It's the election that shocked the world. On Tuesday 8 November 2016, the United States of America elected Donald Trump to be its 45th President.
America is a country built on progressive ideals. An open country that has become the superpower it is today through immigration from all parts of the world. A country that has championed free trade and as Thomas Jefferson said in the Declaration of Independence, the 'equality of all men'.
Its precisely for these reasons that it was so shocking to see America turn its back on those very ideals and elect a President who has built his whole campaign on hatred and protectionism. Don't get me wrong, I don't think the world will end just because Donald Trump is President, but it makes you wonder what makes a country such as America elect such a controversial figure.
I have read numerous comments and articles denigrating Americans for their choice of leader. Although I agree that the Government-Corporate machinery that is America is heading down a dark path, I still believe that Americans are honest, decent and hardworking people who do not deserve all the negative attention they are receiving.
How we got here
Eight years ago America was on the verge of electing its first black president. A wave of hope and optimism was sweeping across not only the United States, but also parts of the world. The seeds of the Arab Spring were being sown, US-Russian relations were being 'reset' and it looked like genuine change was about to happen. Eight years seems like such a long time ago.
The financial crisis was much longer and deeper than anyone could have imagined. The Arab Spring turned into a hotbed for extremism and relations between the US and Russia have soured to levels not seen since the Cold War. And while the whole world has changed, one demographic feels like they have been left behind, their voices not heard, their views not taken into account.
Some parties represent the elite, others represent a globalised vision of the world but it seemed that no parties listened to the voices of white working class voters. Most of my friends back home in the Midlands would fall into this bracket and believe me, I've heard the immigrant bashing and its gotten stronger over the past few years with the Syrian Crisis. This has led to the rise of nationalist, anti establishment parties such as UKIP, the French National Front and the right wing platform of Donald Trump. White working class voters feel like the establishment doesn't work for them anymore.
Is this fair? I'm not so sure but I understand the concerns. As the son of immigrants, I am for the free movement of people. There is enough research to suggest that immigration adds considerable value to the economy but immigration is more than just numbers. There is a social aspect that isn't always factored in but is quickly labelled racist. Too much change, too soon.
My mom came to this country 30 years ago and works in a minimum wage job on a farm and even she is concerned about cheap labour from Eastern Europe undercutting her. Is she racist? Nope. Just a single parent trying to take care of her family so for her its a very real concern and its the same for families up and down the UK and US. While I don't agree that closing the borders is the answer, if we had the debate more openly, perhaps we wouldn't be in this situation.
Going back to America, they have forces that we just don't in the UK. An Evangelical Christian right that has a very strong dislike for the liberal elite. Although we have a big race problem here, it pales in comparison to what they have in America. I feel sorry for Barack Obama. Although President, the fact that he didn't control the Senate meant that for the most of his second term he had his hands tied. He also seems to have been the perfect scapegoat for this demographic. Once again, too much change, too soon.
Opinion polls and the silent majority
Growing up I remember being amazed at how accurate opinion polls were. Basically, polling uses statistical sampling, whereby a small group of people representing a cross section of the population is questioned and those results are aggregated up to show the likely results of an election. Sometimes they are accurate almost down to a seat, however sometimes the opinion polls get things very wrong.
In the run up to the 2015 UK General Election, most pollsters were predicting a closely fought election with no party having an overall majority. Some opinion polls were showing a slight Conservative lead whilst others were showing a small Labour lead. I remember the absolute shock when it appeared that not only had the Conservatives won, but they had won by a considerable margin. It was the first time in my lifetime that the polls had got it so wrong.
The inquest started straight away; how could the polls be so wrong, what had happened here that hadn't happened before. An independent inquiry found a number of reasons; some on weighting and calculation issues, others on the type of people questioned. However the issue seemed obvious. Conservatism is associated with a lot of negative connotations. Whilst the left generally champions the poor, open borders and presents progressive agendas, the right proposes things like smaller government, tax cuts to the rich and restrictive immigration. Voters of these parties get termed 'selfish', 'racist' and 'xenophobic'. These voters become too ashamed to openly communicate their beliefs and who they support and this silent majority can lead to extremely misleading polls. Although I don't agree with Conservative policies I don't think people should be made to feel ashamed of their beliefs and values.
It seemed like no lessons were learned by the time the EU Referendum came around. Once again, opinion polls were predicting a close but comfortable 'Remain' victory. In fact, I was shocked at just how confident people, especially in London where people seemed to be sure of a one sided result. It seemed like they had forgotten that there was a whole world outside the M25. Whenever I managed to go back home the tone was the opposite and for the first time, the undertones of the sort of nationalism that would come to the boil during the Trump campaign had begun to show its face.
By the time I went to sleep on Election Night, the polls were still showing a small but solid 'Remain' majority. I remember waking up at 5am and the BBC news app was beginning to report that the UK was heading out of the European Union. The polls had got it wrong once again and this time the shock was much bigger. Instead of a new Govenment for the next 5 years (we thought), the UK was now leaving the EU for good. It wasn't just people like me, financial institutions had also trusted the pollsters and priced in a 'Remain' vote and therefore the markets were caught off guard. Once again, 'Leave' voters were labelled as 'racist' and 'xenophobic'. Perhaps many were, but not all. Once again, this silent majority decided to keep quiet for fear of being labelled as such.
It was off the back of this that I was once again amazed by how easily people were swayed by opinion polls. I'll admit, I'm one of those people. I thought when push came to shove, there was no way America would elect Trump and that's essentially what the polls were showing, even after the email saga; Hillary was going to win. But once again, the opinion polls got things incredibly wrong and the silent majority had won out.
Is democracy broken?
On the contrary. If anything, the past year has shown that democracy is alive and well. A friend said to me they felt like democracy was broken as she felt it should stand for equality, diversity and the protection of minorities.
Democracy can be about all those things, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s just a reflection of the people (or at least those who vote).
At this moment, in America, democracy isn’t about protection of minorities and diversity (it has been for so long). Right now its about a country unsure about its future role in the world. A country that a decade ago was the undisputed global leader in a lot areas. A country that’s had its confidence chipped away due to expensive wars and the biggest financial crisis in generations. Its just a nation that is insecure and frightened. And the vote reflected that.
That being said I do question the role of corporates and lobbyists during the election season. I find the concept of political donations by companies carrying out activities that create negative externalities to counter the whole 'will of the people' thing.
It's also a little ironic that two countries such as the US and UK that have historically stable political landscapes have delivered such shocking results. Maybe it isn't. Perhaps this is the evolution of mature democracies where stability is seen as working only for the chosen few and perhaps even boring. I know a few countries who would love to have a boring political landscape.
Trump's 4 main promises
Donald Trump promised much during his campaign, however, the markets didn't react too significantly to his election. Why? Because they don't actually expect too much to change.
1. The Wall
Perhaps his most famous pledge, Donald Trump promised to build a large wall across the Mexican border, paid for by the Mexican Government. In fact, as it became apparent that Trump was going to win the Election, the Mexican Government held an emergency meeting and the Peso was routed in trading the next morning.
Will this happen? Highly unlikely. Whether patrols are stepped up, or a smaller version is built I dont know, however I find it hard to believe that the Mexicans will foot the bill for The Wall without concessions that would be unpalatable to the American public.
2. Ban Muslims
Following the San Bernadino attack, Trump promised to "ban all Muslims" entering America. This statement was followed by global condemnation. The fact is this was never going to happen as much of Trump's business interests involve Arab billionaires. These elites have more in common with each other than they have with the average citizen of their own countries.
The fact that Mike Pence said last month that Trump no longer supports this proposal means it has already been quietly dropped.. Regardless, any brown travellers will find the whole airport experience even more uncomfortable than it already is. If you have any issues, read The Travelling Singh's guidelines with your rights here.
3. Repeal Obamacare
This is significantly more likely than the first two. Republicans in general have been against the kind of universal healthcare championed by Barack Obama.
As a guy in the UK lucky enough to have the NHS, I dont understand their fear. I realise that Obamacare has its limitations and issues, however as a whole it was a progressive piece of legislation that extended healthcare to millions of Americans who would otherwise not have it.
Adam Smith argued that with international trade, all parties end up as winners. Trump doesn't agree. He feels that America, a leading proponent of free trade is losing out to other countries. Well if America is losing, I'd love to know who's winning.
Many will point to China and its currency manipulation or dumping of goods such as steel. It's a problem sure, but America gains so much more than it loses. The age of a large and more importantly competitive manufacturing sector in the West has largely passed. If Donald Trump follows through with his promise of renegotiated trade deals and high tariffs, ultimately the main people that will suffer are American consumers.
However, its said that when America sneezes the whole world catches a cold. A more protectionist United States will ultimately lead to a slow down in the global economy and as the largest foreign investor in America, the UK will also suffer.
Where does this leave America?
This wave of anti establishment politics sweeping the globe leaves us in unchartered territory. The most likely scenario is that nothing changes too much. The Government continues functioning, the world continues to turn and unless he really gets things wrong, in four years the Americans have another election where they can evaluate Trump's term.
On a wider issue, it says something when Pakistan and India can elect female leaders but the USA cant. I worry for minorities in America as this might be seen as a mandate for open discrimination, after all we saw a spike in hate crimes following the EU Referendum. I feel sorry for the Muslims who will now be represented by a President who has shown open disdain for them. And as is the case in the West, whenever anything negative happens to the Muslim community, the Sikh community suffers the same backlash with less of the media attention.
However, for all his rhetoric, I find it surprising that 29% of Latino's voted for Trump. Although factors about the economy, relations with Communist Cuba and concerns that illegal immigration is undermining their community, I find it remarkable that they could turn a blind eye to some of the things Trump had to say about their former countrymen.
I also think womens rights are an issue in America when somebody who can speak in such demeaning ways about females can be elected to its highest office. I think many questions need to be rightfully asked.
That being said, I don't think think this a commentary on who American's truly are. Right now, it seems like America is in the twilight of its role as sole global superpower and this rightfully makes Americans a little nervous. I called some of my American friends that I met when travelling in Cambodia as results were coming through and they felt sick and embarrassed about the election result. Sure there are more than a few nut jobs over there but it is still a nation that has given the world so much. There were a large number of anti-Trump protests in the wake of his election. Although demonstrations like this are a healthy part of democracy, protestors need to ensure that Trump is given at least a chance. As with Brexit, I might not agree with it, but its the will of the people.
There is cautionary point to be made more globally. Brexit on its own, the election of Trump on its own and the rise of Marine Le Pen on its own are shocking blips, but when you put these together it becomes something a little more dangerous.
I make a distinction between America and Americans. The Government-Corporate machinery over there has done some very questionable things in its history; its treatment of Native Americans, the colonisation of the Philippines, the Vietnam War and its expensive actions in the Middle East. But what nation hasn't done questionable things? The UK and France have the questionable legacy of Empire, Asian countries such as India and Pakistan have the questionable treatment of minorities, Arab countries have the questionable treatment of women and lets not even start on Russia.
Whether they admit it or not, the average American has more in common with the average Arab/European/Asian/African etc. than they do with their own elites. What this election has shown however is that those elites can still use things such as race, religion and gender to keep those average Americans divided (its not much better here either).
Although I feel sad for America, I have faith in Americans to stand up to hatred, intolerance and isolationism and continue being the creative and open country that gave us a lot of our modern technology, scientific progress and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
British Sikh in my twenties, born in the Midlands, based in London, travelling the world seeing new cultures.