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President Trump? Sadly not a nightmare we can wake up from

United States

Caricature of Donald Trump who won the 8 November US Presidential election.

Mari Marcel Thekaekara reflects on an election result that shocked the world.

Familiar feeling of déjà vu? Hit hard in the stomach and all the breath knocked out of you? It may have been the US election, but somehow people all over the world shared a feeling of empathy with American family and friends. Many felt like that when Brexit happened: it can’t be true! It’s a nightmare and we’ll wake up from it... Only it is true. Not a bad dream. And we have to work out how best to deal with it.

People like us, with American friends and family, who have enjoyed walking through Central Park, feel personally bereaved. New York used to be a fun place to be in, especially in the 1970s, before health freaks took centre stage, and everyone loved the occasional burger and piled on the fries. New York pizza was to die for, along with pastrami sandwiches, hot dogs, breakfast bars and doughnuts. To the average visitor, Americans were warm, welcoming, friendly people.

Everything changed after 9\11, and to dismiss the fears of ordinary people as ludicrous is lethal. In Britain, my Guardian-reading, liberal-leaning friends have rarely seen the anger of unemployed Britons who have to wait for years for housing, while new arrivals from Africa or Bangladesh get priority. I see that anger every time I visit. I empathize with both sides. And I haven’t a clue what the solution is.

But the anger comes from neglected groups who feel they are despised and ignored (and there may be some truth in that). Read liberal papers in the aftermath of the US election result and there are quite a few scathing, condescending, sweeping statements about the great unwashed majority, the illiterate-and-proud white supremacists who voted Trump to power. I don’t think it was just gun-toting white supremacists who voted Trump in. Many Democrats, against their gut-level inclination, felt forced to do so, too. Random people I interviewed in traditionally Democratic strongholds, in Boston and Washington DC airports, people in coffee shops, at check-out counters, polite, friendly Americans, not in the least racist, confided that they detested Trump, wanted to vote for Bernie Sanders, and couldn’t bear to vote for Hillary Clinton despite being registered life-long Democrats. I thought most of them would abstain from casting their ballots, but it appears many voted for Trump instead. And even abstaining didn’t help the Democratic camp at a point when every single vote was crucial.

It still baffles the world. When I see a ‘Women for Trump’ placard, I am appalled. And, yes, I’ve often wanted to throw up. I felt like that as the results rolled in on Wednesday morning. But as people pointed out, the glass-ceiling remarks notwithstanding, Hillary demolished those who accused her husband of sexual offences with a vindictive venom that was frightening. So where were the Democratic feminists at that point?

Analysts have pointed out that ordinary people were just plain fed up. They didn’t want more of the same. A vote for Trump was really a vote against Obamacare. Against the unaffordable, rising cost of health insurance, against the doubling of the national debt, against a foreign policy that flung mostly poor, young recruits into a Middle Eastern war, the point of which no-one could comprehend. Both candidates were more gracious and conciliatory when the result came in than they had been while the battle raged. Trump as President worries the whole world. He denies the existence of climate change, so combating it will become even harder. Even more frightening is the increasing tendency to elect nationalistic, bombastic dictatorial regimes all over the world. There is little hope to cling to.

But as Clinton ended, 'we have to keep fighting'. Amen to that.

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