Why Trump will win a second term: lessons for South Africa

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President Donald Trump speaks at the American Farm Bureau Federation's 100th Annual Convention, Monday Jan. 14, 2019, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

“Not a perfect match with the anger and the resentment that a significant percentage of the electorate felt…”, said Hillary Clinton, ten months after her loss of the presidency of the United States, on why she thought she loss the race. In an in-depth interview with Channel 4’s Matt Frei, Clinton reflected on the elections, amongst other issues, and “What happened”, the title of the book she had just released. She pointed out two kinds of anger, the second one she identified as cultural anger: race, immigration, and dare we add, gender. 

A month earlier, in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, the first woman contender for the US presidency by a major party reflected on the factors that the next democratic candidate for the presidency will face in the next elections scheduled for 2020. These factors, she indicated would include racism and misogyny.  

In the run-up to the recent mid-term elections, on 5 November 2018, in an opinion piece published by The Washington Post, “Prove it, America. Prove that President Trump is not who we are”, Jonathan Capehart details his inner turmoil on election night, two years before. To his horror, the American people were electing “…a man president of the United States who ran an openly racist, xenophobic, misogynistic and nativist campaign…His reward was the Republican presidential nomination…”

While Capehart somewhat had his dream fulfilled in the American people electing more diverse Democrats to the House of Representatives in these past mid-terms, the Senate is still controlled by the Republicans. Yet it would seem that the Democratic Party continues to misunderstand the anger and resentment, reflected on by Clinton after her defeat, and that the “not a perfect match” continues.

Watching the latest launches of various presidential bids by Democrat candidates one wonders if the Democrat party understands the current international milieu and the effect it has on the body politic of a nation. It is nothing else but fear, anger and resentment that makes nations turn to nationalism, protectionism, isolation, xenophobia, racism, misogyny and all the other bad omens that continue to plague our world today.   

Already, here at home given that this is an election year, we have seen a number of political parties resorting to using tactics in order to play on and perpetuate people’s fears, anger and resentment. Their strategies are to make sure that the “them and us” scenario wins them votes, not realising that this “othering” often has ripple effects into those who belong to “the nation”. We saw it with Trump, first he started with immigrants, then it turned to those who were Americans: Indigenous Americans, Afro-Americans and eventually Jewish Americans. In other words, the “othering” never stops. 

Coming back though to answering why Trump will win a second term, the answer is simple: he, unlike the Democrats, is symbolic and in touch with this anger and resentment spoken of by Clinton. He looks like the majority of Americans, thinks like the majority of Americans, speaks like the majority of Americans and when people have fear they trust someone who looks, thinks and speaks like them. He simply is “one of them”.

Instead candidates in the Democratic Party who have stepped forward have been Latino, like former Housing and Urban Development Secretary, Julian Castro. Then there is a native of American Samoa, Tulsi Gabbard, who is a woman and Hindu. While the White male, Richard Ojeda may be a decorated army major, he is said to hold views that could be described as left-wing populism. Another White male, John Delaney has also declared his candidature for 2020, but given that he comes from Maryland, the north-east of the country which is often judged liberal even though it voted for Trump in 2016.

Other names that have been touted include Elizabeth Warren, Marianne Williamson, the Black woman candidate, Kamala Harris. We have yet to see whether the former Vice-President to Barak Obama, Joe Biden, former mayors of New York, Michael Bloomberg and Bill De Blasio, or former attorney general, Eric Holder, or outsider Bernie Saunders will give the presidency a shot. 

What is clear is that none of these match a candidacy that could threaten Trump’s. What is needed is a Lyndon B. Johnson: a southern White, Anglo-Saxon, male, protestant with some good credentials with the defence force but an agenda more progressive than Trump’s.   

A week is a long time in politics, never mind two years. It is therefore very possible that the Democrats may be able to get in touch with this anger and resentment felt by the American population and acknowledge it. Yet the first step would be for Democrats to understand that Trump is not the enemy, he is simply an expression of the fear, anger and resentment of the American people. 

Once this is appreciated they would be able to do something similar to what Barak Obama did after the George W. Bush presidency, turn feelings of anger and resentment into messages of hope and change. Sadly, unlike with the Obama campaign, that message of hope and change must be given by someone who looks like Trump for this will win their trust. 

South Africa, since 1994, has also had pockets of anger and resentment. The current global milieu is ripe to bring that fear, anger and resentment centre stage in the upcoming election campaign, as some parties have already done. Yet what is important is for our major parties, as with the Democrats, to acknowledge the anger, resentment and impatience, of all South Africans across the racial divide, and provide a message of hope and change, just as Nelson Mandela did. 

Wesley Seale, currently a PhD student in International Relations in Beijing, is a former lecturer in South African politics at Rhodes University while also previously heading research for the ANC in the Western Cape.