Wednesday, November 9, 2016

History wasn't made, it was repeated...

Last night I sat down in front of the television hoping to see history being made. A few hours later I went to bed having watched history repeat itself.

Donald Trump has been elected President of the United States of America.

In and of itself that statement still seems ludicrous - like something from an episode of the Simpsons. However, it is the manner of his victory and the campaign that propelled him to it which is the issue.

This was no ordinary "vote for change." By and large we know what that looks and feels like. The tired government, perhaps too long in power. A restless electorate that is presented with something or someone that looks and sounds sufficiently different to suggest that the country itself may look different given time. Not hugely different, but enough so to feel that things have changed.

Donald Trump did not run that campaign.

This was a campaign that was run on fear and a longing for an America that simply does not exist anymore. This is a candidate that is now beholden to a movement which in its heart doesn't just resent the politics of old, but fears "the Other." A movement that is expecting its leader to act in a way that would consign decades of progress to the scrapheap.

The wall. The Muslim ban. The deportation orders. The appointment of a special prosecutor to bring "justice" to a political opponent. The removal of health care to millions of people.

This is a movement which openly and aggressively attacks journalism, distorts facts and celebrates misinformation, ignoring that informed engagement is the oxygen that sustains a healthy, functioning democracy.

And perhaps most troubling, this is a movement which at best turned a blind eye to racism and misogyny but in reality barely concealed its admiration for the actions and views of the man who stoked its fears, gave them a name (women, feminists, elites, Latinos, immigrants, Muslims, etc.) and who now finds himself the President of all Americans.


At one point during this campaign my worry was not that Donald Trump would win, but that he was paving the way for someone less flawed to capitalize on the resentment he had discovered and cultivated. I imagined the 2020 election and a Republican candidate who would reap what Mr. Trump and the alt right had sown by presenting something less vulgar - though equally inclined - to the electorate and winning.

I was wrong. 

Wrong to think that enough people would see this man for what he is and say no. Wrong to think that a highly qualified opponent, albeit flawed herself, would present a suitable enough alternative to enough people to stop this from happening today in 2016.

Let's be clear about the flaws of Hillary Clinton. Her qualifications were widely acknowledged by friend and foe. However, her character was seen as flawed in a different and ultimately more damaging way than many people saw Donald Trump.

She was seen as a career politician, guarded and giving the impression of wanting to hide things. There was a consistent scent or hint of scandal about her campaign, even if it was not always based on fact. And the suggestion of something worrisome that you can't see is sometimes more powerful than flaws that are advertised so openly that people become desensitized to them. 

More to the point, she increasingly appeared to run as "not Donald Trump" at a time when the electorate was grasping for something and someone to believe in. 

Putting aside the emails and the concerns about the Clinton Foundation, she failed to learn the lesson that the primary battle with Bernie Sanders presented: people who feel left behind are looking for something in which to believe.

Her failure to heed that one lesson was the worst thing she could have done at the worst possible time. 


Over the past few months as the campaign ebbed and flowed there was a lot of talk about the future of the Republican party and whether it was well and truly broken. This morning that question is more appropriately asked about U.S. politics writ large.

The United States can no longer claim to be the shining city upon the hill.

In the place of that city stands a country whose politics is infused with anger and mistrust. What began as partisanship morphed into unreasoned "hyper partisanship" and continued to spiral towards what we see today.

Sadly, this is nothing new. We heard this story in the run-up to the Brexit vote. We see it being played out as the world struggles to respond to refugee crises and economic dislocation. There are lessons to learn, but we need people prepared to do so.

In Canada we have a Conservative Party that is looking to reimagine itself. What will that look like? When the candidates aspiring to lead that party look south will they see a situation to be avoided or an approach to be emulated?

One candidate - Kellie Leitch - is making identify politics a major part of her campaign. We also see this rearing its head in Quebec with a worrying degree of regularity.

Is there a danger of that inevitable lag between developments in U.S. politics and developments in Canada playing out? Could this happen here?

Yes, it could.


The greatest lesson from last night was the reminder that history repeats itself. And it does so most often when people feel lost, left behind, angry and scared. These feelings have a powerful effect on the human condition, and history tells us that when left unchecked they can take us some place dark and potentially tragic.

History repeated itself last night. Make no mistake - the winning candidate waged a successful campaign that was rooted in fear and tinged with racism, intolerance and the belief that might and aggression are things to be admired and used openly.

This is where things stand today, but where the U.S. goes next isn't about Donald Trump. It is about everyone else.

Liberal democracy must be seen as more than just holding elections and casting a vote. It doesn't happen every few years. It happens every day through engagement and holding elected officials to account.

Accepting this responsibility is the challenge now facing Americans. Heeding the lessons of this campaign is the challenge facing all of us.

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