The unthinkable has come to pass, Donald Trump is president elect of the US. The world is in shock and America’s socially liberal society is reeling in confusion, how could this happen, what does it mean and what hope is there for the future?
I flagged Mr Trump as a serious concern relatively early in the election cycle, hearing populist noise that diametrically conflicts with my own beliefs and values. Yet, now that he is elected I find myself oddly sanguine about the situation, let me explain why.
First, the election cycle is over now, so this is one thing we can stop worrying about. We no longer have to imagine terrible futures where Trump gets elected. Next, it is clear in life that what we can imagine is invariably worse than reality. Human beings have remarkable abilities imagine dark scenarios, and to adapt and cope with difficulties and unexpected challenges. The US has had poorly qualified presidents before, and yet it remains the leader of the free world. What’s more, Trump said so many outrageous things that he couldn’t possibly live up to them all. This may be the ultimate example of someone who’s bark is worse than his bite.
But there are some very practical reasons to be hopeful too. Starting from his victory speech, and his first meeting with the incumbent president at the Whitehouse, we see a sharp change of tone. Mr Divisive is suddenly all about unity, respect and caution.
And that might be the point. Trump is, as Obama said, uniquely unqualified to be commander in chief. I don’t say that as a criticism, it is a short-coming he has begun to show signs of understanding himself. For Trump has never held office at any level. A “great” businessman he might be, but running the most powerful nation on the planet is another cup of tea entirely. Trump’s initial reactions to winning suggest that he gets this. He is overwhelmed by a victory that I would suggest he never expected nor planned for. He knows the eyes of the world are on him and his number one ambition is to do a decent job.
Presumably that is why he is dialling back his aggressive rhetoric. His wall is already part fence, his commitment to Nato has been assured, his talk of ripping up the world trade and global climate change systems has all but vanished.
US politics have been absolutely frozen for years, with the Republicans dead set from day one on preventing Obama from enacting even the most sensible policies, like tax reform, which has is a bilateral issue. The incoming president has both Houses, and owes nothing to the extreme right which did so little to support his election. He has every opportunity to get things moving in a right-of-centre way. True, for many, right-of-centre might sound unpleasant, but compared to what Trump has been proposing the last months, it sounds like bliss to me.
Furthermore, as the incumbent president has been highlighting, the US democracy is bigger than one man. We’ve survived some whacky presidents in the past, more to the point so has the US. The nation and the system are resilient enough to cope with a few screw ups.
And finally, what of the voters themselves? Should we now decide that millions of Americans are racists? Xenophobes? Sexists? Let’s not do that. Let’s instead remember that the same nation that elected Trump last week also elected Obama, twice. Researchers will find as many explanations for Trump’s victory as there were ballots cast. I think the only thing we can conclude is that people voted for a new face, and almost any face would have done.
In short, if Trump starts to implement the crazy plans he proposed during his “Lock her up!” rallies, then we will need strength, caution and patience. But this doesn’t look likely, what looks more probable is that Trump can bring the disaffected segment of the population back into the mainstream. Only time will tell, and Trump will be with us for the next years whether we want him or not. But, however his presidency turns out, we can take solace in the idea that “this too will pass.” Meanwhile, we live with this man as leader of the free world, let’s take the chance to be kind to each other!