Americans vote for change, and for stability

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump (R) celebrates with Vice President-elect Mike Pence and supporters after his victory (source: dpa)

The citizens of the United States have cast their votes and given their verdict after an extremely ugly campaign that took a strange turn as early as the primaries. The Democrats started almost immediately with two main candidates, which led to a less-than-impressive campaign for the nomination. The Republicans had many potential standard-bearers, but no favorite. This allowed outsider Donald Trump to win the nomination, even against the party establishment’s fierce opposition.

The electorate found little to like in either candidate – each had just two main points of attraction. For Hillary Clinton, the first was that she represented continuity of the existing political class, appealing to voters afraid of the unknown. For Mr. Trump, it was his status as the outsider, appealing to those who feel left out by system or dissatisfied with the state of politics. The second point, however, was rather negative: each was billed as the lesser of two evils. Most voters said they would cast their ballot for a candidate not because they agreed with his or her policies, but simply because the other candidate would be much worse.

The result was a campaign full of mudslinging. Ms. Clinton was portrayed as corrupt and Mr. Trump as an uncontrollable rogue. From a distance, it looked as if the U.S. was choosing between an unscrupulous insider and a riverboat gambler.

Both took populist positions, a phenomenon that democracies throughout the whole Western world are struggling with – including in the more established parties. So far, fortunately, institutions have been robust enough to hold back the worst consequences of this rise in populism.

Exaggerated reactions

In the end, the winner was Donald Trump. The Republicans retained control of the House of Representatives and the Senate. All of the pre-election prognoses proved drastically wrong.

The harsh anti-Trump reactions both within and without the U.S. are unfair, exaggerated and – especially when it comes to the financial markets – ridiculous. The prophesies of doom and gloom ignore quite a lot of fact.

Taking a dispassionate look at the situation, one sees that the difference between Mr. Trump and Ms. Clinton is mainly one of style. Ms. Clinton holds to the center-leftist line of the Democratic Party establishment, while Mr. Trump represents the voters who oppose that line. But when it came to trade, for example, both offered protectionist policies.

The strategies to prevent Mr. Trump from winning backfired. The arrogant conclusion that mainly uneducated white males would vote for him was plain wrong. Stirring up fear before a vote is usually counterproductive, as was also the case with Brexit. Allegations that Russia supported the Trump campaign by hacking into the Clinton campaign’s e-mail accounts were never proven. Obviously, these accusations did not significantly affect the vote.

Responsibility and cooperation

The result boils down to one fact: voters were turned off by the mudslinging and wanted change. They sent a strong message. However, the vote to keep Republicans majorities in both houses of Congress is a call for a certain degree of stability.

The U.S. government’s executive branch is important, but not all-powerful. It is ensconced in a robust system of governance with sophisticated checks and balances. The Republican majority in the House and Senate will follow a responsible line and are not dependent on the president.

For Donald Trump, the world will also change once he enters the Oval Office in January. The real danger is that the media and political establishments around the world, frustrated by this result, might try to marginalize the democratically elected president of the United States. The American people have made their choice, and the only way to avoid negative results is to accept their decision and find constructive ways to work with Mr. Trump. An outsider needs support to perform his duties successfully, not antagonism.

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