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Thursday 19 October 2017

An electoral system geared to prevent revolution... the irony isn't lost on anyone

US Congressman Brendan Boyle. Photo credit: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
US Congressman Brendan Boyle. Photo credit: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Donald Trump has lied his way to the White House and there is a terrifying prospect he might actually turn his promises into policies. Radio stations played REM's 'It's the End of the World'. Newspaper headlines warned the White House was about to become a 'House of Horrors'. TV pundits tried and failed to hold back their obvious anger.

Change for change's sake is easy to understand. We've all moved a couch around the living room or decided we needed a new hairdresser. But most of us rarely stab in the dark when we do it.

That's what America has done in a way that many who live here struggle to understand.

On Monday, Congressman Brendan Boyle said if Trump became president, "we might as well return the Statue of Liberty to France". He described how when his father left Ireland as a teenager in the 1970s he came "in part because he believed in the American dream".

"What Donald Trump has said about immigrants is a disgrace and un-American," he said.

Boyle's view, expressed at a rally in Philadelphia, was echoed by other political leaders, celebrities and by most people who would be considered "right-thinking".

But not by the almost 60 million people who voted for him.

For many, it was a protest vote, for others it was about refusing to give in to gun controls or Clinton's liberal ways. And for a percentage, it was simply about creating havoc for the sake of entertainment, which is, after all, Trump's main qualification for the job.

His CV is scarred with con jobs, discrimination and mistruths but America is beyond that now.

Almost half the population (Clinton won the popular vote) wanted to try something different and that was on the ballot.

What wasn't on the ballot was a warning about the consequences, which were obvious within hours of the vote.

One hundred years ago this week the first woman, Jeannette Pickering Rankin, was elected to the House of Representative.

In the days and hours leading up to the election it felt like after a century, America was ready to allow women into the 'big league'.

The first African-American president followed by the first female commander-in-chief. History made and remade.

But that wasn't enough. America wanted to be more disruptive.

Clinton's gender became irrelevant. Voters put it aside in order to tear her down in a way that most men would struggle to deal with.

Trump's Republicans focused on her stamina, on her performance as secretary of state and on her close ties to the establishment.

Three years ago, the President-elect said Clinton's work in the State Department was "probably above and beyond everybody's else" - but during the course of the campaign he described her time there as a "total disaster".

What defies the argument that Clinton was "just another candidate guilty of longevity" was the fact America elected a misogynistic demagogue.

In New York on Tuesday night, the Clinton supporters wiped away tears and looked at each other in despair. They was a shared mourning that didn't need words.

The grief was natural but it didn't follow the natural order.

People felt bad for her. A lifetime of work had led up to this moment and it was stolen by an inexplicable disease that had swept society. Few could comprehend how it came to this. He took her on, lost three debates, expressed racist views, actively threatened chaos and yet America elected him.

By the early hours of Wednesday, the Trumpites were drunkenly celebrating the most unlikely of wins in New York's Time Square.

While the hurt and devastation on display a few blocks away was infectious, the manifestation of the Trump triumph was 'nasty'.

There was a feeling of "this is our land and if you don't agree with how we do things, we'll scorch the earth beneath you".

Men in their 20s and 30s, largely drunk, chanted about making America great again. They sneered at the international media who had set up camp in the world's most famous square and boasted of having gotten their rights back.

It's good that they are engaged with politics but it would be better if they were educated about it. "Stick it to the man or in this case woman" might be a right but it's not a policy.

By Thursday, the reality had set in. Clinton had eventually made a concession speech, widely regarded as among her best ever.

With her ambition removed, the words dripped with emotion rather than self-interest.

News outlets analysed how she could have achieved a higher overall vote but lost the election.

Experts explained that the electoral college system was based on protecting slave states, given rural parts a bigger say and preventing a revolution. The irony wasn't lost on anybody.

But that debate was only filling airtime. The real reaction was on Wall Street where the Dow Jones soared towards an all-time high.

Unlike Brexit which plunged the UK into an economic quagmire, bank and construction shares rose in expectation that Trump is going to row back on regulations introduced by Obama. On the other side, hospital stocks crashed in anticipation of Trump's plan to dismantle Obamacare.

Other analysis pointed to the exit polls which showed Clinton had an image rating of 44pc favourable compared to Trump's 37pc. A massive 61pc said they had an unfavourable view of Republican.

More voters saw Clinton as honest and trustworthy compared to Trump. And one in three polled said Trump didn't have the temperament to serve as president.

Even more bizarrely, 71pc favoured giving undocumented immigrants, many of them Irish, a chance to gain legal status. Trump has ruled out what he sees as an "amnesty". And yet despite all that, people elected Trump.

Is America a racist country riddled with misogyny? The easy answer is "no, this is democracy in action". But democracy should not be an excuse for the things Trump has done and said.

It was Pennsylvanian Senate candidate Katie McGinty's who said "human decency" was on the ballot. America has made its choice. A recurring character in their political narrative was more offensive than a villain who arrived from the outside.

It's impossible to write history in real time so all we can do now is watch it unfold.

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