In a victory speech devoid of the divisive rhetoric that had marked his campaign, US President-elect Donald Trump thanked rival Hillary Clinton and vowed that the forgotten men and women in America will remain forgotten no longer and the rebuilding of the nation will be done keeping their voices in mind.
"Working together, we will begin the urgent task of rebuilding our nation and renewing the American dream… The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer. We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals. We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none. And we will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it," said Trump after the elections were called on Wednesday.
Who are these "forgotten men and women" that Trump was talking about? And why didn't this significant part of the American population feature in the conversation around US presidential elections?
Throughout the excruciatingly long campaign, the entire mainstream media chatter revolved around Hillary breaking the glass ceiling, reaching out to the marginalised, building bridges. Her campaign raised billions and the entire Hollywood flocked by her side. She waved, and everyone from Jay Z, Beyonce, Lady Ga Ga to Ben Affleck waved back.
Liberal media convinced us that this election wasn't even a choice, given the fact that Democratic nominee was up against such a candidate who might find it difficult to get backing from even his own family. He was a fascist, a sexual predator, a bloviating tycoon with no morals and a reflection of our worst selves. Only the most bigoted, racist and Islamophobic white American males would ever vote for him. Relax, said the media, Trump would never, ever win. A day before the polls, the media's star pollsters pegged Clinton's chance of winning the elections at a staggering 98 percent. On 9 November, reporters from all around the world flew in to congratulate Clinton as the ultimate Establishment insider was getting ready to deliver the victory speech.
Where did we go wrong?
Considering the enormous clout of American media and its ability to drive opinion around the world, the mystifying thing is how it made a series of elementary mistakes. It needed to come out of the echo chamber and witness the anger brewing within but it shut out the reality — maybe because it was too frightening — and chose to stay firmly within the bubble. This is inverse racism where people from similar social, cultural and economic background sharing the same set of values flock together and go into a collective denial when challenged. They also share the same fear of the other.
As the Democrats ripped into Trump and focused relentlessly on his shortcomings and prejudices, the media, in a spate of self-righteous anger, refused to remain neutral and sided with the force it believes was on the side of truth, light and liberal values. It could have been right but that is not the media's job.
This fundamental error of identifying itself with a political force, siding with it and indulging in groupthink instead of listening to the disruptive voices raging outside and reporting it with honesty, made it misread the signals. But it didn't stop there. The media chose to mock Trump and his supporters, reject their concerns and finally act for their defeat. In all of these actions, it further fuelled the anger of those men and women who have been hard done by the effects of globalisation and made them root for a disruptive change agent. Donald Trump became, to these "forgotten men and women", their revenge against the broken political order.
A lot has been said about how Trump Presidency and globalisation are a populist backlash against globalisation. As the media belatedly discovers the reality, it finally sees the truth in Trump's slogan of "Brexit plus plus". One of the interesting things about globalisation is that people believe in it as long globalisation works to their benefit. But when the same market forces break free of the shackles and run according to their own algorithm bringing hitherto unseen changes, globalisation then becomes a negative force.
The middle America, the four states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin that voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and re-elected him to power in 2012, this time sided with Donald Trump. The proverbial American rust belt turned red, a phenomenon unheard of in decades. These are the manufacturing hubs that used to drive American engine in the 1970s and 80s. Why did these voters, who ushered in America's first black president, refused to side with his nominee Hillary Clinton? Full of contempt and still in denial, the liberal media dismissed these predominantly white working class American voters as proto-fascists, bigots and racists. And therein lies the Trump story.
If the media was attentive enough, it would have paid heed to what Michael Moore, documentary filmmaker and activist, had predicted back in July. In a blog post '5 reasons why Trump will win' a prescient Moore read signals which the media failed to fathom.
He wrote: "I believe Trump is going to focus much of his attention on the four blue states in the rustbelt of the upper Great Lakes – Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin… four traditionally Democratic states. Trump is going to hammer Clinton on NAFTA and her support of TPP and other trade policies that have royally screwed the people of these four states…
"From Green Bay to Pittsburgh, this, my friends, is the middle of England – broken, depressed, struggling, the smokestacks strewn across the countryside with the carcass of what we use to call the Middle Class. Angry, embittered working (and nonworking) people who were lied to by the trickle-down of Reagan and abandoned by Democrats who still try to talk a good line but are really just looking forward to rub one out with a lobbyist from Goldman Sachs who’ll write them nice big check before leaving the room. What happened in the UK with Brexit is going to happen here."
Trump won because he threatened to slap General Motors with a stiff fine if they tried to ship Mexican-built small cars back to US. He became the darling of these "forgotten men and women" by threatening Tim Cook that he will make Apple build iPhones in the US instead of China if he becomes the President. Whether or not he fulfils these rather stiff promises, the simplicity of his message turned a multi-millionaire reality TV star into a "messiah of the masses".
Trump told these angry, embittered men who have seen the great American dream vanish before their eyes that he, the quintessential outsider, will fix the broken political system and they believed him.
Clinton never had a chance because she was seen as the ultimate insider belonging to the elites of coastal cities who have no patience for these 'forgotten men and women" and their concerns. While Trump promised to disrupt the system and reinvent the broken political order, Clinton offered only minor tweaks and was seen as a status quoist. And these voters were not happy with status quo. Trump was the businessman, she was a career politician and they did not trust her, no matter what the media told them.
Trump had a story to tell that these "forgotten men" wanted to hear. Clinton had nothing to say. The result is clear.