Alexander Hamilton wrote that the US Electoral College was set up to prevent someone with “talents for low intrigue and the little arts of popularity” from becoming President. US Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson argued (1952) that electors should “exercise an independent and non-partisan judgement” to ensure “the best qualified” person was elected. There can be little doubt that the Electoral College was designed specifically to stop someone as unqualified as Donald Trump, from becoming President. Yet he won the Electoral College vote with hardly any defections. Why? Because his opponents are wimps.
Imagine the opposite scenario, with Hillary Clinton elected despite losing the popular vote and strong evidence of Russian interference. Her opponents would have been filing lawsuits, starting the day after the election, and used every means possible to overturn the result, as they did in 2000.
When it became clear that Hillary could not win the Electoral College vote, she could have released her electors and asked them to vote for a qualified Republican, giving potential Republican defectors a realistic chance of stopping Trump. Yet she did not, continuing instead to blame everyone but herself for her defeat, although opinion polls showed that Bernie Sanders was more likely to defeat Trump. Clearly, her own candidacy was more important to her than preventing a Trump presidency.
It is worth noting what the Trump win has already cost the USA and the world. US soft power as the “land of the better story” has been radically diminished.
For decades the nuclear weapons states have claimed the right to keep these instruments of mass destruction because of their greater sense of responsibility: atomic bombs in US hands makes the world a safer place. The same bombs in Iranian hands makes the world unsafe and must be prevented at all costs.
Of course, this argument was always perverse and arrogant. Nuclear weapons have made the world a much more dangerous place. But the Western political and media mainstream have been able to maintain majority support in many countries for this policy. But now? Do we really trust Donald Trump more than e.g. the President of Iran with the power to launch a nuclear war?
Perhaps this reality will generate a new mass movement for nuclear disarmament. But that would require the wimps to get as well-organized, consistent, courageous and forceful as their opponents.
Another Trump victim is democracy. As Winston Churchill famously said, it is the worst political system — except all others. Many now doubt this. I was in Dubai during the election. The next day my Arab friends told me, “this could not happen here”. They pointed out that their rulers had to prove themselves as the hereditary succession was not automatic. Indeed, there are several examples in the Gulf of an unsuitable ruler being replaced by another family member. A very limited meritocracy, certainly, but one many would now no doubt prefer to the risks of a Trump presidency…
This will clearly be chaotic. His voters will very soon realize they have been cheated. Their President who campaigned against globalisation and Wall Street has – not surprisingly, considering his background – filled his administration with the wealthy profiteers of globalisation and Wall Street. Unfortunately, his opponent, who did not dare publish her Wall Street talks, was not in a good position to point this out…
Donald Trump is no neo-liberal believer in markets. He wants to make America great again, which requires a strong government. Yet in the unlikely event that he tries to use state power to reduce inequalities – as his voters expect – his cabinet of oligarchs will revolt.
The problem is that the recipes for revived economic growth have already all been tried and failed, causing even the Wall Street Journal to warn against “unrealistic expectations about our governments’ ability to deliver…steady growth” as the “unusual circumstances” of the post-war boom will not return and “neo-liberal policies since the 70s proved no more successful at boosting productivity than the statist policies that preceded them. Some insist that the conservative revolution stimulated an economic renaissance but the facts say otherwise.” (WSJ 17.1016)
Trump’s voters distrust globalisation and they are right. It has created no global community, only atomized individuals forced to take on more risks and costs, as solidarity is dismantled. The worldwide increase in eco-system distress is matched by human distress.
The post-war GDP growth rates will not be repeated for reasons outlined by the Club of Rome over 40 years ago. But we can still grow as human beings. The second report to the Club of Rome after “Limits to Growth” was entitled “No Limits to Learning”. The number of skills we can learn is not limited.
In 1957 Ludwig Erhard, the “father” of West Germany’s post-war economic “miracle” wrote that he expected German society in future to provide more free time for reflection, contemplation, recuperation and the enjoyment of life. He clearly did not expect his successors to be still fixated on maximizing GDP growth over 50 years later!
Trump won because he told a better story. It is a story full of contradictions, which could only be convincingly told by someone not bothered by facts and contradictions. Very soon, however, the real world of growing conflicts, climate chaos, unstoppable refugee streams and other crises will intrude.
How will a Trump presidency react? That depends on how powerful our story is. Can it fill the void when the current narrative implodes? Or will we watch from the side-lines as the alt-right story of growing authoritarianism, intolerance and hate takes over?
What are the corner-stones of a more powerful human story? First, re-build community life. A recent study in the journal Cyberpsychology notes that the dominant values expressed by the US TV shows most popular with children in 1997 were community feeling and benevolence. Fame came 15th out of 16. By 2007 individual fame came first, with community feeling fallen to 11th place. (George Monbiot, “The Guardian ” 21.12.16)
Such trends can be reversed. To quote the British historian Tony Judt, “the materialistic and selfish quality of contemporary life is not inherent in the human condition. Much of what appears ‘natural’ today dates from the 1980s: the obsession with wealth creation, the cult of privatisation and the private sector, the growing disparities of rich and poor. And above all, the rhetoric which accompanies these: uncritical admiration for unfettered markets, disdain for the public sector, the delusion of endless growth.” (III Fares the Land”, 2012)
We again need to subordinate our economies to our societies. As Christian Felber, the Austrian pioneer of community (“Commonwealth”) economics points out: “In our social interactions and friendships, we thrive when we live human values such as trust-building, honesty, appreciation, respect, listening, empathy, co-operation, mutual help and sharing. “Free” market economies are based on rules of competing and maximizing profits. These incentives encourage egoism, greed, avarice, jealousy, ruthlessness and irresponsibility.” This contradiction splits us as individuals and societies. Globalisation has sharpened the conflict further by allowing negative market “externalities” to be dumped far-away.
Reversing this requires new incentives and deep reforms in many areas – just the kind of drastic transformation which could make America great again. To give a few examples (more here):
economies must be re-designed to promote circular production and the full internalisation of costs
security policies need to prioritize global survival threats, e.g. food, water and environmental security
the political system must be freed from private money control and provide representation for the interests of future generations
financial and tax systems must fund the preservation and growth of human and natural capital.
Central banks quickly created trillions to stabilize the banking sector. They must now create the funding required to kickstart stabilizing our societies and planet. “Printing” new money to finance new goods and services with unused productive resources is not inflationary, despite the claims of the financial orthodoxy. Such funding can enable projects e.g. to reverse soil erosion and desertification, and to promote reforestation and renewable energy production, generating many millions of jobs not just in the USA but also in Latin America and Africa, thus reducing the pressure to emigrate.
Renewable energy is of course a sore point for Donald Trump, who doubts climate change science and opposes wind farms. But he has often shown that, in a conflict, his opinions adapt to his ego. And what could be more appealing than taking the global lead in the greatest challenge ever, saving life on earth? His wish for historical greatness is likely to cause him to do what works, not what his advisers tell him. Of course he will have to fire his current cabinet of fossil fuel relics. But then firing people is something Donald Trump enjoys.
However, for this not to remain a fairytale, those who understand the threats we are facing now need to come together in new coalition and be ready to fight as hard as our opponents, who are ready to sacrifice the earth to preserve their privileges. As the US advertising guru Frank Mankiewicz told environmentalists, “(you) are going to have to be like the mob in the square in Romania” – who quickly overthrew the feared Ceaucescu dictatorship. General Twitter and Admiral Facebook may connect us but will not save us. For the sake of our and our children’s future we now have to show Donald Trump and the world that we have the better story – and are not wimps.