Politics, to quote the cliché, is said to be the art of the possible. Last week, Donald J. Trump proved to the world exactly that by becoming the 45th President of the United States and arguably the most powerful man in the world.
Trump was the ultimate outsider. He was a billionaire with vast amounts of money at his disposal but he had never ever held public office. He had not served in the armed forces. It was as if a businessman had taken over the biggest business in the world – that of running the most influential country on the planet.
No one expected him to win. All the opinion polls predicted a victory for former First Lady and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. From day one of the campaign till the very end, Clinton led all the opinion polls. The question was not whether she would win, but by what margin. One bookmaker even paid out punters who had bet on her victory even before polling began!
Even the Republican Party which nominated Trump refused to support him wholeheartedly. Many party stalwarts publicly declared they wouldn’t support his candidacy. Former Republican Presidents George Bush (Snr) and George Bush (Jnr) said they wouldn’t vote for him.
The American media is never independent during elections; they traditionally endorse one or the other of the candidates. All mainstream newspapers and television outlets openly endorsed Clinton leaving Trump with only one major television channel to rely on for support.
It could be said that even Trump himself worked against his own candidature. That is because, days before the election, a ten-year-old tape showing Trump making lewd comments about women was leaked to the media. That was supposed to be the final nail in Trump’s coffin. Nevertheless, Trump won and convincingly at that.
That begs the question, why? It could possibly be because of what might be called the ‘underdog’ phenomenon. Throughout the campaign, Trump was the underdog, the candidate against whom the odds were stacked heavily against.
He was the constant target of bitter attacks by Clinton, the media and even his own party. Cruel jokes where Trump was at the receiving end became the norm and he was mercilessly lampooned. Social media was rampant with anti-Trump propaganda. Even his hair was criticised.
While all this was happening, Clinton was being painted lily white although everyone was aware that she had her own issues: her husband’s scandalous Presidency, her support for nefarious causes of which Sri Lankan Tamil Tigers was one, her use of a private e-mail server to discuss affairs of state and financial irregularities at the Clinton Foundation, to name a few.
Being constantly force fed with a barrage of anti-Trump propaganda by the media which almost totally ignored Clinton’s flaws, at some point most voters decided that even if they disliked Trump, they disliked Clinton even more. As a result, we now have a President Trump.
Political observers here in Sri Lanka must surely have a sense of déjà vu about this. There were shades of the 2015 presidential election campaign being repeated all over again: the victory of the underdog against the more established candidate who had the support of practically everyone else and the media.
It is indeed a new world phenomenon. Even the recent ‘Brexit’ vote in the United Kingdom on whether it should leave the European Union was another instance where all the opinion polls got it wrong and the unexpected happened.
Somewhere out there, voters are listening to all the news, advertising, propaganda, social media that is being directed at them and rebelling against it dramatically and saying, ‘if that is what you think is happening, we will go against it’.
It is a trend that politicians and governments everywhere should take note of. In our own country, there is rarely a dull day in the political arena but maybe it is now time for politicians – and voters – to expect the unexpected because, if Donald Trump can become President of the United States, anything is indeed possible.