The progressive world is aghast at the election of renowned business mogul Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States. International stability has been kicked in the groin. Russia has been handed a free pass to carve up Europe and the Middle East without fear of reprimand. And Latin America has been notionally sliced off from its northern neighbours.
As Europe looks on in disbelief, many are asking how a man so famously prejudiced could become the most powerful person on the planet. But it is symptomatic of American disillusionment with capitalism. And specifically, of older voters cynicism towards globalisation and the perception that “foreigners” are stealing American jobs despite the fact the US was built by European immigrants.
Pundits spent the better part of Tuesday discussing the pending Clinton victory. Their speculation was then thwarted by Trump’s resounding win and suddenly everyone is now an expert on the disenchantment of the American people. But where was this expertise when Trump and Clinton took to the campaign trail earlier this year? It is too late to take heed of the thriving bigoted vein that runs through the States. This should not have been underestimated in the first place.
Any European who has ventured past New York and LA into the depths of America knew this outcome was possible – even probable. In many ways, it was more shocking that this overtly conservative electorate voted for a black man in 2008 and again in 2012. That was seen as a turning point in American social attitudes. But the vote for Trump is a solid step back into a 1950s-style society where non-whites are dehumanized and women are commodified.
There has been a lot of comparisons made between today’s US and 1930s Germany; ideas that Trump is the next Hitler. Yet this is very likely an overstatement. A Trump presidency is dangerous for global stability and is most certainly retrograde, but it is not as phenomenal in the context of US politics as Europeans might wish to believe. The world did survive George W Bush’s presidency (albeit at the cost of Iraq).
There is no doubt the Trump victory threatens to legitimise prejudice but his win also demonstrates how this bigotry underlies large swathes of American society. He built a mandate based on racism, sexism and separatism, in full knowledge of the power of divisiveness. It did not matter that Trump’s policies were vacuous because in an era of populism, people are better swayed by vitriolic bullshit than commonsense. And so, the US will keep rolling onwards (though clearly not upwards).
Warning for Europe
The lesson for a Europe plagued by Brexit, attitudes of anti-immigration and rising skepticism towards the EU, is obvious: stability requires youthful optimism, tolerance and integration. To avoid following in the footsteps of our American cousins, Europeans need to harmonise more firmly and more faithfully.
The US has just demonstrated that societies ebb and flow between progression and regression. Europeans must then hope to defy that pattern by embracing cultural complexities and accepting that communities are not one-dimensional descriptions of societies but rather, a grand mix of all that makes the world a better place.