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Elections '16: We thought we knew it all

November 10, 2016

 Just let that face sink in for a bit. Yes. That is the face of the next President of the U.S.


In the few hours since the election results seem all but certain, I have exhausted every possible synonym in my vocabulary to express how this seemed like bullsh*t. Perhaps my vocabulary might be limited, but I did manage to muster more than just "unbelievable" and "amazing".


How could so many of us be so wrong about what we thought would be a fairly obvious outcome? If "The Donald" wasn't already doomed by his deeply divisive and abrasive rhetoric, we all thought that perhaps the three-part presidential debate were the three final nails in his coffin. And if that wasn't enough, p*ssy-gate was there to ensure Trump was buried so deep in his own indiscretions and lack of self-restraint that even Jon Snow would find difficult to come back from. Many of us were so certain and so comforted by the sample polls and reporting from the mainstream American media that we conveniently forgot that it was not so long ago that a similar story played out in Britain. We thought common sense would prevail. We were adamant that Trump stood against all intellectual sensibilities, that his behavior and proposals would inevitably spell doom for the American people and the world at large. We thought this would be so obvious. We thought that only idiots and the ignorant would vote for Trump. We got so caught up in our own bullsh*t that we could not fathom a Trump presidency.


Then the results rolled in, and our "common sense" took a rollicking. When Keynes spoke of practical men who believed themselves to be free of any intellectual influence being under the spell of defunct Economists, we always distanced ourselves from these "practical men", seeing ourselves as intellectually enlightened beyond plebeian fools. But in our comfort of greater intellectual accomplishment we have distanced ourselves from the practicality of lives for the masses living outside of our self-entitled bubble. Comparative advantages mean nothing if your father got laid off because of free-trade agreements, productivity means nothing if wage stagnation meant a family of six is having difficulty making ends meet, and having millionaire politicians telling you to work hard for the collective economic prosperity gets old when economic progress is but a beautiful headline that furthers their own agenda while you find yourself tiptoeing around the edges of poverty. That is not to say we are to rise up in arms against the ruling class, or the upper class or the intellectuals, but we have to hold these people in more privileged positions to higher standards of governance. What is the point of having a knowledgeable ruling class making policies and creating jobs when we are to surrender to the inevitability of what academic models predict? It is so easy to accept "inevitabilities" when it is someone else's livelihood on the line, and yet we know that our civilization's progress has been about overcoming various "absolute certainties" throughout history. If academia were gospel, then according to Malthus the Earth's population should probably be less than half of what it is now. There has to be an end to policy-making based on the "shortcuts" offered by academia and to use that knowledge to break existing paradigms to find better solutions.   


It is easy to begin and end our discussion of Trump's win as a political earthquake that defies common sense, and start joking about Americans moving to Canada. It is harder and infinitely more important for us who labelled his presidency as an impossibility to understand the forces driving his landslide victory. This was no fluke. A 290-228 margin cannot be put down to ignorance. Trump's message did resonate with a significant number of people, just like Brexit did. If Trump's ascendancy were a marketing campaign for a new company, he would be on his way towards building the next Apple. He moved his electorate at a very visceral and emotional level, the same forces driving the 3am queues on the night before iPhone launches. Understanding Trump's win is the first step towards reflecting on how our countries have been run, and whether our progress has been at the expense of more and more people in our societies, decided by those who "knows what's best". Trump's victory and Brexit is a testament to the disillusionment with the establishment and the policies they stand for. I truly believe that President Obama and David Cameron and their governments relentlessly pursued what they believed were the best for their countries. But economic realities are what they are. No amount of words or theories can explain away the pain and anguish when jobs are lost and homes get foreclosed. Economic realities do dictate that change and transition are painful, but what is worse is a systematic failure to fix these pains as economic transformation takes place. 


2016 has been a year of seismic shifts, and Trump's victory underlines the tensions that have been simmering beneath the surface. We could continue turning our backs on it, and choose to get lost in our own realities, all the while criticizing the "others" from the comfort of our ivory towers. Or we could start closing the fault-lines that we have inadvertently created over the years of pursuing "economic prosperity" at the expense of many others. Trump's victory is on us. Everyone of us who has had higher education, who understands Economics, who speaks the language of these politicians are culpable. We are responsible for perpetuating and allowing our countries and democracies to be run like that, to turn a blind eye to those who got left behind and label them as lazy or deserving of their economic plight. We allowed those seeds of revolution and change to fester and has now manifested in the appointment of a massively unqualified bigot. Policy-making has to be more inclusive, and it has to start from a greater awareness of how great the disconnect has become between the haves and have-nots on numerous levels. I do hope that Trump makes America great again, not with his bigotry and racism, but a sensible and matured approach to office. But if it doesn't then perhaps this is the wake-up call the developed world needs to relook at the failure of political systems to serve the societies they were elected to take care of. The change in US politics is titanic. And it is inevitable that if people thought that the establishment were sinking, they would cling onto any piece of driftwood nearby. Trump is that driftwood, and we can only hope that he does a better job saving America than Jack Dawson. 

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