Author of Julia's Jihad
When Trump was declared the winner of the US presidential election on Nov. 8, a 1968 Bee Gees song popped into my head: “I started a joke, which started the whole world crying.”
Well, judging from the widespread protests in the US and the worldwide anxiety generated by Trump’s presidential win, my guess is that a large number of the citizens of the world were not simply crying, but bawling their eyes out, stark raving mad and panty-wettingly, nailbitingly anxious.
With good reason, especially with both the House and Senate also controlled by Republicans, as well as the judiciary and governorships. It was nothing short of a massive swing to conservatism.
The US always swings, but never to this extreme. It was also a “whitelash”: The dramatic racial progress in America has inevitably been followed by a white backlash. Trump will also be able to have a major impact on the Supreme Court if there are retirements by liberals. What else is left? (No pun intended.)
How such an odious, despicable, revolting, reactionary person like Donald Trump could occupy the White House is akin to having a piece of turd placed on a silver platter and presenting it to all the world leaders at a state banquet. Yecch!
So how did Trump win? His Rust Belt and poorly educated victories are part of the story, but he did not win with just them. He was actually well behind. He won because so many Republicans in the end went home to him, even after they repudiated him for the lewd sex-talk video, as well as other horrendous gaffs.
That’s politics for you: no principles, just constant flip-flopping opportunism.
There was also the fact that Hillary Rodham Clinton was such a flawed candidate and so beholden to corporate America and the Clinton Foundation, even to the Saudi regime. Not having the FBI as her best friend didn’t help either.
Besides the devastating, sickening shock of Trump’s win was also the crushing disappointment of Hillary’s defeat. Whatever her flaws, she would have been the first female US president — a historic first. High time, when you consider that 63 countries out of 142 have had female heads of states.
A President Hillary would have smashed the glass ceiling and given inspiration to many young women and girls in the country. Indeed, she addressed them directly: “To all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.” You go girl!
Hillary’s concession speech was praiseworthy, classy and forwardlooking, evoking not just admiration but also sympathy. If you can be poised and gracious in defeat — in this case, a crushing one — that is a true sign of character.
If not, certainly it’s a sign of being a very seasoned politician. After a truly vicious election, during which both candidates hurled vitriolic barbs at each other, to be able to urge her supporters to give president-elect (ugh!) Trump “an open mind and a chance to lead” makes her a winner in my eyes.
But going beyond individuals, let’s look both at the fundamentals of the US as a nation and the reality of democracy in today’s world.
A few months ago I attended a talk by Prof. Jeffrey Winters, professor of political science from Northwestern University, entitled “Oligarchy, Democracy and the Politics of Global Inequality”.
Basically, it was about how the more widespread democracy is, the greater the inequality, both within a nation and among nations.
How come? Isn’t democracy supposed to produce more equality? One person, one vote — never mind if you’re a billionaire or a beggar. What could be more equal than that? Historically it’s really unique and far-out radical.
Now, has democracy fulfilled its promise? Nope, it hasn’t. In fact there have been massive contradictory trends.
Let’s look at the figures. The number of democracies between 1800 and 2010 has risen from zero to about 90. The percentage of “not free” (i.e. non-democratic countries) between 1973 and 2015 has gone down from 45 percent to about 25 percent.
Democracy is 230 years old and universal suffrage is 100 years old, with rising inclusion based on gender, race, class, ethnicity, region, religion and class. That’s the first trend. Good, huh?
But, the second trend shows that economic inequality has risen sharply at the same time democracy has spread and deepened. This contradictory trend is puzzling: How can there be so much equality, but at the same time so much inequality? This trend can also be expressed thus: Political power is shifting downward, but wealth is shifting upward.
In terms of the Gini coefficient (an index to measure inequality) worldwide, in 1820 the richest country (then Britain) had five times the average of poor countries. In 2000, the richest country (the US) had 25 times the average of poor countries. With the US itself, in 2015 you had 20 billionaires possessing wealth equivalent to that of the bottom 50 percent (152 million people). The figures are different for different countries, but the wealth disparity is comparable.
My point is, yes, the US is a democracy. At the same time it’s an oligarchy. Clinton and Trump both belong to the oligarchic elite.
A crisis demands reflection. The US and probably many countries in the world have a lot of reflecting to do in terms of wealth disparities. The “whitelash” in the US was also a repudiation of the establishment. On top of that, the US is a dangerously divided country: besides by class, race and religion, also by what is seldom mentioned, an urban versus rural divide.
Allan Lichtman, a professor who predicted the Trump win, also made another prediction: That Trump would be impeached sometime next year by a Republican Congress and replaced by a leader who Republicans can trust and control, unlike Trump who is like a loose cannon.
So maybe we shouldn’t worry too much about a Trump presidency, which may soon be followed by a Pence presidency. In the end it’s about the circulation of the elite, as I learned way back in my student days from Vilfredo Pareto. What we should worry about is our belief in the rhetoric of democracy and face up to the reality of democracy, with its attendant widening inequality.
So who’s the joke on, then? Maybe Trump, if he gets impeached, but ultimately, all of us, I reckon.
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