Donald Trump's victory: The only way forward is to bridge the divide between 'them' and 'us'

It seems only obvious that people should be outraged by the election of a sexist, racist, temperamental xenophobe as the 45th president of the USA. Especially when it follows two terms of the first African-American president, it pains. To many, including me, it seems like a no-brainer that any man or woman who says and does what the Donald has done should immediately be disqualified to lead anything, let alone the country with one of the largest nuclear arsenals.

Having said that, we cannot deny that a vast majority of the population is hungry for extremes. They do not necessarily agree with Trump and everything he says, but they are tired of the inertia that comes with the functioning of government and that was the blind spot that many liberals failed to see past — Donald Trump's feeding ground.

Obama had promised the closing down of Guantanamo within the first year of his presidency, but with the last few months of his presidency left to go he hasn’t achieved it. We can’t say that he didn’t try, nor does it belittle the numerous other achievements of his presidency but as we saw, change did come, but it was excruciatingly slow. Conservatives and the far right do not have the patience for such a slow change. They want to see a momentous change happen right away and in a sense by electing Donald Trump they have achieved just that.

Donald Trumps victory: The only way forward is to bridge the divide between them and us

Donald Trump. Reuters

Hilary’s failure lies in the lack of a drastic change of the status quo; in her plans. Being a seasoned politician, her plans came from a wealth of experience — any change has to come gradually and to her credit she has stuck to that. However, she should have learnt from her fight for the democratic ticket that her middle-ground approach wouldn’t help her. That is what gave Bernie Sanders a fighting chance. She should have learned that she couldn’t afford the same mistake with Trump. Now we know.

Liberals forced Trump to elaborate on his plans, pressured him to take a position on key issues affecting the world, thinking this would expose his inadequacy to be president. However, what we all failed to see was that his voter-base didn’t need him to take an effective stance on the issues or propose solutions. He openly mocked facts, chose his feelings over reason and they loved him for it. All they really wanted was a messiah who dug into their sorrow and helped them wash their wounds, promising a magic potion that will cure them of everything imaginable, no questions asked.

As liberals, we were flawed in our assumption that Trump’s border wall was in fact a wall to keep out 'criminals and rapists' from Mexico. The wall will never be built and Trump, more than anyone knows it, but that was never the purpose of such a wall. It was symbolic in what it stood for — a physical manifestation of the fear, hatred and xenophobia that has deeply rooted itself in the minds of the American middle class. They fear changing circumstances and changing dynamics that threaten their sense of entitlement. They fear losing an unfair advantage that has been extended to them as a birthright. They are dismayed by the ruling establishment that failed to put a stop to such a change, thus paving the way for anyone who promised rainbows and unicorns to win them over.

If Hillary would have won the election, we cannot ignore the stark reality that nearly half the nation didn’t approve of her and consciously voted against her. Of course, not everyone is seeking to protect their own entitlement; many may be right in being upset with the current system, but to change it would mean working across the political divide to create a better and a more equitable system. That would mean a long-drawn compromise for both the left and the right.

So they went with the easier option, throwing in an unpredictable outsider to shake up the system. This guaranteed the adrenalin rush of revolution without having to do the dirty work of making it happen. Slavoj Zizec rightly likened it to coffee without caffeine or beer without alcohol. They want a change that is not bound by definition, but simply stands for departing from what is known.

For them it didn’t matter if he called for a ban of Muslims entering the country or objectified and insulted women or classified an entire section of people as rapists and criminals. That only strengthened their belief that he is not a seasoned politician, picking and choosing his words. They chose him because he 'says it like it is'. The American election like Brexit was a coup to overthrow the establishment without the slightest idea of what will take its place.

Trump's victory is both a boon and a bane.

The boon is perhaps we have finally come to the realisation that the existing means of dialogue that we have employed does not suffice. Belittling the other side of the political spectrum as 'deplorables' or ignorant does not help take the conversation forward.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Liberals have for the longest time rejected anything that transcended the boundaries of logic. This steadfast adherence to logic has led to the ideological alienation of the far right, the world over. These aren’t people who have been left needing for anything, but the very act of being left out of the discussion because their conviction in logic hasn’t been as strong has driven them to take the plunge that is Donald Trump.

It’s like being stuck on an island with plenty of food and resources so they aren’t necessarily left wanting for anything but they are still stuck on the island alone. They want to escape, but in order to do that they must leave the relative safety of the island and dive into the vast uncharted ocean. That is what a majority of the American electorate has chosen — to try something new.

Donald himself said it, "What do you have to lose?" We do have a lot to lose, but perhaps it is exactly such a loss that will humble us and bring us down from our high-handed approach to democracy. It will help in bridging the burgeoning polarisation that has divided 'them' and 'us'. Brexit was no different. The figures used to fuel the hatred of EU were proven to be false but that didn’t matter because again being chained to logic, they failed to see the other side and paid a heavy price for it.

The bane — and this is perhaps the most worrying — is that his victory will in its very act give a free hand to radicals on the right to declare war on whomever they see as their enemy. Fringe communities will be targeted. Those who kept their racist hatred to themselves for fear of being socially unacceptable will now demand to be heard. We have seen it happen in India where the victory of the BJP inadvertently gave rise to deafeningly loud calls for saffronisation all across the country. PM Modi has repeatedly dismissed them but he has done little to silence those calls or admonish them, partly because those were the same calls that served as fodder for his own campaign. This is likely to repeat in the US and the fear is that it may have already started playing out. The Trump administration may not be able to control this raging fire that they helped ignite. Looking at the board of advisers Trump is likely to pick in the White House, few can remain hopeful.

Only history will tell what the real consequences of this election were but in the mean time we must all reconsider our own approach and find a means to reach across that divide because the only way forward is with, not without.

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Updated Date: Nov 12, 2016 17:55:57 IST

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