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As Trump comes to power, America relinquishes world leadership

As Abraham Lincoln warned, we have become the architects of our own destruction.

Mohammed Fairouz
9 November 2016
Trump, fist raised, 9 November 2016. Evan Vucci/AP/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.

Trump, fist raised, 9 November 2016. Evan Vucci/AP/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.There will be a lot of moralising talk in the coming days, and many articles written mentioning words like ‘elites’ and ‘system’. There will be talk about how we didn't take this threat seriously enough. How we underestimated it, despite the fact that we campaigned as vigorously as we could – for my part, I haven’t slept for the last five days. As far as ‘the media’ is concerned, we called Trump a ‘threat to the republic’ more times than I can count, and we published unprecedented conservative endorsements of Clinton, and many thorough critiques of Trump. ‘Like Brexit,’ people will say, ‘the elite pollsters couldn't have seen it coming.’ 

Here's the thing. 

The cold hard truth, and the thing that most of our writers will not be talking about in the coming days, is that this has nothing to do with ‘elitism’, or the economic struggles of a segment of our population. This is not about Brexit, or any international incident. It is not about national security or economic policy or really any kind of policy. The only thing that is incontestable, that has been statistically proven through this election, is the thing that is most difficult to talk about – that we have tens of millions of American voters who are willing to vote for the only things that have distinguished the Trump campaign: bigotry, antisemitism, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, a deep distrust not in ‘elitism’, but in cherished values like education and empathy for those who are less fortunate, economically, than ourselves. 

And above all, the lesson I have had to learn more than any other in this election season: a vitriolic fear of women who would dare to seek power. It is a loathing that is stronger in our society than I had ever previously realised or thought possible. 

The people who voted for this man were content to vote without any concrete policy proposals, without any transparency, without any knowledge of anything he would do. They never saw his taxes. Nobody did. 

They wrapped themselves in the American flag, but they didn't vote for him out of patriotism either. They knew that he has no respect for the US armed forces. Then Trump told us that he would leave us "in suspense" about whether he would accept the results of the election. This, in a country with a 240-year history of peaceful transitions of power. 

The people who claimed to do it because they were ‘godly’ evangelicals were perfectly content, apparently, to use their vote to empower a man who admitted to using his workplace position as a justification to treat women reprehensibly. Or, as he biblically put it: "grab them by the pussy." 

‘Change’ wasn't the issue either. Hillary Clinton was the agent of change. She would have been our first woman president. That has never happened before. That's change. Instead, they voted for someone who embodies everything about a plutocratic set of Americans that is, to say the least, nothing new. 

These millions don't care about policy. They don't care about patriotism. They don't care about change. What they cared about, and where they put their vote, is the thing that is so apparently hard for us to talk about. But it's what we should have talked about when he started his campaign, and it should have disqualified him. When he called Mexicans "rapists", he should have been disavowed. Instead, he was made into a star.  

The hard part is that millions have voted for Trump because he actually does represent them. The things they saw in him on the campaign trail represent their own insecurities and bigotry. 

Does that seem deplorable and difficult to talk about? If it does, it's because it is. Perhaps that's the reason why the polls were so off. Reliable polls are conducted in person or on the phone. But registered voters who answer the phone don't want to admit that they are happy to stand for this behaviour. What is the connecting line between the anonymity of an online comments board, and the shelter of the voting booth?

I have been asked more than once this week why I campaigned so vigorously for Clinton, despite my political concerns around foreign policy. There are two reasons. 

First: there are many people in this country who I love, and who are much more vulnerable than me, and have less of a platform. They will suffer gravely from a lack of governance. Secondly, I think we need to shelve out-dated terms like ‘foreign policy’, and replace them with more realistic ones: like ‘global policy.’

I don't know how to say this to you, America, but I will be blunt because I love you.

Your markets have collapsed. You have riot police and helicopters patrolling New York and Los Angeles, your only two global cities, as though they were capitals of a nation besieged by war.  The humiliating fashion in which American constitutional values, and the spirit of the founding documents, have given way to "the tyranny of the masses", has meant that throughout this campaign our ability to exercise any sort of moral authority has been brought under scrutiny by even our closest friends, and used as a weapon of war waged against our values by our enemies. Those misgivings about our place in the world have now been validated, overwhelmingly, by the results of this election. 

Make no mistake. What has happened today is not a stance against globalism. No one nation makes those decisions for anyone other than themselves. The decision you (not we) made was a decisive one: to relinquish world leadership. 

We would never make that decision. We care too much about this country. And we know the words of its authors and protectors too well to make such a foolish decision. In his Lyceum Address, Abraham Lincoln described what every enemy of America knows, and what they are cheering today: that we are too strong to destroy from the outside.

"At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer. If it ever reach us it must spring up amongst us; it cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen we must live through all time or die by suicide."

I am very sorry to see the harm that we have done to ourselves today.

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Join us for a free live discussion on Thursday 22 October, 5pm UK time/12pm EDT.

Hear from:

Paolo Gerbaudo Sociologist and political theorist, director of the Centre for Digital Culture at King’s College London and author of ‘The Mask and the Flag: Populism and Global Protest’ and ‘The Digital Party: Political Organisation and Online Democracy’, and of the forthcoming ‘The Great Recoil: Politics After Populism and Pandemic’.

Chantal Mouffe Emeritus Professor of Political Theory at the University of Westminster in London. Her most recent books are ‘Agonistics. Thinking the World Politically’, ‘Podemos. In the Name of the People’ and ‘For a Left Populism’.

Spyros A. Sofos Researcher and research coordinator at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Lund University and author of ‘Nation and Identity in Contemporary Europe’, ‘Tormented by History’ and ‘Islam in Europe: Public Spaces and Civic Networks'.

Chair: Walid el Houri Researcher, journalist and filmmaker based between Berlin and Beirut. He is partnerships editor at openDemocracy and lead editor of its North Africa, West Asia project.

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