by Larry Smith
One thing’s for certain - there has been no shortage of analysis from every quarter on why Donald Trump won the US presidential election.
For Breitbart News - the provocateur website run by Trump’s right-wing strategist Steve Bannon - it was a foregone conclusion.
Their candidate (whom they refer to as ’Daddy’) promised to disrupt establishment politics and upend the sclerotic global system that America and its allies have built up over the past 70 years.
“We’re going to build an entirely new political movement,” Bannon said in a recent interview. "The conservatives are going to go crazy. I’m the guy pushing a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan…It will be as exciting as the 1930s, greater than the Reagan revolution - conservatives, plus populists, in an economic nationalist movement.”
Trump’s anti-globalist headline policies during the campaign focused on a border wall, radical immigration and trade restrictions, reneging on international treaties, and reversing whatever progress has been made on climate and environmental issues.
But before we get into that, let’s look at the numbers. At the time of writing, Hillary Clinton led Trump by well over a million votes - 48 to 47 per cent - but Trump won in the electoral college.
There’s a ton of online resources if you want to know more about this peculiar American institution. But suffice to say it was created to provide a population balance between slave and non-slave states. The EC enabled southern states to count enslaved Africans with a two-fifths discount.
Clinton had to contend with a 5 per cent third-party vote - compared to only 1.6 per cent in 2012, 1.4 per cent in 2008 and 1 per cent in 2004. Analysts say those 6.4 million displaced votes had an impact - much as the DNA siphoned off FNM votes in 2012 to help the PLP win a plurality.
But the biggest take-away in terms of numbers was the smaller-than-projected turnout. About 7 million fewer Democrats and 2 million fewer Republicans voted than in 2012. And the 2012 turnout was down from 2008— despite an ever-increasing population
In other words, there was evidently a large protest against Clinton’s ‘business as usual’ approach.
According to Paul Waldeman in the Washington Post: "Republicans have an interest in characterizing Trump’s win as the result of a vast outpouring of support. But that’s plainly not true.
"While Trump managed to gain an electoral college victory, not only did he get fewer votes than Clinton, he got fewer votes than Romney in 2012, McCain in 2008, and Bush in 2004."
But observers have also pointed to how poorly Clinton did—getting 6 million fewer votes than Obama did in 2012, and nearly 10 million fewer than he did in 2008.
According to conservative writer Salena Zito, support for Trump was not solely a revolt by poorer whites left behind by globalization. “This great populist election was all a big pushback against elitism on both sides of the aisle.”
I can appreciate that view. I totally get that whenever there is cultural change forced by concentrated immigration, there is often a nativist reaction. This can be seen in Bahamian attitudes towards Haitian immigration, British feelings about large numbers of Polish migrants, or the European reaction to African and Syrian refugees.
I also get that the rise of populism has mirrored rising inequality in rich countries - the United States in particular.
But as University of London political scientist Eric Kaufmann argued recently, “there’s precious little evidence this (US presidential) vote had much to do with personal economic circumstances.”
His argument is that diversity and difference tends to alarm right-wing authoritarians, who seek order and stability. “This, and not class, is what cuts the electoral pie in many Western countries these days.”
Kaufmann refers to a Birkbeck College/Policy Exchange/YouGov survey conducted in August. Nearly 40 per cent of those who gave Trump 0 out of 10 in the survey said inequality was the top issue facing America. Among those rating Trump 10 out of 10, only 4 per cent agreed.
"That’s a tenfold difference. Now look at immigration: the top issue for 25 per cent of white Trump backers, but hardly even registering among Trump detractors.”
Kaufmann concludes that the success of populists like Trump is based on Immigration and ethnic change, which is unsettling that portion of the electorate that prefers cultural order.
The leadership of the Democratic Party and other liberal parties in the West cannot escape responsibility for their recent losses and the rise of intolerance. At the very least, they need a major soul-searching and messaging overhaul.
As Jonathan Haidt wrote in the non-partisan American Interest magazine, “Nationalists in Europe have been objecting to mass immigration for decades, so the gigantic surge of asylum seekers in 2015 was bound to increase their anger and their support for right-wing nationalist parties.
"The answer…cannot be found just by looking at the nationalists and pointing to their economic conditions and the racism that some of them do indeed display. One must first look at the globalists, and at how their changing values may drive many of their fellow citizens to support right-wing political leaders.”
Haidt says we should pay attention to three key variables: the percentage of foreign-born residents at any given time, the degree of difference of each incoming group, and the degree of assimilation being achieved.
Many of us have been pointing to the ‘forced' lack of assimilation of Haitian migrants in the Bahamas as risking the same kind of reaction.
So I think I get this. But what I can’t appreciate is all the crazy stuff that Trump and his crew now feel able to get away with.
Killing all action to address climate change tops the list. And this will condemn our children and grandchildren to environmental catastrophe.
The reality is that more American jobs are now generated by the solar industry than by coal. And public opinion is strongly in favour of renewable energy and pollution controls.
Yet Trump has vowed to dismantle environmental regulations, shore up the highly-polluting fossil fuel industry (including coal), and cancel international climate agreements.
Traditional allies in Europe and Asia are bewildered at Trump’s disdain for treaties that have secured Western interests for decades.
And his fawning admiration for Russian strongman Vladimir Putin - not to mention his Russian business ties - is alarming, and could easily lead to greater global instability.
In terms of trade, Trump is preparing for a major reevaluation and renegotiation of trade policy, according to Vox writer Zeeshan Aleem.
“This could potentially upend economic relationships the United States has held for decades. If pursued recklessly, it could set off a trade war that wreaks havoc on the American economy.”
International supply chains in today’s world are deeply intertwined, and protectionist trade polices in the 1920s were blamed for the Great Depression.
As for what a Trump presidency could mean for the Bahamas, that prognostication is more cloudy.
He could reverse the opening to Cuba, which would presumably help our tourism industry.
American tourism to Cuba is still technically illegal under the embargo, but the current administration has softened the rules.
As a result, Cuba and the US recently agreed to allow up to 90 daily round-trip flights between the two nations.
It is well-known that American multinationals are stockpiling over $2 trillion in profits in offshore financial centres like the Bahamas
Trump has promised a 30-point cut in taxes if these profits are repatriated. So assuming a portion of this wealth is booked here, our financial sector can expect to take a hit.
But - with 80 per cent of our land within five feet of sea level - Trump’s biggest impact on the Bahamas will assuredly come from the dismantling of environmental and climate change actions and agreements.