all Muslims from entering the United States; he encouraged his supporters to do violence against hecklers or protesters at his rallies, even offering to pay for their legal defense; he attacked the Muslim parents of an American soldier who died in battle; he egged on his supporters to call for Clinton’s arrest, to chants of “Lock her up!” He tapped into the resentment many white Americans felt, to preach an alternative gospel of hate and intolerance. Intriguingly, while running on a promise to “Make America Great Again,” he kept pointing to authoritarian leaders like Russia’s Putin as role models.
Is it any wonder that his victory was welcomed by the Kremlin, the Ku Klux Klan, and Isis?
But the candidate was as loathsome as the campaign. Many women have emerged to accuse him of sexual harassment or sexual abuse; a recording of his remarks shows him boasting how as a celebrity he could just “grab” any woman he fancied by the genitals; he turned out to have a record of shortchanging his contractors and suppliers, and had figured in or filed over 3,000 lawsuits; he refused to disclose his tax returns, even though nothing prevented him from disclosing them; he mocked the disabled; he criticized perceived enemies with offensive tweets at 3 in the morning; he told copious (and documented) lies.
No candidate is perfect, of course, but there is a difference between imperfect and criminal: Trump’s record of sexual harassment, racist baiting, and fraudulent business schemes would have disqualified any other candidate for their criminal implications. Instead, he went on to sweep the Republican Party’s field of candidates and against Clinton forged an extraordinary victory.
Clinton won the popular vote; by the time the last of the ballots are counted, her total tally will likely be about a million more votes than Trump’s. But America’s antiquated system known as the Electoral College ensured that, like George W. Bush in 2000, the candidate with fewer votes would end up in the world’s most powerful office. In 2012, in one of his characteristic tweets, Trump called the Electoral College a “disaster for democracy.” In that it now helps normalize what is abnormal, many people, not only in the United States, will agree.
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