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A silver lining in the gilded age of Trump

The upsides of the United States presidential election, in seven points.

Donald Trump speaks at December rally. Brynn Anderson AP/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.In the run-up to the presidential election of 2016, an unprecedented cross-section of the United States population seeking hope and change at any cost sent a defiant message to Uncle Sam by throwing their weight behind essentially unelectable candidates – Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump – or by withholding their support altogether. They received a rude awakening when the unelectable actually got elected. The unexpected election results, however, have brought us closer to desired change in America, not in a way that many progressives would have liked, but in a more dramatic way than under a second status quo Clintonian presidency. Here are seven reasons why:

1) It will shock and shake America out of complacency and mobilise the dormant segment of the population that voted for hope in 2008 and gave Obama a blank check to lead.

Blind faith in the electoral process has been a hallmark of the American democratic tradition. This election cycle, which has dramatically tested our trust, has taught us that we cannot take anything for granted. It is not enough to place our hope or trust in the politicians we vote – or fail to vote – into office. Our democracy and its accompanying civil liberties need to be maintained on a daily basis through more direct forms of engagement. A Trump presidency will demand of the American citizenry a greater level of civic attention and participation from here on out. It will hopefully cause Americans to hold their leaders to higher standards in the future, and hold them to account at every step of the way, not just once every few years on the campaign trail and at the ballot-box.

This may just be the system-wide shock we need to wake up from our state of stupor after a sleepy Obama presidency, which lulled us into inaction and apathy.

Many are positively outraged by the election of a billionaire business mogul over the first female into the highest office of the land. But recognising our complicity in a system that until recently rewarded the failures of a technocratic leadership of self-styled liberals, will perhaps help us move "past anger" on to more productive sentiments. This may just be the system-wide shock we need to wake up from our state of stupor after a sleepy Obama presidency, which lulled us into inaction and apathy.

2) It will highlight the systemic inequalities and nationwide problems that have been simmering beneath the surface for decades, from gender and race inequality to class struggles that have not been adequately addressed or redressed by the previous administration.

The fizzled-out Occupy movement and the angry refrains of Black Lives Matter are daily reminders of dashed hopes and promises by our political representatives to rectify socio-economic ills and evils. Granted, none of these gross injustices occurred overnight or can be pinned on one person or party. These are realities that have been swept under the rug for too long, and are now being laid bare most uncomfortably. They reflect the genuine state of affairs in the United States and the collective failures of the American Dream following Martin Luther King Jr.’s shot dream for America. In supposedly 'post-truth times', we will actually be forced to face up to these harsh truths as a nation, and resist the urge to scapegoat the incoming commander-in-chief, widely accused of embodying many of America’s most loathed qualities of greed, arrogance, and white-man’s privilege.

The plight of immigrants in America is also bound to reach boiling point – with unconstitutional threats of deportation of 'illegals' and a border wall being built – before it triggers the organs of government which offer salvation by guarding against abuses of executive power and extending added protections to citizens and non-citizens alike. As these issues become more pronounced, we will come to see how civil liberties are under attack across the board, not just across the border. Recognising their interconnectedness, we will have more of an incentive to address them en masse and without exception or selectivity.

3) It will highlight the pledges v. promises of the last administration, which banked heavily on blind social trust, as well as a Democratic campaign that rode solely on borrowed credit.

The United States will have to account for the sheer level of impunity on international and domestic fronts that has gone largely unchecked until now.

Following Trump’s shock win, the United States will have to account for the sheer level of impunity on international and domestic fronts that has gone largely unchecked until now and has added illegal drone wars and the secret PRISM surveillance program on top of the "pyramid" schemes of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo. Such is the karma of a two-term Obama administration, which cashed in on euphoria and promises of hope for its legitimacy. It also represents the personal karmic debt (now passed on to us) of former secretary of state Clinton who refused to take responsibility for irresponsible and illegal choices, from complicity in the Benghazi scandal to private email server use. Accepting that 'hard choices' come with consequences is hard indeed but it stands as an important note to future political contenders, and as a warning to those who invest their trust in them. 

We finally get a taste of our own medicine and hubris for calling ourselves the leaders of the free world but failing catastrophically to live up to that name. As Donald Trump himself said, “when the world looks at how bad the United States is, and then we go and talk about civil liberties, I don’t think we’re a very good messenger.” Being good messengers is not enough, Mr President.

4) It will whip the Democratic Party back into form after an embarrassing loss that could have been averted by putting forward more ethical and representative candidates. It will also teach the Republican Party to endorse candidates they can truly stand behind. (It will teach them both a lesson or two about wasted political capital.)

The Democratic Party has been discredited to an extent by its electoral loss and has demonstrated that it was unable to earn back lost trust following a cushy two-term rule. It will further serve as a lesson for the much needed electoral reform – such as through Instant Run-Off Voting (IRV) as has been introduced successfully at local levels – that would ensure future elections are not hijacked by demagogues and special interests, and are also shielded from the 'spoiler effect' for which third-parties have long been unfairly blamed. The failure of the major parties to secure their objectives in this year’s elections will hopefully retrain them to stick to more substantive issues rather than mud-slinging and sliding too far off their respective platforms, if determined to win back the country and the public trust.

5) It will give third parties and other progressive groups a chance to be heard when previously left out of party political debates and sidelined by an increasingly closed-off and corporatist democratic process.

The two-party system has shown itself to be more of a two-headed monster than a genuinely pluralistic and inclusive arrangement.

The two-party system, on the whole, has shown itself to be more of a two-headed monster than a genuinely pluralistic and inclusive arrangement. This could just be the moment third parties have been waiting for to nudge the liberals back to their rightful place in the pluralist regime, as counterweights to the right-wing hardliners. Following the victory of the accidental politician Trump, the US citizenry will be more wary of supporting candidates that represent the 'lesser of evils' and will demand that people vote their higher conscience and not based on their lowly fears. It will also likely make the US readier for a woman president in the future, by making us collectively intolerant to any forms, veiled or direct, of misogyny or bigotry that this present election has brought, and will likely continue to bring, to the fore.

6) It will reset US foreign policy and disrupt the "continuity of state" that has long characterised the American political system.

This is the first time in recent history where we see a marked break in state continuity. The outgoing administration missed a historic opportunity to break from the troubling legacy of the one before it. Instead, trillions in added spending on the US defense budget and a continued "Israel-First" policy, in addition to support for unsavory regimes and arming of rogue rebel groups, reflect more of the same.

While it remains to be seen whether the new president will match rhetoric with practice, or whether he will honor existing peace deals and even forge new ones, there seems to be a recognition of the US’s waning soft power and the need to curtail its hard power. Pledges to significantly scale back the US military presence in the Middle East and elsewhere and to end other costly overseas entanglements would finally validate the unheeded calls of the dejected peace and anti-war movements. It would bring us a step closer to upending the military industrial complex that ensures perpetual war and fuels perceptions of American imperialism and hate for "our values".

The collective spirit and heart of the nation that is at stake.

7) A "dark night of the soul" will prompt some much-needed soul-searching and propel the nation onto a higher and brighter path.

In an America that has virtually plateaued in all respects, we have a renewed incentive not just to Make America Great Again  – as the hokey, nostalgic Reagan-era slogan goes – but to remake America, to jump start the heart of a nation before it flat-lines and is beyond resuscitation. After all, it is the collective spirit and heart of the nation that is at stake. Looking inward is our greatest imperative once the finger pointing and booing has subsided.

The moral of this pivotal presidential election is that progress does not take a conventional or expected path. And we should look to change in any form as an opening and not as a damning diktat. The paradox of progress is that it is non-linear, and it sometimes takes us for a ride. The twists and turns in events – sometimes sharp and nauseating – may turn out to be secret shortcuts to where we need to go. Most often than not a sudden turn to darkness also heralds a new dawn ahead. Even if the gilded age of Trump does not herald a golden era for America, it will at least be a time of reckoning on the road to redemption.


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