Trust or bust after shattering US election campaign

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The United States election, to no one's regret, is now over. It remains to wish Donald Trump well as he prepares to take up the office of president and to bid farewell to Hilary Clinton as she pursues a future outside the White House.

Trumpy cartoon by Chris JohnstonIt is tempting to see Clinton as Humpty Dumpty and to ask how she can pick up the pieces of her life, when she is tarnished and wearied by an election campaign so full of personal abuse, revelations of tawdry behaviour and a lack of grace.

Some commentators blamed the vitriol of the campaign and the distaste for both candidates on the poor choice made by both political parties. But so widespread was the popular anger and mistrust of politicians, both practiced and wannabe, that it is at least as likely that any candidates chosen would have seen their approval ratings sink beneath the mud as the campaign developed.

After the election it is not Clinton that lies broken at the foot of the wall. It is the polity of the United States, shown to be bereft of the trust necessary for national wellbeing.

The trust between groups in society — between Americans of European, Latino and Black extraction, between the poor and the comfortably off, and between the governing and the governed — was shown to be strained. They were not presented as companions in one nation but as competitors for its benefits.

Trust was also clearly broken in the economy and its workings. They were seen to be rigged in a way that perpetuates and furthers gross inequality between the richest and struggling Americans. Also broken was the trust that those with power will see it as their business to govern for all Americans, to recognise what needs to be changed in society, and will have the ability or the courage to address it.

Climate change, inequality, the effects of artificial intelligence on employment, the movement of peoples and building peace abroad are clear national priorities. But they were hardly put to voters except in contemptuous and cost-free terms.

So Humpty Dumpty lies dismembered. In addition people have concluded that all the king's horsemen and all the king's men — the politicians, economists and financiers who advocated and legislated that untrammelled competition should be canonised and greed rewarded — pushed him off the wall, so are not trusted with reassembling Humpty Dumpty — not in the US, nor Australia, nor much of Europe.

 

"In a democracy, if politicians do not warrant popular trust, the populace eventually puts its trust in tyrants who use all the king's horsemen and all the king's men and all their arms to subdue it."

 

Nursery rhymes always present us with the end of history. Humpty Dumpty lies forever in fragments, the efforts of all the king's horses and all the king's men forever unavailing. But real life offers turning points and choices. In Western societies, including the United States and Australia, we may still hope that our leaders will turn and commit themselves to patch and glue the trust they have squandered. They hope that they may cut out the cancer of competitive economic individualism with the gross inequality and loss of trust that it breeds, protect the environment in the face of greedy short term interests, give priority to those disadvantaged by technological change, and promote harmony between different groups in society.

If that does not happen, we can still hope that in the next election leaders may arise who do see what needs to be done and lead people to choose it. But it is likely that by then the polity will be more toxic, society more fragmented, and leaders both less trusted and promising an even less likely salvation by business as usual transfigured by charismatic rule.

But at some time clear choices, good or bad, will need to be made. After the First World War the unregulated liberal economics of Coolidge and Hoover that led to social division and the Great Depression were mercifully rejected in favour of Roosevelt and the New Deal. But in Italy a series of ineffectual governments in a divided society were followed by Mussolini and his mixture of egoism, brutal force and honeyed words for every interest group.

In a democracy, if politicians do not warrant popular trust, the populace eventually puts its trust in tyrants who use all the king's horsemen and all the king's men and all their arms to subdue it. In Australia, as in the United States, we may hope, pray and work for the restoration of Humpty Dumpty.

 


Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street.

Cartoon by Fiona Katauskas

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, US election, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump

 

 

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They may not be Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables,” but Donald Trump’s “Les Déplorables”—those “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic and Islamophobic” (to quote Hillary Clinton) restless masses of unheard Americans—finally rebelled against the intellectual elites’ ancien régime of political correctness. And once again, the out-of-touch establishment, got it wrong. Trump said it would be Brexit all over again, and got it right. Certainly they revolted against the injustice of the economics of globalization pursued by both Democratic and Republican establishments. In Obama’s eight years, the non-employed and underemployed grew, and healthcare became increasingly unaffordable. However the Democratic Party has fundamentally changed too. Both Obama and Clinton have pursued poisonous identity politics in their quest for power. This is what has created divisions and sub cultures which turn people against each other. Under the banner of “diversity” they promote conformity and condemn their followers to an impoverishing spiritual parochialism. Identity politics renders social life intolerable—where students wearing sombreros at a party are committing an “act of ethnic stereotyping”, and where it’s considered inappropriate for white people to eat pad thai. They rebelled against elitist contempt for the aspirations of ordinary Americans, and the moral superciliousness of empty Leftist politics.
Ross Howard | 09 November 2016


As far as I can tell, many Americans this morning are deeply shocked and scared by the vast gulf revealed pitilessly last night. The prospects for the economy, courts, racism, sexism, wars, jobs, health care, education, clean air, clean water…wow. He won because white men voted for him – not just white men without college degrees but white men with college degrees. Also a startling number of white women, with and without degrees. 15% of voters yesterday said they were voting for the first time. He drew new voters – all white male, basically. My sense? White fear and rage won last night. My sense? It was a protest vote. Not for anyone or anything, but against everything. Imagine that you just were given Pauline Hanson as PM last night. That’s how it is here. We can and will, I hope, do as Hllary said this morning, give him a chance to lead, and remember that this is a country sworn to the rule of law and liberty of speech and worship. Defend that, she said, gracefully.
Brian Doyle | 10 November 2016


I think this quote from your article sums up 'Why?' well: 'Trust was also clearly broken in the economy and its workings. They were seen to be rigged in a way that perpetuates and furthers gross inequality between the richest and struggling Americans.' Trump won in the Midwest - America's heartland - where there is tremendous and totally justifiable white anger at the wanton destruction of American manufacturing and its export to low wage nations. Tony Abbott's destruction of the Australian vehicle industry is and will wreak the same sort of bitter, focused anger in parts of Adelaide, Melbourne and Geelong. Hillary Clinton was perceived by many as part of the problem, not the solution. The two Houses on Capitol Hill will be watching Trump very, very carefully. If he attempts to subvert the Constitution in any major way he's staring down the barrel of impeachment. America is a wonderful country. It will survive Trump. God bless America, protect it and keep it and the world safe.
Edward Fido | 10 November 2016


All in our house of 4 are not happy with this result. Now the poor Americans and immigrants are even more in danger from a racist bigot and egotist, not to mention his awful attitude to women.
Noleine Champion | 10 November 2016


Feeling stunned and broken at the bottom of the wall I find your words help make sense of the mess, Andrew. There were choices or a choice which the Democrats rejected he was Bernie Sanders. So when moderate and considerate alternatives emerge in the current world the hard line press and paid up PR machinery knocks them off. My concern is for Australia where we are going down the same path of inequality, non inclusion, non representation and the growing gap between social groups to say nothing of a government which rules outside the law. And as leadership is finding a procession to get in front of decent leaders need to listen, to hear, to attend to the concerns and lives of the dispossessed. Somehow too we need to encourage voters to get below the superficial slogans and hear what is really going on. Thanks.
Michael D. Breen | 10 November 2016


My family is in shock at the result and very concerned for the future. The very poor electioneering and mud slinging was disgraceful .Sadly we are going the same way in Australia. It was a huge protest vote by those who bothered to vote - mainly the losers in the "Great American Dream "and Globalization , against the greed of the rich and powerful in the US who have held power for many years. Trump's winning the Republication nomination was itself remarkable. sadly we are seeing this process in many of the Western Democracies . I just hope we learn the lessons of the 1930's before it is too late.
Gavin | 10 November 2016


the Democrats' primary error was to choose Clinton ahead of Bernie Sanders who was a much better suited candidate for the disenfranchised that Trump gathered
Anthony Grimes | 10 November 2016


Like America, Australia's political integrity is at a very low ebb. We have political parties trying to wedge one another and pander to inhumane racist bigots by indefinitely psychlogically torturing desperate asylum seekers in off-shore hell-holes. We have a climate crisis that our Coalition Government are not taking seriously, as they gladly accept huge donations from the fossil fuel industry, and an Opposition that is not much better, also supporting the opening of new coal mines. We have a growing inequality in Australia, and in the world, which our Government are doing little to correct. We don't have to look to America to find injustice and inhumanity. Just look at our major political parties and their cut-backs in overseas aid, that will cause misery and death to so many desperately poor people.
George Allen | 10 November 2016


"They were not presented as companions in one nation but as competitors for its benefits." Thank you Andrew.
Elizabeth Cain | 10 November 2016


I hope some ES readers benefitted from my advice in a comment last week that it would be a very safe bet to back Trump as the winner and have walked away with a motza! The result was not at all unexpected. Neither is the response. I agree completely, Fr Andrew, that Clinton is not the Humpty Dumpty here. Rather it is her version of socialism that eschews the Christian principles that America proclaims(hypocritically perhaps?) in its high level of religious practice compared with other first world countries. One might have hoped that a true socialist president might have brought the divisions together rather than drive the wedges that split the country apart. Clinton's agenda in league with the United Nations panders to self indulgence and the erosion of Christianity with her abortion, education, gay rights and the social commitment to political correctness and globalisation. Hopefully powerlessness and political oblivion is her future. The republicans if nothing else profess Christianity and the right to life of all human beings which separates them very clearly from Clinton and her ilk. Have to wonder sometimes, however, just how genuine that is in this brave new world where God is no longer a major player and human self reigns supreme. For those who like a wager, I reckon a little fling on Trump bringing the country together would be a good investment. Also a pretty safe bet that the world will not end tomorrow and that there will be bargains aplenty to be had on the stock markets!
john frawley | 10 November 2016


When I studied US politics in 1965 our bible was the Politics of American Democracy by Irish and Pothro (3rd edition). In their preface the authors wrote 'Each time we set out to revise our treatment of the American political system. we are startled to discover how much revision is needed.' Events that necessitated revision of their work was the 1964 election; The Civil rights Act, the 'war on poverty', the new approach to cooperative federalism and the court decisions on legislative reappointment and individual rights.' These events indicated that America in the 60s was in a period of such rapid political and socio-economic change that the 'facts' they were writing in 1965 would soon be out-dated. I cannot begin to imagine what revisions might need to be made fifty-one years later. Where the mass media and commentators have let us down is in their superficial coverage of the Presidential political process. They took the easy way by concentrating on personalities with little attention to policies and tactics. If the medium is the message, then Donald Trump was the Master of the Medium. It is one thing to win power, it is another to exercise it for the common good.
Uncle Pat | 10 November 2016


Archbishop Kurtz,President of US Bishop's Conference stated The Bishops Conference looks forward to working with President-elect Trump to protect human life from its most vulnerable beginning to its natural end. We will advocate for policies that offer opportunity to all people, of all faiths, in all walks of life. We are firm in our resolve that our brothers and sisters who are migrants and refugees can be humanely welcomed without sacrificing our security. We will call attention to the violent persecution threatening our fellow Christians and people of other faiths around the world, especially in the Middle East. And we will look for the new administration's commitment to domestic religious liberty, ensuring people of faith remain free to proclaim and shape our lives around the truth about man and woman, and the unique bond of marriage that they can form.
Father John George | 10 November 2016


Thank you Andrew. Your writing indicates a number of features that trouble me: the inability of political leaders to connect with people unhappy with lack of employment opportunities; a treatment of the economy as if it was the only factor to be considered by government; the lack of depth in analysis by the popular media. I hope the Australian public is better served by our politicians in the very near future. Your final paragraph suggests a prayer I heartily endorse.
Ern Azzopardi | 10 November 2016


Great article Andy!
Kate Stoney | 10 November 2016


One very interesting piece of data from Thomas Piketty is about income inequality in the US. He points out that, from WW2 till 1982, the top 10% in total income (including capital gains) earned 35% and this was steady. Since Reagan, it has risen to 50%. In this circumstance, economic growth delivers growing income to the people at the top and denies growth to those at the bottom. So, low wages stagnate. Had the growth been uniform, every person’s income would have risen with economic growth and perhaps things would be different. The cake grew, but the greedy got the new slices. In Australia’s case, post-war inequality of the top 10% income earners was 25% of the total income. It rose to 29% in 1963 then fell to 24% from 1976 to 1984. Since then it has risen to 30%. Since 2008, it rose from 27% to 30% in 2013. Here, this growth in inequality is reflected in the housing market, top heavy in investors locking out first home buyers. Piketty’s talk given at the Opera House is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hfDoQt8NVH0. It is 54 minutes long, but well worth watching. The US data is at 13:48. The Australian data is at 17:18. The ratio of private capital to national income appears at 31:59.
Peter Horan | 10 November 2016


if it is about wealth distribution they voted in a billionaire - lacks all sense of equity to me.
leonie | 11 November 2016


Well put, Fr Andrew. We who are people of faith continually are called to see beyond the coming adversity of a Trump government. It's Trump now, it was President G W Bush a decade or more earlier. At least with President Donald Trump, we can clearly see the unjust policies he espouses. With George W Bush or the VP elect Pence, their real motives are hidden behind a veneer of "respectable" religion - much like that of the High Priest Caiphas in the days that Jesus Christ spent on earth.
John Cronin, Toowoomba | 11 November 2016


The "...veneer of "respectable" religion..." at least carries with it some deference to God, unlike the humanist apostates who thumb their noses at God and his teachings/law in return for political power while at the same time placing a hand over their hearts and ordering God to bless and/or love America..
john frawley | 11 November 2016


Democracy by Leonard Cohen https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DU-RuR-qO4Y&index=18&list=RDlnvv1Lgj9zM (A question for all - dig deeper then ask: Who was/is democracy's biggest enemy in this election?)
Stephen de Weger | 12 November 2016


To answer Stephen de Weger's question - the biggest enemy (There were/are others but Stephen asked which was the biggest) of democracy in the 2016 US Presidential election was the 45% of eligible voters who did not bother to register and/or vote..
Uncle Pat | 12 November 2016


".. it is not Clinton that lies broken at the foot of the wall. It is the polity of the United States, shown to be bereft of the trust necessary for national wellbeing." National wellbeing? More evidence of fraudulent Catholicism and biased commentary. The only thing that unites us is "Truth" and that is exactly the thing that Clinton and the left, self proclaimed intelligentsia, including the ES author once again, fail to understand. Hence whilst they abuse their power, they are on the outer - finally the electorate, perhaps not understanding the full Truth, still recognise that such commentary is built on deception and division. Faithful Catholics will always try to respond as per the scriptures instead of supporting the evil of Clinton/ leftie politics, which like Shorten's attack on the plebiscite, can only rely on Totalitarian bullying and lies. Its about time Eureka Street apologise and get on board instead of being part of the problem.
Chris Saidou | 12 November 2016


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