Fickle American politics

Many people, myself included, were convinced that Hillary Clinton would win. We were so deeply convinced that we refused to listen to logic nor answer critical questions: What if Donald Trump wins?

Most public figures, dare I say ‘celebrities’, couldn’t read the signs, thus placed themselves in critical positions before the media, promising to leave the US should Trump win. They are now refusing, we hear, to respond to journalists who wish to follow up on the promises made. We know them by name.

The obvious danger of the Trump discourse is its’ potential to overshadow other important lessons – lessons beyond who deleted how many emails and who fondled whose breasts. This may remind South Africans of what happened during the ‘don’t touch me on my studio’ fiasco.

Why should we care about US politics?

Many people ask: Why are we concerning ourselves with American politics because we have our own mess to face? The reality is, USA matters in international politics particularly since the end of the First World War (WWI). Joining the WWI only in 1917, historians still struggle in explaining how it overtook major players and positioned itself as a central force in the crafting of the post-1918 world political architecture with US president Woodrow Wilson placing himself at the centre of the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, dislodging prime ministers George Clemenceau (France), David Lloyd George (United Kingdom) and Vittorio Orlando (Italy) to have his ‘Fourteen Points’ as the fundamental guide to the discussions. These points later became conference resolutions such as the creation of the League of Nations. 

These points were also a response to Russia’s Vladimir Lenin’s November 1917 text ‘Decree on Peace’, proposing Russia’s immediate exit from the war, and for a just and democratic peace.

The US matters as the world’s biggest economy, and as an exporter of both progressive and retrogressive penchants. 

It mattered in the toppling of Kwame Nkrumah, and in the events leading to the assassination of Muam­mar Gaddafi. It also matters in the African political economy: think of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act. It matters in the support of most emerging economies in globally (Young African Leadership Initiative,  Mandela WWashington Fellowship, etc).

While who becomes US president is most important, we need to go beyond the winner and loser to societies and norms.

The candidates

A lot can be learned about the 2016 US elections. Before the 8 November elections, most Americans agreed that these were the most interesting elections in the history of American electoral politics. It was for the first time that Americans were subjected to unpopular candidates amongst the citizens and in their own political parties. 

An American research firm (Gallup), had found that both Democratic Party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican Party presidential nominee Donald Trump had an unfavourable rating standing at 25%; they both failed to obtain higher approval rates amongst Americans. The firm further points out that in 2008, only 4% of Americans thought that the candidacy of both Barack Obama and John McCain were not ideal. In 2012, for Obama and Mitt Romney, the unfavourable figures stood at 13%. 

What led Americans here is a subject of wondering, pondering and soul searching, even amongst American political scientists. The American political system must be inspected for possible clues. 

By design, the American political system (inclusive of the constitution, state laws and political culture) favours two political parties. This arrangement is further reinforced by the media, civil society and even research institutions. It is, therefore, extremely difficult for a third party, and its’ candidates, to emerge. Indeed, although there are other political parties, the political culture declares them non-existent. The numbers speak volumes  

For example, let’s zoom in on the sidestepping of the Libertarian Party and the Green Party candidates, former New Mexico governor Garry Johnson (Libertarian) and Jill Stein (Green Party), who are believed to possess qualities that supersede those of both Trump and Clinton. So shocking is the reality that some Americans weren’t even aware of their existence. 

Mainstream media and research polls were not even interested in what they had to offer. It’s for this reason that they’re not even dignified with an opportunity to challenge Democratic and Republican candidates. Americans were generally dissatisfied with both Trump and Clinton, yet unwilling to look at ‘third’ and ‘fourth’ party candidates. Mind boggling isn’t it.

Apart from the political system, the quality of democracy is also eye-catching. Although more Americans voted for Hillary Clinton than Donald Trump, she still failed to become President. In 2000, Al Gore got higher votes than George W Bush, who became President. 

For more than 100 years now, the US political system provides for the ‘Electoral College’, whereby each of the 50 states (seen only as either Republican, red – or Democrat, blue), depending on the population, are allocated delegates. It is the 538 electors attending the Electoral College who get to decide who the US president becomes. It is, indeed, a strange and puzzling arrangement that leads to one conclusion: Americans may be in a dichotomy of their own making; the prison of self.

For most armchair critics, the questions are: Will Trump change policies and build walls? Will international migration to USA decrease? Will America really be great again?

It’ll be interesting to learn how developments unfold when Trump officially enters office in 2017.

Koketso Marishane writes as a concerned citizen.

Photo credit: Haiku Deck

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