Will Lessons Be Learned?

By | 1/24/2017 Leave a Comment
Donald Trump pointing his finger

So here we are, at the beginning of 2017, with a brand new president in place. That’s a president who has never previously held elected office, never enlisted in the military, and who was chiefly known for the highs and lows of his past big business exploits and as the host of a popular reality TV show.

If a Hollywood scriptwriter had written a movie treatment about a bumptious billionaire who, after deciding to run for the highest seat in the land, breaks every political rule in existence, insults huge swaths of the electorate he’s courting, and in the final stages of the race is exposed in a lewd scandal over his appalling treatment of women, it would surely have been laughed at. By that I mean it would have been considered an uproarious script full of enormous comic potential that could easily be turned into box office gold – especially in an election year.

As it turned out, it was the drapes in the White House that were turned to gold, and the reality-defying storyline ended up doing just that.

There are those in the corridors of power who would consider this mind-boggling turn of events as a mere – if highly peculiar – anomaly, spurred on by the allure of the cult of celebrity. After all, these days everybody’s a big star on their own Twitter profile, and fake news reports and misinformation frequently get more eyeballs on them via Facebook, Twitter, etc., than real stories from the mainstream media.

But that explanation is, of course, a cop out. There are very real, very human reasons why Trump defied all expectations and now resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. They are the same reasons behind the underestimation of the Leave campaign during Britain’s Brexit referendum, and they are the same reasons we’re seeing a rise in popularity of far-right parties in many countries across mainland Europe.

All of those results are rooted in a disaffection and alienation from the political status quo. Too many people in too many places have been left feeling abandoned or ignored by those whose job it is to govern their lives and livelihoods. Too often, elected officials seem more concerned in furthering their own political careers than actually affecting positive change in the lives of those who entrusted their votes to them. Too often, campaign promises turn out to be carrots on sticks luring the hopeful to the voting booth. Too often, a change in leadership from one major party to another turns out to be about as consequential as changing one’s profile pic on Snapchat.

The turgid state of politics in Western democracies seems to have now finally reached a tipping point. Those who’ve felt sidelined or left behind are now willing to shake up the system and “drain the swamp,” even if it means cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face in some instances.

Hillary Clinton felt their wrath during her primary race against the contentious populism of Bernie Sanders. She felt it again, more painfully, in her campaign for the presidency. Brussels felt it from 17,410,742 Britons. And many countries in Europe will be grappling with it in forthcoming national elections this year.

The upshot:

Neither the Democratic National Committee nor the Republican National Committee can afford to dismiss Trump’s election victory as a quirk of circumstance. The days of political dynasties and family entitlement are coming to an end (just ask Jeb!), and until they begin some meaningful soul-searching and serious structural/ideological reorganization, the possibility of what happened in this election cycle happening again remains very, very real.

They’ve now both been taught a hard lesson: that idly presiding over perpetual partisan gridlock, before ambling matter-of-factly over to the Senate dining room for a little grilled Atlantic salmon is a surefire recipe for disaster. Let’s hope they learn from it.

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