Monday, 14 November 2016

The next four years

It was a divided path, two very divergent options: either a man who had never held political office, who voiced racist views, who was supported (and did not in any way turn that support down) by right-wing extremist groups including the KKK, or Hillary Clinton, a woman with more political experience than perhaps any other previous candidate for the position. It would have been a historic outcome either way, although the predicted option (by so many polls utterly proven wrong) was that in an election that included female voters born into a time when women couldn't vote, Hillary Clinton would be the first woman to break that glass ceiling. But she didn't. 

There are many, many things to say about this - the question of how much FBI director James Comey's decision to have a series of emails from Anthony Weiner's computer investigated right before the election (with the announcement that they revealed nothing new only a day before the election) influenced the outcome; the demographics of the election that revealed, to nobody's surprise, an increasingly divided electorate (particularly along urban/rural lines); the fact that the electoral college seems to work very much in the favour of the party that attracts rural voters; the further fact that for the second time since 2000, when Al Gore won the popular vote, the winning candidate and President-elect lost the popular vote; the disconcerting reality that in the first election after the Voting Rights Act was undermined with a series of new voting restrictions, minorities were turned away from polling places in large numbers. There are questions about the approach by both the Clinton campaign and the media, which never quite seemed to take Trump's statements seriously enough to portray him as the person he was presenting himself to be, and never really covered this as an election that had more than one likely outcome. There is the disconcerting fact that 46% didn't vote at all (opening up the age-old political science question of whether low turnout means no mandate). 

Fact is, the Republicans will go into the next four years with a significant majority in both Houses, with a majority of Governors and in many State legislatures, and the opportunity to appoint a replacement for Justice Scalia to the Supreme Court. This will determine the course of the country significantly and very likely beyond the four years ahead.

Nobody can really predict what will happen in the international arena, with a President-elect who is still a black box in terms of ideology. There haven't been many attempts to go beyond the projected (or genuine) profound narcissism to figure out what lies behind the facade, if Donald Trump has particularly strong feelings about trade partnerships, if his voiced intention to remove the US from NATO is a genuine plan or just a thought bubble. I would guess that it will depend on whoever Trump chooses to guide him through the first years of his Presidential foreign policy, and that that person's political ideology and background will have a very pronounced influence on the Trump administration's position towards foreign policy. We cannot really imagine a world yet in which the United States don't take a leading position in international security and conflicts, but maybe we will find out what that world looks like. In either case, it is looking very bad for an effective future climate policy that includes the United States

Perhaps this election was a very eloquent take-down of the idea that the arc of history somehow automatically bends towards justice, that positive progress is the natural course of human history and doesn't require constant work and vigilance against forces that seek to protect century-old privileges. A candidate who has repeatedly voiced and performed his complete disregard for women was elected President by 53 % of white female voters. A candidate endorsed by ethno-national, racist, anti-semitic, right-wing extremist groups (groups that the media has somehow managed to make sound much more innocuous than they are by terming them "alt-right") was elected President, and is now stocking up his transition team with members of those groups. We are at the point where the terms "antira" and "antifa" (very familiar in the German speaking areas as strategies and organisations battling Neo-nazis and right-wing extremists) are popping up as necessary strategies against a future administration that increasingly sounds like a slow descent into something much more sinister than a party change in the White House. 

In more concrete terms, it remains unclear what will happen to thousands of Americans depending on health care they receive through tje Affordable Care Act. It's unclear what will happen to reproductive rights when a President who may nominate more than one Supreme Court Justice during hit first term in office voices his intention to see Roe v. Wade overturned. A President who has said he considers gay marriage done and dusted but has selected a Vice President and head of transition team who supports conversion therapy. It remains unclear what will happen to undocumented migrants and their children. It remains unclear if Donald Trump's comments denying Muslims the right to enter the United States were just convenient dog whistling or genuine convictions, but it looks more and more like there won't be much of a difference between the two when he is so willing to surround himself with ideological extremists. It looks more and more like there won't be much of a difference between the two because Donald Trump's utter lack of qualification for the job, lack of knowledge what the job entails (apparently he hasn't even made it one episode into The West Wing), and lack of readiness to read and learn means that he is completely dependent on others to guide him through his Presidency (the role that his new senior advisor Stephen Bannon has assumed was compared to Karl Rove's in the Bush White House, who obviously had a very significant ideological impact). 

There have been a lot of very helpful tips to guide towards a more productive reaction to this than simple resignation - donating to organisations that provide basic health care like Planned Parenthood, that help trans individuals have their documents changed for as long as that's possible, standing up to the horrifying reports of a spike in street harassment and abuse, holding the media accountable for any kind of move towards normalising racism, xenophobia, anti-semitism, homophobia and any of the other hydras rearing their many heads. Finding strategies to reach the homogenous non-urban communities. Acknowledging how deeply embedded racism and misogygny are. 

Also - I know that the criticism against Saturday Night Live for creating a conversation culture around Donald Trump, both through allowing him to host and portraying him as a halfwit, is very valid, but my take-away from Kate McKinnon's cold open, playing and singing Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah on the piano was this: Kate McKinnon has repeatedly mentioned how much of a role model Ellen DeGeneres was for her. In 1997, after Ellen came out, she was shunned. She almost lost her career for being herself. That wasn't too long ago. Historically speaking, not even 1920 is that long ago. It's a very, very potent reminder that "privilege" also means to be able to take your basic rights for granted, because they were never in question. 

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