I’m from sunny Singapore, but pretty much everyone across the globe has been hanging on to news of the U.S. presidential elections. Now the dust has settled and the Republicans have a hold of the House, Senate and the Oval Office, it’s time to think about how populism has defined the politics of today and whether the world is going to survive.
Trump has spewed some really horrible rhetoric during his campaign, but it appears that not even that was enough to convince people to vote for Hillary Clinton. I can certainly empathise with some of the sentiments against Clinton; she represents the corrupt establishment that is going to just keep making lives for the average person difficult. Trump will break the country and rebuild it bigger, better; different.
But here in Singapore, it’s different if you try to vote against the establishment. The establishment has a healthy 60% of the popular vote even in its worst election years. Voting against the establishment can send a message without crashing the world around our ears. If the vote was going to be anywhere near as close as that seen in the US elections, I would certainly pick the more sensible choice rather than run the risk of damaging the nation.
Even Brexit is different. Brexit featured many voters who didn’t even know what they were truly voting for, and voted to leave because they thought it would never happen. But Trump votes were conscious decisions; even those that were in protest of Clinton. And populism and alt-right movements are on the rise in Europe too, with Marine Le Pen potentially the next president of France, for so long a symbol of liberty. It’s quite the stark transformation over just a few years.
So how did the world get to this point? Even Singapore’s elections featured so much talk about foreign workers coming into the country and taking the jobs of Singaporeans. When did we move from globalisation to isolationism?
The average person is probably just like you and me. Not everyone is racist, xenophobic and sexist. But extremes exist on either side of average, and the world has become more and more polarised as we lurch from one crisis to the next. Change seems necessary, and in USA’s case, any change is better than status quo.
I think much of it has to do with education. To be fair, many people don’t have access to good education, and we can’t fault them for it. One of the many pitfalls of democracy is that voters may not be as informed as they need to be in order to make the right decision for the country. Education is so important, not just because it informs people, but it also encourages critical thinking. People need to consider their options, to review the facts, and to reject the lies and empty (or, in Trump’s case, hateful) rhetoric.
Can the world survive 4 years of Trump? Probably.
Can the large majority of Americans who are not white feel safe in their own country? Probably not.
Will it be entertaining to watch the US crumble at the hands of an incompetent? Maybe.
Will the world ever find unity, set aside unhealthy nationalist and populist ideas, and work together to tackle global issues? Probably not for a very long time.
I don’t know where I’m going with this. I’m just in shock that someone as crude and unqualified as Trump can appeal to large swathes of voters, enough to carry him to victory. Let’s hope that never happens here in Singapore.
*chants ‘Asian values’ under breath*