Saturday 20 January 2018

American voters try to reclaim the past as uncertain future now lies ahead

ELECTIONS are about looking to the future, but America has attempted to reclaim the past.

A bubbling underbelly of racism, intolerance and insecurity has risen to the surface of public debate. It has scarred the greatest experiment in Republicanism and all but removed the word 'united' from the vocabulary.

After the most bizarre election in US history the race for the White House was on a knife edge this morning.

Donald Trump's supporters wanted to take the country back from the corrupt elite. In other words, return power to the white man and his wife.

But the message of 'Make America Great Again' stretched further than he could even have imagined.

At polling stations across New York, a Democratic stronghold, the unthinkable happened as voter after voter turned out to back the real-estate tycoon.

In central Manhattan, Rose Shapiro, a 73-year-old attorney from Israel, voted Trump because minorities are becoming the majority.

"We do construction and we take people from Mexico. I treat them well. And they cheat us from here to there," she said.

She argues that in 20 years "this country is going to be Latino".

On the other side, many of Hillary Clinton's backers wanted to live in the Obama era forever.

It was obvious at her final rally in Philadelphia when tears flowed down the faces of mothers and grandmothers as Michelle Obama talked about it being one of her final times on stage as First Lady.

The fact that a victory for Clinton would break the highest of glass ceilings was almost lost.

Her final speeches were soaked with rhetoric about being a president for everyone. But this was the same woman who during the heat of the campaign described half of her rivals' supporters as a "basket of deplorables".

Essentially, America has launched an unimaginable attack on itself. And whereas the wounds of physical assaults have brought it together in the past, the verbal onslaught will be much harder to overcome. "I think it's daunting. Other people are scared it might not go back - but America is strong and it will become strong again," said Clinton voter Karra Davis.

That's the task facing the new president. They must reunite the States in a way that might not be possible within four years.

It's hard not to wish that Clinton had faced a different candidate so that issues such as education, health and the economy might have been debated. That question about her trustworthiness might have been tested without the attachment of outright slander.

Talking to people of all races and backgrounds as they queued for up to two hours to vote gave the best insight possible into the damage that has been inflicted on this nation.

"Nut job", "corrupt", "insane", "crazy", "liar", "maniac" and "nasty" were descriptions that rolled off the tongues of apparently reasonable people. But others expressed a wish that things could just go back to normal. That election season would end and, like a bad reality show, would be dropped.

While the result may not have been about change in the traditional sense, the outcome had a lot to do with the changing demographics of America.

Much was made of the need for the Clinton campaign to roll out President Obama time and again as she struggled to convince African Americans to engage.

Just eight years ago they were celebrating the first black president with a vigour that would have risen the spirit of Rosa Parks. But Clinton has compiled her own coalition of Hispanics and Latinos with a cohort of millennials.

Trump reawakened the sleeping white middle class, many of whom had given up on politics.

The turnout suggests the country has rarely been more engaged. As the results rolled in, it was clear this was a hugely divided country. They may have been holding their election parties in the same city but these candidates polarised people like no others.

As the momentum swung back to Mr Trump, hordes of people who had queued up outside Ms Clinton's election party slipped away. There were shocked faces as early Democratic confidence ebbed away and a Trump victory became an increasing possibility.

From 'Yes We Can' to 'Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country', US presidents have always been good for a quote.

Abraham Lincoln said: "America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves."

Today a new chapter begins. History has been made but at what cost to the land of the free?

in New York

Irish Independent

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