Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Well That Was Unexpected

Watching the returns in the US election last night, I turned the TV off around 1:00am. The race hadn't been called but it was pretty clear Clinton wasn't going to win. Virginia was too close. States like Michigan and Wisconsin were leaning towards Trump. There didn't seem a path to victory for Clinton, or a path to a majority Senate.

As Canadians we seem to have all had an emotional stake in this election. Facebook feeds are lit up with shock. But why are we surprised?

I fell in line with the majority of people who seemed to think Clinton had a lock on the presidency. Even Trump's own campaign team was saying on election day it would take a miracle to win. That miracle happened. Trump took a lot of states he needed by the smallest margins. So much so, it appears Clinton may win the popular vote in the US despite being beaten by decent margins in the Electoral College. You think first past the post is bad, imagine winning the popular vote and losing the presidency. This isn't the first time it's happened to Democrats.

Despite thinking Clinton would win, a few months ago I commented that Trump seemed to be talking like many I hear when I go to the US. I figured he'd win the Republican nomination. To say he spoke like many Americans is a broad generalization and he only won half the vote so his words and actions clearly don't represent everyone. But on planes and in buses, and at meetings and events, the same tones, words, and phrases were often there, even if spoken more quietly than Trump.

Facebook posts ask why people would vote for someone who is clearly a sexist, misogynist, racist, and so many other things you might want to add here. I don't think that's what it was about. I think in many cases, people just didn't care about that. They should have. In fact, I think the words someone uses especially should have been very important in how you want your country represented on the world stage. But people wanted change. There are certain states where any Republican candidate would win over a Democrat. But in states like Michigan, it seems to have been more about fear of trade taking jobs, and feeling the economic recovery is leaving people aside.

The reason this shouldn't be a surprise is because it's not unique to the United States. Brexit was about a fear of outsiders and a fear that international agreements made Great Britain less great. Part of Belgium almost held up CETA because they didn't trust trade agreements.  Denmark may be on the way to doing the same. Fear is also rampant. Two candidates in the Alberta Tory leadership have dropped out complaining of fear based campaigning. In Germany and France, fear of non-Europeans is strong in certain parts of the countries. Former NS Finance Minister Graham Steele wrote online it could happen in Nova Scotia (it is happening here).

So don't view the United States as an aberration. Instead let's look at the root causes of fear - whether of people who are different or trade issues - and try to address them.

Trump will have an ability to make some major changes quickly. President Obama took a lot of actions by Executive Order. These can be reversed immediately should he choose to do so. With a Republican Congress, Obamacare is certainly toast and the appointment of a young right wing Supreme Court judge will be easy. The only tool Democrats will have is the filibuster as Republicans do not have a filibuster proof majority in the Senate.

It's always election time in the US. So the big questions now will be does Trump move ahead on the most brazen promises such as closing the doors to Muslims, building a wall along the Mexican border, and cancelling trade agreements. He made a lot of promises - right up to putting Clinton in prison. But he also said he would compromise. Much of this will require support of the Congress which, while Republican, will be facing its own midterm elections in only two years. Some of the promises will be downright impossible to deliver. If Trump and the Republicans upset or disappoint too many voters, they may return control of congress to Democrats. At that point Trump will have extreme difficulties pushing his agenda. 2018 isn't so far away.

All of us armchair commentators will parse the election results and look for the reasons why this happened. Some will say Sanders could have won where Clinton didn't. That's unlikely. While polls suggest he might have, the reality is polls change when someone is actually the candidate and under greater scrutiny (remember how high Clinton was in the polls before being an official candidate?)

But then maybe the reason for Trump's win is more simple, maybe the election was rigged. Trump did say it was so.