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Trust or bust after shattering US election campaign

  • 09 November 2016


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.

It 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