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12 November 2016updated 08 Sep 2021 7:17am

Donald Trump’s victory is a rude wake-up call for the elite

The result of the US presidential election was fuelled by economic anxiety not racism.

By Priya Virmani

The spotlight of the election results is all on President Elect Donald J Trump. Intrigue and exasperation dominate. How did his unconventional and abhorrent campaign manage to seal his victory?  How did his deranged comments that reflected not an iota of maturity get him into the White House? Why did women vote for him in droves despite his misogynistic comments? How did someone who has zero experience of public office land himself the most powerful job on the planet?

The astonishment about the president elect is understandable, however, the spotlight ought to be on the American people, not on Trump. Turn attention to those who voted for him and the extrapolation is they are racist, immature, misogynistic and insular — after all they’ve chosen a president who has come to define these monikers. A more careful look reveals those stereotypes to be completely false. This result is not about race — the term that has been conflated with immigration and hijacked the most in the political discourse of this election. The predominant reason Trump got their vote is economic — an economics that has failed the majority for well over a generation, since 1979 to be precise.

The majority of Americans (a figure pegged at 83%) have not seen a real rise, in terms of purchasing power, in their wages since 1979. When this happens you see a pander to the absurd and the extreme. A Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2014, found that the income of a third of Americans (37%) was in line with the cost of living while the income of 56% of Americans was struggling to keep abreast with inflation. A mere 5% of American incomes were managing to beat inflation. In other words, 98% of America was not living “The American Dream”. This has resulted in a severe economic disaffection, mostly among the white working class, a cause that has seen a sinister seeping into the symptom of immigrant-blaming.

Income disparities in the world’s most powerful nation have become increasingly visible. According to the results published last year by the Centre of Equitable Growth, America’s top 0.1% take home more than 184 times the income of the bottom 90%, while the income of America’s top 10% now averages almost nine times as much as that of the bottom 90%. And the income of the top 1% is more than 38 times that of the bottom 90%. When 90% of the country becomes “the bottom” there is a serious problem; a visible malaise that asserted itself in the US election result.

White and blue collar workers in America’s Rust Belt (where manufacturing has lapsed in the name of globalisation) are stymieing. The establishment has failed them. Trump’s rhetoric spoke to them. When he used examples such as how Flint had an industry and the water in Mexico was undrinkable, but today Mexico has an industry and Flint has no drinkable water, they saw a resonance. For the first time the paralysed steel mill towns in Pennsylvania and Ohio, together with Florida, turned Republican. Trump successfully associated America’s problems with “the other”, fuelling anger towards immigrants — but this is only the symptom of the cause that is unequivocally economic.

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This result is the only “corrective measure” at the disposal of the American people to the lopsided economic growth story. It ought to be a rude wake-up call for the elite to gauge the temperature of the masses. If they do not take note of what this result is really telling us, “freak political results” will become the norm.

Priya Virmani is a political and economic analyst.

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