Donald Trump’s America – Causes of His Victory and Questions about the Future
Against all odds, Donald Trump has emerged as the winner of America’s highest contest, although the polls had stubbornly favoured Hillary Clinton for long stretches of the race.
The American media had already crowned the Democratic Party’s candidate long before election night, but US citizens decided otherwise. Europeans are in a state of shock. At a meeting of EU finance ministers (ECOFIN) held on the eve of the US presidential election, only two representatives suggested that Trump would be the winner: these were Poland’s Mateusz Morawiecki and Croatia’s finance minister Zdravko Marić.
Millions of Europeans were stunned when they woke to the elections results because they had believed the media on the Old Continent and the many commentators, analysts, experts, etc. who had said repeatedly that Hillary Rodham Clinton’s victory was a done deal. What is more, many European citizens were not in the least upset. Thus, unbeknownst to themselves, they were actually revealing their attitude vis-à-vis their own establishments, both on the EU and national level, that had persistently supported Clinton and –as was the case in the US – attacked Trump.
I know many people who were sceptical about Trump as far back as the spring of this year, but who adjusted their views when they saw who was supporting him (and this held true not just in Poland). Here in Poland it was clear that those who bashed Trump were the same people who attacked Jarosław Kaczyński and his Law and Justice party. What is characteristic is that the same mechanism can be seen operating in the international arena. Putting the Republican presidential candidate in the pillory were the same EU elites (pseudo-elites) who, in recent months, have stubbornly interfered in the internal affairs of Poland and of Hungary.
Trump won despite the fact that he raised barely half the funds of his rival and only a fraction the amount in the swing states. What is interesting is that he had more donors than the Democratic Party candidate. At work here was the same mechanism that worked during the primaries eight years earlier in the duel between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Obama in 2008 and Trump in 2016 were successful in transforming their campaigns into movements that went beyond conventional party structures and that inspired citizens in mass numbers.
It comes as no surprise that Trump’s official Facebook page registered several hundred thousand more followers than that of the former secretary of state. Guided by brilliant intuition or the ideas of great advisors, the Republican candidate presented himself all along as the candidate leading a social movement rather than merely a political party. This encouraged people to engage in his campaign, but also reflected the facts on the ground. Trump won because he reached beyond the structures of the Republican Party. Clinton lost because she was only marginally successful at convincing ordinary Americans that she was running her campaign not just for herself and the ‘Clinton dynasty’, but also for them.
It was not so much the case that traditional Democratic Party voters transferred their votes to the Republican camp, as was the case when Ronald Reagan won the 1980 presidential election. Rather, many of them simply decided to stay at home, despite the insistence of their party elites. On the other hand, Republican voters – also somewhat in spite of their party establishment – clearly voted in favour of Trump.
Another factor that contributed to Trump’s victory was that he was able to persuade people to vote for him who otherwise never - or only rarely - voted. Those who were shaking their fists at the ‘rot of Washington D.C.’ and therefore every four years ignored the presidential election – believing the Republicans and the Democrats to be one and the same corrupt gang – this time believed that Trump, who, after all, had been a member of the establishment for years, had actually declared war on that very same establishment.
What brought Trump credibility was the total war waged against him with particular intensity for over a year by much of the, beginning in July 2016, when he was nominated as the Republican Party’s presidential candidate. Even if the allegations against him were true, many Americans still viewed them as elements of a conspiracy against someone who was aiming to ‘break the system’.
What happened in the US on the first Tuesday in November was historic but by no means unique. It was part of a very important global process consisting of ‘the revolt of the masses’, to use here the title of a book written by Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset a hundred years ago.
For us Poles, however, the most important question is the president-elect’s stance on Russia and on our European region. Within this context, it is important not to succumb to either one of the extreme positions. One of these demonises Trump as a senseless and extremely naive pro-Russian politician, destined to become a puppet in the hands of Vladimir Putin. Thinking in such terms is intellectually embarrassing and rather falls into the arsenal of old anti-Trump and anti-right-wing propaganda.
It completely fails to account for the following facts:
- He counts among his advisors members of the Ronald Reagan administration, senior officials from the George W. Bush administration, the inner circle of Donald Rumsfeld and Mitt Romney’s staff, who are by no means fervent Russia sympathisers. The conglomerate around Trump includes diverse characters, from supporters of tightening sanctions against Russia to those in favour of reaching some sort of an agreement with Moscow, even on Russia’s own terms, when it comes to Central and Eastern Europe.
- Every US president is in some way a captive of the US administration, the Pentagon, the powerful arms-industry lobby, etc. Even if they do not dictate foreign policy, the president must certainly take their positions into consideration.
- Unlike in Europe, where, when it comes to foreign policy, national parliaments are only sounding boards or carbon copies of government positions, the power of the US Congress is enormous, and it oftentimes operates autonomously.
What this could mean is that Republican leaders, traditionally known as Kremlin sceptics, who almost without exception have cultivated the anti-communist and anti-Soviet legacy of Ronald Reagan, would likely refuse to perform in a hypothetical pro-Russian White House concert. The Republican majority in both houses of Congress will act as an emergency brake when it comes to the White House’s policy towards Russia.
However, we should also avoid the other extreme that some of my right-wing colleagues– politicians and journalists – seem to be espousing. Their justified aversion to the clearly pro-Russian activities of Hillary Clinton as secretary of state in the first Obama administration has led them to somehow involuntarily bestow boundless confidence on Trump and to shrug off any doubts regarding the truly controversial statements that Trump has been making on the subjects of Putin, Russia, Crimea and NATO. Fortunately, in his first speech, President-elect Trump spoke in the manner of a future president rather than a candidate, and managed to avoid extreme or bizarre statements.
It is better not to renounce the common-sense approach of keeping close tabs on the 45th president of the United States of America, who, fortunately, is not the face of the US-Russia reset, as Clinton was, and who does not rave about ‘Polish death camps’, as Obama did, because, regrettably, he is also not the steadfast visionary that Reagan was. We cannot grant him the carte blanche merely due to our justified aversion of Trump’s left-leaning liberal mainstream enemies – be they external or our own domestic ones.
So, it is a good thing he won. Now comes the time for tough questions to be asked and for Washington-Warsaw relations to be arranged in a manner that is optimal for the Polish raison d'état, i.e. things worth fighting for.
Source: Gazeta Polska Codziennie