The day that no one except one person believed was possible has finally come – Donald J Trump will take over as the new American president. The American presidential election was defining; the US saw a rather new trend in politics – more personal than dirty, more bizarre than politics-as-usual implies.
The situation after the election was equally unsettling, illustrated by a spate of protests – something unprecedented, un-American. This was one election that put the world in a state of shock, even in denial. Then came the appointments and, again, eyebrows were raised. More protests preceded the inauguration.
What is interesting is that Trump seems completely unfazed by all this – indeed he is always ready with a riposte for any critical comment, coming from the government or media. Recently, he called journalists “very dishonest people”. One is left wondering how his relationship with the media is going to shape with such a start. Someone has rightly pointed out that the media is going to be Trump’s biggest challenge.
Generally, after an election has taken place, the winning and losing candidates forget about the campaign and the elections; both bring forth their good American face and gear for a good transition. Here again, things were different. After a formal meeting between President Obama and Trump, one expected a smooth transition, but this was marked with unsaid acrimony, and so campaign bitterness endured.
As Trump takes oath as president, he needs to take care of a lot of baggage. There are issues he has taken a strong position on as a candidate and has been reiterating – fencing the border, minorities and his position on Russia. Many Americans are not very comfortable with Trump’s comments on Russia.
While this bonhomie at such a time is again unprecedented, this could be an icebreaker and could provide a mechanism to deal with many international issues, for instance the conflict in Syria that the US-Russian discord has made intractable. The issue of Russian hacking during the elections is still not resolved. What does such an accusation mean for US-Russia relations under Trump’s presidency? The relationship with CIA, in light of the alleged Russian connection to the election hacking, is equally significant.
The American presidential elections have their own peculiar dynamics, often heralding a liberal or conservative trend. The elections of 1960, 1980 and 2000 highlight such trends; the recent one, however, leads the country to a quizzical point. If anything, the 2016 elections left the country divided like never before.
This January when Trump takes oath as president, he will see the country sharply divided along many lines – Democratic vs Republican, conservative vs liberal, Muslims vs others and more importantly, ‘American citizens’ vs immigrants and minorities vs the ‘majority’ that elected Trump.
A term used in American government is ‘divided government’, but this time the presidential election has come to denote a ‘divided nation,’ and not just a divided government. This can be seen by the fact that executive and legislative branches are headed by the same party and Trump has made no effort so far to close the divide.
In the past, leaders and governments have opposed ‘otherness’, whether it’s the Blacks or immigrants, advocates of feminism or of gay rights but Trump has brought it to the forefront of American politics. His campaign politics was built around othering and that included ridiculing an older person, a handicapped journalist and even iconic star Meryl Streep for her apolitical comment at the Golden Globe Awards. This transition was not a time of reaching out, but one of distancing further.
One is not sure what kind of start the Trump presidency is going to have – it remains one of uncertainty and trepidation for all except his supporters/electors. His State of the Union should give the world an idea of how president Trump sees the real world: what role he will play for America and how he envisages addressing international issues that call for US attention.
Donald Trump can be seen as the archetype American – an entrepreneur turned president. He fought against heavy odds and proved political pundits, pollsters, and naysayers wrong by winning the presidency. On the other side, he has already cultivated the opposition of many groups, outside the Congress.
With Trump, the Americans had a different kind of candidate and they witnessed a new kind of presidential campaign. Now they are in for a new style of presidency. As the Americans usher in Trump as their new president and commander-in-chief, one hopes to see more of the president and less of the apprentice in him.
The writer teaches at the Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad.