I got it completely wrong. It is no consolation that I was not alone in believing that America would not choose one of its least qualified citizens to become their president.
Clearly my view was clouded by a belief that the vast majority of Americans would reject a candidate whose signature tune was torrential lying, a penchant for gutter language, utter disregard for the facts, contempt for the Constitution and laws of the United States, undermining America’s democratic credentials at home and abroad, fomenting discord and inter-ethnic intolerance, overt racism, xenophobia, misogyny and narcissism.
The polls never mattered to me. They never do. What mattered was my presumed understanding of the American mind, and many years of following Trump, a very flamboyant businessman whose obsession with lying about Barack Obama’s place of birth had placed him in the lowest ranks of America’s worst comedians. The man’s character and record did not fit into the history of the American presidency since George Washington.
It is true that American presidential elections had almost always been hard fought affairs. Until now, the Adams-Jefferson contest in 1800 had been considered the most bitter since the founding of the Republic. The historian Edward J. Larson titled his marvelous book about that highly contentious election: “A Magnificent Catastrophe.”
However, there had never been anything like what we witnessed this year, largely authored by the candidate of one of the major political parties. American political discourse and civility were lowered very deep into the sewers. Vulgarity and outright lying were elevated onto a high pedestal.
Debate on policy was relegated to irrelevance. Viciousness and darkness of heart became a winning strategy. Impulsivity and compulsive lying were legitimized by surrogates and downplayed by former crusaders for moral conservatism. So-called evangelical leaders sanitized taped self-confessions of sexual assaults on women and vulgar comments by Trump about his daughter’s sex appeal. Christ was crucified again by zealous leaders of a distorted Christianity that was (is) mere camouflage for dark politics.
Clearly Trump’s character was of little interest to the faithful who latched onto his campaign to Make America Great Again. What mattered was his appeal to the men and women who lost jobs to the new global business environment and trade agreements. They were in no mood for niceties.
Those threatened by reports of an increasing number of “others” in their midst welcomed Trump’s barely veiled promise to reclaim, defend and wall-off the land that their ancestors had acquired centuries ago with blood and guts on the battlefields. Closet racists readied for the showdown at the polling booth. The Ku Klux Klan woke up from their long hibernation.
Those repulsed by tolerance for different lifestyles and cultures saw hope in Trump’s promise to create a very conservative Supreme Court and justice system that would stop “this nonsense.” They did not care that he said outrageous and patently false or unachievable things. As put by one commentator, Trump’s supporters “took him seriously but not literally, even as his critics took him literally but not seriously.”
Trump’s supporters wanted change. Details did not matter. He was happy to milk their anger. He was not afraid to use insults and expletives that he knew were on the tongues and hearts of his disenchanted countrymen. He was willing to say anything to fire them up, perfectly hitting the most sensitive spots in their burdened souls, and promising remedies that he did not even have.
Of course he tilled very fertile soil. It was an election that asked voters to choose the “lesser of two evils.” This was a first in recent decades. In all the nine consecutive American presidential elections that I have followed very closely since 1980, the choice has been between two main candidates, either of whom has been qualified to be president.
This year, the Democrats asked the voters to choose Hillary Clinton, an establishment lady with a penchant for fibbing, dogged by scandals and multiple missteps in her long career in politics, surrounding herself with unsavoury allies and supporting dictators in Africa.
The Republicans offered up Trump, a man who reminded me of Rob Ford, Toronto’s former mayor who was a blundering drug-addict that had parlayed his folksy populism to become chief magistrate of Canada’s largest city.
My view was that Hillary was the lesser of two evils. More importantly, the majority of American voters were of the same view. However, notwithstanding Trump’s claims that it was a rigged election, America’s Electoral College system favored him and gave him a stunning victory.
He is the president-elect. Dark clouds hover over the White House. The future is uncertain at best, perhaps even dark. America and the rest of the world must now hope that most of the crazy stuff he said was just empty talk to win votes. He is too unpredictable and too impulsive a man to read with confidence at the moment.
However, early signs are that he may well reverse himself on many campaign threats and promises he made. His televised interview that was aired on CBS’s 60 Minutes on Sunday suggested that Trump might be less rabid than his campaign rhetoric suggested. But then again he may “unsay” the nice things he said in that interview.
We must suspend all judgment for a while. Certainly we must wait a while to gauge how he will interact with Africa. The Trump thriller is about to begin.