Decision 2016: Assessing the Damage

Political graffiti in Caracas. FOTO: Erik Cleves Kristensen (CC BY 2.0)

“The repercussions of Trump’s assumption of the US presidency will be felt not only in the US, but also in other parts of the world, especially Latin America.” Political graffiti in Caracas. PHOTO: Erik Cleves Kristensen (CC BY 2.0)

The morning of November 9 marked the culmination of a tortuous 18-month race for the US presidency, with Donald Trump emerging as victor with 279 electoral college votes and more than 59 million votes in total. As this bitter chapter in the contest for the White House draws to a close, the US now must consider what the next four years might bring. For the moment, however, the question that most preoccupies m any Americans is: how did this country get to this stage?

Several analysts have pointed at the deep socio-economic and racial disparities that have afflicted the US ever since its founding as a republic 238 years ago. The racial divide that many expected to narrow when Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, in fact did the opposite: the increase in police brutality against communities of color, and the mass deportations of Hispanic immigrants are among the most recent manifestations of this.

The situation was exacerbated by the fact that while the US economy did manage to recover from the 2008 financial crisis, economic recovery did not take place in all sectors of the population, and especially not for poor rural whites. This provided fertile ground for figures like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders to emerge and gain momentum over the course of the primaries of their respective parties. Both candidates promised to change the political status quo, with Trump using scare tactics to heighten the disgruntlement of Republican voters, suggesting, for example, that Mexicans were rapists, criminals and conduits for the traffic of drugs into the US. Fed up with traditional politics, Republicans chose Trump, on the basis that he, an outsider to the Washington political machine, could be an agent of real change.

The political establishment also played a role in creating the current situation. The leadership of the Democratic party—aided by the superdelegates and an alleged ruse on the part of the Democratic National Committee during the primaries that favored Hillary Clinton—sabotaged Sanders’ chances of having a real shot at becoming the Democratic party’s nominee. On the other side, the Republican establishment, headed by the Bush dynasty, failed to mount a credible challenge to a candidate whose campaign was rife with insults, misogyny, xenophobia and laughable policies such as the construction of a wall running the length of the border between Mexico and the US. Neither John Kasich, Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio—the latter considered at one point the savior of the Republican party—could stop the real estate magnate’s rampage.

The news media also played a key role in the selection of both parties’ candidates. Under the guise of impartiality, television channels found it difficult to resist Trump’s allure. The result was a year in which statistics, facts and truth were replaced by the rumors, speculation and lies peddled by Trump and his collaborators. The same news media ended up inadvertently whitewashing Trump’s image, as popular comedy shows such as Saturday Night Live and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon humanized the candidate by inviting him on as a guest star, in spite of strong protests against these appearances. For many, the media normalized Trump’s over-the-top discourse. Television channels like CNN reveled in the high ratings they received thanks to Trump and the insults he leveled at his opponents. Yet even while being afforded almost unlimited access to television airtime, Trump remained antagonistic toward the media, insisting that he and his campaign were being treated unfairly.

The repercussions of Trump’s assumption of the US presidency will be felt not only in the US, but also in other parts of the world, especially Latin America. The political gains made during the Obama years will likely be reversed, as Trump has promised to repeal the accord with Cuba and renegotiate free trade treaties which would surely affect Colombia, Mexico, Chile and Panama, among others. Trump would also have his eyes on Venezuela, not to mention what he has in store for Iran and North Korea, who find themselves faced with an impulsive Trump capable of launching a nuclear attack or repealing the agreements painstakingly arrived at during the nuclear talks.

In the aftermath of a vertigo-inducing election campaign, the only thing left for the US to do is assess the damage. Quite apart from the question of who won the election, the problem of partisanship in Washington is more acute than ever, thanks to the “iron triangle” of commingled  interests that governs the destiny of that country.

The president-elect will need to deal not only with challenges such as healthcare reform or choosing a new Supreme Court justice, but also with the pressing need to compensate for the pain afflicted on the country by his candidacy. Paying the price for that, however, will take many years.

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