Donald Trump is going to be the 45th President of the United States of America. What was unimaginable only a few months ago has turned into reality, and the 70-year-old tycoon from New York has won what could be described as the most unprecedented and arguably most crucial U.S. election since World War II. For months, western media has been playing down the possibility of such a result. They were already picturing President Hillary Clinton engaging in the all-important challenges the world would have to face in the next four years. They were absolutely confident that for the first time America would elect a woman president, that the old American tradition of political correctness would be restored and that a competent, progressive and responsible government would soon steer the U.S. ship towards safer shores. But they were all wrong.
However, all the odds were in favour of Clinton. Her campaign was well-managed, her party united, she had the support of four out of five living former Presidents including the unprecedented, active support from the current, relatively popular, head of state. And still, something went terribly wrong.
One of the few who effectively predicted this unlikely result was film-director and journalist Michael Moore. Back in July, long before Tuesday night’s decisive ballot, he wrote on his blog: ‘Well, folks, this isn’t an accident. It is happening. And if you believe Hillary Clinton is going to beat Trump with facts and smarts and logic, then you obviously missed the past year of 56 primaries and caucuses where 16 Republican candidates tried that and every kitchen sink they could throw at Trump and nothing could stop his juggernaut’. Facts and logic are not, it seems, what Trump mostly relied on during his campaign. Hillary Clinton might have had endless flaws but was, objectively, a competent technocrat – an expert in her field. She had everything that would have traditionally defined a good president; she scrupulously followed every unwritten rule of American presidential campaigns while Trump deliberately ignored them, and the ‘facts’ were clearly on her side. But in his rallies, Trump needed to do no more than put the epithet ‘crooked’ before her name and all those facts magically turned into lies in his supporters’ eyes.
I am convinced that Clinton’s unpopularity amongst the public is not enough to explain Trump’s triumph. Whilst Michael Moore was posting his prophecy on his website, the Guardian published a column in which its editor-in-chief Katharine Viner claimed that technology is playing a decisive role in what she called the ‘disruption of truth’. An increasing number of people simply do not care about facts anymore. Instead, the facts are replaced by more effective, emotionally captivating narratives easily created on social media and television. The truth is just one of many stories, and, to be honest, a quite disappointing one. But this isn’t a mere side effect of social networks; it reveals something deeply troubling about our era. Globalisation and neoliberal policies have left an overwhelmingly high number of people alienated, where they feel they’re not taken into account anymore, and where they struggle to find something to believe in. The whole West is undergoing a deep identity crisis: the American dream and its European counterpart has been distorted, weakened, and eventually forgotten by most citizens. The fact that Hillary Clinton was the objectively more competent candidate just meant she was another technocrat acting in this much-despised world of facts. And once facts don’t count anymore, entertainment becomes the truth.
As a matter of fact, Donald Trump is an outstanding entertainer. His new narrative, based on openly displayed political incorrectness, the implicit promise to stop globalisation, based on a negative identity founded on the contrast between us and them, on walls and disclosure, is astonishingly strong. To many, especially but not solely to blue-collar male white workers, all of this is a far more appealing political promise than Clinton’s factual but uncritical competence. The same phenomenon is happening all over Europe. Marine Le Pen, the first European political leader to congratulate Trump on his victory, will have a prominent role in France’s upcoming presidential elections. Britain’s vote to leave the EU was broadly motivated by the generic ‘I want my nation back’ narrative.
Populist right-wing parties govern Poland and Hungary, and similar forces keep winning local elections in Germany and Italy. All these angry voters are not racist and chauvinist monsters, they are common people who prefer to identify with this negative picture than to stick to the never-ending status quo. The fact that Trump, just like his colleagues on the other side of the Atlantic, does not actually represent an alternative, the fact that he is a billionaire ‘outsider’ who has been in the public eye for decades and who has never questioned nor will question the functioning of global capitalism, the fact that he really is an egocentric and unpredictable bully… all these facts will not weaken the unconditioned support that a consistent part of the American population has shown to him. People are not just revolting against the establishment: this is a global revolt against reality – a flattened, hopeless and alienating reality, and if Trump is not able to provide them with a new hope, at least he’s very good at providing them with some form of entertainment.
It is hard to predict what The Donald’s presidency will look like. However, chances are that the world is moving towards a phase of geopolitical instability, that there will be a loss in civil rights and a political regression that will characterise not only the U.S., but also arguably the entire planet. Moreover, new Vice-President Mike Pence is a climate change denier, and Trump has promised to pull the United States out of the recently signed Paris agreement to combat global warming.
Nevertheless, once optimism and paternalism are put aside, there might still be a few reasons to hope for a better future in America and in the world. As the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek recently put it – what must be rejected is the false alternative between fascism and technocracy. People have lost faith in their possibility to change reality and to build a better future. What is missing is a new, credible, positive project in which people can believe in; a collective act of criticism that led to the acknowledgement of the deep inequalities and major problems caused by globalisation. These problems can be tackled and solved, but nobody seems to have serious intentions to do that. Bernie Sanders attempted to interpret and represent such a need for change, and his success among young voters is encouraging. Until someone comes up with such a project and is successful, Donald Trump’s style of politics will continue in its unpredicted yet overwhelming success.