The election of Donald Trump is an unmitigated disaster and every part of me thinks it will have far reaching and devastating consequences over a wide range of issues. Women’s rights, race relations, the middle east to name but a few and global warming to name the, potentially, most significant. However I am an eternal optimist and I have been trying to think of some positives. There are not many and I may well be clutching at straws however here goes.
First, the respect for the democratic process evidenced by Mrs Clinton and President Obama were exemplary. The call to concede the election, the plea to followers to get behind their new President Elect, and the commitment to do everything to ensure a smooth handover ware all examples of tremendous political discipline. I freely confess I would have struggled. Even Mr Trump responded to the power of the moment and talked with respect about Mrs Clinton, the President and about the process of hand over. All this demonstrates that the notion of democracy remains an element of social capital with significant power and force.
Second, whilst Mr Trump may have been a Republican in name only he clearly now has considerable support from that party which has control of Capitol Hill. It will be difficult to hide behind an argument that says I would have done it if “they”, The Senate and/or the House of Representatives had not stopped me. It also means, if there are Republican Senators who see the benefit of Obama Care but have previously adopted the rhetoric of repeal they are now going to get what they might not want.
Third, many have elected Mr Trump because they think government lacks the expertise of businessmen to run it and the economy. If Mr Trump does bring to bear his business prowess we may get an object lesson in the differences between running a business or household, and running a national economy. “Tightening belts” and “living within means” are great homely soundbites but have little relevance in a discussion about macro economics. (Paul Krugman has written convincingly about this although I accept the argument plays to my prejudice.) He may also find that there are things about political processes people complain about but would not like to lose. Everyone complains about bureaucracy but no one wants planning decisions to be made on the basis of payments, threats or whim. We can hope that his experience helps people see it is a category error to see government and business as in any way analogous.
Perhaps more significantly, Mr Trump has shattered the traditional terms of political debate. By this I do not refer to his propensity to lie or promote illiberal, regressive policies. His answers are not just offensive they are wrong. Its the questions his very election raises that are significant. He has exposed the anger of many ordinary citizens and raised issues of distributional justice which have been absent in any real sense from politics for many years.
He has challenged the left/right continuum. Both sides of this political coin have remained in a mode of political dispute that has become increasingly irrelevant over the past thirty years. He has rocked the complacency of the major, traditional parties. Unfortunately they are struggling understand the new political agenda and are busy trying to squeeze the new politics into old bottles. It does not and will not fit.
Naomi Wolf on the Today programme this morning talked about the way Mr Trump had thrown into sharp relief the obsolescence of the left right categories. Unwittingly perhaps he has exposed the opposition between on the one hand trade and wealthy elites and on the other hand, the rest of the population.
It would be an incredible irony if Mr Trumps election did what the Democratic Party in the United States and the Labour Party in the United Kingdom failed to do, place the issue of inequality firmly front and centre of the politics of the 21st Century. I might be grasping at straws but one can hope.