Thursday 23 March 2017

Protester numbers are significant but their cause is not - US democracy has played out

A protester who refused to leave is apprehended by California Highway Patrol officers who moved in to clear protesters off a freeway in downtown Los Angeles, California. Photo: AFP/Getty
A protester who refused to leave is apprehended by California Highway Patrol officers who moved in to clear protesters off a freeway in downtown Los Angeles, California. Photo: AFP/Getty
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

'Show me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like."

The irony was lost on the thousands of protesters who chanted this mantra as they marched down New York's Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Avenues.

Thousands turned out on the streets, bringing traffic to a standstill and drawing cheers from the sidewalks.

New York is the type of city that blows hot and cold. Most people are too busy rushing to the next road-crossing to observe much of what is going on around them. It's the reason Times Square has such bright lights. Grabbing people's attention is difficult.

Donald Trump has certainly made people take notice. But the 10,000 people who marched on Trump Tower are somewhat misguided.

While outgoing President Barack Obama and defeated Hillary Clinton have called on America to unite behind their new leader, there's no sign that's going to happen any time soon.

America can't figure itself out. People elected Mr Trump in the face of unquestionable evidence of why they shouldn't.

Now they are on the streets of New York, Boston, Washington, Dallas, Oakland, Chicago, Portland and California chanting "p***y grabs back".

The demonstrations are mostly peaceful but not immune from some kinds of behaviour the President-elect has been criticised for.

In Los Angeles, protesters burned an effigy of the new commander-in-chief.

New York's upper Manhattan, where the reality TV star lives, was shut down as crowds roared "not our president" and "New York hates Trump".

Others, in their work uniforms, carried signs that read "Dump Trump". Many of those taking part were part of the Black Lives Matter movement.

But it's too little and too late. The numbers are not insignificant, but their cause is.

Democracy has worked. Whether those who cast their ballot for Mrs Clinton or didn't vote at all like it or not is irrelevant.

At the same time in Lower Manhattan, people who warned of a Trumpastrophe were celebrating a 'Trump Bump'.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones hit a record high, defying all the doomsday predictions of how it would be worse than Brexit was for the UK. Shares in banks and construction companies soared.

But it wasn't all positive, as hospital stocks crashed in anticipation of the new administration's plan to dismantle Obamacare. And technology shares slumped as investors calculated that Silicon Valley could suffer.

Read more: Global breakdown: What Trump victory means for future of the world

More confusion as America and the world struggles to figure out what a Trump presidency means.

While the billionaire is a fairly one-dimensional character, his policies are an enigma.

All politicians change their minds. In recent days we've seen the Democrats pull back from their scaremongering to strike a more conciliatory tone. That's for the good of the country - an attempt to discourage the growth of antagonism, protest and uncivil unrest.

But Mr Trump's mood swings are erratic. The 'New Yorker' magazine has said he "abuses the privilege" of being able to change his mind.

He has flip-flopped on Nato. He was pro-choice before arguing that women who get abortions should be punished. And he once claimed Ronald Reagan could "con people" but couldn't "deliver the goods", only to later list him as the president he most admires.

So there's no real clarity on whether the wall will be built or Obamacare rolled back.

But, oddly, that's how American democracy works. It's not controlled by protest, it's spoken at the ballot box.

Sixty million people knew Mr Trump was a racist misogynist and still voted for him. Many even agreed with his views.

If the protesters want to target something it shouldn't be Mr Trump, it should be the electoral system. For the second time in modern history, a Democratic candidate won the popular vote but lost the White House. Mrs Clinton pulled in around 200,000 more votes than her rival.

The electoral system, whereby every State awards a certain level of overall votes to a candidate, is flawed.

It was designed to prevent a third-party candidate being able to mount a populist campaign in certain parts of the country.

Mr Trump has overcome that logic and while a debate has started in the US about the system, it is essentially "rigged" in favour of Republicans, who traditionally do better in smaller states. Don't expect it to be changed during a Trump presidency.

Protests are likely to follow the new president, but it might be misguided. Americans of all creeds have 70 days to figure out the impact democracy can have.

Irish Independent

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