People are still grappling with a reality that defies all logic. How could the most ignoramus politico in America trump over the most experienced and best funded eternal Presidential candidate? All pundits predicted a clear victory for Hillary, giving Trump less than a 15 percent chance of victory. Trump himself was darn sure he was losing. He had already called the election rigged and the liberal media “dishonest” for playing Hillary's second fiddle even before the first vote was cast. Around 7 pm on Tuesday, the word from Trump Tower was that they were hoping for a miracle.
On the other hand, Hillary and her camp were so sure of victory that by Election Day they had nearly finalised the list of key appointments and made no Plan B in case this whole thing went South. By 11 pm, when it became clear that the goose was already cooked and Trump was readying himself for his unlikely feast, the Hillary camp was clinging to a mirage that Pennsylvania and North Carolina could still be in their bag.
But the miracle never materialised.
Pundits, with egg all over their face, are now scrambling for a good explanation for this greatest political debacle in US history. It is even bigger than Truman's dramatic victory over Dewy. The New York Times called Trump's victory as a tragedy for America. Baltimore Sun called it a “sad day for America”. The website VOX, popular among the millennials, trumping them all described it “a reminder of the unbeatable power of racism in America.” Quickly the streets of New York, San Diego and Massachusetts were filled with protesters who declared “Trump is not my President.”
In simplest terms, the victory was a clear rejection of the rural white America of Washington's elitism. These folks, under tremendous economic stress due to globalisation and continuing economic depression, exacted a revenge on the rest of the country. Everybody, including Republican strategists, had predicted nobody could win US Presidency without enlarging the tent that would accommodate members of the Hispanic and African-American communities. Donald Trump just proved them wrong.
Hillary's own folly was that she had put all her eggs in the” minority basket,” hoping that the vaunted “Obama Coalition” would help her cross over the finish line. She had hoped, in addition to Blacks and Hispanics, women and the millennials would queue behind her. None of that turned out to be true. While she won the popular vote by a fairly large number – perhaps by as many as two million votes – she miscalculated her chances in battleground states, giving Trump a surgical victory in the Electoral College map. Even with traditional Blue States, such as Wisconsin and Michigan, she took things for granted, opting not to campaign in these traditional bastions of liberal America.
The single most important reason for Hillary downfall, in my view, is the rejection by America of a candidate who came across as a typical Washington insider, keen on continuing a political dynasty and preserving Obama's legacy. She had gathered all her big guns – Bill Clinton and Michelle and Barack Obama – for a big hoopla the night before the elections in Philadelphia. The optics were all wrong. Why would America elect a President who will give Obama his third term and continue with the status quo? Americans, unhappy with Washington and its business as usual, thought Trump was the change agent – not Hillary. He may have been boorish and highly inarticulate, but he promised to “drain the swamp” in Washington, a complete overhaul of the proverbial swampland. These were empty words – as was his promise to build a wall to stop “rapists and drug dealers” from Mexico and numerous others - but they found resonance with a White America that felt increasingly outnumbered by the darkies. Everywhere the White America looked, they saw a coloured person, whether African-American or Hispanic. “Give us our country back,” they wailed in assent with Trump's call for Making America Great Again.
The results cheered one-half of America, but made the other half excruciatingly despondent. Unable to hide their anger and disappointment, many of them questioned the legitimacy of the election of a President who by all accounts had won fair and square. These emotions found their most articulate response in the words of Van Jones, a former Obama adviser, who called it a “whitelash”. Explaining himself, he told CNN:
“People have talked about a miracle. I'm hearing about a nightmare. It's hard to be a parent tonight for a lot of us. You tell your kids 'don't be bully,' you tell your kids, 'don't be a bigot.' You tell your kids, 'do your homework and be prepared.' And then you have this outcome and you have people putting children to bed tonight and they are afraid of breakfast. They're afraid of, 'how do I explain this to my children?
I have Muslim friends who are texting me tonight saying, 'Should I leave the country?' I have families of immigrants that are terrified tonight.”
What is unspoken here is that the “whitelash” was largely aimed at Obama. He was the first Black President, a fact difficult to swallow for those who never accepted African-Americans – constitutionally only three-fifth of a person - as their equals. Within days after Obama's victory eight years ago, the Republicans vowed to make him a “one-term President.” For the past eight years, Obama outfoxed them, frustrating the Republicans and their white cohorts every which way possible, implementing a large chunk of his agenda.
Not any more, White America has found its cheerleader in Trump, whose claim to political fame began with questioning Obama's birth on American soil, a deeply racist manoeuvre that heartened the white supremacists. By questioning a fact already proven by detailed documentation, Trump was encouraging White America to question the legitimacy of the Black President's ascendance to power.
Where do we go from here?
Much of the Democratic establishment has begun its soul searching. The deeply despondent left is also slowly coming to grips with the reality. They are already talking about the next phase, which begins with gearing up for the next battle. In 2018, America will re-elect its House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate. By taking back the Congress, they can secure some democratic sanity in the balance of power in Washington and regain their continued viability.
The path forward, as put by the Weekly Nation, is “Mourn, Resist, Organise.”
The writer is a journalist and author based in New York.