When Trump Comes to Town

By Andrej Mrevlje |

There are two images that illustrate the initiation of Donald Trump’s era. First, there is no one in my life — no one among my friends, relatives or acquaintances — who would ever vote for Donald Trump.

And I have never engaged in “locker room talk” with any of these people. I am not a priest or a prude. I love to live a good life, and I’ll laugh and talk with anyone. I can also listen quietly to and admire others. And I am still learning how to love. Yet what I’ve heard from Trump so far has never struck me as part of the culture that I’ve encountered, or as part of the language and the education I received in my family or in the many education institutions that I attended around the world. It is not part of the person that I have become over the years.

Trump’s world is not my world. But the very fact that this unknown parallel world exists is obviously also my responsibility. And yet I am shocked. The man about whom I and those in my world were making jokes about has followers — many of them. And they have the same rights as anybody else. It is their right to elect their leader. It is their right to impose their world by voting. It is their right to interpret and exercise the same constitution that exists in my world. It will be hard, but like many other times in the past, in order to keep swimming in the stream of life, one must step outside his or her own comfort zone.

I’ve lived through these moments before — like in May 1995, when Jacques Chirac beat out Francois Mitterrand for the French presidency. The entirety of Europe was in shock. Mitterrand was known for his politiques culturelles (or “cultural politics”)  which put France at center stage in the world for years. And yet the man who enabled all of this was ousted overnight. It was the young French who managed to push the most powerful and famous French president since Charles De Gaulle out of the Élysée Palace. After 14 long years of Mitterrand, they needed a change. They would vote for anyone just to see that change. In much the same way as Americans voted for Trump because they were frustrated with current politics.

If the ousting of Mitterrand, who died a year later, was a generational — almost physiological — need to see something different, Trump had more work to do to earn his votes. He had to gain the sympathy of the angry and neglected social strata that had not partaken in any of the wealth that was distributed among the economic and political establishment in the last decade or two.

Being one of the privileged, Hillary Clinton was the wrong candidate — much like Trump was. But unlike Trump, Clinton couldn’t convince people to forget about her wealth. As she said during her farewell speech, she was defending the values of democracy, like an inclusive society, but her wealth and her privileges, combined with her inclination towards limited transparency, made it hard for many Americans to warm to her.

She knew she could never win over American hearts the way a more charismatic candidate might, and so she needed to build that huge and powerful election machine sustained by the Democratic Party’s establishment. With it she crushed Bernie Sanders and she hoped to have an easy job with a political amateur like Donald Trump.

The second image of this radical change is Hillary Rodham Clinton’s looks and words the morning after her defeat. When, at three in the morning — the night the world remembers as the moment the dark force set down on the land of dreams — she refused to give a concession speech, I thought that she was calling her attorneys and that, for some reason unknown, she was preparing for a legal fight, contesting the results. That would be the fighter we got to know over the last three decades.

When, hours later, she stepped into the dark hotel room packed with her most loyal supporters and friends and her team that worked for her for decades, I saw relief on her face. One would think she was coming with good news. But no — the news was bad, and we all knew it. Still, she looked happy among her people. But as the cameras showed close-ups of her, you could see that she was in pain — not scared, but in pain. Not angry, but tired. Her face was the map of her endless travels and fights. And of secrets we will never know about. She apologized for not winning. She acknowledged the disappointment. She expressed her pain. No finger pointing, no accusation, but encouraging of the younger generations — especially young women — to shatter that glass ceiling that she failed to break herself. It was Hillary’s best speech in the whole campaign. And yet, behind this nostalgic moment, you could hear the noise: the downfall of the woman who had fought so hard for the presidency. It was the end of the Clinton era.

And that is the most important noise of the election night. The tragedies, the tears, the lost hopes for the careers that a continuation of the Clintons’ presence in national politics would have otherwise guaranteed.

Not only to the loyal friends and members of the clan, but also to their children.

The Clintons, like Mitterrand, were in power too long, so for them, it became almost natural to surround themselves with an insular group of allies. This attitude helped to divide America to the point  there are areas — even entire states — populated almost exclusively with either Democrats or Republicans. People who only want to live in a neighborhood that has people with similar political views and ways of life. America divided in political ghettos and not at all a melting pot. Take New York, which is over 80 percent Democrat. Or the Midwest, which is mostly republican. And rural.

Trump won with the rural votes, and yet he is a New Yorker. He fooled the voters and is now hoping to remodel the country of which he is a product. It will be fun to watch this, because no one — no president — has been powerful enough to change this country overnight. Even less so a person who has no political vision — just a blunt, rude character.  

Donald Trump never wanted to become the president of the United States. Then, at the beginning of the Republican primaries, he realized how mediocre the candidates were and decided to take part in the game. And he started to swallow one rival after another. On the other side, Bernie Sanders realized in the summer of 2015 that the only credible candidate among the Democrats was Hillary Clinton, so he, too, decided to throw his own glove in the ring. Like Trump, Sanders thought that it would be a bad idea to leave the race for the White House in the hands of Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton, who represented two political dynasties. As non-establishment candidates, they both had a substantial chance to get into the final race.

Nine months ago, I tried to explain why the populist vote could be good for America and explained the positions of the two populist candidates:

Sanders is no doubt a populist. So is Donald Trump. But the two have only one thing in common: they both saw the abandoned crowds, moving away from politics for miriad of reasons – because they don’t like a black president, because they are disappointed by the promised changes that President Obama never delivered. Or they are scared of the increased racism and the resurgence of white power in this country, and of the looming social tensions, mass shootings, decline of the American power, inequality, crumbling infrastructure… The menu is rich, and the two populists have carefully picked their dishes. Trump, without any sort of political experience, chose bluntness, insults and attacks, using vocabulary that hasn’t been heard for a long time in American politics. But since he is a strong, fearless man, he will be able to “Make America Great Again,” Trump repeats again and again. And the media goes crazy for this man of short, repetitive sentences, who is full of provocations and insults. Trump feeds cable networks with the best food ever: he is continuous gossip.

I did not predict the winner in that particular piece, but I did write of the need to reform the two major political parties in the country:

If the world just slows down a bit, we will be able to witness a complete generational turnover of the American political class by the end of the 2020 presidential elections. If for nothing else but the laws of nature, people like John McCain (80), Mitch McConnell (76), Nancy Pelosi (76), and Harry Read (77), will hopefully retire and leave their seats in Congress to younger politicians. Right now, due to a big influx of Tea Partiers into their ranks, Republicans already have a more youthful look than Democrats. But while we pretty much know where the Republican Party is heading, the Democrats seem to be at a total standstill. It is hard to tell exactly why this is, but to an outsider it’s incredible to observe that the party needs a 74-year-old senator to make a stand for them. Bernie Sanders runs against the establishment, against inequality, against big banks. He is  defending the country’s youth, and he is trying to revitalise the middle class and the country as a whole. His name is on everyone’s lips.

After the downfall of Clintons, the outcry for change and the restructuring of the Democratic Party is on many people’s minds. Just listen to Robert Reich, the former Secretary of Labour during Bill Clinton’s first presidency, who says that changes are needed by 2018. Reich, too, blames Democrats for the defeat.   

Donald Trump, who repeatedly promised to “drain the swamp in Washington,” should he win the election, will have an easy job. At this point, the drain will be natural. With a Republican majority in the House and Senate, turnover of federal administration positions is guaranteed. There will be at least 4,000 new jobs in Washington D.C. up for grabs. With all these changes coming and the country in turmoil — the liberal part of it, at least — Trump has already confirmed that he will be a very strong disruptive element that will, in fact, generate profound change among Democrats. With the country on the move, and with so many people who are now ready to step out of their fine salons and close circles, I am not afraid that this country will end in the hands of the Ku Klux Klan — people will fight to prevent that.

But damage will be done, no doubt. While the Washington bureaucracy is hardly confident that it can resist any kind of change, the circulating list of the people who may become part of Trump’s administration is nothing more than depressing.

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