The city waited with baited breath as the election results poured in. Going to sleep the night before, it seemed that Hilary was a sure thing but, like the Brexit vote in the UK, that reality seemed to crumble as morning turned to noon. By lunch time, a wave of shock and horror seemed to sweep all those whose company I kept. Like them, the thought of Donald J. Trump as the president of the United States and the “leader of the free world” was too outlandish to comprehend. But … the people spoke. At first, I was quite surprised at the emotional investment of the population, given that I was over 12 000 kilometres away in Nairobi, Kenya. However, I do realise that, beside the fact that the whole world seemed to be bombarded with news about the US electoral race, the politics and policies of the United States affects the whole world in one way or another. There are a few issues which have been illuminated by the results which warrant further discussion and reflection.
- Population Polarisation: The most stable democracies, the US and UK being the most recent example, are displaying deep divisions within societies. While in both landmark elections more conservative political options triumphed, the results were almost 50/50.
- Extremist/Inward Looking Politics: Like Brexit, the most recent US election demonstrates a desire from the populous to concentrate on themselves and a redefining of what it means to be a citizen. For the United States, the election has sent a strong message to all people who do not fall into the category of heterosexual white men.
- Being an Example: I am not at all suggesting that US democracy does not have issues or that developing nations should look for examples outside themselves, however, with the US priding itself as being the champion of democracy and equality, how will they start conversations about gender equality when their president has proudly and repeatedly shown an absolute lack of respect for women? How will they facilitate conversations about inclusivity and respect for diversity when discriminatory politics has triumphed?
- The Majority: We cannot deny that Hilary had her flaws (for Africa, her involvement in Libya was an absolute disaster). However, probably the saddest take away from the election results is that during the campaign, it was assumed that Trump appealed to a small minority. However, the election demonstrated (the often unspoken) beliefs of the American public… the tired stereotypes that I thought, or rather hoped, the world were alive and kicking. Will discrimination ever die?
- An Opportunity: As has been reflected upon by a number of Americans disappointed by the results, this post-election period and going forward, is an opportunity to reinvigorate public participation and active citizenry… not just sitting around wallowing in grief but rather, doing something to improve the situation. It also gives political parties, especially the Democrats an opportunity to rethink their engagement with the entire country. Finally, and this is a lesson for citizens of functioning democracies throughout the world, your vote matters and not using that vote may lead to your worst nightmare!
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