Geopolitics

Understanding US Election Result
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 05 Feb , 2017

Any student of international affairs and security issues will be forced to have reasonable understanding of the US domestic dynamics since the US plays a vital role all over the world. I have been visiting the US regularly since 1991 (a quarter century) and interacted with the think tanks, universities and strategic analysts. I did a short stint as a research fellow at Kennedy Centre in 2003 and toured 9 US states in 2014. My observations on the country are based on these experiences.

Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 elections can be attributed to the White majority’s reaction to perceived demographic shift of power to ‘minorities’ in the US.

The United State of America (US) as nation has ‘ideology of affluence’ as its foundation. Some Americans, including Thomas Jefferson and George Mason, incorporated the concept of the pursuit of happiness into man’s natural, or inherent, universal rights.  The American declaration of Independence includes ‘pursuit of happiness’ as a foundational aspiration. Given its vast natural resources and sparse population, pursuit of unlimited and increasing consumption was seen as a right. This gave rise to consumerism or unbridled consumption of resources as a worthy ‘moral’ goal.

American ‘Hedonism’ is the direct result of this mindset. No visitor to the country can miss this enduring fact of American life. A visit to any shopping mall is enough.  Life in the American hinterland, at the height of American manufacturing boom was simple. A high school graduate immediately got a well-paying job, a car and a house, married his high school sweet heart and settled to a comfortable, if a boring life style.  At a fundamental level it is change in this situation that is at the root of turmoil in the American hinterland that has manifested itself in electing a Don Quixote like figure as the 45th President of the USA. Like geography and fate, demography is destiny.

In stark terms, Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 elections can be attributed to the White majority’s reaction to perceived demographic shift of power to ‘minorities’ in the US.

The demographic shift in the US has been visible since 2000 when for the first time one heard the US airlines making announcements in English as well as Spanish. The rise of populations of immigrants from Mexico (legal as well as illegal) was visible especially in the service industry. Besides immigration, high birth rate amongst this segment has made their numbers rise in many states like California, South Carolina as well as most large urban centres across the US.

The widespread favourable coverage by the liberal  media left the majority Whites wondering if the lives of Whites were less important! The majority Whites concluded that Obama administration was partisan and did not care for the Whites.

After the George Bush Presidency of eight years (2000 to 2008) under President Barrack Obama, the Democratic Party put together a coalition of minorities and liberal Whites and won two elections in a row, 2008 and 2012. The Obama administration was dominated by minorities to a great extent and the White blue collar workers felt that their concerns were not taken care of by the Democrats.

The loss of political power coincided with loss of jobs. While the Latinos took up the low paying menial jobs, the shift of manufacturing to China led to loss of factory jobs. This was further exacerbated by the advent of Robotics on the factory shop floor. The old jobs simply vanished. The low to medium tech jobs in the US manufacturing shifted to China in the 1980s under a Republican President Reagan. Low wages in China was the main attraction for the American companies to shift entire factories to China. 

The low skill white collar jobs like call centres or data entry in computers migrated to India. This process of Globalization was result of technological change. For instance, it is the high speed digital links, communication satellites and computers linked by internet that made it possible that a person sitting in India could work to solve problems in America in real time. This process was further spurred by the fact that the wages in US had risen to a level where for the same money an American company could hire 5 employees. Put it other way round, by shifting jobs outside, companies saved 80% cost.

The racial divide and it’s all pervasive presence came to foreground just a few months before Presidential elections. In a series of incidents involving Blacks and police officers, there were nationwide protests. The Black community launched an aggressive ‘Black Lives Matter’ campaign. Many liberal Whites, otherwise critical of Republicans, were taken aback by the Racist tones. The widespread favourable coverage by the liberal  media left the majority Whites wondering if the lives of Whites were less important! The majority Whites concluded that Obama administration was partisan and did not care for the Whites.

At this point two conclusions seem logical, one that the US is looking at a period of internal turmoil and two that Trump will be a one term President.

Many political analysts have compared rise of Modi in India with that of Trump in the US. One of the defining movement that disgusted the majority community in India was the of quoted statement by Dr. Man Mohan Singh, “Minorities have the first right on nation’s resources”.  If only the good doctor was to say that minorities have equal rights over resources it would have not produced the anger. This blatant minoritism rankled with many liberals as well in India and produced a backlash. Like Modi, Trump’s vilification by the pseudo liberal media only increased the support to Trump. Something akin to what happened in India. But that is where the comparison ends. Mr Modi, a seasoned politician, soon after getting elected has been harping on ‘inclusive’ development. Unfortunately for the US, Trump seems to have taken his electoral victory too seriously and seems bent on implementing a divisive agenda.

Mr. Trump is behaving unmindful of the fact that in coastal an populated parts of the US, he lost the popular vote. As a businessman with international linkages he is acutely  aware that the problems of ‘Rust Belt’ or joblessness amongst the Blue Collar Whites has no quick fix solution. If her were to wish jobs to return to the US he would have to make American exports and manufacture competitive. This can only happen with a weak dollar. But a weak dollar will make American consumers pay more in the interim. This economic deprivation will produce its own backlash in the cities.

At this point two conclusions seem logical, one that the US is looking at a period of internal turmoil and two that Trump will be a one term President. Clear trends will be available in the 2018 midterm elections in the US when the Republicans may well lose the control of the Senate and many state Governorships. As the Chinese saying goes, we seem to living in interesting times!

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Col Anil Athale

former Joint Director War History Division, Min of Defence. Currently co-ordinator of Pune based think tank 'Inpad' that is affiliated with Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.

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